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I always say my favorite city is Madrid, but the beauty of Budapest is giving it a fierce competition. From its buildings to the food to the general atmosphere, I enjoyed every aspect of it, and I know I’ll go back for another round someday. Like always, the usual bucket list was not enough for me, and I was searching for ways to explore Budapest off the beaten path. Here are some of my favorite experiences that will take your trip to one of the best cities in Hungary to another level of awesomeness.
LEARN ABOUT THE CITY’S JEWISH HISTORY WITH A WALKING TOUR IN THE JEWISH DISTRICT
Did you know that Hungary has the third-largest Jewish population in Europe (after the UK and France)? Do you know that the famous Great Synagogue in Dohány Street is the second largest synagogue in the world? Do you also know that it’s not the only synagogue in Budapest?
The Jewish quarter is Budapest’s most buzzing area, but there’s a lot more to it beyond the shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. It has immense historical importance, and after taking a Jewish walking tour in Warsaw, I figured it would be the best way to learn more about Budapest’s Jewish history as well.
I took this free 2-hour walking tour and thankfully, I had the most knowledgable, informative, and funny guide. The tour mostly covers Jewish landmarks and the history of the Jewish community in Budapest, but you’ll also get to know a few non-religious places. You can find all the details about this tour here (meeting point, length, etc.).
Important to know #1: The tour does not include entrance to the synagogues, but you can come back and visit them on your own. To skip the lines, book your ticket to The Great Synagogue in advance.
Important to know #2: If you’re interested in a longer tour or a one that includes more Jewish landmarks, book one of these Jewish Heritage tours.
TAKE OTHER ALTERNATIVE TOURS
If you’re looking for the best unique things to do in Budapest and want to see the city with a guide, there are dozens of other alternative tours you can take.
Here are a few highly-rated ones I would have loved to try (but didn’t have enough time):
- Free Communism walking tour.
- Urban lifestyle tour: Explore Budapest with a local and get to know the non-touristy side of the city. Read reviews and browse prices here.
- History and myths evening tour at the Buda Castle: Though horror movies are not my cup of tea at all, I do enjoy hearing dark legends and quirky stories, so this tour got me very intrigued. You can read all about it and book it here.
- A traditional strudel making class: This experience seems authentic and unique. I’m drooling just thinking about strudel, so of course, I would have loved to learn how to make it. Check out all the details here.
- Surprisingly, there are hundreds of caves underneath the city of Budapest waiting to be explored, so I would have loved to try this 3-hour underground cave walk.
GO STREET ART HUNTING
As a huge street art lover, I was thrilled to discover that Budapest is full of colorful surprises. From giant murals to tiny little figures, I can honestly say Budapest’s local street art scene is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. You can create your own walking tour using this detailed map of all the art spots in the city or take a guided tour.
I recommend this free walking tour which was super informative and interesting. It’s also much more meaningful to know the story behind each piece instead of just taking a pretty picture of it. If you’re looking for a longer tour, book this highly-rated alternative tour that combines the local street art scene along with other hidden gems in Budapest.
DISCOVER BUDAPEST’S UNIQUE BUILDINGS
To me, discovering beautiful buildings in a city (and I’m not even talking about landmarks) is just as fun and interesting as other activities you can do. And let me tell you; Budapest is the perfect city to do exactly that.
I had visited many stunning European cities, but I’ve never seen such an incredible mix of architectural styles, embellishments, and colors in ‘simple’ residential buildings. Each one is completely different from the other, and when you see them all next to each other, somehow it all makes sense.
If you’re looking for specific and unusual buildings, here are a few that I loved:
- Kiraly utca (utca = street) 65: It was right in front of our apartment, and I just loved all the quirky details on it (like faces).
- Rákóczi tér (tér = square): All the buildings around this square are full of intricate and unusual details.
- Szervita tér 3.
- Mai Mano House (Nagymező utca 20): A Neo-Renaissance building that used to be the home of Mano Mai, the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s former photographer. Currently, it houses the Hungarian House of Photography and includes a gallery, a library, and even a cafe.
- Parisi Udvar (Petőfi Sándor utca 2): A historical shopping arcade that is now a luxurious hotel.
For other bizarre and unique buildings with accurate addresses, check out this mindblowing Instagram account called Budapest Facades. It’s such an excellent resource for those of you who want to create a DIY walking tour of Budapest’s most amazing buildings.
UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN BUDAPEST: DISCOVER THE CITY’S UNIQUE DOORS
What can I do? Buildings are not my only love. I also have a thing for doors. And when you come across an Instagram account like Budapest Doors, you realize how full of surprises Budapest is and you know you have to include some of them on your itinerary.
One of my most favorite doors I’ve seen has to be the one next to Szimpla Kert, the most famous ruin bar in Budapest. The colorfully painted face on it is guaranteed to put a smile on your face, so I know you’re going to fall in love with this sweet little corner.
EXPLORE BUDAPEST OFF THE BEATEN PATH WITH A RIDE ON TRAM 2
No matter what your destination is, using public transportation is a must-have experience. So why not take a tram ride that is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe? Now, if I’m being honest, it’s probably not going to blow your mind that much. However, it is a scenic ride, especially if you’re taking it at the right time of the day.
The yellow Tram 2 passes alongside the Danube River, so the best time to enjoy this ride is when sunset time starts. The Buda side of the city across the river along with the orange-pink sky is pretty picturesque, and everything seems soft and glowy.
