Rick Steves Budapest

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By Rick Steves

By Cameron Hewitt

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Now more than ever, you can count on Rick Steves to tell you what you really need to know when traveling through Budapest. Admire opulent Golden Age architecture, soak in a thermal bath, and wander the winding streets of old villages: with Rick Steves, Budapest is yours to discover! Inside Rick Steves Budapest you'll find:
  • Fully updated comprehensive coverage of Budapest, as well as day trips to Gödöllö Palace, Lázár Lovaspark, Holókö, the Danube Bend, Szentendre, Visegrád, Esztergom, and more
  • Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
  • Top sights and hidden gems, from the ornate Parliament building and the Széchnyi Baths to local unicum distilleries (Hungary's favorite spirit!)
  • How to connect with local culture: Catch a world-class opera performance, dive into a bowl of goulash, or sample paprika at the Great Market Hall
  • Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
  • The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of pálinka
  • Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and historic museums
  • Detailed neighborhood maps for exploring on the go
  • Useful resources including a packing list, a Hungarian phrase book, a historical overview, and recommended reading
  • Over 500 bible-thin pages include everything worth seeing without weighing you down
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Budapest.
Expanding your trip? Try Rick Steves Eastern Europe.



Map: Map Legend









Traveling as a Temporary Local

Budapest (locals say “BOO-daw-pesht”) is a unique metropolis at the heart of a unique nation. Here you’ll find experiences like nothing else in Europe: Feel your stress ebb away as you soak in hundred-degree water, surrounded by opulent Baroque domes...and by Speedo- and bikini-clad Hungarians. Ogle some of Europe’s most richly decorated interiors, which echo a proud little nation’s bygone glory days. Perk up your ears with a first-rate performance at one of the world’s top opera houses—at bargain prices. Ponder the region’s bleak communist era as you stroll amid giant Soviet-style statues designed to evoke fear and obedience. Try to wrap your head around Hungary’s colorful history...and your tongue around its notoriously difficult language. Dive into a bowl of goulash, the famous paprika-flavored peasant soup with a kick. Go for an after-dinner stroll along the Danube, immersed in a grand city that’s bathed in floodlights.

Budapest excites good travelers...and exasperates bad ones. I love this city for its flaws as much as for its persistent personality. As a tour guide, for years I’ve introduced travelers to Budapest: walked them step-by-step through the byzantine entry procedure at the thermal baths; handed them a glass of local wine with an unpronounceable name and an unforgettable flavor; and taught them to greet their new Hungarian friends with a robust, “Jó napot kívánok!” I’ve watched them struggle to understand—and gradually succumb to the charms of—this fascinating but beguiling place. And I’ve taken careful notes. This book represents the lessons I’ve learned, organized to help you experience Budapest with the wisdom of a return visitor.

Use this legend to help you navigate the maps in this book.


Rick Steves Budapest is a personal tour guide in your pocket. Better yet, it’s actually two tour guides in your pocket: The co-author of this book is Cameron Hewitt, who writes and edits guidebooks for my travel company, Rick Steves’ Europe. Inspired by Hungary’s epic past, charming people, and delightfully spicy cuisine, Cameron has spent more than a decade closely tracking the exciting changes in this part of the world. Together, Cameron and I keep this book up-to-date and accurate (though, for simplicity, from this point on “we” will shed our respective egos and become “I”).

In this book, you’ll find the following chapters:

Hungary offers an introduction to this mesmerizing land, including a crash course in its notoriously difficult language.

Orientation to Budapest includes specifics on public transportation, helpful hints, local tour options, easy-to-read maps, and tourist information. The “Planning Your Time” section suggests a day-to-day schedule for how to best use your limited time.

Sights in Budapest describes the top attractions and includes their cost and hours.

The Thermal Baths chapter offers step-by-step instructions for enjoying Budapest’s quintessential activity like a local.

The Self-Guided Walks and Tours cover Budapest’s Leopold Town (the banking and business district), Pest Town Center (the down-and-dirty downtown urban zone), Andrássy út (the main boulevard, lined with fine architecture and great sightseeing), Heroes’ Square and City Park (the city’s playground, including a Who’s Who lesson in Hungarian history), and Castle Hill (the city’s historic center). The tours lead you through three of Budapest’s most compelling sights: the House of Terror Museum, the Great Synagogue and Jewish Quarter, and Memento Park.

Sleeping in Budapest describes my favorite hotels, from good-value deals to cushy splurges.

Eating in Budapest outlines one of Hungary’s top attractions—its delicious cuisine—and serves up a range of options, from inexpensive take-out joints to fancy restaurants.

Budapest with Children includes my top recommendations for keeping your kids (and you) happy in Budapest.

