This has probably been said a thousand times, but I’ll say it again: you’ll never go hungry in Hungary! Budapest was one of our six honeymoon destinations this October after getting married in Greece, and it turned out to be one of our favorite European cities! Did you ever think that you would find the best Thai massage of your life in Budapest? What about a liquor with over 40 herbs in it that will get you (okay, me) drunk in one shot? Budapest has some of the coolest bars in the world, as well as one of the most lavishly built Parliament buildings you’ll ever see. And while Budapest has NO free public toilets (okay, there’s one, and I’ll divulge my secret in this article on where you can find it), they do have a handful of Turkish baths with healing mineral waters and the best goulash in the world…obviously. Below I will outline what to expect when traveling in Budapest as well as 13 things to do that will make you fall in love with the city.
If you’re wondering where to eat including which foods and restaurants to avoid, check out my Budapest Foodie Guide; Where To Eat and What To Avoid in Budapest.
Know Before You Go: What to Expect in Budapest
- CURRENCY: Hungary’s currency is the Forint. At the time of our honeymoon (October 2018), the currency conversion was 280 Forints to $1 USD. You’ll feel like a millionaire in Hungary 😉 This is a good time to sharpen your quick math skills so you don’t go accidentally spending millions on smoked paprika.
- Budapest is relatively inexpensive compared to other Western and Eastern European countries, and especially compared to the U.S. An average dinner out including appetizers, mains, dessert and drinks (usually shots of Unicum) was around €35 – 40 for the two of us. In Hawaii or Seattle we typically spend around $70 – 100 USD for a similar meal.
- LOCAL RESIDENTS: The locals we encountered were quite friendly and helpful, though they do appreciate it when you learn a few basics in their language.
- LANGUAGE: Szia (pronounced see-yah) means hello – I found this to be so cute because their word for hello is our casual slang for goodbye.
Köszönöm (pronounced kuss-uh-num) means thank you.
- HOW TO PRONOUNCE BUDAPEST: It is important to know how to properly pronounce the name of this wonderful city. It is pronounced BUDA-PESHT, not PEST. Pest was similar to the plague, which killed many Hungarians, so it is actually considered bad to say BUDA-PEST.
- FUN FACT: We learned during our walking tour that in many Hollywood movies, if there is an alien, the alien is usually speaking some form of Hungarian! After learning this funny tidbit, I couldn’t help but giggle and imagine Sci-Fi movies every time I heard Hungarian spoken.
- SMOKING: While smoking is not allowed indoors, it is allowed just about anywhere else. People smoke cigarettes a LOT. This was my only complaint about Budapest; I felt like I could never take a full breath of fresh air; every time we exited a building, we were either hit with the smell of cigarette smoke or car fumes. While we found the city and streets to be relatively clean and well-kept, cigarette litter is everywhere.
- BUSES FROM NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES: If you’re arriving by bus from VIENNA or other neighboring countries, be prepared with cash to exchange for Forints when you arrive. There is a place to exchange money at the bus station, but sometimes the ATMs don’t work so it’s helpful to have cash to convert into local currency. You can catch a metro from here into the city or take a taxi.
- TOILETS: public toilets are nowhere to be found – besides restaurants, cafes and museums, the only free public toilets that we found were in the ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter.
- TIPPING is expected in Budapest. 15% is standard, which surprised us because most of the rest of Europe does not tip, or tips very little (5%). I’m glad we inquired about this at the start of our visit so we didn’t offend anybody!
- DON’T say “thank you” in a bar or restaurant when paying until you receive your change. It means “keep the change”
- WATER: Tap water is safe to drink in Budapest. If you buy bottled water, they have conveniently color-coated the caps!
BLUE = fizzy
PINK = still
GREEN = softly carbonated
- TRANSPORTATION: very similar to the Vienna Card, Budapest has the same thing where you can purchase a card that gets you access to all busses, trams and metro for 24, 48 or 72 hours at any tobacco shop. We purchased the 72-hour card for 8,300 Forint for the two of us (around $32 USD, or $16 per ticket). This averages to approximately $5 USD per person per day for three days for unlimited transport. That’s a great deal!
We were delighted by the ease of utilizing public transport in Budapest. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a tram, train or bus.
- FUN FACT: The very first McDonald’s in Eastern Europe was introduced in Budapest, and on opening night everybody dressed in their finest clothing because they were so excited to have a renowned American company on their land. It was a sign of globalization and freedom, opening up to other cultures and breaking down pre-existing borders.
- ANOTHER FUN FACT: The Rubik’s cube was invented in Hungary during the communist rule in 1973. The world record held for fastest time to solve a Rubik’s cube is 4.22 seconds and is held by an Aussie mate, meaning by the time you finish reading this sentence, he will have solved it.
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13 Things to do in Budapest
Below I will list 13 things that will make you fall madly in love with Budapest!
1) Take an Evening Free Walking Tour
The company linked above has several different free walking tours. We arrived from Vienna by bus around 3:00 PM, so we wanted to make use of our evening. We always enjoy taking walking tours as soon as we arrive to a destination to get all the local tips and secrets on where to go, what to see and most importantly where to eat!
2) Take a Free Walking Tour of the Jewish Quarter (same company as linked above)
This tour will teach you about the history of Jewish people during WWII and how Hungary was affected by the war.
