Best time to visit:
Anytime from April through November would be a good time to visit Budapest. However, the summer months of June to August would be crowded with tourists, just like any other European city, and would be quite hot. The ideal time would therefore be April and May or September through November.
Travel to Budapest:
A return air ticket from Chennai, India to Budapest in the month of April will cost you roughly around Rs. 50,000 if you book them much earlier.
The reason the tickets to Budapest are quite expensive when compared to tickets to other cities of Europe like Paris or London or Milan or even New York is because, it is a less frequented city. However, rest assured, this would be your only major expense when travelling to Budapest because everything else in the city is much cheaper when compared to the other cities of Europe. The cost of living is very less and the Hungarian ‘Forint’ is of a lower value when compared to the Indian Rupee.
An alternative is – to travel to Vienna, Austria and then take a bus to Budapest (3 hours by Eurolines). A return air ticket to Vienna would be around Rs. 32,000 and a return bus ticket from Vienna to Budapest would be around 45 Euros (Rs. 3200). So the whole journey cost works out to Rs. 35,200 which is way cheaper and you get to see another city – a bonus! You can board the bus to Budapest from the Vienna airport itself if you decide to skip seeing the city.
A third alternative – which is slightly tricky – is to fly to Dubai from India and take a Wizz Air flight from Dubai to Budapest. The whole package would work out to around Rs. 30,000. The only catch is – you have to get a Dubai Visa and since you’re taking two independent flights (one from India to Dubai and the second from Dubai to Budapest), there is a small risk involved. If either one of the flights get cancelled, you may have to forgo the whole trip since these are not connecting flights but rather independent bookings. And cancellation of one ticket will in no way stop the other flight from leaving.
You can get an entire apartment to stay from as low as Rs. 2500 per night if you book via Airbnb.
Alternatively, you can also rent a private room for much lower rates (~Rs. 1500)!
Place to visit:
Danube: Second longest river in Europe and in my opinion, the most majestic of all rivers in Europe. The river divides the city into – Buda and Pest.
Hungarian Parliament Building: Located on the Pest side of the city, the Hungarian Parliament Building is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings imposing a magnificent Neo-Gothic architecture. It is the third largest parliament buildings in the world!
The Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from Fishermen’s Bastion
Buda Castle: A historic castle and palace complex located on the Buda side of the city. Currently, it is home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Both the Gallery and the Museum are closed on Mondays and are open from 10 AM to 6 PM from Tuesday to Sunday. They close a little sooner (~4 PM) during the winter season)
Citadella and the Liberty Statue: Both located on the Gellert hill, overlooking the Danube. The view of the Danube, the city and the Parliament building from the top of this hill is beautiful and worth the climb. The Liberty statue, standing in front of the Citadella, commemorates the Hungary’s liberation from the Nazi rule. You can reach the Citadel by walk or by bus. The bus does not take you through the entire distance. You will still have to walk a kilometer or so to reach the Citadel and the statue.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge: A suspension bridge that connects Buda with Pest and spans across the Danube. It is Budapest’s first and oldest bridge.
Fishermen’s Bastion: Situated on the Buda side of the Danube very close to the Matthias church. The towers provide a panoramic view of the river, the city, the parliament building and Margaret island. The 7 towers represent the 7 Magyar tribes that settled here.
Margaret Island: A 2.5 Km island in the middle of the Danube. Mostly covered by parks, this island is the perfect spot for a picnic or an afternoon stroll. You can hire a golf cart to move around the island.
You can easily cover the island by walk as well. A few things you can do – go pine cone picking, stroll around the several parks, have some cotton candy and ice cream, pay a visit to the musical fountain, take a dip at the thermal bath – Palatinus, visit the gardens and also climb the water tower.
Matthias Church: Located in front of the Fisherman’s bastion at the heart of the Buda’s Castle district. It is one of the best known landmarks of the city. King Charles IV, the last Habsburg king, was coronated in this church, amongst others.
Things to do:
Walk along the Danube – One of the most blissful experiences. I’ve been to quite a few European cites but never have I come across a river in Europe which is as majestic and beautiful as the Danube. Dedicate one hour (or even more) of your time to walk along the river. This is way better than going on a cruise. You can even have a nice picnic on the banks of the river. A majority of the above mentioned tourist spots are right beside the river. So you could cover a lot by just walking around.
Pub Crawl in the Jewish district – Never done this, but I have heard that Budapest houses some of the best off beat bars in the Jewish district which is a must go!
