#1 - Where Eastern Europe meets Western Europe: Both geographically and culturally, Budapest is at the border of Western and Eastern Europe. Over the centuries, the city was ruled by Ottoman Turks, Austrian Habsburgs, and Soviet-led communists, and each one left distinct marks on Budapest. Not only on what it looks like, but also its people's characters. Are you looking for a clean, disciplined, orderly, well-functioning city? Or rather an exciting, unpredictable, gritty urban center with an edge? You'll find them both here.
#2 - Naturally beautiful: By all objective measures, Budapest is shockingly pretty. Divided by the Danube River, Buda sits majestically atop verdant hills that were once the eastern bastions of the Roman Empire. The hot-springs-rich Gellért Hill and the medieval Castle Hill, parts of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, look down at the flatlands of Pest, boiling with energy. In-between is Margaret Island, a leafy weekend hangout.
#3 - Unique local population: Flanked by Germanic and Slavic populations in most neighboring countries, Hungarians are an outlier with a unique language and Asiatic ancestry. Today the local population is of course a mix of all sorts, bearing Germanic, Slavic, Turkish, Romanian, and Jewish cultural and ethnic marks adopted over the centuries. Hungarians can seem to shut themselves off from foreigners, more so than locals in other countries. Perhaps this is due to the unique Hungarian language that renders it difficult to communicate with non-Hungarians.
#4 - Walkable and bikeable: Although Budapest is a sizeable city with almost two million people, it's easily walkable - most points of interest are within the Grand Boulevard in Pest, and near the Danube bank in Buda. There’re exceptions of course, like Heroes' Square or the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, but those too can be reached by foot from Downtown. Alternatively, try the city's bike sharing network (MOL Bubi), which provides an extensive coverage of the inner districts of Pest.
#5 - Unhurried lifestyle: The slower, laid-back lifestyle that characterizes Balkan cities has left a welcome mark in Budapest too. Part of this stems from communism, when the absence of economic incentives created an unrushed pace to life. This phenomenon is best enjoyed during the outdoor season: come summertime, cafés and restaurants take over sidewalks and the city's nightlife, often enhanced by live music, lasts into the wee hours.
#6 - Thriving food scene: Since 2010 or so, a gastronomic revolution has been taking place in Budapest. Restaurants are replacing the forlorn-looking Hungarian staples with new ingredients, inventive recipes, and international dishes. Budapest currently has four Michelin-starred restaurants (more than each of Prague and Warsaw), but you also have plenty of excellent restaurant options for traditional Hungarian dishes or trendy vibes.
#7 - Excellent museums: The city has plenty of fine art, and Budapest-specific thematic museums. One can just as easily visit the building of the Hungarian Parliament as find paintings by the international stars of pop art (Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art) or learn about a famous Hungarian liquor producing family business that caught the attention of the Habsburg Emperor (Zwack Unicum Museum). Two poignantly moving museums, the House of Terror and the Holocaust Memorial Center, portray the darkest periods of Hungary’s recent history.
#8 - Not (yet) cluttered with tourists like Prague and Vienna: While tourism to Budapest has been skyrocketing in recent years, the city is still less crowded than Prague and Vienna. If you prefer to avoid the tourist-packed areas of Budapest and see how regular locals live, your best chances are in the under-the-radar neighborhoods like District 8, District 9, District 11, or Újlipótváros. Peruse this neighborhood summary guide to find out which Budapest district is the best match for you.
#9 - Thermal baths, yes: With a rich supply of hot springs beneath its surface, Budapest's history of thermal bathing goes back to the Romans. Today, Budapest has nine main baths, ranging from medieval hamams built by a Turkish pasha to grand Baroque Revival buildings. But some baths are better than others - read this summary guide before deciding which one you go to.
#10 - Beautiful architecture: Most of the mansions and ornate residential apartment buildings of Budapest were built during the city's golden era as one of the capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). The buildings comprise the architectural styles of the era from historicism to art nouveau, art deco, and early modernism. They began to decay during communism, but the elaborate details behind the sooty facades lend a bizarre war-torn elegance to them (check out Budapest's best architecture).
#11 - Rich Jewish heritage: More than 200,000 Jews lived in Budapest at the turn of the 20th century, accounting for 23% of the city’s population (Europe's largest functioning synagogue is in Budapest). While the tragic events of the Holocaust wiped out most of Jewish life in Hungary, Budapest Jews left a lasting impact on the capital's industrial, cultural, and urban fabric. Many of the country’s best-known scientists and artists were Hungarian Jews, including Eugene Wigner, Robert Capa, Andre Kertesz, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy-Nagy. Unfortunately for Hungary, many of them left the country when anti-Semitism was on the rise and never returned.
#12 - Sziget Music Festival: What in 1993 started as a student event has grown into one of Europe's biggest music festivals drawing over 500,000 people over the course of seven days every August. Besides headliners like Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and Arctic Monkeys, the festival also features art, dance, and local Hungarian bands across more than 50 venues. The icing on the cake is the festival's location on a verdant island in northern Budapest.
#13 - Special kinds of bars: Perhaps you've already read about the famous ruin bars of Budapest. In general, Budapest is swarming with no-frills bars located in delapidated pre-war buildings. Worn-down though they may be, when combined with the lively local crowds and cheap drinks, they exude an impossibly cool atmosphere. These are some of the best bars where you can meet locals as well.
#14 - It's cheap: Budapest is still cheap. In most other European cities tourists would need to shell out way more for the quality of food, drinks, live music, and accommodation offered here. Prices are certainly on the rise, much to the frustration of the local population (average after-tax annual salary is only c. €10,000), but for foreigners they're still a bargain.
#15 - It's clean & safe: Compared to most European capitals, Budapest is safe and clean. When walking around, even at night, you don't need to worry about looking over your shoulder. As for cleanliness, the formula is simple enough: plenty of sidewalk trash cans and garbage collectors make Budapest’s streets litter-free.
#16 - There's an island in the heart of the city: Few cities can boast of an island, let alone a car-free and green one, in the center of their towns - Budapest's 2.8km long (1.7 mile) Margaret Island is a gift of nature. This small piece of land enclosed by the Danube River was home to various monastic orders during medieval times, later the Ottomans set up a harem here, then in the 19th century the royal Habsburg family used it as a private resort. Today, it's a popular destination to stroll through its scenic parks, massive sycamore trees, and medieval ruins. The 5.3 km (3.3 mile) track stretching around the island is packed with runners on weekends.
#17 - Excellent Public Transportation: Most people didn't own a car during communism, relying instead on cheap and efficient public transportation. To this day, Budapest has an outstanding bus, tram, trolley, and subway coverage across the city, and tickets are still cheap (a monthly adult pass valid for all forms of transport costs about €30). You can buy all types of tickets from the vending machines located at most stations or, if you need personal assistance, go to Deák Ferenc Square.
#18 - Mixed Neighborhoods: In most Budapest neighborhoods lower- and middle-income people live in the same building, creating a healthy, mixed community. This otherwise positive phenomenon is actually the result of large-scale forced reshuffling of people during communism into, out of, and within Budapest (today, however, due to increased tourism and Airbnb, downtown buildings are rapidly transforming into hostels).