Lovingly referred to as “the Paris of Eastern Europe”, Budapest is a vibrant city on the Danube worthy of a visit. Note, the “pest” in Budapest is pronounced “pesht”, which incidentally became my son’s new nickname for his little sister.
Before our trip, a Polish friend of mine raved about how much she loved this beautiful city with its history, culture, music, and wonderful restaurants and cafes. “Better than Prague?” I asked. “Oh, yes,” she answered. “You’ll have to visit to see why.”
My advice to you is the same. Pay a visit to lovely Budapest and see why it is known as “the Paris of Eastern Europe.”
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You will find your travel dollars go much farther in this “Paris”.
For travelers with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, the most important question is always, “what can I safely eat?” You’re going to love the options in Budapest. This city has such an impressive quantity of gluten-free restaurants and bakeries that I would personally rank it in the top 10 cities globally for gluten-free travelers.
So, before we get into what to see and where to stay, let’s start with gluten-free food. There are so many dedicated gluten-free restaurants that you can easily eat entirely in 100% gluten-free restaurants. I will focus on those.
If you do venture out of the dedicated dining spots, here are some tips for gluten-free travel in Hungary.
- Get a celiac restaurant card in Hungarian to share with waitstaff.
- Use the Find Me Gluten-Free app to locate restaurants that have been reviewed by other gluten-free diners. The premium version allows you to search by most “celiac safe”, per the reviews. ($5 off Coupon Code: GOGLUTENFREELY)
- Join celiac travel and local Hungarian gluten-free Facebook groups for up-to-date information.
- Pack snacks for your flight, train ride, sightseeing days, and food “emergencies”.
- The word for gluten-free is gluténmentes.
- For more tips, visit Gluten-Free Europe: 14 Tips for Your Dream Vacation
Rarely is it possible to spend a vacation eating only at dedicated gluten-free restaurants. But Budapest is a city that will beg you to do just that. Unless you are on an extended vacation here, you will have a hard time getting to all of the dedicated gluten-free restaurants, cafes, and bakeries.
Below are a few favorites, but for a complete list of dedicated gluten-free places, check out this Budapest Directory: 100% Dedicated Gluten-Free Restaurants & Bakeries.
Best Dedicated Gluten-Free Restaurants in Budapest
Restaurant Bohemtanya has all of the charm of a typical European restaurant and is a treasure of traditional Hungarian dishes. Start with fried cheese, enjoy beef or chicken goulash with homemade dumplings, and finish with somloi galuska (Hungarian sponge cake). The portions are generous and everything is delicious. For less traditional, but equally delicious international food with a Hungarian influence, I highly recommend the wiener schnitzel and crepes!
A few minutes walk from the Opera House, Kata is a gluten-free and lactose-free restaurant. Note, while the food is completely gluten-free, some of the drinks are not. This is your chance to enjoy safe goulash soup in Hungary with homemade bread. Or order a delicious pasta dish and save room for dessert!
The pizza at Nongluten Pizza is amazing. It tastes like you have been transported to Italy, and it most certainly does not taste gluten-free. Look at that crust!
It was so good that I had to ask if the pizza was made with my favorite gluten-free pizza flour, gluten-free Caputo Fioreglut. Nope. It is a proprietary blend of rice flour, corn flour, and I do believe, a little magic… all in a pizza oven. They also have fabulous pasta and dessert, all served in a charming restaurant with friendly staff. Drinks are not all gluten-free.
Dolce Farina Niente is on the Buda side of the river and just a little bit out of the way, but if you can make it to this restaurant you will be rewarded with another pizza that will make you think you are in Italy, fabulous lasagna and tiramisu… all from a dedicated gluten-free kitchen.
Dedicated Gluten-Free Bakeries
Gluténmentes=gluten-free and Pékség=bakery. I did not make it to Free! on this trip, but it was on my shortlist based on feedback from other celiac travelers.
I did however recently connected with the owner and was impressed. Péter and his wife are agricultural engineers who did their PhDs in… of all things, cereals (grains). They started a gluten-free bakery after their daughter was diagnosed with celiac disease.
Fans of Free! call it the best gluten-free bakery in Budapest. Péter mentioned they were also the first. Customers rave about the authentic bacon and cheese croissants, bagels, pinwheel pastries (called “csiga” which means snail) in chocolate and cinnamon, and great bread. Just one more reason to return to Budapest!
