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Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport is approximately 10 miles away from the city-centre. There are two main terminals. Airlines travelling to Budapest include Wizz Air as well as Ryanair.
Budapest Keleti Train Station is an important train station and can be found on the east side of the city. There are train connections to Vienna, Berlin and Bratislava.
All international coaches depart from Nepliget Bus station, which is located on the corner of the People's Park.
When you’re whizzing through lots of European cities you’ll see more national galleries, cathedrals, and parliament buildings than you can count on both hands. Your to-do list in each stop can look a tad monotonous. But this is certainly not the case for Budapest.
By European capital standards, Budapest is pretty unique. Not only does it have everything capitals are entitled to – glamorous architecture, stories from history not long gone, and too many cool hang-outs – but also a few eye-brow-raisers up its sleeve. Which other city can claim ruin bars, a public bathing culture, the birthplace of Houdini and the Rubik’s cube, a cake that can double as an ice cream cone, and intricate cave networks with Dracula’s labyrinth?
Check out below for our top tips for Budapest things to do, in no particular order.
Below Budapest’s streets is a tangle of caves. And they aren’t just full of dripping stalactites and gravity-defying stalagmites (definitely had to google the difference just then). The church under Gellért Hill, built into a cave where a reclusive Saint Ivan gave people their health back.
Buda Castle sits on top of about 10 km/ 6 miles of subterranean passages, which were repurposed as, in no particular order, a bunker, hospital, barracks, harem, and prison for the real-life Dracula (an eccentric aristocrat named Vlad Tepes). For those with a marble willpower and wriggling know-how there are also adventure tours through Pál-völgyi, the longest network of caves in Hungary.
This is pretty much the motto for Budapest’s bar and cultural hub scene. Giving new life to old crumbling buildings is a trend that has barely been around for 20 years, but already the city is synonymous with it.
Szimpla Kert – a retired factory-complex now filled with imagination – was one of the vanguards of the ruin bar movement. Whether it’s an old communist car or a bathtub, trash is treasure here.
Budapest’s majestic Andrássy Avenue is so beautiful that the city forbade any public transport to be built on it. But under it is fine – hence the birth of Europe’s first electrified underground metro in 1896. You can still take the quaint Millennium Line (the M1, of course) for a ride.
There aren’t just things to do in Budapest, there’s also cake to eat. Chimney cake is a cute name for an ingenious treat. The dough is rolled flat, a spiral is cut from the outside into the centre, and the ribbon of dough is snaked around a cylinder on a spit, rubbed in sugar, and baked in a special chimney cake oven. What comes out looks exactly like a chimney.
Although you can find this yummy thing in a couple of other European countries, Budapest has transformed it. The hole in the middle turned out to be a literal niche in the market this winter: reinventions revolving around fillings range from chimney cake sandwiches and eclairs, to chimney cake ice cream cones. And is Budapest cheap, I hear you wonder – you can pick up one of these delicious treats for the equivalent of just over £2!
Even if you’re just stopping for 3 days in Budapest, whether it’s a pool, a sauna, or a red-wine bath (“medicinal”, they say), the baths are one thing you have to try. The city takes the biscuit when it comes to taking to the waters, there are over 100 thermal springs are bubbling under the city (and it’s these same springs that also warped the rock under Budapest to make caves).
But even though baths are one of the typical things to do in Budapest, “typical” Budapest baths don’t really exist. The Király Baths are housed in 16th century Ottoman chambers. The Gellért Baths shimmer with elaborate Art Nouveau interiors. The Széchenyi Baths look like a palace. In summer the outdoor pool at Rudas Bath is a great spot to get a view of the city centre right on the river.
The story of “stone soup” goes back to once upon a time. It has many variations, but essentially the folk tale describes stingy villagers being unwilling to share their food with hungry travellers, until the travellers offer them some of their “stone soup” – only, it needs a little extra “seasoning”, and slowly the villagers add bits and pieces to make a more nutritious meal.
It seems like the lesson has gotten through, because, in Budapest, the restaurant Kőleves (Hungarian for “stone soup”) does nothing but share goodness (and absolutely does not serve stone soup). Based in the old Jewish district and housed in an old kosher meat factory, with a cosy summer garden, this is a great place to experience traditional Jewish and Hungarian cuisine with a dash of the modern. Try the soups and stews, such as the matzo ball soup or the beany sólent!
You said you wanted to “escape” on your Budapest city break? In a world where everything is becoming more and more virtual, real-life adrenaline rushes are cropping up as a counter-trend. And where do you suppose the very first escape room was opened to the public?
Parapark took inspiration from video games and made the wishes of Houdini-wanna-be’s come true. It’s only been going since 2011, but has already started a worldwide craze.
Speaking of Houdini, let’s not forget where this slippery legend originally came from: some say Houdini’s first “escape” was to run away to the USA, where he worked his way up from tie cutter to star performer.
