Why Budapest you ask? Known to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest is frankly one place that boasts sublime architecture with different styles from distinct times periods. Having seen it in just 4 days, I was blown away by it.
Only two and a half hours from London, Budapest makes a perfect weekend getaway. I decided it was a great destination to visit near Christmas for the festive experience, and the fact that it’s one of the few countries that hasn’t quite given in to tourism and I have a swayed interest in places like this.
For those with limited time, two nights would be sufficient to see and do the icons of Budapest but an extra night would make a more comfortable holiday, allowing breaks and margin for glitches (as it always happens). Speaking of glitches, I would be weary of flying Wizz Air if I were you.
Like the info guide that I have created for Barcelona, I have also created one for Budapest to help you plan your trip, which includes all the main attraction details. Scroll to the bottom to download.
Budapest-Nyugati Railway Statoin
The Budapest-Nyugati is one of the three main railway hubs in Budapest. Visiting here is like taking a glimpse of the railways in the yesteryears, really old school surrounded by steels and walls with shredded paint of fading colours.
Alexandra Book Cafe
The Alexandra Book cafe is a surprising gem hidden within a local bookstore formerly known as Párizsi Nagy Áruház (Paris Department Store). The ornate cafe is decorated with a big, beautiful chandelier as the centrepiece, surrounded by the Renaissance frescoed ceiling painted by a famous Hungarian artist, Károly Lotz.
One wouldn’t think a restaurant this small and cosy would be rated by both locals and tourists as the number 1 restaurant in the whole of Budapest. I took the chance to dine in this celebrated restaurant on the first evening, being introduced to the local Hungarian cuisine with a twist of their own family recipe. Read my detailed review of Zeller Bistro.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Like the London Bridge or the Tower Bridge in London, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge is an icon of Budapest. It crosses the Danube river and connects the divided cities, Buda and Pest. From the bridge are splendid views of the majestic Buda Castle standing tall on the hills of Buda and the extravagant Parliament firm on the grounds of Pest. Visitors can cross the bridge on foot and get to either side in under 10 minutes.
Castle Hill Funicular
If you stay in the east side (Pest) and want to see the Buda Castle and other landmarks around it such as the Fishermans Bastion, the best and easiest direct route is across the Chain Bridge. I highly recommend crossing by foot, as like I said, the views are incredible however, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. At the other end of the bridge is the Castle Hill funicular (Budavári Sikló), which takes you up a quick one minute yet scenic route to the Buda Castle. This is where the grand view starts as it ascends on a steep hill.
TIP: Take the very bottom (front) cabin to get the best views of the bridge and river below as you ascend. Tickets costs HUF 1100 one way (£2.90) or HUF 1700 return (£4.40). I would recommend getting a one-way ticket up and get back down on a local bus outside the attractions that goes directly to Pest across the bridge, unless you have the energy and fancy climbing down the hill and walking across the bridge once more.
Buda Castle (formerly Royal Palace)
A medieval building that oozes the grandeur of Renaissance and baroque styles, the sight of this World Heritage Site will leave you in awe. The courtyards are open 24 hours, and in its vicinity are the National Gallery, Historical Museum and Széchenyi Library. In the fall seasons, visitors also get to experience the Wine and Beer Festival hosted at the Buda Castle.
In the previous centuries, Matthias Church has been the venue for the coronation of Hungarian Kings. Today, it has become a popular church for locals to exchange their vows. Built in the late Gothic period with a bright and elegant ceramic roof tiling, Matthias Church is perched in the heart of the Castle district, right next to the Fisherman’s Bastion.
No doubt, the Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the highlights in Hungary. It stands stall with seven towers as look out points with a panoramic view of the city, overlooking the Danube River, Parliament and a glimpse of Margaret Island. It is free to access to most parts of this fortress but the upper towers, which requires a small fee of HUF 700 (£1.80).
There’s a cafe on the terrace as well for those in need of refreshments or simply want to be treated to tea with a view.
The Parliament that sits by the bank of Danube River is yet another extravagant collection if not by far the best of the Hungarian architectural treasures. Comparing it to the Palace of Westminster in London, the Hungarian Parliament is a strong contender with intricate craftsmanship in both the exterior and interior of the building, and has over 200 statues altogether.
Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
If you’re visiting Budapest during the winter season, Vörösmarty Square has be one of your main pitstops. This is where the annual Christmas Markets (more photos) takes place, buzzing with live entertainment, craft and food stalls. The Square is very conveniently situated right at the doorstep of Vörösmarty metro station (the yellow M1 line) and a short walk to the Danube river and Chain Bridge.
Central Market Hall
The market hall, known as Nagycsarnok in Hungarian is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Three storeys high, you can find all sorts of things inside – butcher shops, fish mongers, pastries, strings of paprikas, food stalls, souvenir shops etc, all in a very unpretentious environment (nothing fancy pancy). Being a famous tourist spot, locals also do their daily shopping here.
