Budapest, the Beautiful Danube, and Expensive Hungarian Food

I first considered visiting Budapest after reading Tim Leffel’s blog (Tim is the author of The World’s Cheapest Destinations: 21 Countries Where Your Money is Worth a Fortune).  I didn’t pay much attention to the date it was posted and decided it would be my big fall trip thanks to a college graduation present I was ready to cash in.

The first thing I noticed during my pre-planning (I do much less than you would expect) was that there was an impressive amount of hostels listed on HostelWorld. 83 to be exact, as of this posting.  As a comparison, Paris only has 15 listed.

It turns out that it’s rather simple to set up a hostel in a converted apartment and many people are taking advantage of it and the increase in tourism that Hungary has been experiencing over the past decade or so.  Both hostels I stayed in were pretty small but modern, clean and well run.  You can’t ask for much more than that.

One of the things that I always consider when traveling is how easily I can survive on a limited budget.  Budapest was advertised as the secret budget destination in Eastern Europe and your money could go a long way.  Part of the EU, yet still clinging to their currency, the Hungarian Forint, the dollar was said to go much further than elsewhere in Europe.  In some ways, Budapest lived up to this claim, but in others, it exceeded any expectation one could have for larger, more popular European cities.

Széchenyi Baths
Széchenyi Baths

For instance, the average price of a hostel bed was around $15-20 which is certainly acceptable for Europe and much cheaper than Paris or London.  A day at the enormous and beautiful Széchenyi Baths was only about $10 and a full guided tour of surprisingly tight caves ran around $25.  I wouldn’t expect any of these to be much cheaper and they were all worth the price.

Then came the food.  For some reason, food was incredibly expensive.  I can’t recall spending more on a meal in any country, city, or state… anywhere.  My guidebook recommended a restaurant around the corner from the hostel I was staying at which offered traditional Hungarian meals for around $5-7.  It had been a year since the guidebook was published and the restaurant owner must have gotten wind of his literary mention.  It’s a common occurrence along the typical tourist trails for hostels, hotels, and restaurants to increase their price once they get a nod in a guidebook, but what I experienced was much higher than anyone could expect, and not only for the places that were published.  In Budapest every normal restaurant, regardless of the area it was in, charged at least $20 for a typical meal.  The bargains were actually on the heavily trafficked tourist districts in Pest which all offered set “tourist” menus.  The downside was that they were very small and left much to be desired.  Even a stop in a Subway chain for lunch cost me about $10 for a 6″ turkey sandwich.  The price of food was bewildering, to say the least.

DSCN0494While Hungarian cuisine is definitely highly recommended, there is much more to Budapest than overpriced restaurants luckily.  Budapest is a very beautiful town with beautiful castles across the Danube River and great architecture across the entire city.  A great day can be had by simply walking around the city with no destination taking in the sights.  Heroes Square and City Park give a taste of history and nature that helps you quickly forget about the hustle and bustle of Budapest’s busy city streets.  Don’t forget that Budapest is Hungary’s center of culture and home to both art and history museums like the House of Terror which reminds visitors of atrocious crimes that occurred during Hungary’s Stalinist regime and WWII.

One of the most impressive things about Budapest though was the amount of people who speak great English.  Obviously it’s in response to the tourist boom, but it’s impressive how friendly and willing to chat most Hungarians are especially seeing how this country was completely communist less than 20 years ago and experienced very little tourism.  Things have changed though and tourism has become a huge source of income for many businesses in Budapest.

If you want to explore the rest of Hungary (or go to just about any neighboring country) nearly all the trains in Hungary run right through Budapest.  I managed to head south three hours to Pécs which is one of the larger cities in Hungary, yet very small when compared to Budapest.  You can cross the entire town on foot in about 15 minutes but it’ll take you an entire day stopping at the many sights like modern art museum or the Mosque Church.  The later is quite impressive.  In the 16th-century the Turks built a mosque with the stones of a ruined church.  When the Turks were forced out of Hungary the mosque became a church again but kept the classic dome and still retains several touches of Moorish design.  There are even a few scribbles of Arabic around the church that can be found if you keep your eyes open.

Mosque Church
Mosque Church

For what it’s worth, Pécs also had the best food I experienced in Hungary and at much more reasonable prices.

DSCN0590For more photos from my trip to Hungary, check out the set on Flickr.

If you like this article please consider subscribing to our RSS or Email feed and following @HavePack on Twitter.

14 Replies to “Budapest, the Beautiful Danube, and Expensive Hungarian Food”

  1. Though it was 10 years ago this summer, I definitely remember my first trip to Budapest – I had much less luck with the hostels (there were only a handful then and hard to find), but much better luck with the food – one of the best and largest meals of my traveling life for under $5 USD including beers, at a place that made its way to a guidebook after that and probably lost some magic.

