Underwhelmed By Budapest

Is Budapest worth visiting?

After a week of hearing from pretty much every traveller I met that I absolutely HAD to go to Budapest, I came with big expectations. To my big surprise, I am now leaving quite unimpressed by Budapest.

It feels weird to not have liked a city so beloved by many, but I just didn’t fall for it.

I thought it was pretty, I kept thinking that to myself. But pretty buildings alone did not do it for me this time. I think my expectations of the city were too high, built by an overflow of positive information that I did not take the time to think that not everyone thinks the same way and travel is experienced by everyone differently. So I ended up disappointed.

is Budapest worth visiting

Budapest Parliament

Budapest Is Beautiful But…

More than many other European cities, the city of Budapest has enough sights to keep the most curious of explorers wandering around the city for days.

The views from both sides of the Danube river are as astonishing as they are gorgeous to look at, especially at sunset.

Sunsets of Budapest Sunset in Budapest

The buildings are majestic and I had perfect sunny and warm days, so WHY IN THE WORLD DIDN’T I ENJOY BUDAPEST???

It was just too perfect….

I found that the Inner City center was too aimed at tourists. A stroll through Veres Pálné will having you looking at more souvenir shops and Thai massage parlours than you would ever want.

There are so many western coffee shops and fast-food stands in the city center that I did not feel I was thousands of kilometres from home but rather in my own backyard. The many restaurants promoting a “Tourist Menu” are also all over the place.

Even the thermal baths of Széchenyi and Gellèrt thermal baths were so filled with tourists that it was hard to even consider going in.

Budapest thermal baths

Crowds and more crowds at the thermal baths

Overall, I did not feel I was in Hungary at all, but I could have easily been in any other capital in the world.

Getting Away From The Tourist Traps

So on my second day I tried as much to stay away from the tourist area and hiked up to the Liberty Statue of Budapest on Gellért Hill.

It is a quick but strenuous hike of about 15 minutes to the top, and it actually offers amazing air view sights of the city.

Even though the top was crowded, it offered some peaceful spots where I was able to enjoy myself. I actually spent the entire late morning and early afternoon just walking and wandering around the Citadella that surrounds the statue.

Bridges of Budapest

Bridges of Budapest

Budapest city

Budapest from above

Then I took a walk by the Danube river and ended up at the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Pest side of the city. It also offered some insane views of the Budapest Parliament building where I had been the day before, so it was nice to see this impressive structure from a different angle.

Dinner with a view

Dinner with a perfect view

Budapest parliament

Budapest parliament

And yet, here I was with a meh swirling in the back of my mind.

So I Took A Day Trip

After much walking around Budapest and discovering its artful displays and structures, I decided to spend the day far from the capital. So I took a day trip to Szentendre, a small county about 1 hour from Budapest.

I visited Szentendre on a Sunday, which meant I was right on time for (what I think was) the Sunday market (it could very well be the weekend market).

Sztendre was exactly what I needed to feel that small-city feeling again. A stroll down through its colourful streets and central market, the vendors selling local food and products, were really what I needed to really connect with the country. Zipping down a pint at a hole-in-the-wall bar where no one barely spoke any English was something I had missed dearly and even though I only spent a day in the city, it by far outweighed all the time I spent in Budapest.

Colorful Szentendre

Colorful Szentendre

Back in Budapest 

Once back in the city I kept thinking why I hadn’t enjoyed my time in Budapest. After all, apart from the tourist area the city did offer some very nice architecture, green spaces, and some of the best views I had seen in a capital city so far.

So is Budapest worth visiting? Yes it is.

So, what was the problem……

It would take a few days for me to find out that the city had changed much in the last couple of years. During my first few days in Romania I spoke with a traveller who had been may times to Budapest in the last couple of years, and she spoke about how the city went from being an authentic capital a few years back, to being overwhelmed by tourists in the last few years.

As for me, I really did not have the feeling of being in Hungary…..I could have been anywhere with a big tourist trap really…..I would have loved to spend more time in Hungary, to see more of the REAL Hungary. Maybe next time, because there will be a next time.

Have you ever felt underwhelmed by a city you knew you should have liked? What was that like?

19 thoughts on “Underwhelmed By Budapest

  1. Hey Dan! This was a really interesting read. You often hear/see people talk/write about their very (almost too picture perfect) experiences while traveling to other countries…however this was pretty honest and direct. I feel like I have had this sort of experience once in Malaysia quite a few years ago.

    • Thanks for your comment 🙂
      I honestly really tried to like Budapest, but failed to see what the fuss was all about.
      I plan on going to Malaysia sometime this year. Any spots I should avoid? 🙂

  2. Ha! I feel you. I really liked Budapest and considered living there for a bit. You are right, it is touristy but we ended up doing a home exchange on our second visit and l liked it even more because we were living and shopping for food etc. I wrote about being underwhelmed by Amsterdam. I just don’t get the hype..it was exactly meh to me :-)!

