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Updated: July 16, 2021
The Best Areas to Stay in Budapest
Buda and Pest were historically two separate cities divided by the Danube River and were brought together (along with Obuda) to form Budapest in 1873. Today, the city is divided into 23 districts, with most of the population living on the more urban-feeling Pest side with its many tall, Romantic and Art Nouveau style buildings. Pest is dominated by Castle Hill and the Royal Palace and feels much older with Gothic churches and ancient homes rarely exceeding a few stories high.
Despite being a city of nearly 1.8 million people, the central neighborhoods of Budapest are in a relatively compact area. This means that while you might choose to stay close to certain attractions or activities, it’s easy to walk or hop on public transport to get to other areas. There is no single best neighborhood for tourists; many (but not all) of the big, historical attractions are concentrated around The Castle District, Parliament, and Belváros, while absolutely rocking nightlife can be found in the Jewish Quarter. The largest concentration of hotels is clustered in and around Belváros and the Jewish Quarter, but there are also many in the Castle District which is a more romantic choice and puts you amidst cobblestone lanes and fairy tale architecture. Other neighborhoods will be more out of the tourist zones but can offer a fascinating experience.
The Castle District (District I) is located on the west bank of the Danube. This hilly area holds some of the most stunning sites in the city such as Matthais Church and the Royal Palace. In the daytime, especially during the summer and on holidays and weekends, this area gets swarmed by tourists, so try to visit early or late in the day to avoid the crowds. The bulk of Budapest’s thermal baths are also found within and a bit outside this area, including the Rudas Baths just south of Elizabeth Bridge. Despite all this being a very touristy area, there are still a number of very good restaurants here, and the southern areas have some trendy nightlife spots. It’s all easy to reach from the Pest side on foot or by public transport.
Óbuda, Margaret Island, and Buda Hills (District III) are the quieter areas of the west side of the river and in the river (as is the case of Margaret Island). Óbuda has a village-feel with old architecture and some lovely eating choices. The major sight here is the Roman ruins at Aquincum that’s a particularly good place for families to visit for its wide-open spaces and history lessons. The Buda Hills are Budapest’s hiking, mountain biking, and sledding (in winter) area. Taking the Children’s Train here (it’s run by children under adult supervision) is also especially fun for kids. Margaret Island has parks, a swimming pool, and lots of open spaces. Wherever you go, expect some incredible views of the Danube and the Pest side of the river.
The Parliament area (District V) is adjacent to the busiest parts of downtown Budapest but remains fairly quiet. Its grand streets are very close to the river, with tons of sights and many fantastic restaurants, making it an excellent place to stay if you don’t want to be right in the heart of the action, but close to it. The magnificent Hungarian Parliament building inspires awe no matter how many times you walk around it. Liberty Square park has gardens, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and a fountain that kids love.
Belváros (also District V), just south of the Parliament area, is the heart of downtown and buzzes with restaurants and cafes, as well as major sights such as St Stephens Cathedral and Váci Street, the city’s main shopping area. You’ll find lots of the bigger hotels here as well as tourists, locals, and everyone in between. This area extends northeast into Teréváros (District VI) that has a more local (yet still busy and very urban) feeling and features sites such as the House of Terror Museum and the Hungarian Opera House.
The Jewish Quarter (District VII), just to the southeast of Belváros, is the most densely populated part of the city and is simply hopping with bars and clubs, particularly the city’s famous Ruin Pubs in graffiti-covered, dilapidated, communist-era, or earlier buildings. As the name suggests, there is also a lot of Jewish culture to be found here from the Great Synagogue and a handful of other temples and kosher restaurants. In between are arty shops and modern cafes. This is the place to stay if you want to get into Budapest’s young, hip, and grungy-in-the-best-sense nightlife scene.
Heading down to the Palace District (Jószefváros, District VIII), you’ll find a University vibe with cheaper restaurants, some exquisite old libraries, and a distinctly less touristy feel – although this is still very close to the sights and restaurants of downtown and only around a 15 to 20-minute walk to Ruin Pubs and the Jewish Quarter. The restaurants, cafes, and nightlife in this neighborhood are more bohemian and intellectual than rowdy. It’s also the home of the Hungarian National Museum, one of the city’s top museums.
