In my opinion, Budapest is not less interesting than Prague adored by tourists, however, less trampled. In addition to a large number of diverse attractions (from the castle to funny monuments), the true value here is the thermal springs - you can soak in Budapest bathing suits for at least a week. And considering the Hungarian transport system, it is also convenient to travel from the capital around the country - by car, by train or by boat down the Danube river.
The main landmark of Budapest is the Danube, which divides the city into two different parts: Buda and Pest (there is also the third part, Obuda, i.e. the Old Buda, but travelers do not usually stay there - it's far and inconvenient to get to the main sights). In general, the center of Budapest is quite large, so you should pay careful attention to choosing the hotel not to spoil your trip with endless running around.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Budapest?
The following areas and quarters where you can stay during your trip to Budapest will be considered here:
- The Buda side (Buda):
- Margaret Island
- The Pest side (Pest):
The Buda side
Buda is the side of the Danube where the Royal Palace, Fishermen's Bastion and St. Matthias Church are located. Unlike the plain Pest, Buda is mountainous, this shore has an uneven terrain, so if you travel with children or people for whom it is hard to overcome constant ascents and descents, it is worth staying in Pest. Nevertheless, Buda is interesting in its own way, and here you can find several areas, each of which is worth seeing.
Castle Hill (Várhegy)
Castle Hill (Várhegy, or Buda Hill) is often referred to as Budavar (Budavar, ie Budai Vár – Buda Castle) on booking sites. Let’s have a look at it. In addition to the complexity of the terrain, it is important to consider that Buda from the side of the Castle Hill is not very convenient for those who is traveling by car: the car will have to be left somewhere below, at the foot of the mountain, and you will go up on foot. Therefore, if you are planning to go to Budapest by car, then it is also worth choosing Pest. Some of the cafes and restaurants in Buda are available, but the nearest supermarket is located only near Battyyany Square (if you live on a hill, it takes you a half an hour walk). There is virtually no shopping in Buda - you also should go to Pest, and again it takes about half an hour on foot. If there are so many disadvantages, why stay in medieval Buda? The main advantage is stunning views of the plains of Budapest, the Parliament and the Danube with its monumental bridges. In my opinion, Buda is much more authentic than the rest of Budapest, it has suffered less from conquerors, fires and floods - streets here are narrow and cobbled, many of small colored houses were built in the Middle Ages. Another important advantage is the total absence of traffic, both automobile and tourist, so it's quiet and peaceful: the entrance is closed to non-residents of Buda, and tourist groups come here only during the daytime, and they spin only near the Royal Palace, Fishermen's Bastion and St. Matthias Church. The most attractive options in this part of the city seem to be a small Buda Castle Fashion Hotel and one of the famous hotels Hilton Budapest. If you are not intimidated (or, perhaps, even attracted) by the challenge to cook and clean by yourself, you can take a look at local apartments - for example, St. George Residence – All Suite Hotel DeLuxe.
Batthyany Square Area
At the foot of the Castle Hill, near the Battyyany Square (Batthyány tér) mentioned above, there is a residential area, where there is a supermarket and a train station (the suburban trains go towards Szentendre and Aquincum), and in general this area is a major transport hub of Budapest. And if your windows face the Danube, you will be able to observe the Parliament in its glory. It is convenient to start a walking tour around Obuda from here, especially its Turkish part, because not so many tourists are able to get to the famous "girls with umbrellas" and it takes you about 20 minutes to get to the remains of the Roman amphitheater, and about 15 minutes to the Royal Palace - (taking into account the climb to the hill). If you do not want to spend all day walking, you can also use the city transport, for example, go by metro, which itself is a tourist attraction, as it is the first underground on the continent, one of the stations is located just on Batthyány tér. The downside of living in this area is its enigmatic attraction for Budapest homeless people - on the square in front of St. Anna's church and around, a dozen ща dubious personalities constantly bustle about near the entrance to the underground; however, they are quite peaceful and non-aggressive. You can consider the relative cheapness of the area and a good supermarket as a doubtless advantage, where you can buy Tokaj and Hungarian sausages much cheaper than in the popular market of Nagycharnok (see below). I recommend you pay attention to such hotels as Novotel Budapest Danube and Vesno Apartments.
On the other side of the Castle Hill, but on the same side of the Danube, there is another interesting area of Budapest - Gellért Hill (Gellért-hegy). It is covered with greenery, on its top there is a popular park and the Budapest Citadel, the church is hidden in the mountain. Views of the city are no less stunning than from the Castle Hill and the Fisherman's Bastion, and walking to the other side of the river (to the Pest) along the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) is more than pleasant and it is very close to the shopping street Vatsi (Váci utca) and the Nagycharnok market (Nagycsarnok); Nearby, just to the north, is the Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd), so it is very convenient to walk between the Gellert Mountain and the Pest. But the main advantage of this area is that there are thermal springs at the foot of the hill. That is why here, in the middle of the 20th century, a hospital was built, which later became the "Gellert" bathhouse. It is believed that this is the most beautiful swimming pool in Budapest, which retains its original furnishings in the Art Nouveau style, stained glass, mosaics, marble columns, and statues. Now there is a bathing complex with thermal baths and the hotel Danubius Hotel Gellért, where the members of royal families, prominent politicians and celebrities stayed. Accommodation at this spa hotel is especially convenient for those who like to relax in warm water at the end of a busy day.
Now we leave the Buda side, but continue the spa theme.
