Today we are excited to tell you about all of the things to do in Budapest, but written by a Hungarian native. While David was talking with some of his European colleagues about our up and coming trip to Budapest, one of them – Zsombor offered his personal list of things to do while visiting his home city. His list was so thorough I had to publish it!
Zsombor says: Here are some places you should consider visiting. I tried to describe a route instead of just giving you a list.
PLACES TO VISIT
Start at the Great Synagougue at Astoria. It’s the largest one in Europe and the second largest in the entire world (only the one in New York City is bigger). Not sure about the visiting hours but you can take a look from the outside.
David comments: The opening hours are also listed online.
Next, you can go to the Parliament building using the M2 tube (2 stops to Kossuth Lajos ter). You can get a guided tour which takes about one hour. Be prepared for airport-type security and bring your passport. Here is the website with the details – you may want to book in advance:
The highlight of the guided tour is the Holy Crown which is more than a thousand years old. You can also see the chamber where all the MPs debate.
After the Parliament, I would go to the shores of the Danube nearby. You’ll see a fairly unique memorial – it’s not a very uplifting topic but tourists frequent the place:
You should head to the Chain Bridge thereafter. It makes sense to walk across to the Buda side of town and board the funicular leading up to Buda Palace. You’ll have to purchase a separate ticket for this one as the cost of the journey is not covered by the usual bus/tram/tube ticket/pass.
Walking around the Castle district is pretty amazing. You can choose to walk the premises only or go inside. Inside you can find the National Szechenyi Library and the Hungarian National Gallery (in case you are interested in art). If you want to just go around you should definitely go to Sandor Palace (the residence of the President of Hungary, right next to where the funicular drops you off), Fisherman’s Bastion (great view over the city) and Matthias Church (the latter two are next to each other). You can also explore the streets and restaurants but be careful – they are very expensive (don’t go to Alabardos – it’s a huge ripoff). One interesting thing to note here is that people live within the walls of the castle – this is the most expensive area to buy real estate in the entire city.
Once you are done with the castle you can choose to visit the Opera building or St Stephen’s Basilica.
You may skip these if you are not into the architecture that much – going inside would either require you to sit through an opera or have an interest in Catholic churches. In case you are looking to go to a museum, I would recommend the House of Terror – a museum dedicated to the victims of WW2 and communism. It’s a fairly unique museum in terms of both topic and location (the building was the headquarters of the Hungarian State Protection Authority that used to secretly arrest people and torture them in the underground chambers – denailing or pulling teeth, etc…).
As for a nice 2-hour hike in the morning, I would recommend the Citadel. Getting there through public transport is tricky (there is no direct route from the Castle to the top of Gellert Hill which houses the Citadel). The stairs can be found at the Buda end of Liberty Bridge and the Cave Church. Once you are on top of the Hill you can enjoy the view and take a closer look at the Liberty Statue.
In case you fancy a nice walk in the shopping area of the city you can either choose to stroll along Andrassy Street or to go to Vaczi Street and walk towards Vörösmarty Street. From there you can take the M1 tube to Heroes Square (Hosok tere). On the left and right sides of the square, you can see two museums (Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum for Applied Arts). Behind the square, you’ll see Varosliget (City Park) which is a nice place to take a walk (I recommend visiting Vajdahunyad Castle). Nearby you can eat lunch/dinner at Robinson’s (excellent steak restaurant).
Around the area, you’ll find the Budapest Zoo, Municipal Circus, Amusement Park, and the Ice Skating Rink. I remember going skating when I was a kid – it’s a lovely place and relatively cheap too.
Another main tourist attraction in Budapest are the thermal baths. Most of them have been renovated recently using EU development funds. The one I found pretty cool is Rudas Thermal Baths that has a Jacuzzi on the rooftop. You can also go to Gellert Spa which is the most famous one (I never went there myself). Both are close to the stairs that lead to the Citadel.
If you want to meet with foreigners from other countries and talk in English you should consider going to the Ruin Bars. To me personally, they are just pubs without proper renovation but in the 2000s they became hipster places that tourists just love to visit. The most famous one is close to the Great Synagogue at Astoria and is called Szimpla Kert.
