While millions of tourists flock to the famous cities of London, Paris, and Rome every year, few will head to the heart of Hungary to visit the “City of Baths.” Budapest is the capital city of Hungary situated on the banks of the Danube River. Surprisingly Budapest is the 9th largest city in Europe with a population of over 1.7 million people. Budapest has a long and interesting history. It was once two cities, but united in 1873 to become one.
Budapest is an easy city to travel to from any major European city with budget airlines like Wizz Air, Ryanair, and EasyJet flying from London, Paris, and Brussels to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. While you can easily spend weeks exploring every museum, cafe, and side street in Budapest, most visitors will visit Budapest over a long weekend in route to other European cities. Your best bet is to arrive in Budapest late Friday evening and leave late Sunday evening or Monday morning. Of course, if you have more time then use it, but if you’re short on time, here’s a two day itinerary of Budapest.
Two Day Itinerary of Budapest
Wake up early and enjoy the quiet hours of the city. If your hotel or hostel doesn’t offer a free breakfast, head outside and find a local cafe for coffee and pastries. Budapest has two sides – Pest and Buda. Spend your first day in Pest, which is home to the City Center and the Jewish Quarter. If you prefer tours, I highly recommend taking the free walking tour of Budapest that starts at 10am from Vorosmarty Square. If walking group tours aren’t your thing or you want to tour Budapest at your own pace, start at Vorosmarty Square anyway. Vorosmarty Square is full of touristy restaurants and cafes and is just a block or two away from the main shopping hub and money exchange shops. From Vorosmarty Square head north up Nardor towards St. Stephen Basilica. St. Stephen Basilica is a neoclassical Roman Catholic Church built in 1905. The church is home to the right hand of Hungary’s first king, Saint Stephen I, who is the namesake of the church. If you are looking for a bird’s-eye view of the city, take the elevator or climb the 364 steps to the dome for a panoramic view (Cost: HUF 1,600).
From St. Stephen Basilica continue north along the banks of the Danube River towards the Hungarian Parliament Building. Before reaching the Parliament, stop and pay respect to the Shoes on Danube sculpture in honor of the thousands of Jews killed on the Danube. During the winter of 1944-1945, members of the ruling Arrow Cross Party marched thousands of Jews to the banks of the river, asked them to take their shoes off, and shot them point-blank so their bodies would fall into the river and be taken away by the current. In 2005, sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay created the cast iron sculpture of 60 period shoes in honor of those who lost their lives during this horrific winter.
Continue a short distance down the promenade to the Hungarian Parliament Building. The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Europe. It was completed in 1904 in the Gothic Revival style with a symmetrical facade and a central dome. Make sure you take a walk around the building and see it from all angles. The building is absolutely beautiful. If you’re lucky you might even see the changing on the guards! While the outside of the Parliament Building, which is the 3rd largest in the world, is worth the view, the inside of the building is just as incredible. Tours of the Parliament Building in English happen daily at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm. Tickets must be purchased at Gate #10 and cost HUF 2,520 for an adult ticket.
After the Parliament Building tour either snag lunch at one of the local cafes near the Parliament Building or head back to Vorosmarty Square with numerous restaurant options. Make sure you try some of the traditional Hungarian dishes like the goulash (gulyás), spicy fish soup (halászlé), or pancake filled with meat (hortobágyi palacsinta). And definitely try the Hungarian wine. It is delicious and cheap!
After lunch head towards the Jewish Quarter (also known as Elizabethtown) to explore Budapest’s long, rich Jewish history and culture. Budapest is home to the second largest synagogue in the world. The Great Synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style and is located on Dohany Street. The synagogue is the second largest in the world and the largest in Europe with the capability of holding over 3,000 people. The buildings and courtyards of the synagogue is home to the Jewish Museum, Heroes’ Temple, the Jewish Cemetery, and The Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park. The museum is open daily, except for Saturdays, and costs HUF 2,000 for an adult ticket.
From the Great Synagogue you can walk around the neighborhood and explore the colorful street art and see the other synagogues: Rumbach Street Synagogue, Kazinczy Street Synagogue, and the Vasvári Pál Street Synagogue. Each synagogue has an unique architectural style and is a main gathering place of the Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter is home to several Kosher restaurants. I personally recommend stopping at Fröhlich Pastry Shop near the Great Synagogue to try the famous flódni, an apple-walnut-poppy-seed cake that is moist and rich in flavor. Yum!
After spending most of the day walking around the Pest side of the city, it time to run back to your hostel and grab your swimsuit and towel and head to Szechenyi Baths. Hop on the M1 metro line and exit at the Szechenyi furdo station. Before you spend a few hours relaxing in the thermal mineral baths at Szechenyi, you need to walk a few blocks to Heroes’ Square. Heroes’ Square, or Hosök tere in Hungarian, is one of the major squares in Budapest. Heroes’ Square is surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art, which are great to visit if you have extra time or love art. Heroes’ Square is the Millennium Monument constructed in 1896 to commemorate the 1,000 anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin leading to the creation of the Hungarian State in 896. After taking in the square, head back towards City Park and to the baths. Enjoy a few hours relaxing in one of Budapest’s most famous bathhouses.
