Budapest Tips For First Timers: What You Need To Know Before Visiting

Oh man, Caleb and I  remember our first visit to Budapest. We were so overwhelmed because the language and culture were so different than our own! But we made it through and loved it so much that we went back and lived there for a while!

We want your first trip to Budapest to be stress-free so you can spend less time worrying and more time stretching your pants with creamy chicken paprikash and epic Hungarian wine. Today, we’re here to make that happen with our first-timers guide to essential Budapest tips!

You’ll learn all our Budapest insider tips that we wish we knew when we first visited because whether you’re a foodie couple like us or not, Budapest has something you’re going to fall in love with. Let’s get into it, starting with a sneak peek video of some of the top spots you’ll see in the city!

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General Tips

The Buda Castle in Budapest at dusk, with the Chain Bridge in the foreground, reflecting the warm lights on the Danube River.

1. Stay in Pest, in District 5 or 7

Budapest is divided into 2 parts – Buda and Pest – (shocking, we know. 😅) Buda is where the castle is, but it’s much quieter and has fewer restaurants, cafes, nightlife, etc. We strongly recommend that you stay on the Pest side in District 5 or 7 for a central location, especially if you’re a couple like us who wants close proximity to wine and cocktail bars.

Then, you can walk or use public transport to get over to Buda when you wanna wander through a castle. If you get lost, you know what district you’re in by looking at the street signs. They have the district number on them!

We always recommend staying in 7Seasons hotel. The location is amazing, the rooms are huge, cheap and the staff is nice and helpful.

>> click here to look at photos, review and check availability <<

2. Buy parliament tours online in advance.

We tried to buy tickets for the parliament tour at the ticket office twice, and both times, they were sold out. So, we recommend buying them in advance on their website to ensure you get a spot.

Here is their website.

A scenic view of a historic church with intricate architecture, surrounded by other old buildings, under a soft orange sunset sky.

3. the best time for a river cruise is when the sun is setting.

We did 3 river cruises so we could test out the best tour operator and the best time of day for you. The most beautiful cruise time is right at sunset as you start to see the gorgeous buildings light up with the purple and pink sky.

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After sunset, it is pretty, too, as the buildings lit up are more prominent, but you don’t see the architecture as much. The daytime is the worst.

INSIDER TIP: this is the best boat cruise in Budapest by far. Beautiful, all-glass boat and free wine!

A cozy ruin bar setting with eclectic decorations, including jars of honey on tables covered with checkered tablecloths, and colorful lights hanging from the ceiling.

4. Skip the Ruin Bars at night and go for the Farmer’s Market.

We found the ruin bars to be loaded with people in their twenties getting drunk on cheap highballs, and we’re more about the cozy, romantic cocktail vibe. If that’s you too, visit the ruin bars on Sunday mornings instead.

They have a lovely local farmers market inside, and we bought the best-smoked cheese of our life. Great for unique gifts to take home!

Aerial view of Budapest at sunset, featuring Buda Castle and the surrounding landscape with the Danube River in the foreground.

5. Learn some basic words.

This will help you respect the culture and communicate. Just don’t do what I did and keep saying hi instead of thanks.

*waiter brings me a cocktail*  Me: “HI.”  Embarrassing.

Words to know: 

  • Cheers – egészségedre (egg-ees-sheeg-ed-re)
  • Hi – Szia! (see-ah) 
  • Bye – Viszlát (vees-laht)
  • Thanks – Kösz (kuhs)
A woman in a black bikini top and white towel stands on a tiled balcony, overlooking the Széchenyi Thermal Bath in Budapest with historic buildings in the background.

6. Bring flip-flops, a swimsuit, and a beach towel in any season.

You will need them if you want to go to any thermal bath (and you should.) You can buy them there, as Caleb had to, but they are expensive and unflattering.

PRO TIP: the store called “Pepco” in Budapest (it’s a chain) sells cheap flip-flops or slippers you can buy to use, as we did.

A dish of Hortobágyi crepe served in a bowl with a rich sauce, topped with sour cream and garnished with green herbs.

7. Bring Forints, not Euros.

The locals will give you a horrible exchange rate if you try to pay in Euros, so pay in the local currency: Forints.

Better yet, pay by credit card and choose the local currency when you have the option on how to pay to get the best exchange rate.

Two people sit on a stone ledge by the river, with the Hungarian Parliament Building in the background during sunset, reflecting warm light off the building.

8. Get the Budapest Card.

It will allow you to get unlimited rides on public transport and save you some money on the most common attractions.

Get the details about it here.

The Chain Bridge in Budapest illuminated at night, reflecting on the Danube River, with a couple sitting on a bench by the riverbank.

9. Many things aren’t open on Sundays. 

When we lived there, we found many things that were closed on Sundays or opened late and closed early. This is especially true for supermarkets and many restaurants.  You’ll definitely be able to find some things open. Just know this before you go.

A woman with braided hair and large hoop earrings enjoys a coffee at the New York Cafe, holding a cup of frothy coffee at a table with a red reflective surface.

10. If you want to go to New York Cafe, just get a coffee.  

The New York Cafe is one of the main tourist attractions because it’s called one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. We went and had a 24k gold cappuccino to see if it was worth the hype and expense.

Honestly? It’s not. The food is lackluster and overpriced, BUT the cafe is beautiful. So, just go and get the cheapest thing on the menu to be able to see it.

PRO TIP: don’t go on the weekend. The line will be down the sidewalk. If you must, go right at opening time in the morning. We only waited 10 minutes.

Foodie Tips

A plate of chicken paprikash with creamy paprika sauce, garnished with a tomato slice and herbs, served with a side of dumplings.

