The locals' guide to...Budapest

Everyone loves getting more for their money and with Budapest you get two cities for the price of one: Buda to the west of the Danube and Pest to the east. Bargain! And for more information you can purchase a Lonely Planet Budapest city guide


How do I get away from large tour groups wearing matching caps?

When visiting the castle district at Dísz tér and Halászbástya, the Parliament in Kossuth Lajos tér, the statue on the hill at Gellért-hegy as well as at Hosök tere, do it all on foot, unless spending time squashed among the sweaty masses on public transport melts your butter. Walking also gives you a much better feel for the city - it's worth navigating along the side streets of the castle district which are much quieter than the main roads.

Where do the locals party?

Ráday utca by Kálvin tér Metro is peppered with popular cafés and bars. If you want your Budapest holiday to be more high-octane, try Kaméleon, a slick and sexy bar-cum-club in the improbable setting of a shopping centre. In the summer, the city plays host to Sziget, a music festival with all the fun of Glastonbury without the mudslides or the danger of bumping into Kate Moss.

Restaurants without an 'all-you-can-eat tourist buffet'?

Avoid Váci utca, the main touristy shopping and eating area, and the easy to find places in the castle district if you want more authentic Hungarian fare on your Budapest holiday. Instead head down the side streets home to courtyard cafés, or 'kerts'. Picturesque and generally inexpensive, they're more reflective of Budapest's quirky and cool atmosphere. They have a tendency to relocate but Szimpla in the Jewish Quarter seems to stand the test of time.

tip The locals' absolutely secret number one tip : Travel like the locals on the yellow metro line from Vörösmarty tér to Hosök tere along Ándrassy út. Tram no.2 runs along the Pest side of the river and offers views of the castle. Tram no.19 runs along the Buda bank of the river with views of the parliament and Pest.

A quick guide to where the locals hang out


The cinema: Uránia Nemzeti Filmszínház is a cinema in the grand old style - a million miles away from the soulless picture-house chains we're used to. Treat yourself.

The gallery: The approach is a bit shabby but, once inside, KEK - in the VII district - is über-cool, playing host to retro exhibitions as well as the occasional DJ nights.

The club: Another gallery/club hybrid, Gödör, in the heart of Pest, is an underground venue. The glass roof of the gallery is a shallow water pool at ground level in the middle of an open park.

The view: Halászbástya in the castle district has amazing views over the river to Pest.

The gourmets' choice: Gundel was Budapest's gourmet destination of choice for generations. Dining here's like stepping into the Victorian era. Waiters will show you a scrapbook tracing the restaurant's history through the decades.

The baths: Public bathing is serous business in Budapest and happily there's a bathhouse for every taste. There's Gellért for fancy pants, Rudas for the traditionalists and, for same-sex speedo ogling, there's Király.

The breakfast: Hungarian breakfast is either bread with cold cuts or short strong coffee with pastries. Cafés on Buda are usually quieter and in prettier settings than those in Pest.

The place for people watching: Take a stroll down the ever changing Andrássy utca to Heroes' Square, a hang out for all ages despite its lack of comfy seating. The tender of buttock should head to the benches and soft lawns of City Park, just through the square.

Why not try? Budapest bike tour


Kaméleon, Mammut II Shopping Centre, 4. Emelet, Lövoház u. 2-6; Sziget Festival, Óbudai Island,; Szimpla, Kertész út 48, +36 (0)1 3524198,; Uránia Nemzeti Filmszínház, Rákóczi út 21, +36 (0)1 4863400,; KEK - Kortárs Építészeti Központ, Nefelejcs utca 26, +36 (0)1 2253530,; Gödör, V. Erzsébet tér, +36 (0)20 2013868,; Gundel, Állatkerti út 2, +36 (0)1 4684040,; Gellért fürdo, Danubius Hotel Gellert, Szent Gellért tér 1, +36 (0)1 8895500,; Rudas Gyógyfürdo, Döbrentei tér 9, +36 (0)1 3561010; Király Fürdo, Fö utca 84, +36 (0)1 2023688; Art'otel Budapest, Hegedus Gyula u. 52-54;

hotels - already got ideas where you would like to go?

Can I drink the water?

The eight essential questions you'll need answering

Which local animal is likely to hospitalise me?

You are pretty safe from dangerous animals unless you fancy participating in feeding time at Budapest Zoo.

Which native liquor will make me think I am attractive?

Unicum is a spiced Hungarian spirit that comes in an unsettling round bottle with a red cross on it. Consume with caution if you want to find your way back to your Budapest hotel.

How can I avoid a beating by the local hard nuts?

Never decline the local delicacy, the Langos. It's a deep-fried doughnut served with sour cream, grated cheese and a splash of garlic water dribbled from a jam jar using a twig and feather device.

Will I get lost?

It's pretty hard to get lost. Budapest travel is simple and an underground station is never far away.

Will I find myself?

There's still enough derelict buildings to make the city's brutal history powerfully tangible. You'll feel humbled.

Should I take an umbrella?

It's always worth having an umbrella with you especially in the summer when a short thunderstorm in the afternoon is not unusual.

What should I order in a restaurant to impress the locals?

Paprika chicken is the dish of the day. It's no oil painting but it is a perfect example of the charms of hearty peasant food.

Can I drink the water?

You'd be foolish not to. Budapest's healing waters are reputed to cure all sorts of ailments.

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