Thermal baths – This is one activity I regret not doing during my 3 months stay at Budapest. Budapest is very well known for both its natural and man made thermal baths. The baths are a little on the expensive side – ~Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 for 2 hrs in a bath but in my opinion, totally worth it. Most of the baths are open to both men and women and also offer massage, pedicure, etc. There are single-gender days when on some days, the bath is open only to either men/women. Swim suits are a must and can be rented (depending on the bath). It’s best to carry your own swimsuit though. Some of the well known baths – Rudas, Gellert, Szechenyi, Kiraly (oldest and most historic), Lukacs, etc.
Walk along Vaci Utca – Filled with tourists and locals, one of the most happening streets of the city. However, do not buy your souvenirs from here. Just walk along the street and enjoy the atmosphere. To get a good discount, get your souvenirs away from such tourist spots.
Visit the Opera – Dead cheap prices (when compared to the Opera in Vienna) and just as good.
Take a free walking tour to learn about the history of the city (would be mostly along the river)
Day Trips from Budapest:
Holloko: Around 100 kms away from Budapest, Holloko is an ethnographic village and a UNESCO world heritage sight. A village that preserves the Hungarian tradition. You can see the people dressed in traditional Hungarian clothes and also get to see the traditional Hungaian handicrafts – both in action and for sale. For vegetarians, you may not be able to experience the authentic Hungarian cuisine however, you will still get vegetarian food. You can reach Holloko by taking a bus from Stadionok Bus Station. It leaves Budapest at 8:30 in the morning and reaches Holloko by 11: AM. The same bus then departs Holloko at 4:00 PM and reached Budapest at 6:30 PM, which gives you ample time to look around the village.
Vienna: A 3 hour trip from Budapest. There is a direct bus (Euroline) that leaves Budapest from the Nepliget Bus Station and reaches Erdberg (Vienna) – You can see my Vienna post for more details. You can leave in the morning and return either late in the night or the next day.
Lake Balaton: A beautiful fresh water lake in Western Hungary around 135 kms from Budapest. This is where a majority of the locals go for a short vacation to escape the heat of the city. I haven’t been here but I’ve heard it’s a must go for those visiting Budapest. There are several towns the lake touches and you can choose one or two of the many to explore the lake. You have Keszthely, the oldest town in the Balaton region, Heviz, the town with the biggest natural thermal lake/bath in the world, Siofok, another charming little town often called the partying capital of Hungary and many many more. Just pick one and more often that not, it would be well connected to the Deli/Keleti railway station of Budapest. It should take around 2 hrs (on an average) to reach Lake Balaton depending on the town you choose. For certain towns like Hevis, you will have to get down at one of the bigger towns (Keszthely) and take a bus to the city. If you don’t have much time, I would suggest you skip Lake Balaton and instead visit the other day trips mentioned here.
Bratislava: The capital city of Slovakia, located around 2.5 hrs away from Budapest. The best way to reach Slovakia is by Eurolines bus that can be boarded at the Nepliget bus stop in Budapest. Go on a free walking tour to learn about the history of the city.
Prague: Not technically a day trip from Budapest but a definite must go! It would take you around 6 hours to reach Prague from Euroline’s Nepliget bus stop at Budapest. You can stay at Prague for a day or two and then return back to Budapest or even visit Bratislava on your way back.
Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurants to eat in:
Napfenyes Etterem – For some amazing Hungarian Vegan cuisine. Vegan desserts included as well (You can try the Goulash soup here)
Govinda’s – ISKCON’s trademark restaurant for some cheap Indian food
Kozmosz Vegan Etterem
Apart from the above, there are plenty of Indian Restaurants in Budapest where you can find some delicious vegetarian food
Food to try:
Goulash Soup – you can get the vegetarian version at vegan restaurants
Kuglof – A traditional Austro-Hungarian coffee party cake
Funnel cake (Kurtoskalacs) – shaped like a funnel, as the name suggests, you can find this on almost all corners of the roads.
Souvenirs to get:
Paprika (a very famous spice in Hungary) – looks like a red bell pepper/red capsicum
Hungarian Currency – Forint
Lace and Doilies
Hungarian – English is rarely spoken except by a handful at the tourist spots. So it’s best you install the offline version of Hungarian in your google translate app before you head to Budapest!
Budget for one for a stay of 6 days & 5 nights:
Air ticket: Rs. 35,000 (If you go via Vienna – spend a day in Vienna)
Accommodation: Rs. 1500*5 (If you take a private room)
Food & Beverages: Rs. 10,000
Miscellaneous: Rs. 10,000
Total: ~Rs. 60,000 for one person for an amazing holiday in Budapest & Vienna! (This does not include the day trips. However, the day trips wont cost you much if you use public transport. It can be covered under miscellaneous) You can easily cover at least 4 European cities in a span of 10 days.