Budapest Holiday Planning Guide
You might consider the city of Budapest, divided by the Danube River into two distinctive cities--Buda and Pest--to be essentially one large World Heritage Site. Many travelers flock to this city for the popular geothermal springs, but this capital has a lot more to offer than that. The number of historical sites here is seemingly endless, with some of the most popular being the Buda Castle Quarter, the Millennium Underground Railway, and Heroes' Square. Artists have long been drawn to the youthful atmosphere of this city, thus the population in Budapest is quite relaxed and creative. Packed with theatres, operas, museums, and a vibrant nightlife, Budapest has energy in abundance.
Best Neighborhoods to Visit in Budapest
District I/Buda: Sitting on the hilly west bank of the Danube, Buda is the historical capital of Hungary and the center around which the city of Budapest sprung. The area's numerous architectural attractions tell stories of the city's past and offer some of the best opportunities for sightseeing in Budapest.
District VII/Jewish Quarter: With its network of narrow streets lined with historical buildings, this is one of the culturally richest parts of the city. Once the center of Budapest's Jewish community, today it's one of the liveliest and most densely populated parts of the city, famous for its bohemian atmosphere.
District V/Inner City: An essential part of any Budapest itinerary, this area is the heart of Hungary's capital and the home of many of the city's most famous attractions. The neighborhood also offers an abundance of shopping and dining opportunities in an atmosphere that perfectly combines historical and modern traits.
Gellert Hill: There's hardly a better place for a quick escape from the bustle of downtown Budapest than Gellert Hill. The slopes of the hill are covered with extensive parks perfect for a relaxing stroll, while the top features an imposing citadel and commands panoramic views of the city.Margaret Island (Margitsziget)
: Green and peaceful, this island in the middle of the Danube is the favorite getaway for many of Budapest's residents and visitors of all ages. Covered in parks and recreational areas, the island also features several historical sites well worth visiting.
Things to Do in Budapest
Popular Budapest Tourist AttractionsFisherman's Bastion
: Admire this fairytale-like gem of Neo-Gothic architecture on the Buda side of the Danube and soak in the views of the city center. Each of the elaborate terrace's seven towers represents one Hungarian tribe that settled in the Carpathian basin back in the 9th century. Residence Parliament
: There are plenty of imposing government buildings around the world, but few are as impressive as this grand edifice on the banks of the Danube. Whether you admire it from the outside or decide to go in for a tour of the interior, this is definitely one of the places to visit in Budapest.Széchenyi Thermal Bath
: Budapest is famous for thermal baths, and this complex is not only the largest in the city, but in the entire Europe. Picking your favorite outdoor or indoor pool, enjoying the sauna, or going for a massage in the historical Neo-Baroque setting is a great way to relax during your trip to Budapest. St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)
: Dedicated to Hungary's first king and the country's protector saint, the basilica is one of the highlights of the city. Its elaborate decorations make it a popular tourist attraction--it also regularly hosts concerts by some of Hungary's top classical musicians.Chain Bridge (Szechenyi lanchid)
: Spanning the Danube, this iconic bridge in the center of Budapest remains probably the most romantic way to cross the river.Castle Hill
: Hop on the funicular or hike up the hill and take your time soaking in some of Budapest's most famous monuments. Crowned by the Buda Castle, the hill is also the home of many historical buildings, churches, and other treats for history enthusiasts.Danube
: Budapest might have an abundance of stunning buildings and streets, but the heart of the city is definitely the Danube. Gain the complete experience of Budapest by taking a stroll along the river or going on one of many boat tours.Shoes on the Danube Bank
: While walking along the Danube, don't miss the chance to pay respect to Holocaust victims at this moving memorial.House of Terror
: Explore the dark side of Hungary's modern history at a museum that pays homage to the victims of the country's oppressive regimes.Hősök tere
: One of the most iconic areas in Budapest, the square is a must-see during your visit to the city. Next to the massive city park, the square is home to a pair of art museums and the Millennium Monument, which celebrates the history of the Hungarian state.
