Visiting Budapest, Hungary
Buda Buda Buda Buda rocking everywhere….forgive me for this BUDA couldn’t help myself. Ok, I’m done now promise. I was least excited about visiting Budapest as I hadn’t really heard of the location prior to my Study Abroad Program, however once I visited I am itching to return to lively city of Budapest.
Fun Fact: Budapest is not one city, but two. The two cities of Buda and Pest are separated by the Danube River, with Buda on the left and Pest on the right.
The Flight to Budapest, Hungary
We left Poland at 10:35 am and flew via Wizz Air. While Wizz Air was also a budget airline, it was a pleasant change from Ryanair. They had actual seat pockets and the seats had more cushion to them.
Now we were on Day 2 of our backpacking trip and had walked about 12 miles the previous day. To say we were a bit tired goes without saying. I immediately fell asleep on our short hour long flight. I did however, wake up in time to catch a view of the snowy mountain range below us. With a little research, I t h i n k we flew over the Carpathian Mountains. Check out this awesome photo Jocelyn snagged!
At Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport
Upon arriving James and I were disappointed to find out we wouldn’t be going through customs. Since we had already entered the EU (in Poland) we didn’t need to go through it in Hungary, and as a result we wouldn’t receive a stamp on our passport. We were really hoping to collect a stamp from every country we visited.
On the bright side, no customs meant less time spent in the airport and we could be in the city sooner! We immediately went over to the currency exchange desk to exchange some Euros for some HUF.
We exchanged 50 Euros for 12,800 HUF. The Hungarian Forint currency is all in very large dominations. Coins ranged from 10 HUF to 200 HUF. The notes were in the thousands, before this it’s safe to say I had NEVER held a 2,000 bill.
Anyway, the combined cities of BUDA and PEST offer a Budapest tourist card. The card is available for 24 hrs, 48 hrs, and 36 hrs from time of validation, since we were planning to be there for a little over 24 hours we opted for the first option.
You can purchase the card online and have it sent to your hotel or pick up the card at the tourist office in the airport. Do keep in mind however, if you chose the latter option and arrive to the airport outside operating hours you will have to wait to collect your card.
The website for the Budapest card didn’t seem 100% authentic to me, so I erred on the side of caution and opted to buy it at the desk in person rather than online with my bank information. Since we were landing well after opening hours I wasn’t concerned about having to wait to buy the card. A 24 hr card cost 4,900 HUF which was a total of 9,800 HUF for James and myself.
What I really liked about the Budapest card was that it offered free transportation from the airport to city center and within the city. Additionally you received free admission to certain attractions and discounts at various sites and restaurants. However the main reason I selected the card was due to the free admission to a thermal bath.
The most popular bath cost €15 to enter at the time, whereas the card cost us a few euros more and we also got transportation, free entrances to various attractions, discounts and a local thermal bath.
We bought our card on Sunday 12/11/16 and had until Monday 12/12/16 to use it. Unfortunately for us, many of the sites that the Budapest Card offered free attractions to were for museums, and as it turns out many museums close on Monday’s. I would definitely take this into consideration when traveling there. Upon purchasing the card you are to sign the back of the card with the date and time to prove evidence of your 24, 48, or 72 hour window.
To the City from the Airport
With the Budapest Card you can take the 200E to Kobanya Kispest Metro, where you take the M3 line to your desired train station for free.
As soon as you get your card go wait in line for the bus, as MANY people are also waiting for the bus. Two buses came and went before we were at the front of the queue to get on. When on the bus all you need to do is show your card to your bus driver. Our bus driver from the airport was much more vigilant with checking the cards were valid than our bus driver to the airport.
The bus ride is about 20 minutes before arriving to Kobanya Kispest Metro station. The metro line in the city starts at Deak Ferenc Ter and ends at Kobanya Kispest outside the city. Since we were at Kobanya we just hopped onto the first train heading to Deak Ferenc on the M3 line.
Validating your card on the Metro
There are two methods when validating your card. When you enter the platform of the train station there is staff that look at your cards or your tickets and make sure they are valid. The second method involves two poles at which you tap your card to validate.
The 24 hr cards are actually validated at the time of purchase, so there is no need to tap it on the poles. However, an official may stop you to who is check to see if you using an expired card. We did notice that stations further away from the city i.e Kobanya Kispest didn’t have staff looking at the cards, whereas stations nearer to the city had staff on duty checking the cards.