3) Discover the Ruin Bars
Szimpla Kertmozi was the first bar to open around 2002. The buildings in the Jewish Quarter were abandoned and had become dilapidated in the decades following WWII, so the ruin bars were born from the concept of recycled space. Each bar has its own unique flair and is decorated colorfully with antiques and thrift shop furniture. The grungy stickiness and smell of beer seems to somehow add to the charm. The Jewish Quarter walking tour ends here.
4) Soak Your Worries Away at a Turkish Bath
We visited Szechenyi Baths, which cost 5,400 Forint per person (around $17 USD per person) for entry, and you may stay for however long you wish, even all day! There are more than a handful of baths with varying temperatures, both indoor and outdoor. They are thermal baths so they have all sorts of good qualities and minerals that are supposedly great for ailments and illnesses.
There are lockers and cabins where you can leave your belongings, so you can bring valuables like a camera and cell phone. They even allow you to take pictures inside! Upon arrival you will receive a wristband with a chip in it to open and close your locker – they’re very technologically advanced! We spent around three hours at the thermal baths, and the only reason we had to leave is because I got hungry! They do serve food on the premises but it’s quite expensive and not very good quality. We had several restaurants that we wanted to check out in town, so we decided to leave. Once you leave you cannot re-enter unless you pay full-price admission again. If I were to visit again, I would recommend taking snacks so that you can stay longer.
5) Take Photos at Fisherman’s Bastion During Sunrise
Since we had just gotten married a week prior, we had all our wedding attire with us! And since professional wedding photos can take up to three months, Sasha and I decided to dress up and take our own photos of each other! For stunning sunrise photos at Fisherman’s Bastion and me twirling around in my wedding dress like a princess in a castle, check out our Amateur Wedding Photoshoot in a Castle in Budapest.
6) Gather your Thoughts at the Shoes On The Danube River
This is a somber memorial, commemorating the lives taken too soon when the victims were shot into the river during the war.
7) Take a boat (included in your Budapest transportation pass) to view the Parliament Building from the Danube River
This is by far the most lavish Parliament building I have ever seen in our world travels. Built in the Gothic and Renaissance Revival style, this building is just as impressive up close as it is from the river or the hill on the Buda side.
8) Explore Buda Castle and Climb the Steps (or take the Funicular) to Buda Hill
We decided that after way too many pastries in Vienna and goulash in Budapest, that we needed some extra exercise, so we decided to climb the steps to the top of Buda Castle rather than taking the funicular. There is a fun spot where you are directly over the funicular and you can watch as it climbs up the steep hill.
Here’s a less crowded way to get to the top: at the large roundabout and car tunnel with a lion’s head over the top, turn to your right and you will see a set of stairs that has a sign that reads Kiraly Lepcso. Take the first left and follow the footpath to the top.
9) Get a Thai Massage
Out of all the places in the world, you wouldn’t think that Budapest would be known for their Thai…well, anything, but surprisingly enough, you can find Thai food restaurants and Thai massage parlors on just about every corner in the city. However, the highest-rated Thai massage is at Lian Thai Massage. Advance reservations (at least one day prior) is highly recommended as they are usually booked out. We’ve received Thai massages all over the world including Hawaii, Russia, Vienna, Croatia and Italy, and this was the best Thai massage I’ve ever had. Now I just need to get to Thailand to make a true comparison!
COST FOR A COUPLES MASSAGE (tip included): 19,000 Forinth ($67 USD for two people)
(As a comparison, the cost for ONE person for a Thai massage in Hawaii is $67!)
10) Try a Shot of Unicum
This delicious (but acquired taste) came from when the Emperor had a bad stomachache, so he asked his doctor to mix him up a drink that would make him feel better. His doctor mixed over 40 herbs along with bitters, and this has now become somewhat of a national drink of Hungary. Locals drink this before a meal, after a meal, when they have a hangover, or if they’re sick…basically, all the time.
Unicum is both a digestive herbal aid and an aperitif, so you can drink it before and after a meal. It’s best served in a chilled glass. I, being the half Chinese lightweight I am, made the mistake of drinking a shot before eating and it went straight to my head! Sasha has never seen me so drunk! I’m a cheap date, what can I say?
11) Take Tram #2 and Sight See for Only 300 Forint (or free included with your Budapest transportation pass)
This was recommended to us by our guide on the first evening we did the free night walking tour. Unfortunately we didn’t get to take tram #2 during our stay because there was a marathon going on and they ceased operations for this line over the weekend. This route takes only 30 minutes and runs along the Pest River. On this line you will see the Parliament, Chain Bridge, a view to Castle Hill, Gellert Hill, and Central Market Hall.
12) Take a Stroll Along Gozsdu Udvar for Locally Crafted Goods and Restaurants
I bought some warm gloves for the equivalent of $5 USD. This walking street has vendors who sell unique locally crafted goods such as jewelry, wooden watches and sunglasses, and scarves.
13) Walk Across the Chain Tower Bridge and Hike up the Stairs to Liberty Statue for the Best View of Budapest!
The Chain Tower Bridge was designed by the same designer of the Eiffel Tower, so you will see many architectural similarities.
We felt that five days in Budapest was the perfect amount of time to get a good feel for the city and culture. Have you been to Budapest? What was your favorite highlight?**PIN THIS POST!**