Planning a Budapest Vacation with Kids
Things to do in Budapest with Kids
Home of almost 2 million people, Budapest is a bustling European capital that offers a lot of entertainment for its young inhabitants and visitors. Make sure you kids get well acquainted with the city's stunning architecture. From the grandeur of Residence Parliament
to the magical gardens and towers of Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyadvar)
, there are numerous places to explore. Budapest is also known for its parks, many of which feature landscaped gardens and play areas for youngsters. Probably the most famous is City Park Városliget
, the home of Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden
, a real treat for nature lovers. For a more active and adventurous vacation in Budapest, take a tour of the city's underground with Caving Under Budapest
, or have fun climbing and ziplining at Challengeland Adventure Park
. In addition to being entertaining, a trip to Budapest can also be educational. The city is home to a selection of museums, such as Csodák Palotája
and Miniversum Budapest
, which feature interactive exhibits specially suited for younger audiences.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Budapest
Not too big and yet packed with attractions, Budapest is a great destination for a family holiday. All the amenities that you might need during your stay are easily accessible, and with many places to visit in Budapest located relatively close to the downtown area, you won't have to spend a lot of time commuting. For those longer excursions outside the city center you can fully rely on the well-organized public transportation network.
The Pest side of the city is flat and very easy to navigate on foot, even with a stroller in tow. During the summer, the wide boulevards offer little shade, so make sure to provide the kids with adequate protection from the sun. The western Buda side is hillier and contains some cobbled streets. If you're visiting Castle Hill
with small children, taking a funicular is a much better choice than climbing on foot via the uneven stone steps.
Tourism in Budapest is one of the main industries and the city features a vast selection of family-friendly accommodation options.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Budapest
Cuisine of Budapest
With over a thousand eateries, and many of them quite affordable, Budapest is a great place to taste all sorts of specialties. Restaurants that serve international cuisine are plentiful, but you should definitely use your vacation in Budapest to try out traditional Hungarian recipes. Trademark national specialties like goulash, paprikash, and sausages are widely available throughout the city, as are the famous Hungarian desserts, such as cakes, crepes, and chestnut puree. If you're not feeling hungry, a perfect way to take a break from sightseeing in Budapest is to sit at one of the city's numerous cafes and enjoy a cup of coffee or a glass of flavored lemonade. Hungary is also famous for its winemaking tradition, and even though the main wine regions are outside the city, a perfect glass of Tokaji and other local varieties is never too far away in Budapest. Visitors who don't feel like exploring Budapest's culinary scene on their own can join a guided tour like Taste Hungary
, which allow you to experience the world of flavors and gastronomic traditions with the help of local experts.
Shopping in Budapest
From large malls to boutique design shops, Budapest offers shopping opportunities to rival many bigger European capitals. Those looking for world-famous brands can head to Vaci Street
, a fashionable pedestrian street right in the center of the city. Another good option is WestEnd City Center
, one of the largest malls in Central Europe. For a more authentic vibe, you can find a great selection of stores selling local designs, artwork, and souvenirs around Kiraly Street, which has a reputation as one of the city's trendiest design districts. Treasure hunters rarely miss Ecseri Market
, where you can find everything from antique furniture and porcelain to odd mementos of Hungary's communist past. Every true gourmand's tour of Budapest must include a visit to some of the city's wine shops, which come in all shapes and sizes. Consider also Central Market Hall
, the largest farmer's market in the city.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Budapest
History of Budapest
History of Budapest predates the founding of the Hungarian state by almost an entire millennium. The first settlement on the slopes of Gellert Hill was founded by the Celts in the 1st century BCE. A century later, Romans moved into the area and founded a new city called Aquincum a bit farther to the north. The city quickly grew into an economic and military center of the region and in the 2nd century CE became the capital of the Roman province Pannonia Inferior. Today, visiting Aquincum Museum
is the thing to do in Budapest for all those interested in the city's ancient past.
For several centuries Aquincum held a crucial position in defending the Empire's northern border, but in the 5th century BCE the Romans abandoned the city faced with the Hun onslaught. In the subsequent centuries, the area containing modern Budapest was raided numerous times by a series of invaders and migrating peoples. By the time the Hungarians arrived in the 9th century, little was left of the former Roman city. Only two Bulgarian fortresses stood on the opposite sides of the Danube, with small settlements growing around them.
