22 Mar 5 + 1 mistakes tourists make when they come to Budapest (and how to avoid them like a local)
Budapest is a city geared towards tourists, with attractions, sightseeing tours, restaurants and “experiences” all carefully designed to give visitors a little slice of Budapest life. Not all of these are created equal, though, and while there are some great operators in the city, a lot of the things on offer to tourists are overpriced and underwhelming. And, most importantly, they are things that can be done the “local way” with just a little bit of know how.
So, here we are today to let you know how to avoid some classic Budapest tourist mistakes:
Mistake 1: Only using the Hop On Hop Off bus for sightseeings
Take tram number 2 – sightseeing for one Euro. Photo: jetsettingfools.com
The tickets are expensive for something you just sit on, and we happen to find the audio commentary a little soulless. We always favor walking tours with a knowledgeable guide when exploring a new place, but if you do like to sit back and be a little lazy then there are a few public transport routes in Budapest that will let you see the city for a fraction of the cost of a tour bus ticket.
Tram 2 skirts the banks of the Danube on the Pest side and even passes the magnificent Parliament, while Bus 16, affectionately known as the “Castle Bus”, winds a route up to and through the charming neighborhood that surrounds Buda Castle.
But wait! You were getting the Hop On ticket so you could take the Danube boat as well? Don’t bother – there are public boats that ply the river during the summer and they cost just 1 Euro each way. And there’s a bar on board!
Mistake 2: Enjoying a “tourist menu” for lunch
Daily menu in Kőleves restaurant. Photo: kolevesvendeglo.com
A tourist menu is basically an expensive one – maybe double or even triple what a local would pay for relatively simple dishes. You’ll see plenty of these advertised on and the around the major tourist streets like Váci Street.
Give these a miss and seek out some more local options instead. “Daily menus” are what city workers love and live on – usually a soup and a main course served hot and fresh in unassuming canteen-style places for just a few Euros. And, if you’re on the go, Budapest has a thriving street food scene as well.
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Mistake 3: Only going to Széchenyi and Gellért Baths
Veli bej thermal bath. Photo: termalfurdo.hu
The baths are one of Budapest’s main attractions – ornate public spas filled with natural spring water piped up from deep down under the ground. Széchenyi and Gellért are the most popular – and some would say the most beautiful – but they are expensive and often filled with tourists, rather limiting your ability to relax.
Do yourself a favor and give some of the city’s smaller baths a chance. Király Bath still lives in its original Ottoman dome, as does Veli Bej Bath, which has been beautifully renovated and has more of a luxurious feel. And, if you like the outdoors feel, Dandár Bath has a stunning courtyard pool to enjoy.
Mistake 4: Only spend time in the Jewish Quarter
Bartók Béla avenue. Photo: ittlakunk.hu
We know, Jewish district is really cool, and you could definitely spend weeks exploring it if you wanted, but Budapest has so many other great neighborhoods, each boasting their own style and atmosphere.
The VIII District is the city’s once gritty and now up and coming neighborhood, located not far from the center, and filled with cool bars and creative hubs. Újlipótváros, on the other hand, sits on the Danube and evokes an old Parisian charm, with cute cafes, bars, and boutiques to match. Finally, Bartók Béla Avenue, being near one of the city’s universities, is a hub for young people, with cool hangouts to match.
Mistake 5: Only visit the Great Central Market Hall
Downtown Market in Hold street. Photo: ittlakunk.hu
The Great Central Market Hall is big, it’s bold, and its full of fresh produce and souvenirs, but it’s also not the only market hall in Budapest and, in fact, is often avoided by locals due to higher prices and the crowds. Those seeking a more locals experience should check out the Downton Market in Hold Street or the Hunyadi Square Market. Szimpla, the famous ruin pub, also hosts a popular farmers’ market every Sunday, with delicious offerings and live music.
Bonus Mistake: Only visit Szimpla ruin bar
Kisüzem alternative bar. Photo: facebook.com/Kisuzem
Speaking of ruin pubs, while Szimpla may have been the first on the scene and is definitely the most well-known, it’s definitely not the only cool one and is often far too busy to be a decent option on a night out.
Fan out a little and try some other places – like Kisüzem with its extensive rum collection and artists crowd, or Fekete Kutya which boasts great Czech brews and a lively atmosphere. Meanwhile, over in the VIII district, Gólya is the coolest place to be, while Dürer Kert holds that title for those that are living or staying near City Park.