Three Days in Budapest.
A marvelous city by the Danube River.
Our advice and essentials to make the most of your long weekend visit!
European cities are usually a great option if you’re looking for a long weekend destination or if you want to take a day or two off. Thursday evening to Sunday was our choice, which gave us three full days. However, Budapest is such a lively city, with a great cultural and leisure offering, so you won’t regret spending an extra day or two!
WHERE TO STAY ¿BUDA OR PEST?
Buda is the birthplace of this city. The medieval quarter that is Castle District hosts some of the highlights of the city, such as Buda Castle (or Royal Palace), or the highly instagrammable Fisherman’s Bastion.
Pest is the «modern» side of the city, with long commercial axes and full of life, both by day and night.
If you are the kind that looks for a quiet are, far from noisy crowds at night, perhaps the Varnegyed area (district I) in Buda is your best choice. Plenty of high end hotels for those with a higher budget, and in walking distance to all the Castle District attractions.
If you’d rather experience the vibrant activiy and intense nightlife, then you need to stay in Pest. There are two areas we’d recommend on this side of the Danube: Belváros – Lipótváros (district V), located just by the river, ideal location to explore the whole city, with easy access to public transportation and close to the most visited places in Budapest. Despite all this, the second option in Pest is our favourite: Erzsébetváros, or Jewish Quarter (District VII).
The history of this neighbourhood is both tragic and fascinating. On one hand it’s got the greatest Sinagogue in the world, but on the other hand it worked as a ruthless ghetto for the Jewish people during World War II and the nazi holocaust.
The Jewish Quarter nowadays hosts most of the leisure activity in Budapest, and it’s full of bars, pubs and restaurants. It’s also where you’ll find the well-know ruin bars. Hotels, hostels, apartments, you’ll find a wide array of accomodation options to suit all budgets.
BOOKING IN ADVANCE!
As advertised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there’s only one authorized website where you can buy tickets to visit the Parliament of Budapest:
If you’re feeling confident or don’t want to book online, you can still buy tickets on site at the visitor centre inside the Parliament building. They’re usually sold out for the day, but with a bit of luck you can join a guided tour on a different language… or book it for the following day if you want to learn from the experience! We do recommend online bookings, as you won’t have to queue and you can choose your preferred language.
2. THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE
Also know as Dohány Street Synagogue , it was built in 1859. It’s located in Erzsébetváros, Budapest’s 7th District. The Synagogue boasts elements of both Romantic and Moorish architecture and is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum and the Holocaust Memorial Room.
You can acquire your tickets here:
You can visit it from 10am to 4pm every day except Saturdays (closed) and Fridays (10am to 2pm). A single ticket is around 15€.
3. DANUBE RIVER CRUISE
It may sound as the typical tourist trap, but we found it to be a great way to get a different perspective on the city and its landmarks. Pair it with the audio guide and you’ll learn a lot abour the history of Budapest while you see it in front of you.
The boats cruise under the 5 most know bridges of Budapest: Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Liberty Bridge, and the two sides of the Margaret Bridge. You’ll enjoy a different angle on the most specacular buildings of Buda and Pest, such as the Parliament, Gellert hotel, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion or Saint Anne church, amongst many others.
TIP! Our recommendation is that you book the cruise at sunset. That way you’ll se the buildings light up as the night falls. A sight you won’t forget!
Tickets can be found here:
The ride costs around 15€ and it lasts at an hour, so plan well ahead when you want to do it so you are near the starting point (mostly on the Pest bank, between the Chain Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge).
4. THE THERMAL BATHS OF BUDAPEST
One of the most authentic experiences, and a must when visiting Budapest. There are 123 thermal and more than 400 mineral springs surging from the massive reserve of spring water that produces 70 million liters of thermal water a day. With over a dozen thermal bath locations in the city, Budapest thrives on spa culture, and for good reason.
Its waters are meant to have healing properties, so why not give it a try!
