Planning to visit Budapest for the first time? Perfect choice, the Hungarian capital is a beautiful and must-visit city. In this first-timer’s guide, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting Budapest to have a memorable trip. Questions, you might ask when visiting a country or city for the first time like what’s the best time to visit or how to get around or is it safe or how much is a pint etc. Consider your questions answered, discover Budapest using my local survival tips.
Best time to visit Budapest
I mean it! The Hungarian capital always offers amazing adventures, outdoor, indoor, nature-loving, cultural, foodie experiences on ground and in water alike.
Spring is one of my favourite seasons in Budapest. The plants are starting to awake from their winter dream, the flowers are blooming and making the city more colourful. People are doing more outdoor activities, strolling in parks and enjoying the sunshine. Most spring days are sunny, however, Hungarian spring is quite unstable, it can easily become rainy and temperature changes almost every day.
Budapest has the most tourists during summer time. Sziget festival in the middle of August attracts many people. I love it! See you there next time?!
The weather can be very hot, don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses. Grab a cold drink in outdoor ruin bars or bars at the Danube bank and enjoy the sunset. Outdoor pools and baths can also help you cool down. Go as early as you can on weekends, the baths can be very crowded.
In autumn the scenery is dressed into yellowish and reddish colours. Let the fallen leaves mesmerize you in the parks or even in the city centre. September is the month of harvest and wines (Yesssss!). The Castle District hosts the Wine Festival featuring the top Hungarian wineries. Taste the best Hungarian wines and enjoy the view from the Royal Palace’s panorama terrace.
Winter can be cold and snowy, pack your warm clothes and shoes. The beautiful snowy landscape of Budapest will compensate the cold and you can easily warm up yourself in the Christmas markets with mulled wine and fresh chimney cake. The thermal baths and steam baths are also there to heat you up.
How to get to Budapest?
By airplane to Budapest Airport (BUD)
Budapest has only one airport called Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport (BUD). Before I explain how to go from the airport to the city centre, I have to tell you something important! On your way to the exit DO NOT EXCHANGE YOUR MONEY at Interchange because their rates are very high! Now you know it. So… You can reach the city centre by bus, taxi or airport shuttle service.
Bus 100E and 200E have stations at the airport. Check the time schedule on the website of BKK (Centre for Budapest Transport) because they don’t operate during the night. You can buy your ticket in a vending machine at the airport bus stop, which accepts card as well.
- Shuttle bus 100E takes you directly to Deák Ferenc square (and Astoria) in 30 minutes. The ticket costs only 900 HUF (~3 euros).
- Or take bus line 200E, which has many stations till Kőbánya-Kispest metro station (takes around 25 minutes), where you can change to the metro line 3 to the city centre. A single ticket costs 350 HUF. So your trip to the centre will cost 700 HUF and around an hour. Side note: Metro line 3 is under reconstruction, so metro replacement buses operate during weekends and the final station is Nagyvárad tér instead of Kőbánya-Kispest metro station.
By taxi to the centre, the price will be around 6000 HUF depending on the traffic. If you want to pay by card, ask them about this option. And don’t forget to CHECK THE TAXIMETER!
The airport shuttle service called miniBUD offers door-to-door service, one way and return alike. The transfer time depends on the traffic and the addresses of other passengers (max 8 passengers). The price is a bit cheaper than the taxi, but you have to pay right after booking, what you can do on the website at least 5 hours before pick up time or by calling them.
Budapest has 3 main railway stations: Keleti pályaudvar, Déli pályaudvar and Nyugati pályaudvar. A metro station belongs to all of them, so it’s easy to reach the city centre or your accommodation.
By bus to Népliget bus station
Our main bus station is called Népliget. Its metro station name is the same and metro line 3 will bring you to the city centre easily. Come here by Flixbus, eurolines or Regiojet. Be sure to check the bus station because not all of the Regiojet buses go to Népliget, there’s another stop at Kelenföldi railway station.
How to get around in Budapest?
The public transport works well with the metros, trams, buses, trolleybuses and boats. In Budapest, the ticket usage is different than in other European cities. Here a single ticket is valid only for a single trip and doesn’t include transfers outside of the metro.