Buda, the settlement on the west bank of the Danube, officially became the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in the 14th century. This was the period of blossoming culture, inspired by the country's Angevin rulers hailing from southern Italy. By the end of the Middle Ages, Hungary became seriously threatened by the advancement of the Ottoman Turks, and in 1541 Suleiman the Magnificent conquered Buda. One of Budapest's hidden gems is Gül Baba Türbe és Rózsakert Budapest
, a great reminder of a time when the city was under Ottoman rule.
The Habsburg Empire recaptured both Buda and Pest in the late 17th century, but in the centralized empire ruled from Vienna, the cities were reduced to the status of insignificant provincial centers. This was about to change in the 19th century, when Chain Bridge (Szechenyi lanchid)
was built as the first permanent link between the two cities. After the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 and the formation of Austria-Hungary, the city quickly rose to the status of the empire's second most important center. Pest developed into a multicultural hub with a large Jewish community whose Dohány Street Synagogue
is now one of the most famous attractions in Budapest. In 1873, Buda and Pest were finally united into a single city.
Budapest went through a series of remarkable transformations in 1896, the year that marked the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian basin. Monumental structures like Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyadvar)
and Hősök tere
were built and the first line of the Budapest Metro system was opened.
The quick development of the city, its cultural scene and architectural grandeur suddenly rivaling likes of Paris and Vienna, was halted by the two world wars. Despite Hungary's alliance with Nazi Germany, Budapest was a relatively safe place for the Jewish community until 1944, when Germans took direct control of the city. Shoes on the Danube Bank
stands as one of the reminders of the atrocities that ensued. Half a century of communist rule after the end of World War II was marked by political uncertainty and economic decline. Today, Budapest is once again a blossoming city where visitors can enjoy a vibrant cultural scene and an abundance of monuments from its eventful past.
Holidays & Festivals in Budapest
In addition to the public holidays and religious festivities, Budapest hosts a myriad of cultural and sporting events throughout the year, so you can bet on something going on in the city whenever you visit. According to a Hungarian custom, the best way to celebrate the New Year is with a lot of noise that scares the demons, so if you're in the city on December 31, expect a lot of partying, music, and fireworks. One of the largest spring holidays in Budapest is celebrated on March 15, marking the beginning of the 1848 revolution. The Labor Day on May 1 is another important holiday when many businesses close and a lot of locals come out to enjoy the usually nice weather. St. Stephen's Day on August 20 is the biggest national holiday both in Budapest as well as the whole of Hungary. The day marks the founding of the Hungarian state and is celebrated through a variety of events all over the city, culminating with a huge fireworks display over Danube
. If taking a tour of Residence Parliament
is high on your Budapest itinerary, a great day to do it is the Republic Day on October 23, when admission is free. Christmas is another great season for visiting Budapest, with the holiday spirit overtaking the city and numerous Christmas markets springing up all over the area. The biggest and the most picturesque one takes place from the end of November at Vorosmarty Square (Vorosmarty ter)
. Every August, music lovers and the world's biggest stars flock to Budapest for the Sziget Festival, while July is the month for motorsports enthusiasts coming to see the Hungarian Grand Prix at Hungaroring
Budapest Travel Tips
Climate of Budapest
Throughout the year, Budapest enjoys a relatively mild climate with a good amount of sunshine. Summers are usually warm and long, lasting from mid-May almost to the end of September. Showers are not uncommon in early summer, while at the peak of the season you can expect occasional heat waves. For the most part, temperatures stay between 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) and 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit), perfect for exploring the city as long as you protect yourself from the sun. Autumn in Budapest tends to be gloomy but not too wet, while the winter brings frequent snow and fog that can sometimes last for weeks. Winter temperatures tend to vary significantly and can range from -15 degrees Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) to +15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit). Springs are warm and sunny, but don't be surprised by an occasional shower. Overall, as long as you bring adequate clothing for the season, there's no bad time of the year for a Budapest vacation.
Transportation in Budapest
Like many European capitals, Budapest features a vast network of public transportation that includes trams, busses, trolleybuses, and a subway system. This means that all parts of the city are quite easy to reach, while the center is navigable on foot. Some forms of transportation, like Millennium Underground
and Buda Hill Funicular
, are not only convenient but are also popular Budapest tourist attractions. Reaching Budapest from another world destination is easy, as the city serves as a main hub for road and rail traffic and its Ferenc Liszt International Airport is by far the largest in the country.