Budapest Solo Travel: Why You Can (and Should)

November 17, 2018

budapest solo travel

Once a mecca for backpackers and budget travelers, Budapest, the shining gem on Hungary’s Danube River, is enjoying an explosion of the luxury market and a well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful cities and the second fastest-developing urban economy in Europe.

As a female solo traveler, I found Budapest to be among the best-of-the-best in safety, luxury, activities, and gastronomy. I visited Budapest in the summer. It was extraordinarily beautiful at this time of year, but it was a bit crowded, and a bit warm (which I did not mind. If you’d prefer to visit during the cooler months, here is a guide to visiting Budapest in winter.

In truth, part of the reason for my utter enjoyment of Budapest was due to the Goldilocks-just-right attention from JayWay Travel.  JayWay custom caters to each traveler’s preferences, from adventure to luxury and everything in between – a perfect fit for my inclination to combine tours with my own exploration during the day and relax in luxury at night.

Budapest is the result of an 1873 merger between two distinct cities with two very different personalities: Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the eastern bank.  The two sides offer a slate of very different activities, from the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Buda to hip ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter of Pest.  One thing they both have in common…the city can captivate for a weekend and beyond and is best explored by a combination of foot and public transportation.

Below are recommendations for Budapest solo travel, and to have a fantastic all-around experience in Budapest, here are 20 free things to do in Budapest.  Or, if you are limited on time, here’s a highlight list of what to see in Budapest in one day.

Stay in the Aria Hotel

aria hotel

There are a variety of hotels available with JayWay, but if you want luxury, look no further than the Aria Hotel, a stylish musical-themed boutique hotel with the feel of a great Hungarian palace. The hotel has four wings, each one impeccably designed to honor a genre – Classical, Contemporary, Jazz, and Opera. Each room has a wall-sized composer caricature and amenities such as fireplaces, views, and sitting rooms.  The grand foyer sits under a massive glass ceiling with a grand piano and keyboard walkway. There is a spa and a rooftop bar with expansive views of the city. Perhaps best of all, the hotel is perfectly located adjacent to St. Stephen’s Basilica square, festive and safe any time of day, and close to a selection of good restaurants.

Walk in the Buda Section of Budapest

budapest solo travel

Arguably, there is no better sightseeing in Budapest than walking along the medieval cobblestone streets of Castle Hill.  I’m about as independent as they come, but to get the most out of this area, I enlisted one of JayWay’s private tour guides, and it was a great decision.  Betti was a treasure trove of information, history, and fun stories that I otherwise would not have known.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we chose to walk up to Castle Hill, but there’s also a funicular near the Chain Bridge. The castle dates back to the 13th-century when citizens sought refuge after the Mongolian invasion.  The area enjoyed a golden age through the 15th century until Budapest was occupied by the Turks and much of the architecture was destroyed. Subsequently, the city was rebuilt in the stunning Baroque style that remains today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Castle Hill is also an elite residential area, with houses that date back as far as the 14th century.

Some sights in Castle Hill not be missed include Trinity Square, Matthias Church – one of the finest examples of 13th-century Gothic architecture, and Fishermen’s Bastion – an ornate, multi-terraced structure with dramatic panoramic views across the Danube to Pest.

Shop in the Pest Section of Budapest

budapest solo travel

There is no shortage of markets in the city, but the mother of them all is the Great Market Hall next to the Danube on the Pest side.  It’s sometimes called Central Market Hall due to the 5-minute walk from the city center. All manner of goods are sold in this gigantic three-story warehouse. Edible fare is lined up, row upon row of sausages, fresh loaves of bread, cheeses, vegetables, and Hungarian paprika.  It’s also the best place to find souvenirs, from inexpensive kitsch to pricey embroidery.  Do try the traditional Hungarian pastry, langos – deep-fried dough bigger than your head heaped with cheese and garlic.

After you’ve had your fill of shopping (and eating!), be sure to see the other sights in Pest, e.g. St. Stephen’s Basilica containing the alleged mummified hand of the saint, Heroes Square, the Hungarian State Opera House, and stroll along beautiful Andrássy Avenue.

Go on a Sunset Cruise

budapest solo travel

After a full day of sightseeing, I really enjoyed a relaxing, complimentary glass of champagne in hand, on a romantic cruise down the Danube, dividing the city into Buda and Pest.  We began while it was still daylight and started the glide past the best of the riverfront beauties of Budapest.  Our vessel slid under the 19th-century Chain Bridge and five other bridges. We watched the sun go down behind Buda Castle Hill with its enchanting castles and churches lined up on the bank. As night fell, the magnificent sight of the lit Hungarian Parliament was memorizing, with the clubs and bars of Pest as a backdrop.

Soak in the Thermal Baths

Széchenyi Baths

Because Budapest was built over a network of almost 125 thermal springs, ‘taking the waters’ has been a pastime since the time of the Romans.  Whether you are seeking a cure, relaxation, or like me – just plain old fun, there are two dozen thermal baths to suit every taste.  One such thermal spa is indeed the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Built in 1923, the Széchenyi Baths is a sprawling, festive Neo-baroque palace with 15 indoor thermal pools ranging from lukewarm to borderline unbearably hot, three impressive outdoor pools, fountains, steam rooms, and a spa.

Explore the Ruin Bars

The name alone intrigued me to find out what it’s all about.  Located in the old Jewish Quarter, the quirky pubs are essentially abandoned buildings and unused outdoor spaces, providing cheap beer, music, and sometimes a limited menu.  A glance behind the doors reveals unsuspected creativity and ingenuity. The décor is distinctly eclectic – even chaotic – with mismatched furniture, bizarre sculptures, and offbeat artwork. Despite the trendy hipster feel, the ruin bars are frequented by locals and tourists of all ages. For the best experience, here is a great Budapest ruins bar guide.

Try the Goulash

Széchenyi Baths

Hungarian goulash is without a doubt the most famous dish of Hungary, and perhaps even Eastern Europe.  But don’t let that stop you from trying it.  While goulash may be considered a melting pot entree of the continent, in my opinion, the Hungarian/Magyar version is much better than that found in Romania or the Czech Republic.  It’s more savory, has more paprika spice, and not so thick making it more of a soup than the stew you’ll find in other countries. It’s peasant-style comfort food, with generous chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables.

Stroll Under the Chain Bridge at Night

Széchenyi Baths

Crossing the width of the Danube, the Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone-bridge connecting Pest and Buda and the most famous of many bridges in the city.  The name comes from the iron chains connected by large rivets making it a real moving chain.  The bridge features stone lions standing sentry at each side.  The nighttime illumination is brilliant (pun intended). The pillars are lit by reflectors, and light runs along the top chains to accentuate the shape of the bridge.

Click here to check on the best time to visit Budapest.

Solo Travel in Budapest first published in JustLuxe, 2017.

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Disclosure:  The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Hungary, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

You may also be interested in:

How to Spend a Magical Weekend in Cesky Krumlov

12 Quirky Things to Do in Prague

About the Author

Patti Morrow

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

She is also the star of the upcoming TV series “Destination Takeover” which is scheduled to premiere in the new few months.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.

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