Hidden at the end of the market hall on the top floor is a quirky local restaurant/cafe called Vásárliget. Food is decent and reasonably priced — a bowl of beef goulash for HUF 980 (£2.50) and a slice of bread for close to nothing at HUF 50 (£0.10)— all while a band of Hungarian men orchestrating a folklore or two.
LEVES is one extremely popular fast food cafe very near to the Central Market Hall. In fact, I would call it a stall because it is so miniature that only one person can squeeze through the door before coming to the cashier where the kitchen is right behind for all to see. Serves just soup with a variety of flavours, it is (dirt) cheap and cheerful. I paid HUF 500 (£1.30) for a cup of chicken soup with crouton toppings. The portion isn’t quite a meal but definitely more than a snack, enough to keep hunger at bay for another hour or two.
This little shop can be easily missed as the entrance door camouflages among the block of buildings full of renovation works. Walk from Kálvin square metro station towards the Liberty Bridge (above Danube River), LEVES is on the right only moments away from Central Market Hall on the left. You will most likely come across queues outside the building but don’t let that put you off, it’s a great sign. As the saying goes, good things come in small sizes.
A place where the locals take pride in, Heroes Square was built in 1896 to commemorate it’s 1000th anniversary of the country’s birth. Located at the end of Andrássy Avenue, one of Budapest’s main shopping streets full of life with eateries, theatres and boutiques, together both has formed to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is also surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery and a stone’s throw away from the famous Széchenyi Bath, one can spend half the day within this region.
It is not without reason that Budapest is also called the City of Baths. This unsuspecting land is rich with medicinal thermal waters pumped daily into 118 springs in the city. Széchenyi Bath is the largest and most popular thermal bath not just in the country but also among the largest in Europe. There are 18 pools altogether in Széchenyi, both indoors and outdoors along with other amenities such as spa, gym, and sauna.
This was by far the most relaxing activity in the entire trip and I would recommend it without reservation. The idea of taking a dip outdoors at freezing temperatures might put you off. Let it not. In fact, cold temperature is the reason all the more you should do it. The bath is open to public 7 days a week at HUF 4100 (£10.60) for an admission on a weekday. This allows you to go all thermal pools with a locker to store your belongings. There is an extra charge of HUF 500 (£1.30) for tickets “with cabin” that entitles you to a bigger private changing/locker room (from what I read online) but with the ticket that I had, there were changing cabins available to use that could easily fit two people and are right next to the lockers to store your items. Based on this, I don’t see a reason to pay extra for the same thing.
TIP: As this is a public bath with a relatively cheap admission, preparation is necessary for a pleasant experience. Bring your own towels so you don’t have to rent one that’ll cost you HUF 400 (£2) with a deposit fee of HUF 4200 (£10.70). Also bring along travel shampoo and shower gel to use after the baths. Probably the most important of all is a pair of flip flops or crocs; shoes are not allowed as soon as you step into the changing rooms and all areas are completely drenched. Hair dryers are available in the bath.
Sir Lancelot’s Knights Restaurant
If you want to feast like a king, literally, this particular restaurant is at your service. Completely decorated with large wooden tables, candles, flags, beer barrels, waiters in tudor costumes and everything you saw in Black Knight, this restaurant will take you back back into medieval times. Individual main courses are served on silver plates while sharing platters are served on big wooden boards.
While dining, expect to be entertained by flutists, belly dancers and even swordsmen in action. A platter of main course – chicken with potato, salad and fruits – costs HUF 3600 (£9.40) on average. The restaurant was brimming with patrons on the weekend so it was understandable that we experienced a little delay in customer service. Reserve a table in advance and you will be sure to have an entertaining dining experience.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
In the city of Budapest lies this beautiful Neoclassical Roman Catholic that stands 300-foot tall. You can go up to the top of the dome for a breath-taking view of the city, or see one of the most sacred relics housed here, the mummified right hand of King Stephen I. Right in front of the entrance is St. Stephen’s square where crowds gather day and night for the Christmas market during winter.
Even if you’re not a fan of operas and musicals, the architecture of the Opera House alone is reason enough to visit. Home to the State Opera and State Ballet, it is situated a stone’s throw from St. Stephen’ Basilica, less than 2 minutes by foot.
Last but not least, never leave Budapest without checking out the bar scene in Budapest, specifically ruin bars. Szimpla Kert is rated as a top attraction and a must-do especially for party animals and those who can’t refuse another pint. Neither indoors nor outdoors, this bar is decorated with an eclectic mix of graffiti and cast aways from broken pots to old car seats, this place truly gives out a sense of free-spirited living.
Click to download