Vatsal is a techie and a coffee junkie. Most often he’s caught watching a film with Guinness for company. Preeti loves everything about the mountains. She always has her head buried in a book sipping tea.
We both love traveling and watching films so we decided to document some of it. Hope you enjoy reading as much as we’ve enjoyed traveling and writing about them 🙂
Budapest is not a city which grows on you gradually, it’s a city you must take head on from the start. For us, we literally had to take the city head-on as we arrived, we took a taxi from the bus station assuming the taxi would be way cheaper than in the UK. We got fleeced, got charged four times the rate, got into a fight with the driver which turned pretty ugly and flowed out onto the streets with people watching. One gentleman was kind enough to come up to us and apologise for the driver’s behaviour and asked us to be careful of the taxi drivers while in the city. We went to the hotel and took us a while to shake off this horrible and aggressive incident. We headed straight to get some chilled beer in a small cafe in the Jewish quarter of the city. Well, a different start to an awesome time ahead!
The Danube river divides the city into Buda and Pest. It’s called ‘The Paris of the East’ and if you walk along the Danube and look around, you can’t help but marvel at the stunning architecture of the city. A walk down the banks of Danube, walking past ‘The Little Princess Statue’ (in the picture above) will allow you to look at most of the iconic structures of the city. Even though the public transport is very good and inexpensive, it’s a pedestrian friendly city and according to us, that’s the only way to be awestruck by the city- walk and just walk. However, the bright yellow tram in the city is historic and charming and a ride in it would be memorable. The only time we took the metro was when we were on our way back from Szcheneyi Bath to our hotel near the Danube. This metro ride was an attraction in itself, the M1, Millennium Underground or the yellow line is the second oldest line in the world listed as a World Heritage Site, first being the London Underground.
It’s easy to get charmed by the city as soon as you arrive. With so many unlimited options to see and must do, it’ll help if you organize your days well especially if you are there for a short time. The city can be a perfect laid back break or a hectic holiday hopping from one place to the next. No matter how much time you spend there, you’ll always feel like it’s not enough. So for you, and for all those who suffer from FOMO (Fear of missing out), we’ve compiled a list, Best of Budapest in 72 hours.
BEST OF BUDAPEST
On the first day, walk across the promenade on the Pest side (assuming you’re staying on the pest side since the nightlife is concentrated there) up till the Chain Bridge, cross it over to the funicular, take a ride up to the Castle hill and explore the Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Library. On your way back walk over the Chain Bridge and walk towards the Margaret Island to see the boots on the Promenade. From here, walk back to the Parliament building and take a tram to the Central hall Market and pick some Hungarian souvenirs, paprika or sausages and try the local cuisine in the many food stalls. Reserve your energies for hopping the many ruin bars in the Jewish quarter of the city, don’t forget to try out Palinka in one of them. The ruin bars only begin to get busy by 11 pm.
Discover the historic Castle Hill and ride the Funicular
The Castle Hill was built in the 13th century with the Mongolian invasion. Since then it’s gone through many changes with the incoming of different influences, there are a few houses still standing which date back to the 13The Century. The glorious period of the hill was in the 15th century. Today it is a world Heritage site which has many museums and government building, cobblestone streets. Exploring castle Hill can take a few hours since it has many of the city’s big structures which form the stunning skyline of Budapest. Mathias Chruch, Trinity Square, fisherman’s Bastions, The Royal Palace and the museums- some of these have been outlined in detail below.
Take the funicular up to the Castle hill for the beautiful view of the chain bridge over the Danube. You can take the funicular on your way back or better still walk down as it’s easier to walk down the hill. During the 1944 siege,’the Hill Railway’ was bombed and destroyed, it was reopened on the 4th of June, 1986 and we coincidentally happen to ride it on the exact date 30 years after its re-opening, a funicular employee pointed us to a board to show us the date.