The best known of these thermal baths are Géllert, Szechenyi and Rudas, mainly because they’re located in historical buildings. Although they’re not the only ones, and they’ll probably be full of tourists, we still recommend paying them a visit and indulging in their warm waters while enjoying the picturesque architecture.
Book in advance in either one of them to avoid long queues!
Szechenyi Baths: http://szechenyispabaths.com/
Gellert Spa: http://gellertspa.com/
OUR RECOMMENDATION: winter nights make for a cool experience, with the exterior pools being at around 30-40ºC while outside temperatura can be below zero!
- Forget the bathouse idea you may have, we wouldn’t say it’s a relaxing experinece but a social activity.
- Some parts of the most know baths (Szechenyi being the most popular) may look a bit like a waterpark, and full of tourists, but you can probably find quieter spots if you look for them.
- Although less usual nowadays, there are still baths that split men and women on certain days but the popular ones are all mixed.
- Don’t forget swimsuit, towel and flip flops. You can rent them in there, but at ridiculous price.
- Prices vary, and you can have a more luxurious experience, or join the masses and get changed in packed locker rooms. Your choice!
WHERE TO EAT?
Hungarian gastronomy is well know for its soups, stews, cold meats, pies, pickles… There is no lack of paprika and peppers, base of many of their famous dishes, along with onions.The only good fish or shellfish you’ll find is river fish, since Hungary is a landlocked country.
The one dish you can’t leave without trying is gulyás, or goulash, a strong meat soup/stew that is the typical dish of the country. Goose or duck is used in many styles, and it’s another specialty in most restaurants (fancy goose liver? order some libamáj and ive deep into hungarian flavours). We found it to be very well cooked and tasty, so if you’re a duck fan, this is your city!
A quick, useful guide to the different options you’ll find when looking for a place to eat:
– étterem: restaurants with a wide offer of food and even some international dishes.
– vendéglö: smaller place, usually offering homemade regional dishes. Often cheaper than an étterem.
Here are some restaurants we loved and recommend (click on the names to check their website or make a reservation):
1. MACESZ BISTRO: located in the heart of the Jewish quarter, it’s a great dining option. Not the cheapest, and with an astonishing wine menu, we recommend booking your table in advance, especially during the weekends. A charming place with very good service and even better food!
2. PAPRIKA: Not too centric, located in Dózsa György út 72, but a great option if you visit Heroes’ Square (Hösök tere), or go to the Szechenyi Baths since it’s pretty close to both of them. This is one of those places that you can find in most Budapest guides out there, and it’s definitely earned its spot. A tradition, picturesque, cave-like restaurant, serving mostly meat dishes at a pretty cheap price and in huge portions. Quite popular amongst local families too (not the usual tourist trap, despite being in all the guides). There’s no reservation system available, and you’ll have to wait your turn, but it won’t dissapoint you. Goulash soup and the
Leg of goose Vadasdi style where amazing.
3. DOBUMBRA: Also located within the Jewish quarter, this one is for the ones looking to change the tune. A hipster-friendly, cool-looking place, it offers a good alternative when you’ve had enough meat and goulash. From the music to the decor, everything has been carefully chosen. Plenty of arab and mediterranean influences in the menu.
We just loved it, and wish we’d had more days to try the whole menu!
4. MARVELOSA RESTAURANT: A great lunch option if you’ve spent the morning in the Buda side of the city. Right under the castle and on the river’s edge, located in Lánchíd u. 13.
5. VINTAGE GARDEN: A place we found while on the search for a good breakfast. Quite spectacularly decorated and full of flowers, it really lives up to the name’s expectations. Not cheap, but a great way to start the day!
DAY 1: St. Stepehen’s Bailica – Buda Castle District – Danube river cruise.
Since we were stayin in the Jewish Quarter, we were in walking distance to the first stop of the day, St. Stepehen’s Basilica, a Neoclassical building which acts as Budapest’s Cathedral, the largest in Hungary. We definitely recommend checking out the views from the cupola‘s edge (admission to the cupola is 600HUF, and it’s open from 10am to 4:30-5:30-6:30pm depending on the month). You can use the lift… or the endless, winding 302 steps stair if you think you can handle it! The Basilica houses Hungary’s most sacred treasure, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand, the Szent Jobb (Holy Right Hand).
