My first real solo trip was to the Queen of the Danube, Budapest, one February years ago. Though I was no stranger to being in foreign places alone after having lived abroad, this was my first solo ‘vacation’. I learned so much about myself and solo travel during throughout this experience. Now, many years and countless cities later, I’m more convinced than ever that Budapest makes the perfect first solo trip destination. Ready to start planning? Here are my 10 reasons why Budapest should be your first solo trip.
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How did I choose Budapest for my first solo trip?
I found cheap flights from Boston to Barcelona using my fool-proof method to experience new places while finding the cheapest flights. Unfortunately, Barcelona is probably my least favorite city. So, I began looking for the best flights out of Barcelona to neighboring European cities. Taking into consideration cost, layovers, and flight duration, I eventually decided on Budapest!
10 Reasons why Budapest should be your first solo trip
English will get you far in budapest
Though I am a huge advocate of learning a few key phrases when traveling some place new (more if the language is familiar), Hungarians do not expect you to know their language. Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language to learn, and even by the end of my time there, I still could only say ‘thank you’ in the language. Hell, even being engaged to a Hungarian now, I still only know a handful of words.
Thankfully, since Budapest is a popular tourist city, everyone in restaurants, airports, hotels, etc. will speak a good amount of English.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t at least make the effort – I could tell that locals really appreciated my butchered pronunciation of ‘köszönöm’ every time I uttered the word.
But for first-time solo travelers who may find the language aspect to be intimidating, be comforted in knowing that English is widely-spoken in Budapest. It’s for sure one of the top reasons why Budapest should be your first solo trip!
Budapest is central to other European gems
I’m the queen of day trips! OK, maybe only in my own mind, but still. I love a good day trip. And thanks to the central location of Hungary’s capital, there are a ton of excellent day trips from Budapest – even international. You can visit Austria, Slovakia, and other countries depending on your interests.
During my first solo trip to Budapest, I went for a few days to Vienna and a day trip to Kosice, Slovakia (though Vienna could’ve been done in a day as well). There are other hidden gems in Hungary that are definitely worth checking out as a day trip as well.
I tend to opt for day trips many others would dismiss as too far. But usually, even if the train ride is three or three and a half hours, if you leave super-early in the morning and sleep on the train, you can still make an unrushed day out of these longer trips. One of the perks of traveling solo is without-a-doubt choosing my own time tables.
It’s easy to meet new friends as a solo traveler in Budapest
Budapest has no shortage of hostels, which is a tried-and-true way to meet friends while traveling solo. Many hostels offer private rooms if you’re not into the whole dorm thing, and most organize group events in order to meet fellow travelers, get out and have some fun. A popular hostel event in Budapest is a typical ‘pub crawl’ visiting the famed ruin bars.
Hostels aren’t your thing? Mine either. I didn’t stay in a hostel and wound up meeting a bunch of new friends during my first solo trip to Budapest. My first night I was adopted by a Portuguese couple who I did shots with till the wee hours, afterwards I made friends with a bartender where I frequented for drinks, and eventually I even wound up making friends with my Airbnb host.
Budapest is a fun city, and the people here – both tourists and locals – are almost always up for a good time, with the ‘more the merrier’ mindset. I’m introverted by nature, but had no problems making friends in Budapest while solo.
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe
I had no idea before visiting just how incredibly beautiful Budapest is! I think that both the Hungarian Parliament building and Fisherman’s Bastion are among the most beautiful structures I’ve ever seen in Europe. From the gritty streets of Pest to the green and residential Buda, there’s always beauty to be found.
If you’re into photography or just want to take some fun photos for your Instagram, Budapest has no shortage of beautiful places to capture.
It’s also one of the cheapest!
You’ve got to love European countries who don’t use the Euro – the currency in Hungary is the forint (HUF). The relative pricing is, on its own, enough reason to book a trip.
I was able to comfortably spend around 90 USD per day, which might seem like a lot. But, I ate out for nearly every meal, got massages, drank plenty, had an entire Airbnb apartment, and went to museums and other ticketed sites. While it may not be quite as inexpensive as some of its neighbors, such as Romania, it is worlds away from its Western European counterparts. You can also get a Budapest Card to save money.
Traditional Hungarian food is spectacular, and easy on the wallet. But what makes eating in Budapest really special for a solo traveler is how normal it is! Every restaurant I’ve frequented in Budapest (and by now, it’s been a lot) has treated me exactly as I would’ve been treated as part of a couple or group.