On main stations, you can find BKK ticket vending machines to buy any kind of ticket, which is valid on every vehicle. Choose a single ticket (350 HUF) or a 24-hour ticket (1650 HUF) or a block of 10 tickets (3000 HUF) depending on the duration of your stay. And don’t forget to validate it! Learn more about the ticket types and prices on the website of BKK (Centre for Budapest Transport).
With only a single ticket you can discover the Danube riverbank with Tram 2, which is considered a tourist sightseeing tram. The vintage yellow cars run along the Danube between Jászai Mari square and Rákóczi bridge. You can take off at many landmarks like the Parliament, Chain bridge, Vigadó, Great Market Hall, Bálna and Palace of Arts.
Would you like to try out some special vehicles? The funicular will bring you up to the Buda Castle or use the chairlift to reach János Hill and Erzsébet Lookout Tower. Aaaaand by boat…
With the public transport boat service, you can discover the city from a different angle. The boats stop at the main attractions but operate only from May to October, so check the timetables on the homepage of the BKK before planning.
No Uber, only taxi
If you want to pay by card, first ask the driver about it and always check the taximeter!
Must-see tourist attractions in Budapest
- Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy) with Citadel and the awesome panorama to Buda and Pest
- Central Market Hall with beautiful architecture, delicious food and souvenirs
- Castle District with the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and Matthias Church (Mátyás templom) (on photo)
- The 96-meter high Parliament
- St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István bazilika) with its Panorama terrace and amazing interior
- Andrássy Avenue with historical buildings and fashion stores
- Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) and City Park (Városliget) with Vajdahunyad Castle
- Margaret island (Margitsziget) to enjoy nature
- The famous thermal baths: Gellért Thermal Bath is my personal favourite, thanks to its outdoor pool (which functions as a wave pool in summer) and colourful mosaics. Rudas Thermal Bath offers a unique experience with its rooftop panorama pool. The outdoor pools of Széchenyi Thermal Bath have a totally nice atmosphere.
- Ruin bars in the 7th district, every ruin bar has its own atmosphere. Szimpla Kert is the most famous with its organized chaos, Instant-Fogas (used to be Fogasház) is the complex party place, Anker’t is the stylish one, Ellátó kert is the most colourful, Csendes is a disorganized miracle, Púder is vibrant and Mazel Tov is chic.
Want to know what are the best things to do in Budapest? Read my Budapest bucket list and download the checklist to simplify your travel planning.
Eating and drinking in Budapest
What to eat in Budapest?
Try out the traditional Hungarian food like …
- goulash soup (gulyásleves)
- fisherman’s soup (halászlé)
- Hungarian meat stew also called paprikash
- stuffed cabbage (töltött káposzta)
- Hungarian ratatouille (lecsó)
- chimney cake (kürtőskalács)
Find out more about the best bites in the Budapest food guide to traditional Hungarian dishes and you don’t have to worry anymore what to order in a Hungarian restaurant.
Talking about Hungarian restaurants… I have a few tips for you!
My favourite is Gettó Gulyás in the centre with delicious Hungarian dishes and perfect wine selection. For a cosy and romantic mood visit Kispiac Bisztró. Frici Papa kifőzdéje serves big portions for cheap price. M restaurant offers a cosy atmosphere and always tasty seasonal menu. Cupákos (on photo) is the place for meat lovers.
What to drink in Budapest?
If you’re in Hungary, you have to try out pálinka! Pálinka is the Hungarian spirit, made of ripe fruits, the most commons are apricot (one of my favourites), pear, plum and cherry. Be aware, it’s very strong. Its alcohol content can be from 40 to 70%.
The suggested method to drink it: inhale deeply, drink (for one sip or more) and enjoy the fruity flavour during exhaling. Cheers!
Hungarian wine is a must-try, you’ll find your favourite from the huge selection of white, rosé and red wines. My favourite is the dry red wine from the area of Szekszárd. I’m not a fan of sweet wines, but I have to mention the famous dessert wines of Tokaj because those are very popular among tourists.
