#1 - Where Eastern Europe meets Western Europe: Geographically and culturally, Budapest borders Western and Eastern Europe. Ottoman Turks, Austrian Habsburgs, and Soviet-led communist regimes each left distinct marks on the city — not just on its appearance, but also on people's characters. Are you looking for a clean, orderly, well-functioning city? Or, rather, an unpredictable and edgy metropolis? You'll find them both here.
#2 - Naturally beautiful: Split by the Danube River, Buda sits perched atop rolling hills that were once the eastern bastions of the Roman Empire. The hot-springs-rich Gellért Hill and the medieval Castle Hill, UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, overlook the grand architecture of Pest, a flat terrain bursting with energy.
#3 - Unique local language: Flanked mainly by Germanic and Slavic people, Hungarians are an outlier with an odd language and Asiatic ancestry. Today, the local population bears German, Slavic, Jewish, Turkish, and Romanian cultural and ethnic marks adopted over the centuries, but Hungarian language is very different from anything else, being one of the few non Indo-European languages in Europe.
#4 - Walkable and bikeable: Although Budapest is a big city with almost two million people, it's easily walkable — most points of interest for visitors are within the Grand Boulevard in Pest, and near the Danube's bank in Buda. The more far-flung locations are best accessed by public transport or Bubi, the city's bike sharing network. Refer to this neighborhood overview for details.
#5 - Unhurried lifestyle: The slower, laid-back lifestyle that characterizes Balkan cities is palpable in Budapest, too. Part of this harkens back to the communist era, when the absence of economic incentives allowed for an unrushed pace to life. This is best enjoyed during the outdoor season — come summertime, cafés and restaurants spill out to the sidewalks stay open until the wee hours.
#6 - Thriving food scene: Thanks to a new crop of local chefs, fresh ingredients and inventive recipes are replacing the gut-busting Hungarian fare of the communist past. Budapest currently has six Michelin-starred restaurants — more than each of Prague and Warsaw — but there are also plenty of lower-priced traditional Hungarian and trendy restaurants, too.
#7 - Excellent museums: Be it a tour inside the massive Parliament building, an exhibit of local artworks, or the heroic story of Unicum, the local herbal liqueur (which, yes, does include a taste), museums abound in Budapest. Pick one that best suits your fancy.
#8 - Not (yet) cluttered with tourists like Prague and Vienna: While Budapest's tourism has skyrocketed in recent years, still, the city is less crowded than Prague and Vienna. If you're curious about where most local people live, also visit the more under-the-radar neighborhoods that fall outside the city center. This neighborhood guide will help you get around.
#9 - Thermal baths, yes: With an abundant supply of mineral-rich hot springs, thermal bathing in Budapest goes back to the Romans. Today, the city has nine main baths that include both medieval hammams built by Ottoman Turkey and ornate Habsburg-era buildings. This primer will help you decide which is the right match for you.
#10 - Beautiful architecture: Most buildings in Budapest today sprang up during the city's golden era when, along with Vienna, it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). The diverse architecture features classical revival styles, art nouveau, art deco, and early modernism. Even the deeply neglected buildings, which are plentiful, usually hide elaborate details behind their sooty facades.
#11 - Unique Jewish heritage: At the turn of the 20th century, more than 23 percent of Budapest's residents were Jewish. They contributed tremendously to the city's industrial, cultural, and urban fabric. Today, you can still visit Europe's largest synagogue inside the old Jewish Quarter. The tragic events of the Holocaust wiped out most Jewish life in Hungary, especially in cities outside Budapest.
#12 - There's an island in the center of the city: Budapest's 2.8 km long (1.7 mile) Margaret Island is a gift of nature. This bucolic, car-free land enclosed by the Danube was home to various monastic orders in medieval times, later the Ottomans set up a harem here, then it became the Habsburgs' private resort. Today, local residents stroll through the scenic parks and massive sycamore trees, or lap around the 5.3 km (3.3 mile) track.
#13 - Mixed neigborhoods: For historical reasons, home ownership is very high in Budapest (around 90 percent). This means that neighborhoods take longer to transform, and many of them still have a mixed cross-section of local residents. Plenty of low-priced bars and restaurants located in posh areas are evidence of this. (With the rapid rise of Airbnb this is now changing).
#14 - Special bar scene: Perhaps you've already read about Budapest's famous ruin bars. But even apart from them, the city is swarming with unpretentious, often grungy bars inside pre-war buildings. Weathered though they may be, lively crowds and wallet-friendly drinks lend them a unique ambiance.
#15 - It's cheap: In most other European capital cities you'd need to shell out a lot more for comparable food, drinks, and accommodation. Price points are certainly on the rise much to the frustration of locals (average after-tax annual salary is only around €12,000), but for most foreigners they're still a bargain.
#16 - It's clean & safe: When walking around, even at night, you don't need to look over your shoulder. As for cleanliness, the formula is simple enough: plenty of sidewalk trash cans and garbage collectors make Budapest’s streets largely litter-free.
#17 - Excellent Public Transportation: Most people couldn't afford a car during communism, relying instead on public transportation which was cheap and efficient. Even today, Budapest has a solid bus, tram, trolley, and subway coverage, and tickets are still relatively cheap. You can buy all types of tickets from the vending machines located at the stations, or, if you need personal assistance, at the Deák Ferenc Square central station.
#18 - Sziget Music Festival: What started as an offbeat student event in 1993 has ballooned into one of Europe's largest music festivals, drawing over 500,000 people every August over the course of seven days. Besides big-name headliners like Rihanna or Arctic Monkeys, the festival also features art, dance, and local bands across more than 50 venues. The icing on the cake is the festival's locale, perched on a Danubian island in northern Budapest.
If you've found this useful, please consider supporting Offbeat. Our content is free, so your contributions go a long way toward maintaining and growing the website.