Once we got into the city our first plan of action was to check into our hostel. With that in mind, we got off at Klinikak Station since it was a 5-minute walk to our hostel. We stayed at Just Like Home which we booked via Booking.com. The hostel was a bit difficult to find and on both mine and Jocelyn’s offline maps since it came up as “Urban Life Apartments.” If you ever stay there and have trouble finding it, it’s right near the Leonardo Hotel next to a little bakery. Location wise the hostel was a bit out of the city center, maybe a 30-minute walk, but we didn’t mind the walk and we had free transportation.
The hostel was true to its name in that it made you feel “just like home.” James and I managed to get a 3 person room that was quite spacious and roomy. Personal lockers were also provided under each bed. The apartment was equipped with a spacious kitchen and a living room, was a steal at €9 + city tax for James and I to stay a night and it was neat, clean and quiet.
As we were walking from our hostel to the metro to head into the city we came across this beautiful church that I couldn’t help but snap a photo of. I don’t know the name of it nor did we go inside but it was beautiful from the outside!
Day 1 – Exploring Pest
Upon exiting Deak Ferenc Ter Station, located in Pest, we were greeted with impressive architecture. We quickly came across a Hungary sign not much different from the “I Amsterdam” Sign. Being the tourists we are, of course we took many photos with it.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Right near the station is the Szent István Bazilika, or St. Stephen’s Basilica. Since it was December there were many Christmas markets out, and low and behold the courtyard in front of the Church was THE hub for the Christmas market. I tried my best to get a photo that did the Church justice. We didn’t go inside but if you’d like to visit I definitely recommend climbing the stairs to the dome. Tours are available M-F 10am to 3pm for 3,000 HUF.
Shoes on the Danube
Just a stone throw away from the Basilica is the famed memorial of the “Shoes on the Danube.” The memorial is meant to honor the many that were killed during the horrific events of The Holocaust and WW2. While traveling is exciting it is also very humbling and grounding to see a memorial with such a profound importance behind it.
The Danube River
After visiting the memorial we took a few seconds to truly take in the view before us and boy was it stunning. Standing on the Pest shores of the Danube River you can see the Buda Castle up on the hill.
With the impressive views across the way we naturally decided to go visit Buda. We were quickly setting across the Chain Bridge that connects Buda and Pest. What should have been a quick walk turned into 10 minutes as I stopped every second to take photos.
Day 1 – Exploring Buda
0 Km Stone
Immediately as you cross over to Buda you’ll come across the 0 KM Stone. The statue is symbolic of the beginning point from where all distances are recorded from in Budapest.
Just to the left of the 0 KM Stone is a walkway embedded into the mountain and that winds up the Buda Hill. Yes we were a little out of breath when we got to the top. These were the moments when I hated Eli’s quick pace, because I always tried to match his pace and I quickly learned we were in different physiques. The view at the top was definitely worth the huffin’ and puffin’ though.
The pictures above were actually taken at the very base of “Buda Castle.” While the view in itself was breathtaking, the statues and architecture at the Castle were equally stunning.
Hungarian National Gallery
One of the free attractions of the card was the Hungarian National Gallery. Jocelyn enjoys art so we made sure to utilize our card and check out the gallery.
After a stroll through the museum James, Eli and I decided to wander around for a bit before we were reunited with Jocelyn. While out wandering we managed to catch this amazing sunset over Buda.
Views of Pest
By the time we met up with Jocelyn the sun had set and everything was alit. I loved that it was so picturesque not only during the day but also at night. My favorite bit was seeing the Hungarian Parliament lit up at night.
When we crossed back over to Pest we also got a great view of Buda lit up.
Day 1 – Thermal Baths
Budapest is famous for its thermal relaxing baths. There was no way I was going to Budapest and not visiting a bath. As the night came to an end we went back to our hostel got our suits and went back to the city to spend a couple hours at the baths.
I wouldn't be doing this story justice if I didn't discuss the blunder that happened on our way to the baths.
When we were in our hostel room James said he would be responsible for carrying our backpack that held everything. You know just our towels, change of clothes, money, PASSPORTS etc. Well, I brought the backpack to the couch and sat it on the couch next to me. James and I both sat on the couch and tied our shoes before we left. When I finished tying my shoes I got up and left James on the couch next to the backpack.
