The votes are in and we think Budapest is awesome! Between its historic charm and great views, walkability through various neighborhoods, and excellent yet affordable restaurants, we were very happy during our two weeks on the Danube. Buda, on the east side of the river, is more rural and home to the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion along with other landmarks. Pest (pronounced “Pescht”), on the west side, is busier and has a downtown with more of a big city feel. We learned not to make the mistake of calling it “pest” because that actually means the plague.
We spent the first week in a comfortable Airbnb apartment in District IX (Ferencváros) in Pest, very close to the Central Market and a 20 minute walk to the inner city where we started our tour the first day. After the first week, we got to experience another part of the city at a different Airbnb hotel of sorts, also in Pest, in District VI (Terézváros), closer to the inner city with restaurants galore. Although we enjoyed our first apartment a lot more, we chose the second for its free gym and proximity to a few other neighborhoods we wanted to check out.
We met our tour guide at Vörösmarty Square among a ton of tourists but it was nothing like we experienced in the center of Prague, thankfully. From there we made our way to the Danube Promenade and took in the view of the Parliament and Buda hills – simply beautiful! We also spent some time at St. Stephen’s Basilica, named after the first king of Hungary and the saint celebrated on August 20th, a public holiday in Hungary (St. Stephen’s Day) which we would be there for! We then walked across the Chain Bridge, fit with white stone lions at both entrances and the first permanent stone bridge connecting Buda and Pest. Once across the bridge, we trekked uphill toward the Castle District to check out the Royal Palace where the President lives and Matthias Church, one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen to date. We also snapped some great pictures from Fisherman’s Bastion with a fantastic view of Parliament and finished the tour agreeing that we would visit Buda again during our stay. Although we didn’t visit The Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial during the tour, we went the next day and felt its simple and poignant significance. The WWII memorial serves as a remembrance to the Hungarian Jews who were executed along the banks of the Danube but forced to remove their shoes beforehand.
After talking with Jenn’s mom Judy, we learned more about where her grandmother grew up in Buda and decided to take a walk deeper into that part of the city. Since the road is really long, we decided to snap a picture of the street sign for Margit Körút which literally means “Margaret Street”. It was pretty special to be in a place where family had lived – especially in a city we were visiting for the first time!
Taking a free tour on our first or second day in a new city has been really helpful thus far, and all of the major cities have offered them in our experience. Although at times they feel redundant and can be tiring, they’ve helped to get our bearings and figure out places we might want to revisit. Its also been a great way for us to grasp the cultural do’s and don’ts since most of the guides are locals and our guide in Budapest was very helpful. We’ve listed a few below that we found helpful.
- Don’t use taxis – this came highly recommended by our guide who seemed pretty adamant about it. Good thing the metro and bus system is very cheap, fast and reliable. We even went to the airport for around $3 by taking the metro to the airport bus!
- Don’t eat at any restaurants that have outdoor menus with no prices listed. By law, restaurants are required to advertise all prices.
- Don’t say “thank you” in a bar/restaurant when paying if you would like change. In Hungarian culture, handing the check to the server and saying thank you means “keep the change”.
- Do tip – generally 15% in local currency (Forint) unless the bill specifies “szervízdíj” in which case service is already included.
- Bottled water by cap color – pink=still, green-lightly carbonated, blue=carbonated
The most fitting word to describe the Central Market would be options! Each stall has produce, meat, cheese, spices, etc. so at first it felt a little overwhelming trying to figure out which ones to buy from. Fortunately, we chose the stalls that were away from the center of the market and more tucked away around the perimeter. This was an insider tip we learned after doing some research beforehand, which proved to be very helpful. It seemed like we were only amongst locals while scooping up the ingredients for The Goulash Experiment.
What can we say about our experience at the Széchenyi Baths? Well, let’s just say they weren’t really for us, but we did take full advantage of the time we had there and ended up mostly working on our tans. Thankfully, we arrived early and got two chairs because by 10:30AM people were laying out on the concrete and by the time we left mid-afternoon, the place was an absolute zoo. The combination of the warm weather, hot baths and the copious amount of people sharing them was not that appealing so we mostly relaxed and people watched, which might have been the best part about the experience. You can’t win them all.