11. Eat food besides goulash and langos.

The most common Hungarian foods you probably think of are Langos, Chimney cake, and Goulash. While they are super delicious and you should eat them, please venture out to try some of the local cuisines.

They’re hearty, paprika-heavy, and super tasty. Make sure to bring stretchy pants, okay? Calories don’t count on vacay. We all know that.

Chimney cakes being baked on wooden spits in a traditional oven, with the golden-brown cakes ready to be served.

12. Don’t get chimney cakes from street stalls…

… and definitely not from metro stations.

We know they smell so good as you walk by, and they’re so cheap. But we’ve had the worst ones at these stalls. They’re pre-made and hard, not crispy-yet-soft as they should be.

Go to the tiny blue store called Kiraly Kalacs kurtokalacs instead. Thank us later.

An interior view of Budapest Central Market Hall, showcasing its high, arched ceilings and rows of market stalls with people browsing and shopping.

13. Check out the central market hall, but don’t eat upstairs.

It’s a cool place to see the local artisans and farmers sell their food and produce, and the inside is BEAUTIFUL!

However, a local guide told us that the souvenir/food stalls upstairs are really just for tourists. The quality is not great, and it’s overpriced. So, give that a miss.

A man in a patterned shirt is sitting at a wooden table, sipping red wine. A charcuterie board with various meats, cheeses, and bread is in front of him.

14. Drink.all.the.wine.

You probably haven’t heard of Hungarian wine because, as our friend who is a wine judge told us, they don’t export it.  But, it’s SO GOOD (especially if you like white wine) that it ruined us from drinking anything else.  Also, it’s cheap.

PRO TIP: do this wine tasting in Budapest. It’s been one of our favorite experiences all across Europe!

Another fun spirit to try is Unicum, which is a traditional Hungarian aperitif.

bottles of Hungarian wine on a table that are only half full because people have been enjoying them

15. Don’t clink beer glasses.

The legend is that when Hungary’s revolution in 1848 was defeated, Austrians celebrated by toasting/clinking with beer.  So, now it’s rude to cheers with beer!

Any other alcohol is fair game, though!

16. Check your bill for pre-added tipping.

We recommend tipping 10-12% in restaurants, as this is the standard in Budapest. However, we found that many nicer restaurants had already added a service charge to the bill.

So, our best Budapest restaurant tip is to double-check your bill before paying so you don’t double tip!

A close-up of two slices of strudel on a white plate, dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied by a fork.

17. Eat at bakeries.

Honestly, we love the bakery scene in Budapest. There are so many delicious buttery options to choose from, and it’s a cheap way to eat.

We recommend opting for a bakery and coffee situation to start the day and save more money for a nicer dinner and drinks!

Tips for Navigating The City

A couple holding hands, walking down a narrow cobblestone street lined with colorful historic buildings in Budapest.

18. Walk or use public transportation.

The best way to get around Budapest is by walking – it’s gorgeous and super walkable. However, if you have limited days and you need to get from Buda to Pest, you may want to consider a bus or tram.

If you’re going with public transport, try to stick to trams (our fav) over buses because they’re beautiful and you won’t run into car traffic as you will on a bus.

A woman in a pink beanie and black coat stands on a bridge, gazing at the illuminated Hungarian Parliament Building at night, reflecting on the river.

19. Download The Budapest Go App

If you’re going to use public transport, this app is going to save you so much time!

You can plan routes, get timetables, and even buy transport tickets right in the app.  Download it here before you go so you don’t forget, and then you can’t because there is no Wi-Fi.

Good thing there’s always a McDonalds nearby in Europe with free wifi.

20. Don’t hail a taxi.

Most taxis/rideshares in Budapest have standardized pricing, BUT there are some “freelancers” who drive around and will totally rip you off.

It’s best to call the taxi company or, our favorite, just use the Bolt or Uber app. They’re both official taxis and follow the same pricing system all around.

Two orange trams on the street in Budapest, with a historic building in the background and people waiting at the tram stop.

21. Validate your public transport ticket.

Once you buy your ticket, MAKE SURE to validate it by scanning the barcode on the bus/tram doors or at the driver’s area. If you’re at the metro, the validation box is at the top of the escalator before going down to the platform. Or else you might get fined.

You don’t want to end up in a Hungarian jail, right? ←I’m exaggerating, but you get it. 😏

a red bus in budapest crossing a bridge in the snow

22. Use the bus to get into the city center from the airport.

The best option is to get the 100E right from the airport – it’s right outside the arrival area, and it’s only about $6 USD per person! Way cheaper than a taxi, it’s super easy to use, and we found it to be super punctual!


We hope you find our Budapest travel tips helpful and that you have a magical, romantic time in the pearl of the Danube. If you have ANY questions about planning your trip, just let us know in the comments!

Now that you have some practical tips, you need to know how much to budget. Check out our detailed guide on how much we spent to visit as a couple!

Or, here is our guide on the best districts to stay in Budapest if you need help there!

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A couple embraces while watching the sunset behind the Crystal Palace in Madrid's Retiro Park, a moment of romance and tranquility by the reflective waters.

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2 Comments

  1. Thx Taylor and Caleb! I was in Budapest earlier this year. I loved everything about that town. We also visited Prague, but I like Budapest more. The food, the people, the sights – it was all new and wonderful. I definitely want to go back!

    1. Isn’t it amazing?! We have been to Prague as well but totally agree – we prefer Budapest! The food is SOOO good! Thanks for reading Ed – if we can help you plan your next trip, just let us know! 🙂

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