Once you have fully enjoyed your first Hungarian bathhouse experience, it’s time to head back to the City Center for dinner. There are lots of options in town and dinner starts late in typical European style. Lecsó is a traditional Hungarian restaurant on Szent Istvan Boulevard that is both delicious and budget-friendly. If you still have some energy left and are keen to check out the ruin bar scene, head back to the Jewish Quarter where most of the ruin bars are located. You can’t leave Budapest without grabbing a pint at Szimpla Kert. It’s the ruin bar that started it all!
It’s time to explore the other side of the Danube River. Make sure you grab some breakfast before you head out for another long day of exploring the hills of Buda. If your feet are tired, take the tram over the Margit Bridge, but the walk over the famous Chain Bridge is worth it. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge built to unite Buda and Pest in 1849. The bridge was designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark.
Now that you’re on the Buda side of the city, it’s time to take the funicular or walk up to the top of Castle Hill. The walk really isn’t that bad and after all the beer you might have drunk last night, it’s totally worth the 8 minute climb! The Castle Hill district of Budapest is right out of a fairytale with its charming cobblestone streets, colorful houses, and stunning views looking over the Danube River towards Pest. The first residents of Castle Hill moved in around the 13th century after the Mongolian Invasion. The hills of Buda offered great protection from the enemy. The 15th century was the golden era of Buda Hill with the marriage of King Matthias Corvinus and Beatrix of Naples in 1476. Today, Castle Hill is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Start your tour of Castle Hill at Matthias Church, named after King Matthias who held two weddings in the church. The church was primarily built in the early 15th century. During the Turkish conquest, the church became a mosque and was later left in ruins. In the 17th century, repairs were made to the church in the Baroque style and towards the end of the 19th century, major restoration work was done and much of the church was restored to its former glory. Matthias Church is still an active church and also a museum. The entrance fee is HUF 1,400 for an adult. Definitely take some time to admire the beautiful and colorful diamond-shaped roof tiles.
The 100-year-old Fisherman’s Bastion provides one of the best views in the city. During the Middle Ages the fish market was located nearby and the bastion was built to commemorate the local fishermen. Tickets to the top towers are HUF 700. Personally, I don’t think it is worth the admission fee as you get a great view from the lower balconies, which are free.
Now it’s time to head over to the Royal Palace. Construction of the Royal Palace began during the 15 century in the Renaissance style. Most of the palace was destroyed during the Turkish invasion and was rebuilt during the late 19th century. Today the Royal Palace is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Library. The Hungarian National Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday and features works of art form Hungarian artists. Adult admission is HUF 2,000. The Budapest History Museum is dedicated to the history of Budapest and is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is HUF 1,400.
After a morning of walking around Castle Hill and exploring the museums, you’ve probably worked up an appetite. It’s time to grab some lunch. Castle Hill is a tourist area so the prices are going to be more expensive. You can grab some food at one of the local street vendors or spend a little more and eat at a restaurant. If you want something light, try Ruszwurm, it’s the oldest party shop in Budapest.
If you’re a wine lover head over to the House of Hungarian Wines (Magya Borok Háza) to sample some traditional Hungarian wine. Hungary is famous for its wine and is home to 22 wine growing regions. The House of Hungarian Wine has over 500 bottles on display and for a small fee you can taste test several of the most famous wines. Taste testing ranges in price from HUF 3,000 to HUF 8,000.
Underneath Castle Hill is an extensive interconnected cellar system of natural caves created by thermal waters and man-made tunnels. Local inhabitants have used the caves for centuries and the earliest traces of human activity dates back over 500,000 years! You can tour the caves through the Labyrinth of Buda Castle Tour, the Hospital in the Rock Museum (which I recommend!), or take a cave tour.
If you have time in the evening, head over to Rudas Bath or Gellert Baths for a slightly different experience than Szechenyi Baths. After spending a couple of hours relaxing in the bathhouse, it’s time to head back to Pest. Before making your way back to your hostel or hotel, make sure you see the Hungarian Parliament Building lit up at night. It is truly something else.
If you have more time:
- Margaret Island – Margaret Island is a peaceful getaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. It is an island in the middle of the Danube River that is easily accessed by Margit Bridge. The island includes lots of walking and jogging paths, medieval ruins, a musical fountain, a small zoo, a water park and lots of green space to enjoy.
- Kerepesi Cemetery – Kerepesi Cemetery is located towards the outside of the city. It was founded in 1847 and is one of the oldest cemeteries in Hungary. Most of the influential Hungarians are buried in the cemetery.
- Tap water, including water from fountains, is safe to drink.
- Don’t say “thank you” in a bar or restaurant when paying your bill until you get your change. Saying “thank you” means “keep the change.”
- Punch your bus/tram/metro ticket before you get down to the subway platform or before you board the bus or tram.
- Take the public transportation. It’s cheap and easy.
How to Get From The Airport to Budapest Via Public Transportation:
Public transportation is the cheapest way to get from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport to the City Center of Budapest. The metro or trains do not run all the way to the airport so you have to hop on the city bus. From 4:00am to 11:00pm, bus number 200E runs between Terminal 2 and the Kobánya-Kispest metro terminal (Metro line 3/Blue). From this station, take the M3 towards Újpest Központ to the city center. A single ride on public transportation costs HUF 350, or about $1.50 USD.