Tibidabo Gluten-Free Bakery
This dedicated gluten-free bakery has a wide variety of breads and pastry items. There were several types of bread, csiga (pinwheel pastries), and croissants, which were sweet and savory, from ham and cheese to chocolate.
Tibidabo focuses on healthier alternatives to wheat like buckwheat, millet, bamboo fiber, and psyllium husk, and limits starches.
My son who liked the croissants noted that they are “regular bread, shaped like a croissant.” This is an important distinction if you are expecting traditional French croissants. If you are craving a fluffy croissant with uncountable buttery layers, I recommend placing a mail order from Mariposa Bakery in San Francisco, which is still in the lead on my quest for the world’s best gluten-free croissant.
Tibidabo also sells small loaves of bread, soft pretzels, and many other baked goods to choose from. You may be overwhelmed, by both the many options and the affordable prices (at least compared to gluten-free bakeries in California, where I live).
I highly recommend grabbing one of the delicious salami sandwiches with crunchy bell peppers for a picnic lunch during a day of sightseeing. We picked up sandwiches for our flight back to the United States, along with several other goodies to take home and freeze for later. My gluten-eating husband and son were jealous of our delicious Tibidabo sandwiches, as they ate their airline sandwiches.
This cute little bistro-bakery store has a couple of tables where you can enjoy fresh bakery items from pretzels to chocolate pinwheels. The best part is the wide selection of gluten-free pre-packaged products for sale. We found unique pasta shapes, chocolate Santa Clauses, and a few Schar favorites that aren’t available in the United States.
A Word About McDonald’s
McDonald’s is a sort of celiac must-have when we travel to countries that have legit gluten-free offerings at McDonald’s. I peeked at the options, but having recently enjoyed a gluten-free McDonald’s cheeseburger in Italy, I couldn’t justify eating a burger over the many dedicated gluten-free restaurants in Budapest.
Hungary, like some of its neighbors, Austria and Slovakia, is one of a growing list of countries where you can enjoy a gluten-free McDonald’s burger. At the time of writing, the current gluten-free menu items on McDonald’s Hungary website include four burgers and a dessert.
The gluten-free burgers are served on Schar buns. Since they are advertised as gluten-free, McDonald’s is taking steps to prevent cross-contamination. However, any time you order from a shared kitchen, it is important to ask questions and make sure the manager knows you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. This is a great time to pull out your celiac restaurant card in Hungarian.
If you do decide to head to McDonald’s, you will find them all over the city, but consider visiting “the fanciest McDonald’s in the world” while in Budapest.
Grocery stores in Budapest are a good source of naturally gluten-free food and gluten-free pre-packaged items. Look for the word “glutenmentes” which means gluten-free
Lidl and Aldi’s supermarkets are about as ubiquitous as McDonald’s. They both carry gluten-free prepackaged food.
Budapest is a large enough city that it lends itself to an overview tour. I recommend starting your trip with one, to get your bearings. After you know the Buda side from the Pest side, and have a feel for the bridges, monuments, museums, Andrássy Avenue (the Champs-Élysées of Budapest), and the many sites from the 1896 Millennium celebrations, you can return to your favorites. A segway tour, bike tour, e-bike tour, tuk tuk tour, or private car are all great options for taking in this beautiful city.
Rick Steves’ guidebook for Budapest (likely available in your local library) includes a few self-guided walks and tours, and there are free audio guides available in the Rick Steve Audio Europe App. I always take Rick Steves’ guidebooks with me on my European adventures.
If it’s views you are after, Fisherman’s Bastion offers some of the best in Budapest. Do not miss this, even for a brief stop.
While there, you can visit Matthias Church and walk to Buda Castle. Note, the palace is not terribly impressive on the inside, but the Castle District is charming.
Parliament, on the other hand, is extravagant inside and out. Tickets may sell out. To tour Parliament, purchase tickets in advance from the official website.
Hungarian State Opera House: Discount Seats!
The Hungarian State Opera House offers beautiful musical performances in a stunning opera house for bargain prices. On a tight budget? For just a few dollars, you can purchase an obstructed view seat, and still take in world-class music in this magnificent Opera House. You can also take a tour in English. Tickets for tours and performances are available online.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Beautiful inside and out, but the best view is from the top. Pay a small fee and take the elevator up and enjoy amazing views of Budapest. If there is a line at the ticket counter, save time by booking your tickets directly with St. Stephen’s online.