Cute local cafés serve specialty coffee, the 1st one was My Little Melbourne and fortunately, the list is growing. Visit the courtyard of Fekete, the stylish Espresso Embassy, the cosy Madal or the minimal Kontakt.
Can I drink tap water in Hungary?
Yes, you can, the water doesn’t have any taste. No need to spend extra money on mineral water and plastic bottles. However, in old buildings, where the water pipes aren’t maintained, the water might have some taste. In that case, buy some mineral water.
Forint, the Hungarian currency
Hungary is part of the European Union since 2004, but we still have our currency called forint (HUF). 1 euro is around 320 forints.
Paying by card is very common, yet, a few places still don’t accept cards, so be prepared with some cash. There are many ATMs and money exchange options in the city. Though try to avoid Western Union and Interchange, as they offer high rates. Make sure to compare the “buy” and “sell” rates and if the difference is more than a few forints, find another place.
Average prices in Budapest
Budapest isn’t considered expensive. Of course, it depends on where you go, touristy places can be more pricey, but it’s still cheaper than Western-European countries.
- Breakfast & brunch – 1600 HUF ~ 5 euro
- Meal (main course in a good quality restaurant) – 3200 HUF ~ 10 euro
- Espresso in a specialty coffee shop – 500 HUF ~ 1,5 euro
- Beer (a pint) – 700 HUF ~ 2,2 euro
- Quality wine (1,5 dl) – 600 HUF ~ 1,8 euro
- 0,5 l water in a supermarket – 130 HUF ~ 0,4 euro
- Public transport ticket – 350 HUF ~ 1,1 euro
Tipping in restaurants
Always check the bill before paying, the service can be included in some places. If not and if you’re satisfied with the service, you can give around 10% tip.
Electricity in Hungary
In Hungary, the standard voltage is 230 V and the frequency is 50 Hz. The power plugs and sockets are type C and F like in other countries of Europe, some parts of Asia, Africa and South-America.
You don’t have to worry about power plugs anymore with a travel adapter like Skross adapter, which is good in over 220 countries and also has a dual USB port for charging USB devices.
Is Budapest safe?
Yes, it’s safe, you shouldn’t be afraid of walking alone (I’m not). BUT we should be careful! Always look after your belongings and don’t tempt robbers and pickpockets. Don’t leave your bag and valuables on the table without supervision.
I don’t want to frighten you or sound like your parents. I just want you to prevent trouble and to leave Budapest with good memories. Read my post about 12 mistakes to avoid when visiting Budapest and know what not to do!
About Hungarian people
Some of us are friendly, positive and speak English, but some of us aren’t so lovely, welcoming and don’t speak English. Tourists sometimes complain about Hungarian people not speaking English. Not totally true. Some of us learnt English, you just have to find us 😉 In the city centre you’ll have better chances to find an English speaker local and you might have bigger luck with younger people because older Hungarian people usually don’t speak foreign languages.
Useful Hungarian words and phrases
A little practice for the end 😉
The Hungarian language is unique with its complicated letters and its pronunciation. Among tourists, the most popular word remains Egészségedre! It means Cheers! Kind of hard to pronounce it, but you’ll be satisfied when you’ll pronounce it correctly and we are happy to help you because we like to drink and say Egészségedre!
Hi = Szia [see-ya]
How are you? = Hogy vagy? [Hodge vadge]
How are you, my friend? = Hogy vagy, barátom? [Hodge vadge barat-om]
Thank you = Köszönöm [Koh-sur-nom]
Sorry = Bocsánat [Bots-ana-t]
Cheers = Egészségedre [Egg-esh-ay-ged-reh]
Beer = Sör [Sure]
Wine = Bor [Boar]
You’re beautiful = Szép vagy [Say-p vadge]
Yes = Igen [Ea-gen]
No = Nem [Nem]
Ready for your first trip to Budapest?
Eager to know more about Budapest? I have more for you 😉
Can’t wait to visit Budapest? You know what to see, do, not to do, eat and drink. Want to know even more? Did I miss an important first-timer’s question? Leave a comment below if you have a question or share your experiences about Budapest.
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