Budapest Travel Guide
Budapest offers breathtaking Old World grandeur and thriving cultural life. Situated on both banks of the Danube River, the city unites the colorful hills of Buda and the wide, businesslike boulevards of Pest. Much of the charm of a visit to Budapest lies in unexpected glimpses into shadowy courtyards and in long vistas down sunlit cobbled streets. Although some 30,000 buildings were destroyed during World War II and in the 1956 Revolution, the past lingers on in the often crumbling architectural details of the antique structures that remain.
Most of the major sights of Budapest are on Várhegy (Castle Hill), a long, narrow plateau laced with cobblestone streets, clustered with beautifully preserved Baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance houses, and crowned by the magnificent Royal Palace(Királyi Palota, in Hungarian).
Budapest Restaurant Reviews
Through the lean postwar years the Hungarian kitchen lost none of its spice and sparkle. Meats, rich sauces, and creamy desserts predominate, but the more health-conscious will also find salads, even out of season. Strict vegetarians should note: even meatless dishes are usually cooked with lard (zsír).
In addition to the ubiquitous chunky beef gulyás (goulash) and paprikás csirke (chicken paprika) served with galuska (little pinched dumplings), traditional Hungarian classics include fiery halászlé (fish soup), scarlet with hot paprika; fogas (pike perch) from Lake Balaton; and goose liver, duck, and veal specialties.
In almost all restaurants, an inexpensive prix-fixe lunch called a menü is available; it includes soup or salad, an entrée, and a dessert. One caveat: touristy restaurants sometimes pad bills. Also note that most restaurants have a fine-print policy of charging for each slice of bread consumed from the bread basket.
Hungarians eat early—you risk offhand service and cold food after 9 PM. Lunch, the main meal for many, is served from noon to 2. At most moderately priced and inexpensive restaurants, casual but neat dress is acceptable.
Budapest Hotel Reviews
Budapest is well equipped with hotels and hostels, but the increase in tourism since 1989 has put a strain on the city’s often crowded lodgings. Advance reservations are strongly advised, especially at the lower-price hotels. Many of the major luxury and business-class hotel chains are represented in Budapest; however, all of them are Hungarian-run franchise operations with native touches that you won’t find in any other Hilton or Marriott.
In winter it’s not difficult to find a hotel room, even at the last minute, and prices are usually reduced by 20%-30%. By far the cheapest and most accessible beds in the city are rooms ($20-$25 for a double room) in private homes. Although most tourist offices book private rooms, the supply is limited, so try to arrive in Budapest early in the morning.
Addresses are preceded by the district number (in Roman numerals) and include the Hungarian postal code. Districts V, VI, and VII are in downtown Pest; I includes Castle Hill, the main tourist district of Buda.
Budapest’s nightlife is vibrant and diverse. In mid-March to early April, the season’s first and biggest arts festival, the Budapest Spring Festival, showcases Hungary’s best opera, music, theater, fine arts, and dance, as well as visiting foreign artists.
The World Music and International Puppet Festivals are held in early July. In mid-August, Budapest hosts a Formula 1 car race, while the weeklong BudaFest opera and ballet festival takes place at the opera house after the opera season ends. St. Stephen’s Day (August 20) is a major national holiday. The Jewish Summer Festival takes place from late August through early September.
Many of Budapest’s district cultural centers regularly hold traditional regional folk-dancing evenings, or dance houses (táncház), often with general instruction at the beginning. These sessions provide a less touristy way to taste Hungarian culture.
Many of the English-language movies that come to Budapest are subtitled in Hungarian rather than dubbed; this applies less to independent and art films. There are more than 30 cinemas that regularly show films in English, and tickets are very inexpensive by Western standards (400-700 Ft.) Consult the movie matrix in the Budapest Sun for a weekly list of what’s showing.
Most of Budapest’s 10 or so major casinos are open daily from 2 PM until 4 or 5 AM and offer gambling in hard currency—usually dollars—only.
For the very latest on “in” nightspots, consult the nightlife sections of the weekly Budapest Sun or Budapest in Your Pocket, published five times a year. Hotels and tourist offices carry the monthly publication Programme, which lists all cultural events.
Tickets for arts events and performances can be bought at the venues themselves, but are low, so markups of even 30% shouldn’t dent your wallet if you book through your hotel.
You’ll find plenty of expensive boutiques, folk-art and souvenir shops, foreign-language bookstores, and classical-record shops on or around touristy Váci utca, Budapest’s famous, upscale, pedestrian-only promenade.
While a stroll along Váci utca is integral to a Budapest visit, browsing among some of the smaller, less touristy, more typically Hungarian shops in Pest—on the Kis körút (Small Ring Road) and Nagy körút (Great Ring Road)—may prove more interesting and less pricey.
Falk Miksa utca, in the fifth district, running south from Szent István körút, is one of the city’s best antiques districts, lined on both sides with atmospheric little shops and galleries.
Hungary is famous for its age-old Herend porcelain, which is hand-painted in the village of Herend near Lake Balaton. Hungarian and Czech crystal is considerably less expensive here than in the United States.
Handmade articles, such as embroidered tablecloths and painted plates, are sold all over the city by Transylvanian women wearing traditional scarves and colorful skirts. You can usually find them standing at Moszkva tér, Jászai Mari tér, outside the Kossuth tér metro, around Váci utca, and in the larger metro stations.
Recordings of Hungarian folk music, or of pieces played by Hungarian artists, are available on compact discs, though cassettes and records are cheaper and are sold throughout the city.