    My travel partner and I ran right into a funny scam as well, when two ladies approached us and feigned interest in joining us for drinks, only to lead us to a bar where the “special” drinks they ordered were about $300 USD each – fortunately we stood our ground and refused to pay for their drinks (despite the Hungarian henchmen lurking in the bar shadows) – then dropped a couple thousand forints to cover our beers and booked it for the door.

    Two other good spots that, if they still exist today, might be worth a stop:
    1) Communist Statue “Graveyard” – just out of town one can visit the remnants of the Communist Era, the gigantic statues that once stood in town – were collected and setup as an outdoor museum of sorts
    2) PKP Club – nightclub in the basement of a university building (think it was the school of Economics) – cool scene with cheap drinks, randomly found as we were cruising around one night – apparently only goes off on weekend nights

    1. Todd – Glad (most) of your trip was great. It’s sure funny how things change in just a handful of years isn’t it? Scams and thiefs exist everywhere but I should note how safe I felt in Budapest at all times of day or night. Even a late night that led us to a sketchy bar with sketchy pimps and prostitutes felt safe! That sounds odd, but you know what I mean :)

      I very much wanted to make it to Statue Park but got lost on the bus system despite how simple it was to use. I can manage to get lost anywhere. It began to pour rain the next day and I opted not to visit but I regret it now.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Jeff. I’m looking forward to seeing Budapest, although now I’m a bit weary of the price of food, but I can survive on bread and water pretty easily :)

  3. I love Budapest, especially the centuries-old baths and the grand, eclectic architecture. I noticed that you visited the Szechenyi baths (it is beautiful but very touristy). Forget the Gellert baths as well (absolutely stunning but a tourist trap in my view). A great alternative is the Rudas bath near the white suspension bridge. Built by the Ottomans in the 17th century, this bath is absolutely gorgeous, especially the central dome.

    Yes, food is quite expensive in Budapest but that’s if you choose the “Western-style” places. The local Hungarian cafés are cheaper. Anyhow, the food is certainly not one of Hungary’s prime attractions (in my book!). I must say that it has improved dramatically in the past ten years with lots of foreign restaurants (e.g. Italian) opening, creating more competition for local food (which has been forced to refine itself).

  4. $10 for a turkey sandwich? That’s travesty! Thanks for the head’s up regarding food prices in Budapest. Food is always a big expense/big priority when we travel, as we like to mix and match more upscale restaurants with street food. Well, you can be sure I’m skipping that $10 6″ sub.

  5. That’s very odd. I find food comparatively cheap in Budapest. I lived here from 1998-2003, and have been back four times since (and am here right now), and at a mid-level restaurant like the well-regarded Cafe Kor, for instance, a main dish averages about $10-$15. Go to local etkezdes or kisvendeglos (different types of restaurants), and you’ll be hard-pressed to spend more than $10 for your whole meal with drinks. For example, there’s Pozsonyi Kisvendeglo, in the 13th district. A generous portion of beef stew (marhaporkolt) is $5. I’m just naming one place, so others who read this know where to start looking, but the city is full of them. If you’re spending $15-$20 for a main dish, you’re going to some pretty nice establishments.

    Also, if you really, really want to find some budget food, the district markets often have a couple of hot food stands where you can get meals dirt cheap, like $3 will feed you, and a 1/2 liter of beer to help the food down will only cost an extra buck.

    1. I am looking to go in october 2011, I hear its beautiful.. I am picky when it comes to food.. any suggestions?

  6. I wanted to inform you how much we appreciate almost everything you’ve shared to help increase the value of the lives of people in this theme. Through the articles, I have gone via just a novice to a pro in the area. It’s truly a tribute to your good work. Thanks

  7. Jeffery,

    I just ran across this post when looking for an old Hungary article of mine. I do have to say I ate a lot of street food there, which I remember being pretty reasonable, because what I got at a fair number of restaurants wasn’t anything to write home about anyway. As you saw though, as soon as you get out of the capital, food prices drop dramatically.

    Your perception also depends a lot on the current exchange rate. I’m going back in May and if current rates hold, the place is going to seem like an amazing bargain. When one euro was $1.60 though, it’s a very different story. But no matter what, the wine is a great deal!

  8. If youu keep saving the gaqme in the xact same spt each time,
    then you won’t be able to try something different.

    Don’t just write off video games because you think they’re all
    blood and gore. These functions give your child to have interaction along with other players across the

Comments are closed.