    • I get you 🙂 It was the same for me about Amsterdam. It’s a cool place and all, but unless you want to party and get wasted all the time, I wouldn’t see myself going back anytime soon :s

  3. I went out to Memento Park which was awesome. I’ve been to Hungary twice – August 2015 and May 2017 and much preferred May as it wasn’t rammed with tourists. Any blogger who says they’ve loved every destination is talking out their arse so I like that you’ve had the guts to say “This wasn’t for me.”

    • 🙂 Thank you for that.
      You’re right, it’s hard (say impossible) to like every place you visit. Some I’ll like more than others for sure, but others are simply a big disappointment (ahem Playa del Carmen in Mexico).
      Hungary is a nice city, just a bit too touristy for my taste nowadays.

  4. Having lived in Budapest for years twice but with a large gap between the two chapters of my life I find your impression very interesting! I personally have to say I absolutely love Budapest and know it like the back of my hand. A lot of people love it which is probably why there is so much tourism these days and I am kind of glad there is because a few years back the country hardly saw any tourists and they were trying so hard to get it right. But then I also don’t like when a city is overrun by tourists so I can totally appreciate that.

    I myself can’t stand London while others absolutely love it so can relate to the fact that some places are for you and others aren’t. Especially when somewhere does get very hyped you expectations going into it might almost be too high (not you necessarily but someone)

    As for Budapest I do agree that especially the city centre has become very tourist-y/commercial. Luckily there are some lovely places left so if you do ever happen to go back I’d be happy to recommend some districts/markets/restaurants that are more authentic, where you will find more locals than foreigners. When colleagues of mine travel there they always report about the same cheap-compared-to-the-UK beer prices and the famous ruin bars. But I have to shake my head knowing they fell into all the tourist traps.

    Really glad you got a chance to venture out and see Szentendre. Maybe do return to Budapest one day, but perhaps in the off season? As I said, happy to make some recommendations 🙂

    • Hey Anna, thank you so much for your note 🙂
      Going back to Hungary is definitely on my list, since I don’t feel that I gave the country justice by only sticking to the capital (unfortunately I had to come back home unexpectedly so I had to cut the trip short).
      I know exactly what you mean about too many tourists. I live in Montreal and summer here is nice but unbearable at the same time. Prices go up and everywhere gets crowded to the point that locals don’t even like being here during summertime.
      I will definitely take you up on that offer next time I’ll be around Budapest 🙂

  5. I can tell the issue is it is too “touristy” I suppose. The same happened to Prague. It’s beautiful place to visit however I just feel sorry for people who do not get any “instructions” from people actually living there who are not trying to make money on tourists.

    • Hey V. I definitely know what you mean about Prague. I found it to be a really beautiful place but the crowds……it was just too much for me.
      To your point, I unfortunately didn’t get to meet many locals in Budapest or travel around the country much. It would’ve been nice to see some of the rest of Hungary outside of the capital. There is always next time 🙂

  6. I totally get where you are coming from Dan. I felt the same way when I went to Havana, Cuba earlier this year. Everyone else on the trip seemed to love Havana but I was left feeling very disappointed. Also wrote about it in my blog if you want to check it out? I didn’t feel the same about Budapest admitedly, but then I didn’t quite know what to expect. Good read and perspective!

    • Budapest is nice, but not for everybody. I would’ve loved to see other places in Hungary, but time ran short and had ti head back home unexpectedly. A return to Hungary is definitely in the books 🙂

  7. Sorry to hear about your experience. Yes, Budapest has changed (I’ve been visiting since the 1980’s, lived there in 2000-2001) and yes it’s totally overrun by tourists. On the other hand, reading through this post I noticed you went to a lot of the busiest spots. Fisherman’s Bastion, Szechenyi Baths, Gellert Hill, Parliament, Szentendre… Budapest is a big city and as with anything, you get what you put in. I encourage you to spend more time next time and visit more places off the so-called beaten path before you jump into conclusions.

    • You’re absolutely right. I feel that I did not do Hungary justice by just sticking with Budapest (had to head back home unexpectedly). So a return to Hungary is definitely due in the near future, and yeah I’ll be visiting other cities for sure 🙂

  8. I really enjoyed Budapest, in fact it’s up there in favourite city breaks! But I didn’t focus on the tourist areas. In fact I’m not sure I ever saw the city centre! I spent most of the time visiting the beautiful thermal baths (suggest going out of season and to the lesser well known ones) hanging out in the quirky warehouse bars (where I did actually see a flying pig) and getting off the beaten track to find more authentic Hungarian cuisine! I also enjoyed a trip to some markets and a pop up street food event but it was one of the few times I visited a new place and didn’t try to tick off all the tourist activities! I will be going back!

    • I definitely have to give Hungary a second chance. I don’t think I did the country much justice by only visiting the capital (unexpected trip back home).
      I didn’t really enjoy Budapest, but like many other countries, the capital is rarely the best sight. I’ll also be going off the beaten track next time.

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