18 Compelling Reasons To Visit Budapest

Find out why visiting Hungary's capital city should be high on your travel list.

#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 character. Are you looking for a clean, disciplined, orderly, well-functioning city? Or, rather, an exciting, unpredictable, gritty urban center with an edge? You will find them both here.


#2 - Naturally beautiful: By all objective measures, Budapest is stunningly pretty. Split by the Danube River, Buda sits perched atop green rolling 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, overlook the grand architecture of Pest, a flat terrain boiling with energy.


#3 - Unique local language: Flanked mainly by Germanic and Slavic people, Hungarians are an outlier with an odd language—one of the few non Indo-European languages in Europe—and Asiatic ancestry. Today, the local population bears German, Slavic, Jewish, Turkish, and Romanian cultural and ethnic marks adopted over the centuries, but their language is entirely different.


#4 - Walkable and bikeable: Although Budapest is a sizeable 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 bank in Buda. The more far-flung locations are best accessed by public transport or MOL Bubi, the city's bike sharing network. Refer to this neighborhood overview for details.


unhurried4PS.jpg

#5 - Unhurried lifestyle: The slower, laid-back lifestyle that characterizes Balkan cities is palpable in Budapest, too. Part of this stems from communism, 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 take over sidewalks, and the city's nightlife, often enhanced by live music, lasts until the wee hours.


dobrumba19PS.jpg

#6 - Thriving food scene: Thanks to a young crop of foreign-trained 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 Parliament building, an exhibit about Hungary's tragic 20th-century history, or the incredible story of Unicum, the local herbal liqueur (which, yes, includes a taste), museums abound in Budapest. Pick one that strikes your fancy.


#8 - Not (yet) cluttered with tourists like Prague and Vienna: While Budapest's tourism has skyrocketed in recent years, the city is still less crowded than Prague and Vienna. If you're curious how regular locals live, visit the more under-the-radar neighborhoods like District 8, District 9, District 11, and Újlipótváros. Peruse this neighborhood guide for more information.


#9 - Thermal baths, yes: With a rich supply of mineral-rich hot springs beneath its surface, thermal bathing in Budapest goes back to the Romans. Today, the city has nine main baths; some are medieval hammams built by a Turkish pasha, others are inside exquisite Baroque Revival buildings. Read this overview before you decide which is the right match for you.


postatakarek10.jpg
Photo: Lakáskultúra

#10 - Beautiful architecture: Most of Budapest's striking buildings sprung up during the city's golden era when it was, along with Vienna, a capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918). The buildings span from classical revival styles to art nouveau, art deco, and early modernism. Many of them are deeply neglected, but the elaborate details behind the sooty facades lend them a weathered elegance.


#11 - Rich Jewish heritage: At the turn of the 20th century, more than 23% of Budapest's population was Jewish. While the tragic events of the Holocaust wiped out most Jewish life in Hungary, Jewish residents had contributed notably to the capital's industrial, cultural, and urban fabric. Today, you can still visit Europe's largest synagogue inside the old Jewish Quarter.


#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 area, 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 Habsburg family's private resort. Today, local residents stroll through its scenic parks and massive sycamore trees, or lap around its 5.3 km (3.3 mile) track.


#13 - Mixed neigborhoods: For historical reasons, home ownership is very high among Budapest residents, around 90 percent. This means that neighborhoods take longer to transform, and many have retained a fairly mixed residential makeup (with the rapid rise of Airbnb, however, this is changing). As evidence of this, you will be able to find no-frills, unpretentious bars and restaurants even in the poshest areas.


#14 - Special bar scene: Perhaps you've already read about Budapest's famous ruin bars. Even apart from them, the city is swarming with unpretentious, often grungy bars inside pre-war buildings. Worn-down though they may be, the lively local crowds and wallet-friendly drinks lend them a unique ambiance.


#15 - It's cheap: In most other European cities you would need to shell out more for comparable food, drinks, and accommodation. Prices are certainly on the rise, much to the frustration of locals (average after-tax annual salary is only c. €10,000), but for 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 to buy a car during communism, relying instead on public transportation, which was cheap and efficient. To this day, Budapest has an outstanding bus, tram, trolley, and subway coverage, and tickets are still relatively cheap (a weekly adult pass valid for all forms of transport costs about €16). You can buy all types of tickets from the vending machines at most stations or, if you need personal assistance, go to the Deák Ferenc Square central station.


#18 - Sziget Music Festival: What in 1993 started as an offbeat student event has transformed into one of Europe's biggest music festivals, drawing over 500,000 people every August over the course of seven days. Besides big-name 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 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.