We recently explored Budapest, the surprising and wonderful capital of Hungary. I’d recommend checking it out, but if you do here are a few tips — from our research and experience on the ground — to make the trip smoother.
1. Stay in Buda
Budapest straddles the Danube and is actually made up of two formerly separate cities: Buda and Pest. Much of what we read beforehand suggested staying on the Pest side of town because it’s located closer to many sites.
When we arrived, we explored Pest and considered staying there, but ultimately ended up in Buda, which turned out to be a very good decision. While Pest might be slightly more convenient, it’s also more of a “big city” and feels less distinctive; walking around the streets, for example, I was repeatedly struck by how much it felt like a mini Paris.
That isn’t a bad thing, but Buda but is still much quieter and more residential. We tended to find ourselves eating among locals and wandering leafy streets where high school students were jogging for PE.
2. Use the subway and the trams
Like most European cities, Budapest is fairly walkable. But there’s one big difference: it’s bisected by a massive river.
While many European cities are bisected by rivers — the Thames, the Seine, the Tiber, the Arno, etc. — few are as wide as the Danube where it passes through Budapest. That means comparatively fewer bridges and fairly long walks if you’re trying get around on foot. During our visit we crossed all the bridges in the city core on foot, but that meant a lot of walking.
Budapest’s riverfront is also unique — and disappointing — because it’s lined with fast roads and is considerably less pedestrian friendly than comparable spaces in other European cities. There are wonderful parts, but they suffer in some places from a lack of crosswalks and an abundance of car noise.
I’d still recommend exploring the area on foot — frankly it’s all more pleasant than most streets in LA where I live — but when the distances become too exhausting and the cars too loud, the subway is a good alternative. It’s also cheap, easy to use, and quick.
3. Skip the Parliament building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is amazing. In both form and location, it’s highly reminiscent of the Palace of Westminster in London. Definitely go and check out the exterior, take some pictures, and explore the surrounding square which has been recently redesigned by the rightwing government.
But don’t pay to go on the guided tour of the interior.
While the building — including the interior — is impressive, it isn’t particularly old or architecturally significant. More importantly, the guided tour is lame. When we went, it included at least 50 people, showed only a small portion of the building, and cost nearly $20 (accounting for the exchange rate). That’s just way more than the tour was worth.
So go to the Parliament building, but save your money and skip the tour.
— Jim Dalrymple II