Not too far away from Gellert Spa, although on the Pest side of town, you can find the Great Market Hall. It’s right next to my university and is famous for being the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. You can buy pretty much anything that’s edible – from spices and spirits to meats and pastries. It’s a good place to get an edible souvenir/gift from if you want to surprise someone back at home.
If this was the summer I would strongly recommend a Danube Cruise or going to Margaret Island but neither of these are worth/possible doing in winter.
BARS AND RESTAURANTS
Recently there has been an increase in Michelin star restaurants in Budapest thanks to new, high-end culinary institutes having opened up in the last ten years that managed to produce some internationally acclaimed chefs. In 2013 the first Hungarian made it to the finals of the Bocuse d’Or (Tamas Szell) and Budapest hosted the 2016 European finals.
You can find a description of the “Big Four” here:
Other upscale places include:
Bock bistro – Hungarian meals with tasteful twists: https://bockbisztropest.hu/en/
MAK bistro – http://www.mak.hu/?lang=en
Stand25 Bisztró – Opened by the aforementioned Tamas Szell: https://stand25.hu/
Borsso Bistro – https://www.borsso.hu/menu
Apacuka Kavehaz – http://apacuka.com/en/
Mannatural Etelmanufaktura – It prides itself for using only raw, vegan ingredients. Very close to the Parliament building. https://www.facebook.com/mannatural/
Napfenyes Etterem – Very good vegan restaurant close to Elisabeth Bridge. http://www.napfenyesetterem.hu/
Babka Budapest Etelbar – Israeli restaurant, the place is named after a Jewish dessert. Very casual atmosphere. https://welovebudapest.com/en/venue/babka-2/
Tuning Burger – By far the best burgers in the entire city. http://www.tuningburger.hu/en/home/
Boutiq’ Bar – best cocktail bar in town. You can ask for any cocktail from the bartender. You can even describe your mood and he will know what to prepare for you. http://www.boutiqbar.hu/
David comments: We did not have time whilst in Budapest to visit all of the places listed. This is one that I really wish we could have tried.
Suttogo Piano Bar – http://suttogopianobar.hu/ Haven’t been here yet but heard good things. Besides, have you ever been to a piano bar?
THINGS TO EAT
Hungarian cuisine tends to be greasy and unhealthy. Not surprisingly it divides Hungarians just as much as foreigners. Here is a video about a guy who likes to travel to places and eat the most extreme foods there:
Now, aside from the braised rooster testicles and the kidney stew you can, of course, find less controversial items, like:
Fisherman’s soup – I absolutely love this one. It’s a must if you like fish.
Goulash – It’s a soup. Not a stew. Not sure why people outside Hungary make it into a stew.
Langos – Falls into the fast food category. It’s basically fried dough. You can get some in the Great Market Hall.
Fried Sausage – You haven’t tasted sausage before you tried it in Hungary. You can get some in the Great Market Hall or any butcher
Pick Salami – Can get it in every grocery store. Best thing ever.
Chestnut puree – One of my personal favorite desserts
Turo Rudi – cheese filled chocolate bar that is a local favorite. Everyone in Hungary knows it. You can buy it in any grocery store.
Here is a fairly good list: https://www.buzzfeed.com/anitabadejo/hungarian-foods-the-world-should-know?utm_term=.rbreX7XJx#.otv20L0RB
Hungarian alcoholic beverages:
Palinka – What vodka means to Russians is palinka for Hungarians. It’s a type of brandy made out of fruits. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C3%A1linka
David comments: We tasted an apricot Palinka. Amber thought it would be a rough tasting hooch, but it was a smooth, beautifully flavored liqueur. My only regret was that we did not try it until lunchtime on our last day, otherwise, I would have had this a night-cap at the end of each day.
Tokaj wine – Famous dessert wine popular across the world.
Zwack Unicum – You either love or hate it. There is no middle ground. It’s a digestif made out of more than 40 herbs.
David comments: I tried this in a Negroni variation. The Unicum replaced the Gin and Aperol stood in for Campari. It was a delightfully bitter and herbal libation.