A city of two tales, where the River Danube divides hilly Buda from flat Pest and old from new.
From the moment I glimpsed Budapest from the window of a taxi taking me to my hotel, and saw buildings towering above in a myriad of styles and colours, I knew I was in for a treat.
The Romans, Magyars, Turks, Austrians, and Soviets have all left their influence upon the city, a city that wears its history through its architecture. Few places can offer a cityscape like Budapest, one that is as beautiful as it is eclectic. Whether you’re looking for a romantic break, a girls (or boys) weekend away or just a little solo adventure like me, Budapest is for everyone.
But what can you do in Hungary’s capital city to get the most out of your time there? To answer that, here’s my 3-day itinerary to give you some ideas.
Day 1: Exploring Buda – The Castle District and Gellért Hill
I think the best way to get to know the city is by starting at the top and making your way down. So cross the Chain Bridge to the base of Castle Hill and walk the ascent to the Castle district where you’ll discover breath-taking panoramic views of the Danube and city.
There’s a wealth of attractions to explore within a small radius. Don’t miss:
- Matthias Church – The most famous church in Budapest and for good reason. Whilst churches have a tendency to melt into one this beaut of a building is fabulously unique. The walls and stained glass windows are wonderfully colourful and intricate whilst on the outside, the roof is a masterpiece of tiled precision.
- Fisherman’s Bastion – Built in the early 20th century in a neo-Gothic style, specifically to act as a panoramic viewing platform across the Danube, Margaret Island and Pest.
- The National Gallery – Housed in the former palace, the Hungarian National Gallery is home to a big collection of paintings from Hungary and across Europe.
Lunch: If you want to try authentic dishes, stroll over to Pest-Buda Bistro. It’s hard to imagine a more Hungarian dish than chicken paprika (with the exception of goulash) and the one at Pest-Buda I’m told is exceptional. However, since I’m pescatarian I opted for the catfish paprika which was mouth-wateringly delicious and still in keeping with my aim to experience Hungarian flavours.
In the late afternoon take a walk or catch a quick taxi ride to Gellért Hill (taxis are pretty cheap in Budapest by most European standards). This area is rich in greenery and known for having the best view of Budapest and three impressive monuments for you to explore for the rest of the afternoon.
- Gellért Statue – This monument, designed by Gyula Jankovits and erected in 1904, is in honour of the 11th century bishop St Gellért who converted the Magyars to Christianity. Legends says that Gellért was put to death by pagans at this spot by putting him in a barrel and rolling it down the steep Gellért Hill and then throwing it into the Danube. Ouch!
- Liberation Monument – This monument created by sculptor Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl, was erected in 1947 by the Soviet’s to commemorate the Nazis’ defeat. Standing at 14 metres tall the statue of a woman bearing a palm leaf is visible from many points in the city.
- The Citadel – A fortress at the top of Gellért Hill, the Citadel is a large U-shaped structure built about a central courtyard and houses sixty cannons. As you can imagine from a place of great strategic importance, the views of Pest are show-stopping..
Afterwards head back to your accommodation to freshen up and have a little rest before heading back out for the evening.
Dinner: If you’re looking for somewhere fancy on your first night book a table at KonyvBar, you won’t be disappointed, especially if you try the tastier menu! If you still have a little room left, take a stroll by Stephan’s Basilica’s to Gelarto Rose and try the beautiful rose ice cream that looks almost too pretty to eat. The lemon and basil flavour is a complete revelation.
Day 2: Tour of Parliament Building & the Jewish Quarter
Now you’ve explored Buda, today is all about Pest, known for its grittier streets, ruin bars, St Stephan’s Basilica and of course, the famed Parliament building.
You probably spent a long part of the day swooning over the House of Parliament yesterday, so kick off the day by taking a tour of this architectural masterpiece. Unfortunately, I didn’t plan ahead before arrival so when I tried to book tickets I couldn’t find an available spot on the English speaking tours so take my advice and book beforehand here. (Is it bad that a little tinge of sorrow and jealously washes over me as I think of one of you going inside? Damn, I missed out).
To recoup my losses I ended up taking a million photos of the building and yes, that did make me feel a little better. There’s something so magical about it, don’t you agree?
After your tour make the short walk to the Jewish memorial titled Shoes on the Danube Bank. This simple yet very moving memorial is dedicated to those that perished in the last years of the war at the hands of Hungary’s far right fascists. The shoes are all life-size which makes the tribute feel heartbreakingly personal. Prior to visiting it’s really worth doing a little bit of background reading about it.
You’ve probably worked up an appetite by now, so in this case make your way in the old Jewish neighbourhood, where you’ll find the most unique eateries and watering holes. While you’re wandering around you’re going to notice quite a few abandoned buildings, which are actually the famous ‘ruin pubs’ in Budapest.
There’s much history to discover and so much character, it’s a great area to find the smaller wonders of this city, full of curiosities and narrow cobbled streets. Don’t miss the Great Synagogue in Dohány utca, it’s the second largest and arguably most beautiful synagogue in the world.
Other places not to miss in Pest:
- St Stephan’s Basilica – The construction of Budapest’s largest church was started by Jozsef Hild in 1851 and finished by Miklos Ybl in 1905. Make sure you leave enough time to go inside the Basilica and head up to the top for panoramic views of the city, in a place so beautiful it’s only natural that it has inspired a few proposals over the years.
- Museum of Applied Arts – Housed in a marvellous Secessionist building, this museum is a feast for the eyes both inside and out. Built in 1896 by architect Ödön Lechner, who was given the nickname the ‘Hungarian Gaudi’.
- Hungarian State Opera House – Compared to other opera houses this one looks quite simple and understated, but once you enter your opinion soon changes…
Evening: Experience the ruin pubs of Budapest, where dilapidated houses that have been furnished with thrift-style treats and turned into bars liven up your night.
Day 3: Margaret Island & Budapest Baths
Your final day is an eclectic mix of things to see and do before you leave this fabulous city.
Begin your day by taking in local life at the Great Market Hall which sells lots of food and souvenirs across 3-floors of a huge Victorian-style building with colourful Zsolnay tiling from Pécs, similar to that of Matthias Church. The produce isn’t as mouth-watering as you might find in other famous food market across Spain or Italy but it’s certainly worth a visit and offers some great photo opportunities. Its location nearby Liberty Bridge offers beautiful views across the Danube too.
After exploring the market I recommend hopping on a tram and making your way across the city to Margaret Island. On the island you’ll find one of the most beautiful parks in the city, a great place to escape the crowds of tourists and busy city life.
On the island you’ll find a surprising number of other attractions. There are some medieval ruins, swimming pools, a small zoo, endless views of pretty gardens and a picturesque fountain. You can also rent a pedal car, I didn’t do it myself but it looked really fun.
After exploring Margaret island you’re probably ready to relax and soak your muscles in a spa… I know you’ve been waiting for exactly that! Budapest is in fact known as the ‘city of baths’ and you have the choice of visiting Széchenyi Baths, Gellért Baths or Rudas Baths.
© Széchenyi Baths
Spoilt. For. Choice.
Fly with: Easyjet from a selection of international airports.
Stay at: The Three Corners Hotel Anna in Pest offers superb value for large stylish rooms situated within walking distance to all main attractions.
Want to book a guided tour? Take a look at everything that’s available for you to get the most out of your trip to Budapest fuss free by booking one of these tours.
Want to extent your trip? See my detailed rail itinerary consisting of Budapest – Bratislava – Vienna for more information.
Are you planning a trip to Budapest?
Source: The Culture Map