We just returned from three days in Budapest, a spontaneous trip of a mother and her two daughters. It all began when we found a great price on EL AL tickets at $210 per person and made a quick decision to go (there were even cheaper tickets available, but the departure times were less convenient, and would have taken precious time away from our already short trip).
We booked our lodging on Airbnb for a ludicrous price of 400 NIS for three nights; a small apartment near the Jewish Quarter. We exchanged our money into Forint (Hungarian currency) online and picked it up at the airport. All in all, the trip including flights, lodging, transportation, food, sightseeing, attractions, and even a little shopping, cost all three of us about 5000 NIS!
Tip: The currency in Budapest is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). The easiest, most simple way to buy it for your trip is through Fly Money. You simply order the money online in advance and pick it up before your flight at Hapoalim Bank’s counter at Ben Gurion International Airport. You can also purchase currency in installments. To order, click here >
So Budapest is old and beautiful, and there’s lots to see in it. It is incredibly cheap and is interconnected by an excellent system of public transportation, such as metro, trams, busses, and shuttles. Although traces of communism and poverty are still apparent in it, and the people are a bit alienated and suspicious, it is totally charming.
The first day - Budapest eye, the opera area, the Great Synagogue and the Parliament area
We landed at the Budapest airport at 9:15AM and took a taxi directly to the apartment we booked around the Jewish Quarter. We recovered a bit from our flight and went out to tour the city. At the metro station we bought a 72-hour unlimited ride ticket, which turned out to be an excellent decision. We took full advantage of the ticket and travelled using all possible means of transportation.
Tip: If you plan on staying for more than two days, it is recommended to purchase the 72-hour unlimited ride ticket. It allows free use of all the public transportation in the city, and in addition has the huge advantage of not having to stamp the ticket in every ride (just imagine trying to look for where to stamp your ticket during a five-minute ride in a cramped tram).
The first site we visited, at the girls’ request, was the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel. We got off at DEAK station, and the first thing we encountered coming out of the station was a beautiful fountain, one of dozens spread around the city.
The Ferris wheel was nice, a slow 20-minute ride that goes around numerous times. The view seen from above is pretty, although the wheel isn’t too high, and there are better vantage points around the city. All in all, a nice site, not a must unless you’re in the area.
We continued to the elegant Andrassy Avenue, arrived at The Hungarian State Opera House, and contented ourselves with an outside look.
5 minutes away from the Opera House is Sugar, a magical kingdom of candy. Aside from candy of course, it also has amazing cakes and desserts, and a cheerfully colorful café on the second floor. Even the bathrooms there are designed in line with the place, with candy impressed in marble and circus drawings on the walls. We were happy to find OU kosher candy there. If you’re in the area, especially with children, it is well worth a visit.
Noon was drawing near, and we were getting hungry, so we went to the Jewish Quarter, abundant in shops and kosher restaurants. Along the way we decided to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue.
I deliberated a lot on whether to visit the Great Synagogue. In any case, it is a Neolog synagogue, a Jewish movement unique to Hungary, which combines reform and orthodox motifs. Pipe organ music, for instance, alongside a ladies’ section. Although I didn’t come to pray but to visit a s a tourist, something about it felt off to me.
After being there, I listened to the tour guide explain about the history of the place in better and worse times using broken Hebrew, stood in front of the weeping willow memorial and the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs around the courtyard. I did not regret it; it was a powerful, touching experience. After all, Jews come here to connect to that mutual experience and eventually we all share a fate, for better or worse.
Tickets to the Great Synagogue, including a guided tour in Hebrew you can be order here >
After the tour (during which we embarrassingly struggled to keep our eyes open due to tiredness), we continued to the kosher store on 36 Dohány Street (of course we used the website’s detailed address list).
Tip: If you’re interested, there is a free guided tour of the Jewish Quarter (in English) led by Free Budapest Tour Company. The tour is free, as mentioned, and it is customary to tip at the end, whatever you deem appropriate.
In the evening we went to the Hungarian Parliament Building area. Along the way we encountered the Olympic Rings that Yossi described in his interview. We continued towards the Parliament Building, which looked lovely in twilight and took pictures in front of the magical view of the Danube at sunset.