I read all the time on Facebook travel groups of women who are mocked or given inadequate service as solo diners. I was a little nervous, but I had no such experience in Budapest (or, on any of my other subsequent solo trips, for that matter).
My favorite restaurants in Budapest: Paprika Vendéglő (my number 1 recommendation!), Rosenstein Vendéglő, Korhely Faloda & Daloda, and Százéves Étterem (the oldest restaurant in Pest). For a fun drinking/dining experience, check out Gozsdu Udvar. There are also a huge number of great breakfast places in Budapest, perfect for refueling after a night out.
Insider tip: If you like spicy food, ask for some pista (peesh-ta) next time you are eating out in Budapest – it’s like a Hungarian spicy pepper spread, it’s delicious (but a little salty).
You’ll never be bored in Budapest as a solo traveler
There are so many things to do in Budapest! There are a ton of museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery, Terror Haza, Budapest History Museum, the Museum of Agriculture, and the Hungarian National Museum – to name a few! Visit churches and synagogues, tour the Jewish district, explore Great Market Hall, chill in one of the thermal baths, get a massage, go ice skating, whatever.
Budapest is perfect for a day of relaxation
There was one day during my first solo trip that I became so exhausted that I knew I wanted to do nothing all day. My Type-A brain wouldn’t allow that, so I tried my best to create this itinerary for the ultimate day of relaxation in Budapest – and it was perfect! Book some spa services, go to the thermal bath, take yourself out to a luxurious breakfast – there are ample opportunities for some self-care and you-time.
Fewer crowds mean less chances to feel overwhelmed
A common fear or occurrence for first-time solo travelers is feeling overwhelmed – with a new culture or language, with loneliness, with transportation schedules – the list is endless. I’ve found that I prefer to visit slightly smaller cities, relative to the major players in Western Europe anyway.
Budapest, particularly in the off-season, is much more manageable than Paris or Rome.
You’ll find the perfect amount of discomfort
Solo travel is a lot more than traveling alone because no one wants to go. It’s a transformative experience, one that we know for certain will take us out of our comfort zones. This was the major draw of solo travel for me – the changes that could be set in motion.
But that transformation doesn’t come from nowhere – it comes from how the discomfort is tolerated. Traveling from Boston to Budapest wasn’t enough of a culture shock, for me, to be too scary. But this one is personal – just because it’s not too much of a culture shock for me doesn’t mean that will be your experience.
Still, with a completely unfamiliar language and further east, Budapest was the perfect amount of discomfort to get my toes wet and acclimate to the world of solo travel.
Is Budapest safe for solo travelers?
Budapest is incredibly safe! Not once in my time there did I feel ill at ease or in harm’s way. There were a couple of mornings I had suuuuper early trains to catch, so I was leaving around the time that most people were leaving the ruin bars in the wee hours of the morning. Even walking past the bars en route from my Airbnb to Keleti Train Station, where everyone was undoubtedly shitfaced, proved very safe.
Always be aware of your surroundings and trust your judgement. There can be unsafe situations anywhere in the world.
Also, be sure to familiarize yourself with the most common scams in Budapest.
What can you do in Budapest alone?
I’ll let you in on a little secret – most things you can do with others, you can also do alone! This is the same no matter what city you’re in. See an opera or theatre piece, see shows, take tours, do wine tastings, visit museums, you name it – all of these things are enjoyable alone. It’s very peaceful to have your own experience to navigate in silence.
How to prepare for your first solo trip
If you haven’t booked your first solo trip yet, you might consider taking a few days to a nearby city or some other destination that’s just a few hours away. This can help ease you in to solo traveling without having to venture too far.
If you’re ready to go, plan out your first few days. If you’re not so into planning, get a general idea of what you want to do instead of going into specifics.
Download any necessary apps you might want to use. Whatsapp is great for communicating with new friends and your old ones back home. I use Google Maps to navigate while walking around new cities. Uber or other rideshare apps are good choices as well.
Do something that makes you feel empowered. This could be a sweaty, powerful yoga class or simply going for a drive. Do something that gives you a quick boost of confidence!
Depending on how long I plan on staying, I sometimes join expat groups on Facebook – usually if I’ll be staying a month or more. You can get some great insider tips this way.
Where to Stay in Budapest