Fast forward 10 minutes later and we’re all standing on the tram heading towards St. Lukacs Thermal Baths located in Buda and James goes “Do you have the backpack?” Cue my instant panic/annoyance/rage. Needles to say we left Jocelyn and Eli to head back to our hostel and get our backpack. Anyone who knows James and I know that we bicker a lot, his parents call us the Bickersteins. Poor Jocelyn and Eli heard us rehash this argument about the backpack over the next few days, sorry guys!
We finally made it to the thermal bath and managed to spend a little over an hour soaking. While sitting in large hot tub pools, saunas and steam rooms sound super relaxing (which it totally is) it’s also kinda gross! I would definitely recommend bringing a pair of flip flops, towel, and change of clothes and soap for a shower. If not you’ll have to purchase your own flip flops and towel or be left without them.
Day 2 – Exploring Buda.
Gellert Hill Cave
The following day we were up and ready to go back to explore the city. First stop was to hike up Buda hill to the Gellert Hill Cave. What’s really interesting about this is it’s actually a Church, built into a cave on a hill.
The Gellert Hill Cave was not included in our Budapest Card nor did we really want to go inside it so we continued on with our hike through the Jubileumi Park. Again, I was cursing Eli for his quick pace but I quit while I was ahead and didn’t even attempt to keep up with him. Jocelyn and I huffed and puffed up the hill at a nice sloooooow and easy pace. Plus this time we had our heavy backpacks sooooo it’s justifiable right? Check out the unreal views we saw while hiking up!
Once we got to the top we were met with a stunning statue towards the front of the Citadella and even better view of the city!
James and Eli just HAD to recreate this statue….
St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
Next stop on our list was to walk BACK to the Royal Palace and just beyond it to check out St. Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. I think this may have been about a 20-minute walk. These were the last few things we had on our list to do before we wanted to grab lunch.
Now let me tell you about timing, as soon as we were done touring the Fisherman’s Bastion it started to rain. Talk about timing, we hopped on a boss to Pest and went to our lunch destination.
Eating in Budapest
On our second day for lunch we settled on Kisharang Restaurant. This restaurant was highly rated on trip advisor for being budget friendly and authentic Hungarian food. It is quite small and offers very few tables, but at noon on a Monday we were seated with no problem. The reviews were definitely accurate. It was cheap, delicious and felt authentic. I ordered a chicken crepe with paprika sauce, while James got a Goulash Soup. Jocelyn and Eli got a chicken soup and mushroom goulash respectively.
The only not so great experience we had was the service we received. Basically we asked prior to sitting if we could pay with Euros and Forints and we were told yes. We then asked if we could split the bill amongst the four of us since we were all paying for our own meals and while she did say yes you could tell she was instantly annoyed with us. I swear we got an eye roll.
Anyway fast forward to the end of the meal, James was paying for his meal in euros (€5.82) while I was paying with our left over Forints for my meal. He tried to make it easy on the restaurant by paying the exact amount in euros. Our waitress rudely told us that it was unacceptable and she wouldn’t accept euro coins, only notes. We weren’t really sure what to do about this considering €1 is a coin in itself. So we then overpaid her with notes and figured l we’ll just get the change.
Well we were sitting and waiting for our change and then we realized she wasn’t going to give us change, so James had to heckle with her to receive our change. She begrudgingly did so, but in Forints and at a terrible exchange rate. All in all, the service by this specific employee- was not spectacular, but the food was delicious and cheap!
After our visit to the thermal baths we took a tram from Buda to Pest and stopped at the Christmas Market. The market was much more scenic at night with all the Christmas lights lit, especially in front of the Basilica.
James and I opted to eat some food we had packed because we only had 3000 HUF left. We didn’t want to convert any more euros to HUF for fear of not using it all. So we planned to use our remaining HUF for lunch the following day.
Anyway Jocelyn and Eli got themselves this delicious dish that seriously made me reconsider covering our Euros that night. We weren’t entirely sure what it was, but we deduced it was a combination of cabbage and meat on a piece of bread of sorts. Our roommate in our hostel suggested it may be a dish called Bigos.
