Hungary’s capital is a tale of two cities, split by the Danube river. The Buda and the Pest sides not only give the city its name, but also define its different lifestyles and personalities.
“Pest is very fast, as most of the things happen there. There [are] a lot of bars, restaurants, meeting points, but also many companies have their offices on this side of the river,” explained Wiktoria Skiba, originally from Poland and founder of Budapest blog The Spoiled Queen.
“Buda is much calmer, surrounded by beautiful hills. You can find a lot of green areas there, and the air is fresher than on the Pest side.”
View image of Women sitting in front of the Hungarian Parliament building (Credit: Credit: E.D. Torial / Alamy)
Regardless of side, however, all residents take pride in their city.
“We like and we are proud of our city’s culture and history,” said G. Nóra with the Budapest tourism centre. “We like exploring new places in our city, but we like to take care of our heritage too.”
Residents are known to be friendly and laid-back with foreigners, and new opportunities are attracting more and more expats to the area.
“Besides average professionals, Budapest is an ideal place for digital nomads, with a very vibrant start-up scene,” said Gabor Bihari, originally from Los Angeles and editor-in-chief of expat publication Budapest, Inc.
While older residents tend to keep to themselves, the up-and-coming generation of Hungarians tends to be open-minded and friendly, making it a more welcoming place for expats than ever before.
View image of Locals can enjoy the numerous cafes around Budapest (Credit: Credit: Monica Goslin / VWPics / Alamy)
Where do you want to live?
The Buda side is favoured by families, while the Pest side is popular with young professionals and has more of a party scene. The city is further defined by its 23 separate districts, each with their own vibe.
“As much as I loved to live in the VII district, which is the party hub, I much more appreciate my current address in Újlipótváros [the XIII district],” Skiba said. “It’s a more residential area, but has many restaurants, coffee places, little shops nearby and also co-working spaces like Mozaik, the tech hub of start-ups in Budapest.”
The V district, located around Fővám tér and Kecskeméti streets on the Pest side, is also a popular choice for well-heeled expats. Though more “posh”, according to Skiba, it also is very well connected with two metro lines, trams and buses, as well as lots of cafes and bars near the river where people can hang out.
Once quite dangerous, the VIII district, also on the Pest side, has lately been transformed into a “cultural melting point”, according to F. Eszter, who also works for the Budapest tourism centre. “It has a wild romantic feeling, anything can happen, basically.”
View image of View of the river Danube and the Hungarian Parliament Building (Credit: Credit: Alex Segre / Alamy)
Locals also recommend the XII and II districts, both on the Buda side, for families and those who prefer a calmer pace of life as they tend to be cleaner and greener.
Where can you travel?
Locals have plenty of getaways right within the city itself, and take advantage of them at every opportunity. Margitsziget (Margaret Island) on the Danube is a popular hiking destination, located 3.5km up the river from the city centre.
Located 7km west of the city in the Buda hills, Normafais also popular year round for short excursions. “It has fantastic panorama to the city,” Nóra said. “In winter you can ski there, and in summer, you can go for a picnic in the fields.”
The island of Obudai Sziget, 5km north of the city centre on the Danube, is home to August’s popular Sziget Festival, one of Europe’s largest cultural and music festivals.
Further afield, the Hungarian countryside has plenty of popular holiday spots. Lake Balaton, 100km southwest, draws swimmers and boaters as well as cyclists who take advantage of the bike lanes around the lake.
View image of Exterior of the Esztergom Basilica, Hungary's largest church (Credit: Credit: funkyfood London – Paul Williams / Alamy)
Small towns on the northern part of the Danube are also popular getaways, including Szentendre, 20km to the north and known for its museums and galleries; Visegrad, 45km to the north and home to a medieval castle and citadel; and Esztergom, 50km to the north where Hungary’s largest cathedral is located.
Neighbouring countries Austria, Croatia and Romania are also relatively affordable and easy to get to via train or plane.
Is it affordable?
Food, drinks and housing are all very affordable, but due to a high sales tax rate, items like laptops and electronics can be pricier than elsewhere in Europe.
However, residents universally agree that Budapest is much more affordable than other Western European capitals.
“It’s one of the best values around the world in terms of cost of living in relation to the quality of living,” Bihari said.
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