We returned to the Jewish Quarter for dinner and went to Carmel Restaurant. it surprised us in its upscale service, the excellent food even compared to restaurants at home, and the totally reasonable prices (unlike Israel’s kosher restaurants).
The second day - the shoe monument, the Chain Bridge, the Castle Hill, the Margit Island and Wachy Uche
On our second day of the trip we woke up refreshed and full of energy. The (lying) forecast predicted rain and thunderstorms so we took our jackets and umbrellas with us and carried them around in the heat of the day. We travelled again toward the Parliament Building, one of the most spectacular government buildings in the world. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get into the beautiful, impressive building, because entry is only done with a guided tour booked in advance.
Tip: To enter The Hungarian Parliament Building you must buy your tickets in advance (a few days before your visit, and in the summer months even further ahead; tickets sell out quickly). The 50-minute guided tour takes you through the majestic domed central hall and its Holy Crown of Hungary, the amazing main floor, the golden staircase, and more.
Across from the Parliament Building, we easily found the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. We sat there for a while and tried to sadly imagine what went through those Jewish people’s minds as they stood on the edge of the river before their deaths.
We then continued to the nearby Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a pretty and impressive bridge adorned by lion sculptures on each end. We crossed the bridge straight to the round Adam Clark Square and took the funicular toward the Castle Hill.
At Buda Castle Hill we were impressed by the immense palace which functions today as the Hungarian National Gallery. We enjoyed the view, revealed from the hilltop. We arrived right on time for the Changing of the Guards by the palace, which takes place every round hour at the entrance to the smaller white palace (Sándor Palace). It is a short and sweet ceremony; if you’re in the area, don’t miss it.
We walked back down from Castle Hill (we only bought a one-way ticket to the funicular) on a pleasant green trail. We continued to the banks of the Danube, where we took the ferry (D12) to Margaret (Margit) Island. Again, we were happy for buying the unlimited ride ticket, which included the ferry as well.
After a pleasant ferry ride we arrived at the station on the northern part of Margit Island. The island welcomed us with green lawns, running paths, pastoral quiet, and antiquated, sleepy hotels.
The “Music Fountain” on Margit Island:
Open daily between 10:00AM-10:00PM. The musical show takes place every hour on the hour and lasts for about an hour. The show’s details and musical repertoire are available on the fountain’s website.
After getting something to drink at one of the hotels we sat on a bench by the lawn for a pleasant and peaceful lunch. Afterwards, we got up and walked around the island for a while. We discovered the magical Japanese Garden on the northern tip of the island, with its fish ponds, waterfalls, and sculptures.
Sightseeing Cruise with Welcome Drink for only 9 € – experience Budapest from the water and view the city’s famous sites. A ticket for a cruise on the Danube for one hour, including a drink of your choice, can be ordered here>
After all we had done, we were already tired and went back to the apartment to rest a while. We walked in just in time; a little while afterwards the predicted rain and thunderstorms finally arrived.
The girls didn’t let me rest too much though… after about an hour they decided we have to go out, and we made our way to the famous Váci Utca Street. As bad luck would have it, it was pouring rain throughout our walk. We took shelter in shops and department stores (Zara, where else?). the prices aren’t very cheap and are like the ones in Israel.
For dinner this time we chose to go to Hanna Kosher Restaurant, that felt like dining in a reception hall, with simple homely food and warm atmosphere. The prices were lower than Israel there, too. We hurried back to our apartment since the hour was late and our street wasn’t entirely inviting, especially at night.
The third and final day - Asia Center, the children's train and Givat Yanush, Heroes Square
On the last day of our trip the girls convinced me that since we were almost leaving, we can’t go without doing a little shopping. I dragged myself after them reluctantly (I hate shopping!) to the relatively far Asia Center Shopping Mall.
We travelled about a half hour by bus to the city’s outskirts, where a large stylish gate welcomed us, with two Asian-style buildings behind it.