Good to know: If you’re visiting in winter, Tram 2 becomes one of Budapest’s Christmas trams, which means it’s decorated with dozens of twinkling lights.
Important to know: The tram’s full route begins at Jászai Mari Square, ends at Közvágóhíd station, and only take about 20 minutes to complete. If you’re only interested in seeing this specific scenic part, get on the tram at the station next to Budapest’s Parliament and get off at Zsil Street (or vice versa).
Important to know #2: There are many types of public transportation tickets in Budapest (10-journey ticket, 24-hour ticket, etc.). If you’re walking a lot instead of using public transportation, you can also buy a single ticket. It only costs 350 HUF (or 450 HUF if you buy it on the tram and not from a machine in advance) which is about 1 Euro or 1.2 USD.
EXPLORE CASTLE HILL BEYOND FISHERMAN’S BASTION AND MATTHIAS CHURCH
It was so funny to me seeing these two landmarks full of tourists and then walking in completely quiet streets only a minute away from them. Don’t just take pretty pictures of the church and Fisherman’s Bastion and go back to the Pest side of the city. Instead, take your time and explore the colorful streets surrounding Castle Hill’s monuments.
Here are a few visit-worthy spots:
- Táncsics Mihály utca (utca = street): Apart from all the beautiful houses on this street, you’ll also spot an art gallery (Koller Gallery), a Lutheran church, and a door with a Menorah on it. This is the door of a medieval Jewish prayer house that is only open on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
- Bécsikapu tér: This square is home to some gorgeous houses and the building of the National Archives of Hungary which is a stunning architectural gem.
- Fortuna utca.
- Uri utca.
- Tóth Árpád sétány: This lovely avenue provides you with some of the best views in Budapest.
NON TOURISTY THINGS TO DO IN BUDAPEST: WANDER THE 8TH DISTRICT, JÓZSEFVÁROS
One of the best ways to get to know a city is to explore its different neighborhoods. But unless you have a few weeks, I assume you won’t be wandering around Budapest’s 23 districts. If you do have some extra time on your itinerary, try to visit the 8th district.
Apart from the Hungarian Natural History Museum, there isn’t much sightseeing to do, but the streets in this area (such as Rákóczi tér, Lovassy Lászlóare utca, and Baross utca) are undeniably beautiful and are worth the visit. It’s also a great place to find some quiet and explore a lesser-known part of the city.
VISIT A MUSEUM THAT WILL MAKE YOUR INSTAGRAM DREAMS COME TRUE
Although I do love me some flat lays, smoothie bowls, and other cheesy types of perfect pictures, I find myself looking more and more for authenticity on Instagram.
That said, I genuinely enjoyed visiting the Museum of Sweets & Selfies which by the name of it I already knew it was going to be Instagrammable as hell. It’s all about enjoying yourself, taking fun pictures, and feeling like a kid in a complex that’s an explosion of bright colors. It’s also not that touristy yet, so you can actually enjoy each room instead of feeling like you’re waiting in a line full of people just to take one photo.
Address: Paulay Ede, 43.
Opening hours: 10 AM to 8 PM.
Prices: 2990 HUF or 10 EUR on weekdays, and 3500 HUF or 11 EUR on weekends and non-working days.
VISIT A CAFE THAT WILL MAKE YOUR INSTAGRAM DREAMS COME TRUE
I have a confession to make. Are you ready for it? I don’t like pink. I might even hate it. There. I said it. However, when I stumbled upon this cafe in Budapest called The Sweet, I couldn’t resist walking in.
It’s tastefully and elegantly decored with flowers and vintage furniture; there’s a mouthwatering display of cakes, and it really does look dreamy. But I’m not one to judge a cafe by its cover, so I’m happy to announce that The Sweet’s coffee and cakes are delicious. Along with the beautiful decor and tranquil atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot for an afternoon break.
Address: Dob, 21.
INDULGE YOURSELF WITH KOSHER PASTRIES AND CAKES
If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘kosher’, here’s a quick explanation. Kosher foods are those that comply with the Jewish dietary regulations, and any restaurant or cafe (or any other type of place to eat) that are approved as kosher have a specific certificate for that.
Since there is still a small Jewish community in Budapest, you can find several kosher restaurants, one kosher cafe, and even a kosher bakery. If you’re looking for alternative things to do in Budapest and want to try some Jewish-styled pastries and cakes, head over to Frohlich Bakery and Cafe (or Fröhlich Cukrászda in Hungarian).
If it’s not your first time trying Jewish baked goods, you’ll notice some of the pastries have typical Jewish flavors. Since I’m personally connected to this heritage, I could really appreciate this place, but even if you’re not, I’m 100% certain you’ll love this unique bakery.
Address: Dob, 22.
VISIT A FAIRYTALE CASTLE IN THE MIDDLE OF A PUBLIC PARK
I’m not sure if it really is one of the city’s hidden gems, but I definitely think the Vajdahunyad Castle deserves more attention and it must be on your Budapest itinerary. This stunning castle is more than 100 years old, and it’s all about showcasing a mix of architectural styles typical to Hungary. It stands on an artificial island in the middle of City Park (Budapest’s main public park), so it’s probably one of the most easily accessible fairytale castles in Hungary (and in Europe!).
Strolling around the castle is free of charge, but if you want to visit the Museum of Agriculture that’s inside the castle, here are the entrance fees.
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