Shopping in Budapest gives you tips for shopping painlessly and enjoyably, without letting it overwhelm your vacation or ruin your budget.

Entertainment in Budapest is your guide to fun, from a low-key stroll along the Danube embankment to Budapest’s most cutting-edge nightspots...and everything in between (opera, tourist concerts, music pubs, river cruises, and more).

Budapest Connections lays the groundwork for your smooth arrival and departure, outlining your options for traveling to destinations by train, bus, plane, car, and Danube riverboat.

Day Trips from Budapest includes the opulent Gödöllő Palace, the lively horse shows at Lázár Lovaspark, the folk village of Hollókő, and the “Danube Bend” river towns of Szentendre, Visegrád, and Esztergom, as well as ideas for farther-flung destinations.

There are also in-depth chapters on Hungary’s best attractions outside of Budapest: the towns of Eger, Pécs, and Sopron. I’ve also thrown in the nearby Slovak capital of Bratislava.

Hungary: Past and Present is an overview of this nation’s epic and illustrious history, and a survey of contemporary Hungary.

Practicalities is a traveler’s tool kit, with our best travel tips and advice about money, sightseeing, staying connected, and transportation (trains, buses, car rentals, driving, and flights). There’s also a list of recommended books and films.

The appendix has nuts-and-bolts information, including useful phone numbers and websites, a festival list, climate chart, handy packing checklist, and Hungarian survival phrases.

Browse through this book and select your favorite sights. Then have a great trip! Traveling like a temporary local, and taking advantage of the information here, you’ll enjoy the absolute most of every mile, minute, and dollar. As you visit places I know and love, I’m happy that you’ll be meeting some of my favorite Hungarians.


This section will help you get started on planning your trip—with advice on trip costs, when to go, and what you should know before you take off.


Your trip to Budapest is like a complex play—it’s easier to follow and really appreciate on a second viewing. While no one does the same trip twice to gain that advantage, reading this book in its entirety before your trip accomplishes much the same thing.

Design an itinerary that enables you to visit sights at the best possible times. Note holidays, festivals, specifics on sights, and days when sights are closed (all covered in this book). For example, most Hungarian museums close on Mondays. To get between destinations smoothly, read the tips in Practicalities on taking trains and buses, or renting a car and driving. A smart trip is a puzzle—a fun, doable, and worthwhile challenge.

When you’re plotting your itinerary, strive for a mix of intense and relaxed stretches. To maximize rootedness, minimize one-night stands. If you’re venturing outside Budapest, it’s worth taking a long drive after dinner (or a train ride with a dinner picnic) to get settled in a town for two nights. Every trip—and every traveler—needs slack time (laundry, picnics, people-watching, and so on). Pace yourself. Assume you will return.

Reread this book as you travel, and visit local tourist information offices (abbreviated as TI in this book). Upon arrival in a new town, lay the groundwork for a smooth departure; get the schedule for the train, bus, or boat that you’ll take when you depart. Drivers can figure out the best route to their next destination.

Update your plans as you travel. You can carry a mobile device (phone, tablet, or laptop) to find out tourist information, learn the latest on sights (special events, tour schedules, etc.), book tickets and tours, make reservations, reconfirm hotels, research transportation connections, and keep in touch with your loved ones. If you don’t want to bring a pricey device, you can use guest computers at hotels and make phone calls from landlines.

Enjoy the hospitality of the Hungarian people. Connect with the culture. Set up your own quest for the best thermal bath, bowl of goulash, nostalgic Golden Age interior, or atmospheric café. Slow down and be open to unexpected experiences. Ask questions—most locals are eager to point you in their idea of the right direction. Keep a notepad in your pocket for noting directions, organizing your thoughts, and confirming prices. Wear your money belt, learn the currency, and figure out how to estimate prices in dollars. Those who expect to travel smart, do.


Traveling in Budapest (and throughout Hungary) is a good value. While Budapest has Westernized at an astonishing rate since the Iron Curtain fell, it’s still cheaper than most Western European capitals.

Five components make up your trip costs: airfare, surface transportation, room and board, sightseeing and entertainment, and shopping and miscellany.

Airfare: A basic round-trip flight from the US to Budapest can cost, on average, about $1,000-2,000 total, depending on where you fly from and when (cheaper in winter). If Budapest is part of a longer trip, consider saving time and money in Europe by flying into one city and out of another; for instance, into Budapest and out of Prague. Overall, Kayak.com is the best place to start searching for flights on a combination of mainstream and budget carriers.