Your list of Budapest things to do will definitely include the Buda castle, so why not pop into the House of Houdini located inside it? It was founded just last summer (June 2016) by actual magicians and escape artists, admirers of the late Houdini, and it is meant as a tribute to the world’s favourite run-away. A trail of authentic artefacts will lead you through his spectacular life to his tragic demise in Detroit.
Hungarians are inventors. Along with the nuclear reactor, Ford Model T, hydrogen bomb, electric motor, and digital computing, their creations include all those things that are so everyday, you forget they needed inventing: the biro by none other than László Bíró, the safety match by János Irinyi, and the beloved Rubik’s cube by – you guessed it – Ernő Rubik.
The frustrating thing is that, in 2017, there should have been a Rubik’s cube-shaped museum opening in Budapest. Yet the news is ominously silent about its opening… Still, while you’re waiting, there are other Rubik-related things to do in Budapest: visit the mural by Neopaint, or see a collection of cubes in the Museum of Applied Arts, or buy your own: the friendly Reflexshop has too many variations on the classic cube.
Book your return ticket, or else you may never want to leave. Those who run away to this quirky haven seldom returned (nothing to do with getting lost in the caves, promise…). They probably just never ran out of things to do in Budapest.
Public transport in Budapest is affordable, reliable and efficient. This public transport system includes over 200 day and night buses, four metro lines, 15 trolleys, 32 trams, three public boats, and an HEV Suburban train that travels out of the city. A bike-sharing scheme, MOL Bubi, enables travellers to hire bikes to tour the city as well. After use, travellers can return the bikes to any of the 98 docking stations within the city center. The subway system is also a convenient way to get around, as it drops off commuters at the Deak Ferenc Square in the heart of the city. Attractions such as the Buda Castle, Szcechenyi Chain Bridge, and St. Stephen's Basilica are within walking distance of the Square. Access to the various modes of public transport within the city center requires possession of tickets that are sold at any of the boarding stations, news and street stands. For use when travelling, these tickets are validated using the time punching machines at the stations. The Budapest Card, which is designed for visitors, allows unlimited access to public transport, several museums and two free walking tours within the city center. This card has a maximum validity of seven days.
The city center of Budapest is fairly compact, making it a great city to explore on foot. Start off in the central square known as Hősök tere, or Heroes Square, which is on the Pest side of the city. The square is filled with statues of all the ancient rulers of Hungary, and this provides an interesting way to learn about the history of the country. From the square, walk along Andrassy Avenue which is a street lined with luxury shops. Go window shopping or enjoy one of the many street performances that take place along the sidewalks. Towards the end of the avenue, you will find St. Stephen Basilica, which is the tallest building in Pest. Take the time to explore this historic church, which houses the hand of St. Stephen who was one of the Kings of Hungary. Just next door to the church you will see the Hungarian Parliament, which can be explored on a guided tour. Now it's time to walk across the famous Chain Bridge and enjoy the views of the Danube River. Hike to the top of Buda Hill to see the changing of the guard at Buda Castle and the expansive views across Budapest.
Budapest is famous for its iconic parliament building, the ruin bars, and the city's relaxing thermal baths. Other than these attractions, many tourists come to explore the city's unique culinary culture. The Hungarian capital has one of Europe's most developed food scenes with a wide variety of cuisines on offer. However, like in most major cities, every traveler should sample some city staples in Budapest. One such dish is goulash. This iconic dish features a blend of meat and spices made into a stew, and is served on its own or over other foods such as noodles, rice, or fresh white bread. Most Budapest restaurants have some iteration of goulash. Why go hungry in Hungary when you can have a taste of the city's comfort food? Grab some Lángos and enjoy a savory Hungarian treat that will delight your palette. This flatbread and one of Budapest's street foods features doughy flatbread that is deep-fried and covered with sour cream, grated cheese, or garlicky butter to enhance its flavor. Another Hungarian favorite is Chicken Paprikash, featuring juicy chicken meat cooked in simmering creamy sauce for a tender bite. Add some paprika, pepper, onion, garlic, and tomato served over egg dumplings and you have a winner.
The four seasons in Budapest are very different from each other, and each season offers its own unique activities and attractions. Spring is rainy and windy, summers feature extremely hot and humid temperatures, winters are cold, and fall is chilly. Regardless of the time of year you visit, Budapest has festivals galore! The busiest season is summer (June to August), when hotels and attractions are packed. However, this never takes away the city's charm. Experience the Budapest Summer Festival and the Festival of Folk Arts for authentic cultural practices. Fall (September to November) in Budapest is a wet season characterized by chilly nights and warm, sunny days. Take amazing photos at the Budapest Design Week, sample the wine at the Budapest Wine Festival or down a pint of your favorite beer at Oktoberfest. Like the fall season, spring (March to May) in Budapest is a shoulder season ideal for travellers as the summer crowds will have left the city. Since this is the rainy season, be sure to pack an umbrella to enjoy outdoor events such as the Rosalia Festival and the Budapest Spring Festival. Winter in Budapest can be extremely cold, but the snow covered landscapes and buildings adorned with Christmas lights magnificently accentuate the city's skyline.