Budapest seems effortlessly suspended between centuries, proudly displaying elements of past and present to create an intriguing city that remembers where it came from and knows where it’s going. Budapest’s true character lies somewhere between the extremes of its Belle Époque opulence, the decades of drab communism, and today’s vibrant entrepreneurialism. Merging sophistication with a bit of grunge, impeccable Art Nouveau with spectacular street art, one thing’s for sure: Budapest isn’t lacking in surprises.
When to Go
May to September is the best time to enjoy Budapest, as it springs to life with an enviable selection of garden bars and patios, parks and green spaces, and the most colorful sunsets of the year. From late November until New Year’s Eve, the city embraces Christmas, offering markets and light displays throughout. The off-season is from October to November and January to April, when the weather is less predictable but crowds are minimal.
Budapest Wine Festival takes place every September at Buda Castle, highlighting domestic sips from Hungary’s 22 wine regions. The opera season runs from September to June in the spectacular Hungarian State Opera House. In mid-November, Christmas markets spring up across the city and Budapest dons its finest lights. Micro-festivals take place throughout the year, offering everything from Craft Beer Week to Macaron Day.
What to Eat
Lángos is Hungary’s favorite savory indulgence and a must-try in Budapest. In the most classic iteration, a deep-fried disc of flat dough about the size of a dinner plate is slathered with fresh sour cream and garlic, then topped with shredded cheese. The best lángos are served steaming hot and are crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside.
Souvenir to Take Home
Hungary is one of the world’s main paprika-producing regions, with shops stocking several varieties that differ in spiciness and color. While Budapest’s Great Market Hall sells nicely packaged sets, you can also head to one of the city’s many everyday produce markets or stock up at a grocery store. In addition to paprika powder, paprika paste is a Hungarian staple that’s perfect to take home.
Sustainable Travel Tip
Budapest’s tap water is excellent both in taste and quality, so you can skip bottled. If you prefer sparkling water, ask for soda water (szódavíz) instead to avoid a plastic bottle. Hungarian Ányos Jedlik is credited with inventing the soda spritzer bottle, and many restaurants serve soda water in these reusable retro spritzer bottles. Most bars and restaurants automatically include plastic straws in drinks, so be sure to ask for yours without.
Gellért Hill offers the best panoramic views of the city, with Buda Castle, the Danube, Chain Bridge, and Hungarian Parliament Building all visible below. Less busy than the also lovely views from Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle, a trip up Gellért Hill will cost you some sweat (or a taxi fare); it’s a 20-minute uphill walk along a steep but well-trodden path and staircase. The best time to visit is at dawn or sunset.