A bit farther out but only a half-hour walk or a 15-minute Metro ride from the city center, the City Park area (District XIV) encompasses big-hitting sights like Heroes Square, the zoo, and several museums including the Museum of Fine Arts. There’s also a lot of beautiful Art Nouveau and Secessionist architecture out this way.
The Best Places to Stay in Budapest
- Best Luxury Hotels in Budapest
Four Seasons Gresham Palace • Corinthia Budapest • Kempinski Corvinus • Anantara New York Palace
- Best Boutique Hotels in Budapest
Aria Hotel • Pest-Buda Hotel • Gerlóczy Boutique Rooms • Hotel Rum
- Best Cheap & Midrange Hotels in Budapest
Brody House • Pal’s Hostel & Apartments • Kalmár Panzió • Magazine Hotel & Apartments • Maverick City Lodge
Best Areas in Budapest for…
- Best Area in Budapest for Sightseeing: Castle District
Sightseeing in the Castle District is a matter of simply turning the corner to admire more romantic lanes, views over the Danube, Gothic churches, and world class museums. Start at the Fisherman’s Bastion, cross the square to Matthias Church, wander around Castle Hill, then make your way over to the Royal Palace where you could easily spend a day exploring the buildings and museums.
- Best Area in Budapest for Nightlife: Jewish Quarter
Not only is the Jewish Quarter the best nightlife spot in Budapest, it also ranks among the best in Europe. The famous Ruin Pubs, in dilapidated buildings and decorated in gritty yet beyond-cool graffiti and bric-à-brac, serve cheap beer and are set up to make people mingle. One of the best known, Szimpla Kert, turns into a farmer’s market and features a brunch buffet on Sundays. But there’s much more to this area than bars, including fascinating Jewish history and modern-day culture plus some of the better budget yet cutting-edge eating options in the city, including the Karavan Food Court and modern Hungarian food at Getto Gulyas. Unfortunately, the increase in tourism and cheap liquor means that weekends in particular can bring an onslaught of rowdy stag partiers mostly from the UK.
- Best Area in Budapest for Food and Restaurants: Belváros
There are so many great restaurants in this neighborhood that you could literally close your eyes and still stumble into somewhere serving something delicious. The range is vast as well. Try everything from the stand-up-at-the-table meat feast at Belvárosi Disznotóros to the Parisian-feeling Gerlóczy Café or beautiful views and creative tapas at the Aria Hotel’s High Note SkyBar.
- Best Areas in Budapest for Families: Óbuda & Margaret Island
Basing yourself in Óbuda puts you in a quiet neighborhood and near the hiking and outdoor area of Buda Hills where you can take a train run by (under adult supervision) children. Get a history lesson and run around some more at the Aquincum Roman ruins. It’s quick and easy to get on the Metro to reach other parts of the city.
- Best Area in Budapest to Stay for First Timers: Belváros
You can’t go wrong if you base yourself in Belváros – it’s pretty, central, packed with restaurants and sights, and yet easy to wander up to the quieter area near Parliament, find a leafy park, or hop on public transport for more sightseeing in the Castle District. You can also find accommodations to suit any budget.
- Most Romantic Area in Budapest: Castle District
The Castle District looks like something out of a dream with its old stone lanes, centuries-old houses, and the Gothic spires of Matthias Church rising above it all. Many eating options here are bistro-style: perfect for a table for two with white tablecloth and bottle of wine. Then there are the views across the Danube to the Parliament building, small paths of stone steps to wander and get lost in, and nearby thermal baths to finish off the experience.
- Best Area in Budapest for a Local Vibe: Palace District
Staying in this University neighborhood gets you away from the tourists and into a more hip, bohemian scene. Stroll within beautiful ancient libraries and read in their reading rooms, hang out in flowery parks, hit up some great museums, and sip coffee in tiny cafes. And great news – it’s all within 10 to 20 minutes’ walking to downtown.
- Best Area in Budapest for Walking: Belváros
Really any neighborhood in Budapest is great for walking, but Belváros is the most central, so it’s quick and easy to get just about anywhere. You can also wander aimlessly to find an array of backstreets and hole-in-the-walls, or even along the banks of the Danube, while admiring several styles of historic architecture.