Surface Transportation: For a typical one-week visit, figure about $100. That includes $22 for a week-long Budapest transit pass, $70 for side-trips to other Hungarian towns (e.g., about $30 round-trip to Eger and $40 round-trip to Pécs), plus an extra $8 for miscellaneous taxi rides. Add around $20 per person for each transfer between the airport and downtown Budapest (cheaper but slower if you take public transportation). If you rent a car for a few days of side-tripping, figure about $100 per day (cheaper per day for longer rentals). To connect farther-flung destinations, train passes normally must be purchased outside Europe but aren’t necessarily your best option—you may save money by simply buying tickets as you go. Don’t hesitate to consider flying, as budget airlines can be cheaper than taking the train (check www.skyscanner.com for intra-European flights).

Room and Board: You can thrive in Budapest on $100 a day per person for room and board. This allows $10 for lunch, $25 for dinner, and $65 for lodging (based on two people splitting the cost of a $130 double room that includes breakfast). Students and tightwads can enjoy Budapest for as little as $40 a day ($20 per hostel bed, $20 for meals and snacks). If you’re traveling beyond Budapest, accommodations cost much less in smaller Hungarian towns and cities (a comfortable double typically costs no more than $90, bringing your budget down to $80 per day per person for two people traveling together).

Sightseeing and Entertainment: Figure about $8-17 per major sight (House of Terror, Memento Park, touring the Parliament or Opera House), $3-6 per minor sight, and $15-25 for splurge experiences (soaking in a thermal bath, taking a nighttime boat cruise on the Danube, going to a tourist concert or opera). You can hire your own private guide for four hours for around $120—a great value when divided between two or more people. An overall average of $20-35 a day works for most people. Don’t skimp here. After all, this category is the driving force behind your trip—you came to sightsee, enjoy, and experience Budapest.

Shopping and Miscellany: Figure $1-2 per postcard, coffee, beer, or ice-cream cone. Shopping can vary in cost from nearly nothing to a small fortune. Good budget travelers find that this category has little to do with assembling a trip full of lifelong and wonderful memories.


So much to see, so little time. How to choose? Depending on the length of your trip, assuming you’re using public transportation, and taking geographic proximity into account, here are my recommended priorities:

3 days: Budapest
5 days, add: Eger and one more day in Budapest
7 days, add: Pécs and another day in Budapest, or choose a day trip
10 days, add: Bratislava, Sopron, and additional day trips
More days, add: More time in Budapest and more day trips; also see “More Hungarian Destinations” on here

Note that Bratislava fits well on the way if you’re going between Budapest and Vienna. For more tips, see “Planning Your Time” on here.


The “tourist season” runs roughly from May through September. Book ahead for festivals and national holidays that occur throughout the year (for a list, see the appendix).

Summer (July and Aug) has its advantages: very long days, the busiest schedule of tourist fun and special festivals, and virtually no business travelers to compete with for hotel rooms. However, because Hungary has a practically Mediterranean climate, summer temperatures can skyrocket to the 80s or 90s (choose a hotel with air-conditioning). And many cultural events (such as the opera) are on summer vacation.

In spring and fall—May, June, September, and early October—travelers enjoy fewer tourist crowds and milder weather. This is my favorite time to visit Budapest. However, it’s also prime convention time (especially September), when hotels tend to fill up and charge their top rates.

Winter travelers find concert season in full swing, with absolutely no tourist crowds, but some accommodations and sights are either closed or run on a limited schedule. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season. The weather can be cold and dreary, and night will draw the shades on your sightseeing before dinnertime. For weather specifics, see the climate chart in the appendix.


Your trip is more likely to go smoothly if you plan ahead. Check this list of things to arrange while you’re still at home.

You need a passport—but no visa or shots—to travel in Hungary. You may be denied entry into certain European countries if your passport is due to expire within three months of your ticketed date of return. Get it renewed if you’ll be cutting it close. It can take up to six weeks to get or renew a passport (for more on passports, see www.travel.state.gov). Pack a photocopy of your passport in your luggage in case the original is lost or stolen.

Book rooms well in advance if you’ll be traveling at busy convention times (Sept-Oct) or during any major holidays (see here).

Call your debit- and credit-card companies to let them know the countries you’ll be visiting, to ask about fees, to request your PIN code (it will be mailed to you), and more. See here for details.

Do your homework if you want to buy travel insurance. Compare the cost of the insurance to the likelihood of your using it and your potential loss if something goes wrong. Also, check whether your existing insurance (health, homeowners, or renters) covers you and your possessions overseas. For more tips, see www.ricksteves.com/insurance.

If you’re planning on renting a car in Hungary, bring your driver’s license and an International Driving Permit (see here).

If you plan to hire a local guide, reserve ahead by email. Popular guides can get booked up.

If you’d like to tour the Hungarian Parliament, consider reserving online a few days ahead to ensure your choice of entrance time (see here).