After that we walked along Zrínyi street towards the Danube and the most famous of Budapest’s bridges, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, a 1800s stone suspension bridge featured in every photo of the city. We used it to cross to Buda,the western side of the city.
To go up to Castle District you can use the Buda Castle Funicular, or Budavári Sikló, open from 7.30am to 10pm, for 1200HUF (3.5€ approx.). Alternatively, if the funicular’s queue is too long for you, take bus 16 up to Vienna Gate. From here you can enjoy a lovely walk accross this medieval quarter towards its main attractions.
The first ones you’ll find are Matthias Church, a beautiful late gothic church, and the Fisherman´s Bastion, a 19th century fortification with lookout towers and impressive view over the Danube and Pest. The church’s interior is well worth a visit (tickets are 1800HUF=5€, and are purchased in the stalls rigth in front of the main entrance, next to the end of the Bastion). Check out their events calendar too, since there is no better place to enjoy a classical music concert!.
The Fisherman’s Bastion has become a worldwide instagram sensation. Everyone wants to take the picture sitting on its arches overlooking the Parliament building on the other side.
If you can’t stand this kind of crowds, you have two options: either you get creative and find your own little corner to snap the perfect picture, or you arrive first thing in the morning, when the light is perfect and there’ll be very few people around!
Keep walking in the same direction and you’ll end up at Buda Castle, probably the second most recognizable building of the city, after the Parliament. Also known as the Royal Palace, since it was the residence of the Hungary’s royal family, it currently house the Szechenyi Library, Budapest’s History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.
National Gallery opening hours: Tue-Sun 10 am – 6 pm (closed on Mondays).
Budapest History Museum opening hours: 1 March – 31 October Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 6 pm, November 1 – February 29 Tuesday – Sunday 10 am – 4 pm (closed on Mondays).
Check out the official website of Buda Castle for any other info, guided tours, etc…
You can wander freely around the courtyards and terraces overlooking the river, or you can go up to the Dome Terrace, a great place to enjoy the breathtaking views over the Pest side of the city and the river Danube. The dome is closed from November to April.
To get back down to the river’s edge, you take the winding cobble stone road that starts near the large public terrace in front of the Palace (the one with the statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy). It’s a lovely walk that ends next to where we started, at the base of the Funicular. Or you can take the long stair that you’ll find half way down this road.
Once at the river’s edge, it may be the perfect time for lunch.Lanchid street has a few options one after the other: we chose Marvelosa Restaurant and were not dissapointed by its cozy and traditional style and food.
The days in November are not too long, so our next stop was already the Danube River cruise at sunset. We crossed the Chain Bridge again to go to Pier 7 on the Pest side, where our cruise would start.
After this interesting experience and a nice Hungarian dinner, and before diving into the Jewish Quarter’s nightlife, we decided to end the day on a high note: the night view of the fully illuminated Parliament. For that we took the subway (Red Line – M2) to Batthyány Square, on the Buda side, which sits right in front of it. A sight we’ll never forget!
DAY 2: Great Market Hall – Andrássy Boulevard – Széchenyi Baths
A nice walk along Karoly krt., Múzeum krt. and Vámhá krt., the boulevards that enclose Budapest’s center district (Belváros) took us straight to the Great or Central Market Hall, a huge and lively traditional market within a 1897 steel structure. 3 floors of everything you may want, from daily groceries to tasty treats to bring back home as an edible souvenir. Also a great place to snap great photos!
After filling up your memory card, we suggest you cross Liberty Bridge, the «green bridge», which we liked even more than the arch-famous Chain Bridge. From it you can admire the University building next to the market hall, and the Gellért Hotel on the other side. This was our next stop, although not for its famous Gellért Thermal Baths, but just to take a glance at its halls.