- Safest Areas of Budapest
Anywhere in Buda and District V in Pest tend to be very safe. That said, Budapest in general is uncommonly safe, as long as you take the standard precautions of not walking alone, inebriated, or late at night, and are aware of your surroundings.
- Unsafe Areas of Budapest
Pickpocketing is still fairly common in the tourist areas. Parts of the city you’re unlikely to go to, including District XIX and XXII, are known for prostitution, while underpasses at night anywhere in the city attract the homeless population and are considered to be dangerous places by many locals.
The 6 Best Neighborhoods in Budapest for Tourists
The historic Castle District encompasses the hilly area on the Buda, or west bank side of the Danube River. It’s an extremely scenic area of cobblestone streets, lanes of ancient houses, and views over the river to Pest and the majestic Hungarian Parliament Building. Start at the Fisherman’s Bastion, a high wall with castle-like viewing areas that take in some of the best views in the city. A square spreads from here to the adjacent Matthias Church with its Gothic spires and colorful tiled roof. Explore this area more by visiting museums, the Hospital in the Rock, plus cafes and restaurants, before making your way south to the Royal Palace (also called Buda Castle). This massive complex, filled with statues and sculptures, encompasses three museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery and can easily take up an entire day. Walking to or from this side of the river to Pest via the Chain Bridge or Elizabeth Bridge is another fun, view-filled activity.
2. Belváros & Parliament
This is the cosmopolitan, entertainment, and dining-filled beating heart of Budapest. Yet, despite there being so much to see, do, and eat, there are still plenty of quiet back lanes and peaceful corners to explore. The area runs along the Danube River and encompasses lots of major sights including Parliament, the moving Shoes on the Danube Memorial monument, and St Stephen’s Basilica. This is also where Vaci Street, the major shopping district is located. There’s an interesting mélange of architecture throughout from Renaissance to Art Nouveau, and the buildings have been restored more in this area than anywhere else in Pest. There are tons of places to stay here for every budget, and it’s a great base since good things to eat are always nearby and sights are a short and scenic walk or a quick hop on transport away.
The most densely populated part of the city is home to three beautiful synagogues, including the Grand Synagogue, the largest Jewish place of worship in the world outside of New York City. You’ll also find plenty of Jewish culture here, including kosher restaurants, but in reality, the Jewish population is dwindling. Tourism is booming, however, so the restaurant scene is one of the city’s best and most innovative. This area is best known for its nightlife though, mostly in the form of Ruin Pubs (bars in dilapidated buildings), artfully decorated with graffiti in a gritty style. Other drinking establishments like brew pubs and wine bars are also popping up. The eastern edge of the district is bordered by the Grand Boulevard (Andrássy út.), where a few of the city’s most luxurious hotels are found.
4. Óbuda & Margaret Island
Away from the tourist hubbub, Óbuda has a village feel with some of the oldest homes in the city. It’s an easy Metro ride from the central areas but there’s plenty to see around here as well, including the Roman ruins at the Aquincum and outdoor sports in the Buda Hills. Meanwhile, Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube River is filled with parks, has an excellent open-air swimming pool, plus Medieval Ruins. It’s especially good if you’ve got kids in tow.
Just south of Downtown, the city becomes less touristed and gives way to students, artists, and intellectuals as there are six universities in the vicinity. There are also several grand libraries here, the most impressive being Szabo Ervin that has some ornate reading rooms open to the public. You’ll also find the very worthwhile National Museum here and Karolyi Kert, one of the prettiest parks in the city (with a children’s playground as well) is just minutes from here on foot. There are also lots of art galleries and good coffee shops. The places to stay in the area are particularly good too, with an appropriate arty flair.
Sitting at the end of Budapest’s Grand Boulevard (Andrássy út), the highlight here is Hero’s Square, filled with monuments and history and surrounded by some of the best museums in the city – the Museum of Fine Arts is not to be missed for art lovers. Meanwhile, the Palace of Art is the biggest exhibition space in the city. City Park itself is around half a square mile, making it the biggest green space in Budapest, and includes a zoo.