Last but not least – the food! We ate out frequently due to the high quality and low cost, similar to Prague, but agreed that Budapest had the edge. This was mainly due to of the wealth of options that were within a 5-15 minute walk and also because of the extra creativity and precision in some of the dishes. We will list all of our recommendations below but there are a couple we want to highlight in a little more detail. First and foremost and probably our favorite place – Két Szerecsen. This was a five minute walk from our second apartment and we ended up going twice for dinner – it was that good and super affordable. During our first trip we had some fresh, perfectly cooked fish tapas. I know, fish tapas in Budapest? The answer is an overwhelming YES! The collection included grilled calamari in chili oil that had a hint of smokiness which we happily sopped up with fresh bread. Second, was shrimp sautéd in a traditional garlic, olive oil and lemon sauce – divine. Third was a piece of flaky white fish in a decadent cream sauce with zoodles, the heaviest of the four but not overwhelmingly so. The fourth was an excellent salmon tartar with avocado, a ton of dill and lemon – our absolute favorite! In an effort to keep our meal on the lighter side, we opted for a quinoa salad instead of a main dish and we were pleasantly surprised at how fresh and delicious it was. In total we spent around $40 for everything plus a bottle of crisp Hungarian white wine – such a bargain. Our second time we agreed to deviate and try some different dishes even though we really just wanted to have the same meal. The salmon tartar and quinoa salad were a must and then came the tomato soup and beef cheeks and they were excellent as well, especially the soup! It could have been poured over pasta or anything for that matter. On top of its savory, sweet tomatoey flavor was a homemade pesto sauce drizzle with dollops of fresh mozzarella that melted into the soup but still held their integrity…heaven! The beef cheeks melted in our mouths and were served alongside traditional square noodles with a sour cream and cottage cheese sauce – so rich and delicious we couldn’t finish it all but we tried. This is a place we highly recommend, the service was decent but the food delivered big time.
Another highlight was KonyvBar & Bistro which puts whimsical and interactive touches to all of their dishes. The interior was intimate and dimly lit with floor to ceiling shelves completely filled with books that added to its concept. The chef creates biweekly menus according to a particular book and we just so happened to go when they were featuring I am Pilgrim which Jesse was reading. He helped me to understand the titles of the featured options and we ended up choosing the “Bath of Acid” spring rolls (marinated salmon, “cucumber bath”) which were delicious and required us to pour a vile of “acid” for the full experience. The spicy goulash soup was also delicious and probably the best we have had while the tender and flavorful chicken paprikash was a standout – refined presentation and all. The experience was really fun and ended up being around $45 including a bottle of wine and tip. We left very satisfied!
Some of our favorite places to eat & drink include:
- Két Szerecsen – our favorite, great fish tapas, tomato soup and very affordable!
- KonyvBar & Bistro – creative and delicious Hungarian-inspired dishes.
- Borbíróság – great place right next to the Central Market – stuffed peppers & salmon were delish!
- Ricsi’s – cool outdoor bar serving up Jewish street food with the “World’s Greatest Sandwich” and other vegetarian options.
- Budapest Bagel – great spot for a breakfast sandwich.
- Rukkola – big salads similar to Sweetgreen at half the price!
- The Big Fish – really fresh fish and excellent ceviche but overpriced in our opinion.
- Jamie’s Italian – went initially for a great aperol spritz and ended up getting dinner – average food, overpriced and below average service.
- Rombusz – chill outdoor beer garden serving up some Hungarian snacks including lángos, a deep fried dough topped with sour cream and cheese. Yum!
- Moritz Eis – three words – Lemon.Basil.Ice – sooooooo delicious!
- Judy’s Wine Bar – small wine bar attached to a hotel with great Hungarian wines by the glass.
- Raqpart – fun bar on the Danube – great place for cocktails at sunset.
- Pesti Diszno – great cocktails and Palinka – didn’t have dinner but the food looked great.
- Lehuto Craft Beer – quaint craft beer spot in a cute neighborhood and an excellent local IPA.
- Menza – stayed for an aperol spritz before dinner – very retro vibe and a line out the door for dinner.
- Book Cafe – coffee shop with gorgeous architecture on the second floor of a bookstore – great coffee too!
Some of our favorite places we visited include:
- Castle Hill – fantastic views of the city from atop the hill in Buda!
- Matthias Church & Fisherman’s Bastion – also in Buda these 2 landmarks next to each other are a must see.
- Central Market – for all your fresh produce, meat, and cheese amongst other things!
- Free Budapest Walking Tour – solid walking tour that gave us the lay of the land and some good info.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica – massive church in downtown Pest.
- Shoes on the Danube – well worth a visit to this memorial on the Danube.
- Parliament – beautiful landmark with excellent architecture. We hear the tours of the inside are great though we didn’t do one.