Thermal hotels on the Margaret Island (Margitsziget)
Another "spa-place" in Budapest is the Margaret Island (Margit-sziget), located in the middle of the Danube just north of Battyani Square, on the Buda side, and the Western Railway Station, on the Pest side. The island is quite large and is used by residents as a place for walking and jogging, and by tourists - as a place to take a few interesting shots. On the one hand, the island has a rather secluded location, it is quiet and full of greenery, on the other - it is too far for walks around Budapest, so if your goal is to look around the city, it's worth weighing all the pros and cons. If you need thermal springs and spa holidays, Margaret Island is just what you need. Hotels here have their own spa facilities - see Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget and Danubius Grand Hotel Margitsziget.
The Pest side
Pest is the flat part of Budapest, the Parliament building and St. Stephen Basilica are located here (it is a good point for choosing a hotel), as well as the great number of the city shops and restaurants. In contrast to the hilly Buda, Pest has a flat terrain without significant differences in altitude. We can single out the area from the Danube to St. Stephen Basilica, the Western Railway Station area, the area to the southeast of St. Stephen Basilica and the Heroes' Square area.
Between the Danube and St. Stephen Basilica
Staying in walking distance from the Parliament (Országház) and St.Stephen Basilica (Szent István-bazilika), in my opinion, is most interesting from the stand point of viewing Budapest sights: it's great to take a stroll along Pest, or you can take an unburdensome walk to Heroes Square (Hősök tere) or to the castle Vajdahunyad or on the opposite side of the Danube, in Buda, and even to the Turkish part of Obuda. If you don’t want to walk - you can go by metro. The shopping street Váci utca and the Nagycsarnok market are located here, where you can buy Hungarian sausage, tokai, garlic and paprika. However, be careful: market sellers are cheating, so if you want to save money and the authenticity of the market does not matter, it's worth a stroll to the nearest supermarket, where the same sausage costs cheaper. For those who prefer the tourist bureau services, there are several of them in Pest - they give a map of the city, booklets with descriptions of attractions, and advice on where to have dinner. Another positive thing of the central district is its beautiful buildings: your windows may face the classical museum building or the quiet square surrounded by buildings built at the beginning of the last century, or the square with one of the amusing Budapest monuments. Disadvantages of this area include the high cost of staying in local hotels (many of them are historic buildings), possible problems with parking and noise from transport or the shopping street called Vaci. I advise you pay attention to such hotels as Mercure Budapest City Center, La Prima Fashion Budapest, or Immo1 Apartments. If the budget of the trip is not limited, in my opinion, the most interesting option for staying - not only in this area, but in the Hungarian capital in general – is Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, located in one of my favorite buildings in Budapest.
Western Railway Station area
Let’s consider separately the area near the Western Railway Station (Budapest Nyugati pályaudvar), located to the north of the Pest center. The hotels here are a little cheaper than in the center, and at the same time you can get to the city sights walking - the Margaret Island or the Parliament are literally nearby, so and you can get closer to the Turkish part and the "girls with umbrellas". By the way, the building of the station is a tourist attraction, it was built in 1874-1877 upon the Gustave Eiffel’s project. There is no problem with shopping here: next to the station there is a large shopping center where all the same shops that are scattered along Vatsi Street are accumulated under one roof. If you want to go for a day to Vienna, you can do it from the Western Railway Station. As for the possible disadvantages of the area, worth mentioning is the noise of the area - the streets here are brisk, because the station is one of the major transport hubs of the city. But a great number of Budapest hostels and nice apartments are concentrated here, for example, Kadar Apartments. As for the hotels in the station area, I advise you choose the network hotels, for example, NH Budapest City.
To the east of St. Stephen's Basilica
To the southeast of St. Stephen's Basilica, one can find another relatively inexpensive area. Administratively it is the VII district of Budapest, or Erzsébetváros, including the adjoining part of the VI district. The territory turns out to be large, but it is convenient to navigate using the map - the closer to the Danube, the more convenient to walk around the city. As well as in the Western Railway Station area, there are many apartments here. By the way, such kind of accommodation as apart hotels are widespread in Budapest. As a rule, the aparthotels have a reception desk and some standard hotel services (for example, an option to book a taxi or buy tickets for various events), but instead of a regular room, you will be provided with an apartment with a full kitchen or, at the very least, with a kitchenette. Staying in the apartment is especially convenient and – it is important for those who travel with the family or a large company (3-4 people or more). Have a look at 7Seasons Apartments, Gozsdu Court, Agape Aparthotel and many others. You can see such sights as the Great Synagogue here, stroll around Pest, and it takes you 20-30 minutes to get to the Buda side. In addition, there is the East Railway Station (Keleti pályaudvar). But if you stay very close to the station, it will be too far away from the center. It is possible to use metro, but you should consider hotels near the Eastern Railway Station (see list of them here) only if you plan to travel across Hungary or beyond - to the Czech Republic or Germany.
Heroes' Square (Hősök tere)
If you are planning to travel to Budapest with children or your main goal is to visit the Budapest thermal baths, I may recommend the Hősök tere, because there are both the Széchenyi baths and the circus, the zoo, an ice skating rink, the Városliget park with Vajdahunyad castle and a couple of interesting museums on the square. It is possible to spend a week of relaxed rest, not getting out into the center, and at the same time to spend holidays with sense. This is a relatively quiet and peaceful area, built up by respectable villas, it is pleasant to go for a walk in the evenings. Lack of shopping may seem to be one of disadvantages, but you may be lucky enough to witness the process of film making about the life of the 18th and 19th centuries on Andrassy Avenue (Andrássy út), which leads from Heroes Square to the center. This street is so authentic so just walking along is very impressive. It takes you about half an hour to get to the center, or by metro. This area is focused mainly on residents rather than tourists, so there are many nice food shops, confectioneries, and cafes around. Here you can stay in such hotels as Mirage Fashion Hotel, Ibis Budapest Heroes Square or Mamaison Hotel Andrassy Budapest, or you can stay in apartments (alternatively, Délibáb Apartment) and feel like a real resident.