Central Market Hall
This is a lively 3-story market and popular attraction. The Central Market Hall is a great place to people-watch, buy souvenirs, or pick up naturally gluten-free produce.
There are no gluten-free eatery options. If you think you’ll be unhappy watching your fellow gluten-eating travelers enjoying Hungarian goodies without you, pick up pre-packaged, gluten-free products at Aldi’s, located in the basement of the Central Market Hall. Or stop by Manioka Bakery (five minutes away on foot) on your way.
Nighttime River Cruise
Budapest, with the Danube River snaking through the middle of the city, practically begs you to take a river cruise. You’ll enjoy beautiful views of its landmarks day or night, but I highly recommend the nighttime cruise for the lit-up view of the Parliament Building.
The Central Park is worth a visit. You’ll find thermal baths year round, ice skating in winter, paddle boats in summer, and a not so old Vajdahunyad Castle built for the 1896 Millenial Celebration (see below for more details on the thermal baths and ice skating). At the Andrássy Avenue entrance to the city park, you’ll see the iconic Heroes Square monument.
This popular activity is worth mentioning. I did not try any of Budapest’s thermal spas, as there are few things I enjoy less than getting out of a hot tub into the cold air, but I did see the steam rising up from the Széchenyi Thermal Baths while I was in the city park. If you make a stop at one of Budapests thermal baths, bring towels and flip flops.
Winter Ice Skating at Varosligeti Mujegpalya
Also in Central Park, Varosligeti Mujegpalya is a stunning place for ice skating with the backdrop of Vajdahunyad Castle. Buy tickets online to save time. Set your expectations for a crowd, but the rink is giant and everyone is moving. It’s especially magical at night. In summer, check out the paddle boat rentals.
If you are lucky enough to be in Europe over Christmas, the markets are a must-see.
Aside from the spiced wine, the food is very gluten-full, so eat before or bring your own treats from one of the wonderful dedicated gluten-free bakeries in Budapest.
The aroma, lights, and shopping are all festive. Enjoy the shopping and people-watching. Be sure to ask where items are made, or you may end up with lovely Christmas ornaments and souvenirs made in China, rather than Hungary.
I recommend the markets at Vörösmarty Square (biggest one in Budapest) and the one in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. In my opinion, the St. Stephen’s Basilica market is particularly charming and not to be missed.
Walking (which is the best way to see the city) and the metro are standard options.
Unfortunately, taxi scams are sometimes reported in Budapest. I had one cab driver (by Heroes Square) try to start my ride with a hefty charge already on the meter, so be aware.
Locals recommended using Bolt for ride service, and I happily switched to Bolt after the one negative taxi experience. It was affordable and the app was easy to use, similar to Uber or Lyft apps.
Where to Stay
Regardless of which hotel you choose, the Pest side will put you closer to restaurants and most sights. Here are a few excellent options with clean rooms, good service, and wonderful locations.
If you’re looking for five star service and spacious rooms, Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest is my first pick. The large, well-appointed rooms are a unique find among European hotels. It’s wonderfully located on the Pest side at Vörösmarty Square right next to the “Budapest Eye” ferris wheel and within walking distance to major tourist attractions, including St. Stephen’s Basilica, several Christmas markets, and Central Market Hall.
As the name suggests, the K+K Opera Hotel is located next to the Hungarian State Opera House. It’s also steps from a metro stop and Andrássy Avenue.
The Alice Hotel is a bit removed from many of the major attractions, but it is located right on Andrássy Avenue and a short walking distance to Heroes Square and Central Park if a visit to Széchenyi Thermal Baths and ice skating with the Vajdahunyad Castle backdrop are on your agenda. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the House of Terror Museum. A couple of thoughts about the House of Terror Museum. It is an important museum and memorial to victims of some dark parts of Hungarian history in the 20th century, and was recommended to me by several locals. I opted to skip it, because one person in my party is extremely empathetic and affected by such museums. If you decide to visit, keep in mind that a visit to this museum will and should be sobering.
For a stay on the Buda side, Boutique Hotel Victoria Budapest is reasonably priced with panoramic views of the Danube, some with the Parliament building. It’s a short walk to Fisherman’s Bastion for the very best views in Budapest.
My friend was right. Budapest is such a special city… vibrant and unique. It really can’t be described, and simply has to be experienced.