Like a Local: Budapest

Bring on Budapest

Close the guidebooks and let a local lead the way.

By Jennifer Walker

When I was 8, my Hungarian mother decided to move us to Budapest so I could learn the language. Even though we returned to the UK when I was 11, I always wanted to go back. So three years ago, I packed up my life and moved back to Budapest as an adult and never looked back.

The Hungarian capital embodies numerous personalities, where each district sports its own unique story. Divided by the Danube River into two sides — Buda and Pest — the city spirals into 23 unique districts similar to Paris’ arrondissements.

For example, the elegance of the V District is defined by the Basilica and the Parliament; the historic Jewish Quarter in the VII, along with its famous dilapidated ruin bars, is a hub for the city’s nightlife; and the I District across the river features medieval streets, close-up shots of Buda Castle, and panoramas of the Danube River. Budapest is a city where each street has its own narrative and secret, only revealing itself if you keep your eyes and ears open.

Tourist Tips

There’s a reason why Budapest is called the City of Spas: It boasts more than 200 caves that are carved out by thermal springs. In fact, the Molnár János Cave is one of the largest known active thermal water caves in the world. While crowds flock to the Széchényi and Gellért baths or the Rudas Turkish baths, try those offering a less busy experience such as the Lukács baths for a throwback to Budapest’s turn-of-the-century spa culture or the Veli Bej or Király baths for a historic Ottoman experience.

If It’s Free, It’s For Me

Budapest has some wonderful outside spaces such as City Park, its most famous. To escape the crowds, make your way to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Among the green urban parkland and colorful flowerbeds, you’ll find ruins from an old monastery, a 100-year-old water tower, a Japanese garden, and even a musical fountain.

Off the Beaten Path

Ride into the Buda Hills on the Children’s Railway. The train service, which runs throughout the summer, is entirely staffed by children (engineers and drivers excluded). Novelty aside, the railway offers views over the Buda Hills, taking you off the beaten track into this hidden, rural part of the city.

How Not to Look Like a Tourist

There are many telltale signs that you’re tourist: hiking apparel, those horrible selfie sticks, and moving slowly in packs with a map in hand. But in my opinion, the most terrible tourist crime you can commit is riding a beer bike. They clog up the streets, they’re obnoxious, and nothing….

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Photo: Getty

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