We sent our editors to the Hungarian capital and here’s what they told us.
1. It’s cheap
For the past several years, Budapest has consistently ranked as one of Europe’s most affordable cities, beating some very strong contenders to the top on counts of cheap accommodation, transport, and dining. A glass of beer or wine at an average bar won’t cost you more than €2, while entry to many local attractions is either very cheap or free of charge – guided tours of the Hungarian Parliament come with a 50% discount to EU citizens (75% for EU students), for example.
2. It’s walkable
Although Budapest is famously made up of what once was two separate towns, the city still remains very walkable, and one is almost never more than a half-hour stroll away from anywhere in the city centre. A ride on Budapest’s legendary Metro may be worth it for the experience, however – escalators run endlessly deep, and a trip on one of Yellow Line’s retro-looking trains feels like actual travel back in time.
3. Scrumptious food
Hungarian cuisine is rich and meat-heavy, featuring hearty dishes such as gulyás soup, a plethora of sausages and the ubiquitous lángos – essentially a thick, deep-fried disk of dough, with toppings ranging from the classic garlic, cheese and sour cream to more elaborate varieties.
The Central Market Hall is a Fgood place to start familiarizing yourself with local specialties – there are a few great value standing cafes serving Hungarian foods on the second floor. The ground level is occupied by vendors selling all manner of delectable edibles (and drinkables!), from vividly red paprika products to Hungary’s own herbal liquor called Unicum, whose exact ingredients remain a carefully guarded secret.
4. Thermal baths
One of the things that make Budapest such a great winter destination are its hot and steamy thermal baths, whose fame is now quickly spreading far beyond the city’s own residents. Apart from the quintessential Széchenyi (pictured below), our picks are Rudas (with its 36°C panoramic Jacuzzi), waterpark-like Palatinus, and Gellért Baths for an old-time curative spa experience.
5. Café culture
Budapest is home to some of the most stunning cafes in Europe. The Lotz Hall Café (also known as Alexandra or Book Café), for example, occupies a rather pompous former ballroom with a very high, painting-adorned ceiling.
Gerbeaud and New York Kávéház boast a similar vibe, while the Buda-side Ruszwurm (one of the city’s oldest) is a cosy, homey spot of the non-grandiose variety. Order a slice of the classic Dobos torta – a delectable, caramel-topped chocolate cake created by a namesake Hungarian confectioner.
Other great picks are Eszterházy and Krémes cakes, as well as Somlói galuska (Hungarian trifle).
6. Ruin bars
Set up primarily inside abandoned old buildings, these hip nightlife venues look organically overgrown with curious objects and wacky artifacts – eccentric artwork, Christmas lights, tricycles, and odd sculptures of animal-human cross-breeds hanging off the ceiling are all rather typical. The most iconic one of all is Szimpla Kert (below) – a pioneer followed by many others, including Instant (another great choice for a night out – we happened to chance upon an excellent live music performance) and Fogasház. Drinks are, naturally, very inexpensive.
Famously dubbed “Paris of the East”, Budapest has – unlike some other Europe capitals – little to none of the intimidating capacity to make one feel infinitely small amidst imperial grandeur. Art Nouveau lovers are in for a real treat when wandering the city streets (Andrássy Avenue in particular), and the Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament building is a sight to behold from up close or the Buda Castle (only one of the city’s several UNESCO World Heritage sites).
There is hardly a European capital better fit for going on a shopping spree – apart from the usual suspects (large, one-stop shopping malls packed with international brand boutiques – West End City Center, Corvin Plaza, Allee, Arena Plaza, etc.), the city boasts a vibrant designer shop scene (try Király Street for local boutiques). Retro and vintage clothing boutiques are on the rise – try Szputnyik or Retrock if those are something for you. For local foodstuffs and souvenirs, walk down Váci (the main pedestrian shopping street) to the Central Market.
9. Dynamic cultural scene
Budapest is constantly in motion – there are plenty of happenings all year round, and the sheer amount of festivals and events the city hosts is through the roof (from the now world-famous Sziget to Budapest Wine Festival, among others).
*Edit: Pricing policy for Hungarian Parliament tours updated 13.01.2017
Click here for the complete travel guide to Budapest.