Right in front of Gellért, there’s another interesting visit: Gellért Hill Cave. A church tucked into a cave system that once was a hermit monk’s home. With a dark history behind, it makes for a quick in and out if you spare 15 minutes.
After that we took Tram nº 49 to go back to Deák Ferenc station, next to Elizabeth Square, the starting point of Andássy Boulevard.
Andrássy is the main commercial and shopping artery in Budapest, and links the city centre with Városliget Park (or City Park) and Heroes’ Square. It’s a pretty long walk and the second half is mostly residential, so don’t bother doing the whole stretch by foot.
We walked up to the Hungarian State Opera House, a spectacular neo Renaissance theatre, built to mimics Vienna’s Royal Opera House. It’s currently (2019-2020) under renovation, but you can still visit the interiors and peak into the Main Hall (you won’t see much of it, though, but enough to appreciate the luxurious space and its huge metal chandelier). Despite the renovations we recommend the guided tour (2500HUF=7€), as it gives a brief overlook of the history of the building and its time… and the visit ends with a performance on the main stair!
After the Opera, we walked a bit more on Andrássy, and then took the Metro at Oktogon station. 5 stops ahead and you’ll be at Heroes’ Square (Hösök tere), the gateway into Városliget Park.
FUN FACT! Budapest is known as the «porn capital» in Europe, and Heroes’ Square in particular has been the stage of a couple of these kind of productions! (we heard that from a friend, of course) xD xD
Before wandering around the park, we went for lunch at Paprika Vendéglö. If you read or recommendations of where to eat in Budapest (above), you already know it’s a place you cannot miss.
A walk across City Park with a full belly is not a bad experience at all. The view of Vajdahunyad Castle reflecting on the ponds, the Museum of Fine Arts and, as a final hihglight of the day, the Széchenyi Baths! Szechényi Baths are the largest medicinal baths in Europe. The yellow, neo-baroque buildings can look like a birthday cake, but we definitely recommend testing the waters here. We highly recommend the nighttime experience.
We closed the day back in our Jewish Quarter for dinner and a couple drinks. No shortage of bars and pubs here, for those of you who enjoy getting to know the nightlife of every city you visit!
DAY 3: The Parliament – Margaret Island – The Great Synagogue
As in our first day, we walked from the Jewish Quarter down to the river, passing by St. Stepehn’s Basilica and Zrínyi street, but instead of turning left towards the Chain Bridge, we turned right to the Hungarian Parliament, the home of the National Assembly.
We’d booked our visit in advance, to avoid queueing for the very limited leftover tickets, so we walked straight up to the visitor’s entrance at the North end of the building. The tour (which you can only do with an official guide), takes about 50 mintues and goes through the most beautiful rooms in the building, ending up in the impressive Grand Stariway.
After this beautiful visit, which we higly recommend, we took some time to wander around the building. Both the East side lawns and fountains, and the river facade offer some perfect photo spots that may give a grea boost to your instagram game!
Next up was the breathtaking sight that is the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial, a 2005 sculpture honoring the Jews that were killed in Budapest during World War II. They were first tied in couples, ordered to take their shoes off, and then one of them was shot and thrown into the river… The row of shoes is meant to keep them in our memories, as if they were waiting for their owners to get out of the water after a peaceful swim in the river.
We couldn’t visit the Jewish Museum, since it was already time to retrieve our luggage and head to the airport! We wish we’d had at least one more day in this beautiful city. We’ll be back for sure!
- If you want to go to Szimpla Kert (Budapest most famous ruin bar), don’t try to go on a weekend’s night. The queue, full of localas and tourists, turns the corner into the next streer!
- Getting to the city centre from the airport is easy if you take the bus 100E. It makes several stops along Károly krt.
- If you need a place to leave your luggage during your last day in Budapest, you can try Budapest Drop&Go in Holló u. 1
We hope you enjoy this wonderful city as much as we did! And if you have a day or two more than we did, even better!
Check out the rest of our photos from budapest on our IG account for inspiration! We’ll soon post a guide to the most photogenic places in the city so you know exactly where to take those perfect shots! 🙂