If you’re bringing a mobile device, download any apps you might want to use on the road, such as translators, maps, and transit schedules. Check out Rick Steves Audio Europe, featuring hours of travel interviews and other audio content about Hungary (via the Rick Steves Audio Europe free app, www.ricksteves.com/audioeurope, iTunes, or Google Play; for details, see here).

Check the Rick Steves guidebook updates page for any recent changes to this book (www.ricksteves.com/update).

Because airline carry-on restrictions are always changing, visit the Transportation Security Administration’s website (www.tsa.gov) for a list of what you can bring on the plane and for the latest security measures (including screening of electronic devices, which you may be asked to power up).


American baby boomers still sometimes approach Hungary—for so long part of the “Evil Empire”—expecting grouchy service, crumbling communist infrastructure, and grimy, depressing landscapes. But visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the color, friendliness, safety, and ease of travel here. Hungary joined the EU in 2004, opened its borders with most of its EU neighbors (Austria, Slovakia, and Slovenia) in 2007, and feels just as “European” as anywhere. Many Hungarians speak excellent English and are forever scrambling to impress their guests. Any remaining rough edges simply add to the charm and carbonate the experience.

The East-West stuff still fascinates many tourists, but to locals, the Soviet regime is old news, Cold War espionage is the stuff of historical documentaries, and oppressive monuments to Stalin are a distant memory. More than 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hungarians think about communism only when tourists bring it up. Freedom is a generation old, and—for better or for worse—McDonald’s, Twitter, and mobile phones are every bit as entrenched here as anywhere else in Europe.

With all of these changes in mind, Hungarians bristle at the idea that they live in “Eastern” Europe (which implies a connection to Russia); to them, it’s Central Europe. Hungarians are looking to the future...and they hope you will, too.

Traveling as a Temporary Local

We travel all the way to Europe to enjoy differences—to become temporary locals. You’ll experience frustrations. Certain truths that we find “God-given” or “self-evident,” such as cold beer, ice in drinks, bottomless cups of coffee, “first” names first, cigarette smoke being irritating, and bigger being better, are suddenly not so true. One of the benefits of travel is the eye-opening realization that there are logical, civil, and even better alternatives. A willingness to go local ensures that you’ll enjoy a full dose of local hospitality. Fortunately for you, hospitality is a Hungarian forte. Hungarian culture is endearingly formal—people really care.

Europeans generally like Americans. But if there is a negative aspect to the image Europeans have of Americans, it’s that we are loud, wasteful, ethnocentric, too informal (which can seem disrespectful), and a bit naive.

While Hungarians look bemusedly at some of our Yankee excesses—and worriedly at others—they nearly always afford us individual travelers all the warmth we deserve.

Judging from all the happy feedback I receive from travelers, it’s safe to assume you’ll enjoy a great, affordable vacation—with the finesse of an independent, experienced traveler.

Thanks, and jó utat—happy travels!



Map: Hungary

Hungarian Language

Hungary is an island of Asian-descended Magyars in a sea of Slavs. Even though the Hungarians have thoroughly integrated with their Slavic and German neighbors in the millennium-plus since they arrived, there’s still something about the place that’s distinctly Magyar (MUD-jar). Here in quirky, idiosyncratic Hungary, everything’s a little different from the rest of Europe—in terms of history, language, culture, customs, and cuisine—but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly how.


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On Sale
Nov 21, 2023
Page Count
528 pages
Rick Steves

Rick Steves

About the Author

Since 1973, Rick Steves has spent about four months a year exploring Europe. His mission: to empower Americans to have European trips that are fun, affordable, and culturally broadening. Rick produces a best-selling guidebook series, a public television series, and a public radio show, and organizes small-group tours that take over 30,000 travelers to Europe annually.  He does all of this with the help of more than 100 well-traveled staff members at Rick Steves’ Europe in Edmonds, WA (near Seattle). When not on the road, Rick is active in his church and with advocacy groups focused on economic and social justice, drug policy reform, and ending hunger. To recharge, Rick plays piano, relaxes at his family cabin in the Cascade Mountains, and spends time with his son Andy and daughter Jackie. Find out more about Rick at http://www.ricksteves.com and on Facebook.

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Cameron Hewitt

About the Author

Born in Denver and raised in central Ohio, Cameron Hewitt settled in Seattle in 2000. Ever since, he has spent three months each year in Europe, contributing to guidebooks, tours, radio and television shows, and other media for Rick Steves’ Europe, where he serves as content manager. Cameron married his high school sweetheart (and favorite travel partner), Shawna, and enjoys taking pictures, trying new restaurants, and planning his next trip.

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