When we were done at the Christmas market we went back to our hostel to catch some Zs. Turns out James and I ended up having a pretty cool roommate! He was actually from Poland and had taken a bus ride down to Hungary to watch a football game. Anyway he was really interesting to talk to and it was great that we went all the way to Hungary and ended up making a friend from Poland. We found out his family made their very own Cherry Vodka, and he gave James some to sample and let us keep the cool bottle it was in! We’re definitely looking forward to reconnecting with Dawid some day in the future. (Update: we met up with Dawid in Copenhagen about a year later!)
The following day after lunch it was about 1:30 pm and we had a few hours to kill before heading back to the airport for our flight that evening. Since we had pretty much done the majority of the things we planned to do we decided to kill a few hours in the Christmas Market. Check out this stall with mouth watering goodies.
When we bought our Budapest Card at the airport we got a coupon for free mulled wine and a mug. If you know me I LOVE anything free…so obviously we were going to scout out the mugs. After asking a couple stalls we finally found the one where the coupon was valid and I was a happy trooper because I got a free souvenir! Eli and I didn’t drink the mulled wine so they happily got pawned off to Jocelyn and James.
The previous day, Jocelyn had seen a Chimney Cake and had her heart set on purchasing one. We walked around a few stalls so she could find the best option. She was like a kid in a candy store once she bought her Chimney Cake.
Transportation to the airport from the City
At about 3:30 pm we decided it was time to walk back to the train station and head to the airport so we could be there at 5 pm (2 hours before our flight). Now, we weren’t positive if our Budapest Card would get us access back to the airport or not because at the time we were a little unsure on the expiration of the card. We figured we’d try anyway and see how lenient the staff was on it since we noticed there seemed to be zero regulation on most of the public transport and if we ended up needing to pay we would pay. Luckily, we had no problem getting back to the airport. Not once were we even asked to provide a ticket, so it worked in our case!
We got through the airport with ease and had zero issues with security. We even got free Lindt chocolate samples in duty-free – yay! Since we had some time to kill and James and me had a little Forint left over we were on the hunt for an adapter. The adapter we had was broken and didn’t work in Poland nor Hungary. Eli’s was also broken so Jocelyn had the only functioning adapter. We were lucky that one of the members at a store allowed us to pay for a discounted price so we didn’t have to pay in Forints AND Euros! THANK. YOU. SIR.
A quick funny story, while we were in the airport waiting for our gate, James and I were sitting at one of many empty tables at a restaurant so I could charge my phone and an irate man walked over to us and scolded us for sitting at a restaurant table and sucking up the electricity and then asked us to move so he could use the outlet. The irony of his anger was so funny to me. I politely told him we would not leave our table so he could sit there, but we would be more than happy to move our table over so he could also have access to the outlet. He just muttered to himself and then decided to order a cappuccino from the restaurant and berate the staff for making awful coffee.
Shortly after, James and I were seated on our Ryanair flight heading towards Country #3 Athens, Greece!
Miles Walked in Budapest, Hungary
In Budapest over the 2 days there we walked a total of 21.5 miles!
- Day 1 Miles Walked: 13.2 miles
- Day 2 Miles Walked: 8.3 miles
Total Cost: $52.87 & €69.82
- USD spent on prepaid flight: $52.87
- Euros spent in Budapest €69.82
- HUF spent 12,800 HUF
- Beginning Balance Euros: €751.50
- Total Euros spent: €69.82
- Ending Balance Euros: €681.68
**Total Forint spent from €50 conversion to 12,800 HUF: 12,800 HUF
Breakdown of costs
Prepaid Flight Cost:
***ALL 9 Flights Totaled Roughly $301 ea per 7/17/16 conversion rates. This portion:
- Flights to Budapest for James and I: $52.87
- (WAW 10:35 – BUD 11:45) WIZZAIR €47.91
Cost Incurred in Budapest:
- Conversion to 12,800 Forint: €50
- Accommodation: €14
- For 1 night for James and I – €10
- City tax (€2/person) – total €4
- Food: €5.82
- Goulash Soup – €5.82
HUF: 12,800 HUF
- Transportation and Attractions: 9,800 HUF
- Budapest Card 4,900 HUF ea = total 9,800 HUF
- Food: 1,510 HUF
- Crepes with Paprika Sauce
- Post Card: 100 HUF
- Adapter: 1,390 HUF