Budapest is a BIG place and you definitely need plenty of time to see and feel it properly! We spent 4 nights in Budapest during our 2018 Europe Campervan Trip and although it was enough time to fall in love with the charm of the city, we will be back again soon. Many people ask which side of Budapest is best - BUDA or PEST? We hope this guide will help you to find your way around Budapest, but ultimately, the best would be to visit this wonderful city and decide for yourself!
Buda and Pest, the two main areas of Hungary’s capital city, are separated by the mighty Danube River. Although the first bridge spanning the Danube in Budapest, the imposing Chain Bridge, was already constructed in 1849, it was only in 1873 that Buda and Pest were officially unified and Budapest became a global city. Although they've been populated for centuries, before 1873 Pest and Buda developed relatively independently of each other, giving them each distinct atmospheres. Today, this adds to the charm of Budapest as a whole.
Buda, in the west, is hilly and offers beautiful panoramic views and imperial grandeur; Pest, on the other hand, is completely flat but vibrant and full of hip bars and restaurants. For the best views over the Danube make sure to take some time and explore the hiking network of the Buda Hills around Gellért Hill. You're sure to miss out if you're content with just the view from the Fisherman's Bastion on Castle Hill!
Because there is so much to see and do in Budapest, we've split this Ultimate Guide into three parts:
The Best Way To Get Around Budapest
Budapest is generally very pedestrian friendly and if you have enough time, this is the best way to get around the city as it will allow you to explore so much more than just the popular tourist sites. Some of the best local atmospheres can be found in narrow back alleys and climbing the lesser-known hills can often give you the most serene, panoramic views. Just note that the BUDA side of Budapest, to the West of the Danube River is very hilly and will be a good day's workout!
The PEST side of Budapest, to the East of the Danube River, is relatively flat and with its dedicated cycle path along the river, is very easy and fun to explore by bicycle. You can also make use of the Budapest Metro and Rapid Transit Network within the city and to the surrounding suburbs, which is very affordable, efficient and easy to use. The trams and water taxis are a great way to get around while also getting an overview of the city and can be a fun and very cheap alternative to a 'sightseeing' cruise!
Be sure to pop into the 'Budapest Info Point' Office if you would like a FREE MAP and also for the official city travel card of Budapest, the Budapest Card, which gives you access to public transit and discounts for many museums, restaurants and other places of interest. It is a 3-in-1 transport card, museum pass and discount card and if you are planning on visiting a few of the main attractions, there can be a considerable saving. However, if it's just transport you're after, a value alternative is the 24-hour Budapest Travelcard which for as little as $ 5 USD will give unlimited trips on public transport around the city.
On The Danube Between BUDA & PEST
These attractions are neither in BUDA nor PEST, or should we say they are in both BUDA and PEST?! Either way, they shouldn't be left out when exploring Budapest.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge - The Chain Bridge is Budapest’s most famous bridge and it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary that connects Buda and Pest. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was built in 1849 and at the time, its centre span of 202m was one of the largest in the world. Make sure that you cross the bridge both in daylight to admire it's unique chain link construction and also at night when it is lit up.
Margaret Island - This 2.5 km long island sits in the middle of the Danube River and is covered in parks and recreational areas. You can rent pedal cars and other self-powered vehicles to explore the island properly. There is even a 5.5 km rubber-coated running track encircling the island which is a popular jogging spot for runners who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Some of the most famous features of the island are the music fountain and the medieval ruins.
Cruise Along The Danube River - You don't need to book an expensive tourist cruise to get a feel for the Danube River and to view Budapest from the waterside. There are regular public water taxi boats that are a fantastic and cheap way to both cross and cruise along the river. We made sure to take the longest journey possible and even took a night time trip to enjoy the whole of Budapest lit up! Just be sure of the timetable and when the last boat operates so that you don't get "stuck" on the wrong side of the river!
Hungarian Food You Should Try When In Budapest
Trying the local cuisine is always an important part of travel for us. These are just a few of the many famous Hungarian cuisines that you should try while visiting Budapest:
Lángos - A typical Hungarian street food, this deep-fried flat dough is topped with sour cream and dill and shredded cheese. There are a few different variations and we preferred the one with bacon and sour cream best.
Goulash - This hearty stew contains meat and vegetables and is typically seasoned with paprika. It's a favourite all over Central Europe and Hungary is known for their tasty version.
Borscht Soup - The Hungarian variation of this sour beetroot soup has many variations and can be served either hot or cold.
Unicum - You simply have to try a sip of Budapest’s locally made herbal liquor. Unicum is Hungary’s version of the German Jagermeister, and is said to cure many ailments!
Hungarian Chimney Cake (Kürtőskalács) - Although this cylindrical hollow cake doesn't sound all that exciting, the sweet cinnamon roll is actually a lot tastier than expected! Make sure to get a freshly made one so that you can enjoy it while it is still warm - it might be your first, but it won't be your last!
Where To Park A Campervan In Budapest
Seeing as we were going to spend four nights in Budapest, we wanted to find a campground that was both affordable and that also offered a tranquil environment where we could relax after long days of exploring the city. We were very happy to find Haller Camping, just outside of the city centre, which gave us this perfect balance. They provide a simply grassy area to park your campervan, less than 5km from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in the centre of Budapest. We loved the fact that the facilities were simple and clean and that we could easily cycle from the camping area to the centre of the city. You can also reach the city centre by Metro from here.