Anyone who knows me well enough will be aware of the fact that one of my absolute favorite places in the world is Budapest, Hungary. During the dreary years of the pandemic, it was the one place I longed to visit. In the end, it took me a while before I made it to Budapest, on my own, in November 2022. Right on time for Black Friday, as it turned out. Are you planning on going solo to Budapest? Read on, and you might find some inspiration in this blog post.
There are other posts about the Hungarian capital on this blog so instead of giving you a guided tour of this fab city. In this post, I will focus on the things that I did when I went solo to Budapest.
Going Solo to Budapest? Practical Tips and Things To Do
One thing you should probably be aware of is that Budapest is a fairly large city. It really spreads out and the distances are longer than they seem on a map.
It might be a good idea to have a plan for how you’ll get from the airport to the city. Now, there is public transport but it is rather slow. For my visit, I bought a Budapest card. Thanks to the card, I had an airport transfer to and from the city center. The card also gave me free access or discount to many different attractions. In the end, I just visited the Hungarian National Museum, which was a very interesting experience. For me, it was enough to walk around the city, drink coffee, and discover books.
Another aspect is accommodation. There are a lot of options but it might be a good idea to check where you want to stay. Budapest is divided into 23 districts. During my visit, I stayed in a guesthouse in the 9th district, Ferencváros, which is right next to the Old Market Hall. This particular district is rather popular these days, and as a result of gentrification, this former working-class area has become one of the most attractive areas of the city. It’s very near Váci ut, which is one of the main shopping streets in Budapest. The 6th (Terézváros) and 7th (Erzsébetváros) districts are famous for their nightlife, while many luxury hotels are in the 5th (Belváros-Lipótváros) district.
Now that we have covered some of the basic stuff, let’s move on to the things you can actually do when going solo to Budapest.
1. Walking in Budapest
The city has a good public transport system, but let’s face it, Budapest is a very walkable city. During the two and half days I spent in the city, my Fitbit did not get any rest. The fact that the famous Chain Bridge was closed to traffic and pedestrians (and as of January 2023 it still is closed) because of reparations, the steps really added up. In any case, on the shores of the Danube, visitors can really enjoy a long list of tourist attractions, from the Parliament Building, to the Fisherman’s Bastion (that view!), the Castle, and the Old Market Hall. Bring a pair of good shoes!
2. The Area Around St. Stephen’s Basilica
I think that every city has many special spots, Budapest very much so. My personal favorite place is the area around St. Stephen’s Basilica, the highlight being when you turn onto Zrínyi utca and see the massive building right in front of you. It’s just not the architecture, though. Not only can you see Stephen’s right hand in the reliquary (well, to be honest, I don’t know if you can actually see it), but it’s a place where a lot of fun things happen. Before I tell you more about the fun stuff, let’s just mention that St. Stephen was the first king of Hungary.
One of the Christmas markets also took place right by the basilica and it was very cozy and atmospheric during my visit. As far as I understand, there are two Christmas markets in Budapest, not very far from each other. Here you admire local handicrafts, have a glass (or three) of hot wine, or try some Hungarian delicacies, like goulash.
And during other times of the year, this is a nice place to grab a coffee or go for a nice meal, as there are plenty of cafés and restaurants in the area. Not to mention… books!
3. Books in Budapest
So, anyone who knows me well enough will know that I adore Budapest. More distant acquaintances will probably be able to tell that I’m something of a bookworm. On our travels, I always want to check out bookstores. And just imagine the joy when I finally found a great bookstore, selling books in English. I don’t know how familiar you are with the Hungarian language but reading it is somewhat challenging, so I do prefer reading in English.
Just down the street from St. Stephen’s Basilca, on Október 6. utca (the date refers to the day of execution of Hungarian rebel generals after the revolution of 1948-49), is a small indie bookshop called Bestsellers. It’s dark, somewhat old-fashioned, and full of books. Let’s just say that Jesper is probably happy he didn’t join me on this trip, I probably spent a good two hours in that shop, just browsing.
In other words, if you are a bookworm and you are planning to go solo to Budapest, you now know where to go in the city!
4. The Atmosphere
A long time ago we lived in Bratislava, right between Vienna and Budapest. Austria and Hungary (and Slovakia), as you know, share a big portion of history. Nowadays, Vienna would probably by many be considered the nicer one of the capitals. If I generalize a bit, I’d say that people go to Vienna for classical music concerts and to Budapest to party on cheap absinth. Budapest is a little rougher around the edges. Economic hardships and mismanagement have worn down its fin-de-siècle vibes. But one thing that it has is character, it has a past. There is everything from fancy baths to a house of terror, cheap bars, fancy restaurants, and that odd mix of hip, cool, and conservative.
5. Food + Drink
Budapest is not a city where you go hungry or thirsty. To be honest, when I went there on my own, I was quite happy as long as I got some coffee at regular intervals. Jesper and I actually visited the city together after my trip, in January 2023. On that second trip, we found some interesting restaurants. However, I like that there are many cafés, and they are not all American. You can try all different kinds of cuisines if you get tired of goulash. (Although my favorite Hungarian food is töltött paprika, stuffed peppers). Like in Slovakia, many restaurants offer homemade lemonade, even in the middle of the winter.
As I mentioned, I have already been to Budapest after my November visit. However, I’m already looking forward to another trip. I might be a little biased, but the truth is that I think that if you are planning to go solo to Budapest, you will probably have a great time!