When you visit Budapest for the first time, you may be surprised to learn that the Danube River splits the city into two eponymous areas: the quiet, spacious, and scenic Buda; and the more fast-paced, exciting city-scape of Pest. Not wanting to feel FOMO from experiencing only one side versus the other, I elected to split my week in Budapest by staying at a peaceful hostel in Buda for my first four days, and then finishing my trip at a party hostel in Pest.
Read on to learn more about what to expect from both sides of this spectacular city, and be sure to check out my Budapest travel gallery for photos from the trip!
Heads up! This blog post focuses primarily on where I stayed in Budapest versus full details on all of the activities. For more details on each activity, check out the sections below.
Psst! I dedicated a whole blog post to six of my favorite activities to do in Budapest, listed below. Click here to read about them all!
- Cave-walking tour under Buda Castle
- Bike tour of Budapest
- Danube evening boat tour
- Hungarian National Gallery (art museum)
- Hungarian Parliament tour
- Market Hall for food and souvenirs
READ MORE: Thermal Baths
I’ll be honest: the thermal bath culture in Budapest was one of the main reasons that I chose this city for my solo trip. I looove a good hot spring/spa vibe. Click here to learn about the baths that I visited!
READ MORE: Nightlife
Buda: The Slower, Suburban Side
Once I arrived in Budapest (on a VERY rainy and dreary day after hours of air travel, I might add) and began the ride into the city, I was immediately glad that I had chosen to stay on the calmer side of the city to get acclimated.
I do want to note that you could honestly go either way (Buda or Pest first) depending on your own goals for your Budapest trip. Since I was exhausted and feeling really out of my comfort zone due to not traveling solo for 3 years, I figured that starting my trip slowly in Buda would be the least stressful choice for myself. I also flew into Budapest on a Tuesday, so I made sure to be in the city/around the nightlife over the weekend!
Where I Stayed
I went the hostel route for both of my accommodations on this trip, both to be cost-effective and also have the best opportunity to meet people! Although I stayed in a shared female dorm while in Pest (more on that below), I elected to pay a little extra to have my own room at my accommodation in Buda: Shantee House.
Guys and gals, I’ll be totally honest: I had a few growing pains when I arrived at Shantee. I already was feeling dreary because the weather was SO rainy and cold (and my mood is very affected by sunlight or lack thereof), and my room was also super cold because, to the locals, the weather was mild. It’s worth noting that I mayyyy have been in denial about how chilly it would be compared to LA, and I did not pack enough warm clothes for the cooler days. 🙂 So, it was totally fair that the room wasn’t heated. My shower head was also wonky and spraying water everywhere in the bathroom, which meant that everything got soaked (hello, European shower design – ha!). Lastly, there were a few spiders up in the ceiling corners. STAY WITH ME THOUGH!
Now that the bad stuff is out of the way (hey, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine when you travel), let me be very clear: my stay at this hostel was absolutely lovely. All three of the issues that I mentioned above were addressed by the Shantee House owners immediately. They were kind enough to bring me a heater for the room, they replaced the shower head (and mopped up the floor), and relocated the spider that I saw. It’s worth noting that Shantee is a very mellow, nature-centric hostel, so they did not kill the spider(s) that were found. As someone who is still scared of spiders but does not like killing anything – when possible – I really respected this approach.
The rest of my stay at Shantee was really pleasant, and I met so many wonderful people. The vibe of Shantee House is very calming and peaceful, which fostered a community of lovely, laidback travelers. There were multiple nights where we all shared a meal together and talked about our days; and one traveler even shared his soup with me on that first night when I was feeling too tired and overwhelmed to go find dinner (and most things were also closed by the time I was settled in). Shantee also has a tented area out in the back for meditation and more.
Overall, I left Shantee with a feeling echoed by countless other reviewers: I wished that I could stay longer!
What I did
Despite being the more “suburban” side of Budapest, Buda has a surprising amount of things to see and do! Here’s a quick rundown of my favorites:
- Fisherman’s Bastion (click here to visit their official website)
- Gellert Thermal Baths
- Rudas Thermal Baths
- The National Gallery
- Cave-walking tour under Buda Castle
Pest: Where the Action Happens
After relaxing in Buda for my first few days, I knew that I wanted to be near all of the action for my Budapest weekend (and the remainder of my trip!). Pest is definitely the place to be if you want to experience the more industrial side of Budapest as well as be near the nightlife, shopping, and more.
Where I Stayed
As I mentioned above, I chose to stay at another hostel in Pest – primarily for the social aspect so that I would have people to go out with! And what kind of hostel is best for that goal, you might wonder?
A party hostel.
Now, party hostels can certainly get a bad rap. In my experience, a lot of party hostels take things to the extreme with no hard & fast rules, meaning that there can be people making noise LITERALLY all day and night, and the drunken debauchery that is encouraged can lead to lots of messy behavior (and actual messes).
However, I chose to stay at one that seemed to strike a good balance between maintaining some semblance of peace, order, and safety; while also facilitating a LOT of socializing by organizing group events: Hostel One.
Hostel One is actually a chain of hostels around western and central Europe – I can only speak for the Budapest location, but I really liked it overall! I chose to stay in an all-female dorm (downside: they only have one of those) and it was as clean and quiet as one could expect from a room in a party hostel. I also loved the mix of activities that the hostel offered. Whether it was a daytime trip to Market Hall followed by a nighttime party boat along the Danube; or an afternoon stroll along Margaret Island followed by a pub crawl later in the night, Hostel One did a wonderful job with making sure that every guest had myriad options to go out and explore Budapest.
Now, I must mention one significant con: to be perfectly honest, the communal bathroom situation was a lowlight of my stay at Hostel One. Although they were separated by gender and there were generally no issues, I did have one morning (post-party boat night) where I stumbled upon a hungover dude peeing in one of the girls’ stalls WITH THE DOOR OPEN. Thankfully, his back was was turned, but still – yuck! I may or may not have pointedly shut the door on him while I proceeded into the other open stall. Oops. 😉
That said, I really did enjoy my stay here otherwise, and there weren’t any more issues besides that awkward encounter. So, just have your expectations set properly if you choose to go with this place (and for that matter, any party hostel).
What I Did
As I mentioned at the start of this post, Pest is definitely the place to stay if you want to be at the center of all of the action. There is plenty of shopping, nightlife, restaurants, and more to explore. Plus, the architecture is pretty stunning in quite a few parts of the city. Here are some of the highlights from my time there:
- Tour of the Hungarian Parliament
- Bike Tour around Budapest (starts in Pest)
- The nightlife: pub crawls, multi-room clubs, and more
- Sunset/nighttime cruise along the Danube River
- Market Hall for local food and souvenirs
As you can see, both sides of the city have different things to offer depending on what you’re looking for in your trip!
If you only have 3-4 days in the city, then staying in Pest is your best bet to have more things to do in closer proximity. The public transportation system in Budapest is pretty good too, so you can always hop on a bus, tram, or even the Metro to explore Buda when it calls to you.
On the other hand, if you have a week or more in Budapest, I’d recommend trying out both sides simply to get a feel for the different vibes that each offers! Plus, you’ll likely leave with a feeling of having properly explored the city as a whole.
Whichever you decide, Budapest itself is fantastic city with so much to do and see. I am sure that you will love it!