Inside I was reminded of the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv; cheap, raggedy clothes shops, dollar stores, and more. On the upside, there are plenty of bag and suitcase stores with decent quality and reasonable prices. We bought bags and a trolley for cheap. We also found cute shoes, some knickknacks for the little ones who stayed at home, and that’s it.
We returned to the apartment to drop off our loot (it was on the way) and set out to the other side of the city, this time to the Children’s Railway in Buda. This isn’t a train meant for kids, but a special train, a communist relic, operated in shifts by schoolkids. They take their job very seriously, dressed in uniforms and following etiquette.
The train is located at the city’s edge, and I couldn’t find clear instructions on how to get there anywhere, so I just Googled “Gyermekvasút” which means “children’s railway” in Hungarian. We took the metro to Szell Kalman station, and took the #21 bus from there to Ordas station. We got off the bus on a relatively quiet and deserted street and followed Google Maps’ instructions for about seven minutes to Széchenyihegy station on the Children’s Railway.
We bought a one-way ticket. We boarded the train and two excited uniformed girls hurried to us and offered souvenirs for purchase. Later the girls also functioned as conductors. They didn’t speak a word of English.
We decided to get off at the János Hill station; a hill overlooking the city and at its apex, a lookout tower. We climbed up an enchanting trail through the forest to the hill, where there are kids’ playgrounds, a coffeeshop, a cable car, and of course, stairs leading up to the tower. After a steep climb we arrived at the impressive Elizabeth Lookout Tower, overlooking an amazing view of Budapest and its surroundings.
We took an open cable car down the fort through beautiful green scenery. It was a 15-minute ride that was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip. We bought a one-way ticket to the cable car as well, and when we reached the bottom we walked to the bus station that took us back to town to Pest.
We decided to end the day at Heroes’ Square. We arrived at the square and were surprised to find a group of hundreds of participants of all ages, dancing a lively happy street-dance.
After watching the Flashmob we continued walking around the City Park adjacent to the square. We sat on a bench in front of the lake with the ducks and enjoyed the beauty and serenity.
And that’s it. Along the way we passed by Tel Aviv Café and bought take away for the flight. The service was very kind, the prices reasonable, and the toast and pizza we got were yummy. From there – home.
Goodbye Budapest, you’ve been kind to us. We shall return.
Discounted tickets to the top attractions in Budapest
Accommodation in Budapest
In Budapest you can find comfortable and pampering accommodation at an attractive price.
An excellent and new boutique hotel, luxurious and inexpensive, in a perfect and central location in Budapest. A few minutes from DEAK station (5 minutes), 5 minutes from Chabad House, and 7 minutes walk from Dohany Synagogue.
Rooms are spacious and air conditioned, with a safe, electric kettle and even a coffee maker.
An excellent and inexpensive hotel in the center of Budapest, in the Jewish area. Nearby to the Great Synagogue, the Chabad House and kosher restaurants. The hotel has a fitness center, and is accessible to the disabled. The rooms are luxurious, spacious and air conditioned. Courteous service. Close to public transportation.
Hotel where my sister stayed during her visit to Budapest. 5-star hotel, beautiful and well-kept. Located in a great location, close to the Jewish Quarter. Indoor swimming pool. Friendly and courteous staff. Slightly more expensive, but still a ridiculous price in relation to a hotel of this level.
A great, modern hotel in the Jewish Quarter, with rooms, suites and apartments. Excellent location – 2 minutes from Carmel Restaurant and Kaznitzi Synagogue. Rooms are air-conditioned and feature a safe, fridge, electric kettle and tea / coffee maker. The suites and apartments also have a kitchenette with a microwave and oven.
Sabbath: The apartment key is manual and suitable for Sabbath. Very close to the synagogue and kosher restaurants.
4-star apartment hotel in a great location in the heart of Budapest, close to the Jewish Quarter.
Daily maid service. Fully equipped kitchen equipped in each apartment. Washing machine. Courteous staff and remarkable cleanliness.
For Sabbath observers: The key to regular and non-digital apartments. The entrance to the building is with a code, but you can ask in advance at the reception to open the main door for you when you arrive on Saturday.
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