Now that I spend so much time in Budapest I get a lot of requests for things to do there. I'm not always the best at replying quickly, so I figured I'd write a blog post with an exhaustive list of all of my favorite places.
If you're not going to Budapest, you might think this list doesn't apply to you. But Budapest is the Best Place in Europe, so you should read it to understand why, and book a trip there!
Around half of these recommendations came from my friend Mark Webster, a friend-of-a-friend I was introduced to when I came to Budapest this summer. He gave me a big list of places to go and 90% of them became my favorites.
The food quality in Budapest is off the charts. A typical upscale bistro meal is usually well prepared meat or fish with some vegetables for around $10-15. That includes Michelin recommended and one-starred places. Lunch places or non-fancy restaurants are more like $3-6. Budapest is known for international food, so don't feel bad if you only have Goulash or Chicken Paprikash only once (or not at all).
This is my number one favorite restaurant in Budapest, and it seems to be the favorite of most people I meet there. Try to get something on the specials menu because they rotate out quickly. I really like the ribs with sweet potatoes and the stuffed chicken leg. If you have a few people, share the meat tapas plate— everything on it is amazing.
Entrees are somewhere around $10-15 and the tapas plate is $15. They also have a chocolate cake dessert with ginger ice cream and sour cherries which is amazing.
If you look at the top rated restaurants, they're all fancy restaurants except for Bors. Bors is a sandwich shop that has a small menu of grilled sandwiches soups. Each one is around $3. They aren't boring things like ham and cheese, though. They have a Thai chicken curry sandwich, a Mangalitsa pork sausage one, a pork brain one, and a few others. I didn't think the four cheese one was amazing, but the rest I tried were. Same with the soups.
It's always packed, but they move the line quickly. The restaurant is inexplicably Star Wars themed and plays very loud gangster rap at all times.
This is the best burger in Budapest. The fries are much better than I wish they were, because I'm always tempted to get them. It's right at Oktogon and you can sit outside.
Gyros Kerkyra Görög Ételbár
This is a tiny Gyro place sort of on the outskirts of the area I hang out in, but it's worth the walk. A gyro costs $2-3 and is probably the best you'll ever have. When one of my friends visited and found this place, it was the only place she wanted to eat from then on.
This is where I end up eating pretty much every day, at least one meal. They serve large salads with good proteins and vegetables. There are a few locations and the hours are a little bit weird on the weekends.
Pad Thai Wokbar
This Place is basically Asian Chipotle. It's a little expensive for Budapest (~$6), but you can get nice healthy meals with meat, vegetables, and brown rice.
And this is the other restaurant I go to all the time. If I'm in Budapest by myself I eat most of my meals here, Pad Thai Wokbar, and Fruccola because they're the most healthy. It's sort of like Chipotle, though not quite as good, but at half the price. They also deliver, but you need a budapest phone number and I haven't gotten mine sorted out yet.
A friend and I went to this restaurant and ordered a pizza. When I took my first bite I was stunned— it was so familiar. It tasted just like my favorite pizza in the world, Pizzeria Regina in Boston's North End. I'd never had a pizza anywhere else that tasted like that. They even had the garlic and red pepper oil for the crusts.
A slightly fancier and edgier place than most, Laci gets expensive at dinner but is very reasonable at lunch. They use weirder parts of the animal and stranger vegetables for a really unique experience. Really cool space, too.
This is a very old pastry shop near the fisherman's bastion on the Buda side. The sour cherry strudel is incredible. Apple is quite good, too.
Budapest has an amazing tea scene. The first two places are truly world class teahouses that are reasons alone to visit Budapest in my opinion.
Wow. This place is the most legit Japanese teahouse I've seen outside of Japan, and honestly it's just about on par with my favorite places in Japan. I go almost every single day that I'm in Budapest. Order the best matcha or gyokuro they have and be prepared to be blown away. I've also found that the staff recommendations are very good.
A new tea place on the Buda side right near the Chain Bridge, Zhao Zhou is a Chinese tea room that focuses on Puerh tea. In fact, it's the best selection of Puerh I've ever seen anywhere. On top of that, the owner, Gabor, is probably the most knowledgeable person on Puerh I've ever met.
The ambiance of this place isn't quite as good as the first two (which are definitely in their own league), but the tea is top quality and absurdly cheap. I've had some really excellent top quality teas for around $3 here. It's also very laid back and I found the staff to be really good with recommendations.
This used to be my favorite place, but now it's fourth behind the other three. It was the first tea place I went to and one of the reasons I fell in love with Budapest. The only reason I don't go here more is because I feel their strength is Chinese tea, and Zhao Zhou does it better. However, it's a really cool space and they have an excellent Hummus and Baba Ghanoush plate, so if I want a snack and tea it's still my go-to. Also their loose tea to buy and bring home is really well priced, so I bring it back to the US.
Due to high geothermic activity, Budapest has more thermal baths than anywhere I've been in Europe (and maybe anywhere I haven't been). They range from 16th century buildings to turn of the century buildings to modern. All of them have multiple baths of different temperatures. Prices are generally around $15 which sounds cheap but feels expensive once you adapt to Budapest cost of living.
Rudas is easily my number one choice because it offers everything. There's a 16th century area built by the turks (and largely unimproved since then) that has many different baths ranging from freezing to scalding, some with high mineral content. In the middle is a large body-temperature bath that's great for lounging and socializing.
They also have a modern wing that has brightly colored tiled baths with fountains, a huge sauna and steam room complex with 5 or so rooms, and an amazing rooftop tub that overlooks the Danube. The modern area is available to both sexes all the time, but the old portion rotates between men only, women only, and coed. When it's men only you wear a funny loincloth they provide, coed you wear a bathing suit.
Szechenyi is probably the most famous of the baths, primarily because it offers an amazing outdoor area. It's a really close #2 for me, and sometimes I take people here instead of Rudas. The huge outdoor baths are very social, and one side has a giant whirlpool that actually whirls you around in a big circle. It's a ton of fun. During the day you also have access to a ton of indoor pools, some of which are closed off at night.
The building itself is situated in city park and is an early 1900s building that looks like a grand palace. I really love coming here at night with friends.
Gellert is maybe the most fancy bath. Its interior baths are the most beautiful, with stunning mosaic work and sculptural fountains that pour mineral-rich water into the baths. Outside they have a decent bath plus a huge wave pool that's a lot of fun in the summer. The place was built around a hundred years ago, and the wave pool is around that age as well. I like this place on sunny days when light filters in through the skylights and I can go outside to the wave pool.
If you've never done an escape room, you have to try it. In my opinion it's the most fun activity in the world and the easiest way to make an hour feel like ten minutes. For the unfamiliar, you are locked in a room (or series of rooms) and have to find clues and solve puzzles to get out. A good group size is 2-6, some can't be done solo. Escape rooms were actually invented in Budapest and there are roughly 300 of them. I've only done 20, so I may not even know the best ones yet.
The production value here is amazing. I don't want to give anything away, but nothing was off the table in terms of technology or complexity when they designed these rooms. I've done almost all of them and my favorites were Motel and Secret Lab. Secret Lab was one of the hardest in Budapest, but not unfairly so. They're some of the more expensive rooms, but clearly a lot has gone into the construction.
This was another really great room that was very different than the others. I don't want to ruin the surprise of what makes it so great so I won't say much about it. It was very difficult, but two of us solved it in just under an hour.
I really like the White Room here, and the Mafia one was good too. I'd say this place is just a hair below Locked.hu, but similar in terms of production value.
I only did the heaven and hell one here, and I thought it was really good. Some of the props were a little banged up or worn out, but it had some very creative puzzles and was a great difficulty level.
The Opera house is considered to be the third best acoustically in the world. They have a very ambitious program of opera, ballet, and symphony concerts. Prices range from very cheap to about $60 for the best seats in the house. Not every production I've been to has been excellent, but most have been. I saw the Nutcracker over a year ago and I still remember the set design because it was so spectacular.
MUPA is a new modern performance art center that has tons of varied concerts. Some are just $3 for amazing seats for world class performances. It's also just a very beautiful building and worth seeing on its own.
It's just a train line, but the stations have really cool designs. You'll probably never take the M4 unless you stay in district VIII, but it's worth a ride just to get off at the stations and look around. I love the tile mosaics, light shafts, and crazy angles.
This is an island in the middle of the Danube that's sort of like Central park in NY (but only 1/3 of the size). It has running tracks, huge fields and forests, an amazing garden, ruins, a Japanese garden, a small free zoo, music-synchronized fountains, and a bunch of other stuff. You can rent bikes or pedal-carts there to get around, or you can walk. There's even a water park, but I haven't been there yet.
If you time it right you can take the public ferry for a couple bucks that zig zags down the Danube to stop everywhere downtown on both sides. It's a great way to take in the Parliament building, Buda hills, and other sites. There's also a bridge to the island from both sides so you can walk, take the tram, or bike.
The Basilica is a huge church, and while I've never actually been inside (I think you can go to the top for a great view), the square in front is one of my favorite areas. Nearby are a ton of restaurants, small parks, and lots of people milling about all day and evening. The building itself is beautiful and I'll go a block or two out of my way to get to walk in front of it.
I never go to zoos, but this one kept popping up so I finally went. And then I came back twice more because it's so huge that I didn't get to see everything. The variety of animals is amazing and you can get very close to them compared to most zoos. There's even a petting zoo where you can touch a kangaroo and emu. I like it so much that I'm thinking about getting an annual pass. The only downside is that it was built a long time ago and some of the enclosures seem a bit small for the animals.
I'm sure I've forgotten tons of things, and I've only really spent two months in Budapest total, so I've only just begun to scratch the surface. In fact, if you look on a map you'll realize that almost everything I list is on the Pest side. I've barely even been anywhere on the other side.
When looking for somewhere to stay, try to get as close to Deak Ferenc Ter as possible. That's where districts V, VI, and VII meet, and is the rough center for everything I've mentioned. In fact, you can walk to almost everything I mentioned in 5-15 minutes, with things like Ruszwurm and Szechenyi being the furthest at about 30 minutes (or quicker by train).
Photo is looking over at the Pest side from Buda.
Sorry if there are typos. I ended up writing way more than expected and don't have a lot of time today.
I'm not sure how many countries I've visited in the past year, but the fact that I have no idea gives you an idea. Four in the past week, if you don't count the US. A lot of good flight deals popped up, and I booked them more quickly than I could ask myself if traveling constantly was really the best use of my time. But here I am, in the air between Budapest and Amsterdam, on the last round the world I have booked.
On these trips I've been to a bunch of new places. There wasn't a single one that left me unable to find something to love of the city, but certainly some were better than others. Budapest, totally unexpectedly, is one of the best new places I've been in a long time.
That's not to say that it's objectively better than anywhere else, only that it fits my peculiar tastes remarkably well. I flew into Budapest without being able to list with certainty a single country Hungary borders. That's a good indicator of how little I knew about the city. I figured, like other European cities, I'd go to museums, walk around the city, admire the architecture, and eat delicious unhealthy food. I did those things, but also found a lot more.
Budapest is beautiful. It straddles the Danube river with three different bridges, and along those banks are beautiful old European buildings. But go a bit further in and you also see really well done modern architecture, sometimes integrated with old buildings.
Three days ago, 6:30AM. Saigon, Vietnam. District 1.
Light breaks and the noise and craziness of the city is coming alive.
I strike out from my apartment, weave through motorbikes and pedestrians, and walk to the little restaurant a block away where I have my breakfast each day. The place serves mostly Westerners and the food costs twice as much Vietnamese food, but the portions are larger and the place is cleaner. I have a lot of work to do and plan on only eating twice today, so both meals should be large.
I order a Texas chicken omelette, black coffee, and Vietnamese iced green tea. The service is slow, and the food comes before the tea or coffee. I start to eat.
I bite down on something hard. What the hell?