Ticket and opening hours -The funicular runs from 7:30 am -10 pm. Ticket to the funicular is for 1200 HUF one way and a return is for 1800 HUF. You need to queue up to buy the tickets, the queues are always long but they move pretty quickly. To get to the starting point of the funicular, walk across the Chain bridge from Pest to Buda and cross the roundabout to reach the ticket counter. It’s easy to spot it since it’s one of the most popular things to do in Budapest.
Mathias Church almost 700 years old is one fo the most important landmarks in the city. The Mathias King’s coronation ceremony was held here as early as the 14th century. When the Turks captured the city of Buda this was converted into a mosque with the walls covered with carpets. Later, it was converted into Baroque style and completely destroyed during the independence from Turkish Rule. It is said that during this war, a part of the wall collapsed revealing the Statue of Madonna to the praying Turks.
You can go to the museum on the first floor which explains the history of the church and further up to the tower for breathtaking views of the city. The exterior is decorated with colorful Maiolica tiles which look stunning against the white Fisherman’s Bastion in the backdrop.
Opening Hours and entrance fee: The church is open from 9 am -5 pm on weekdays, in the afternoon on Saturdays and in the morning on Sundays. The entrance fee is 1500 HUF.
There are performances in the Church on some days in the evenings, so you could combine a visit to the church with it.
The Royal Palace
Located in the Castle hill and the first stop when taking the funicular up is the Royal Palace, the most dominant and distinct structure in Hungary. It’s a beautiful building with a huge green dome, the views of which can be enjoyed from the River or Pest. The first Palace built on site was at the end of the 13th century by King Bela IV, but the palace has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries because of wars and revolutions. The palace was reconstructed by 1966 with parts of the 15th-century Gothic palace remains built into the reconstruction. It is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and the National Library.
The palace hosts many festivals like Palinka and Sausage Festival, Easter Festival, Wine Festival, Chocolate Festival to name a few. When we were visiting the Beer Festival was ongoing along with music concerts.
Opening hours and entrance: The courtyards and the balconies of the castle are open all the time. Since the galleries are housed within it, the timings and entrance fee are in accordance to that of the galleries. On days when the Castle is hosting Festival, it is accessible only via the festival ticket.
Walk across Chain Bridge
A shot of Danube would be incomplete without the chain bridge especially at night. The world famous bridge spanning the Danube between Széchenyi Square on the Pest side and Clark Ádám Square in Buda is an iconic landmark of the city. It is the Hungarian capital’s first bridge, was built between 1839 and 1849, but rebuilt again in 1949 after World War II when the Germans bombed it. The present bridge is an exact replica of the original, one of the first structures to have been rebuilt after the war. At that point, the bridge was a feat of engineering with just two towers supporting the bridge. It is said that the engineer was so proud of his accomplishment that he challenged anyone to find fault with it. It was then discovered that the four lions standing on the tow towers on either side have their tongue missing. This lead the engineer to depression and he eventually jumped into the river.
You would be walking across this bridge a few times in your short stay to get over to the Castle Hill or The Parliament. Or it’s just worth walking over it to see the mighty Danube flowing beneath you.
This is one of the most stunning buildings in the city. It is located on the Pest side and is the dominant building in the skyline. The original Hungarian Royal Crown is displayed inside this building and is possible to see it on a guided tour when the National Assembly is not in session. The Crown jewel was given to The United States of America for safe keeping from the Soviets and was returned to Hungary in 1978. You can enjoy its magnificent top view from the Observation deck at St Stephen’s Basilica or from the Fisherman’s Bastion. Equally stunning views are from the river.
Opening time and entrance fee– The Parliament can only be toured when the National Assembly is not in session. It is open to the public on National holidays. The entry fee is 2, 000 HUF for EU citizens and 4,000 for everyone else. There is a gift shop and a cafe inside.
Shop at Central hall market
This is a covered market with the ground floor full of food stalls selling vegetables, sausages, paprika and mount watering authentic Hungarian cuisine. If you want to try the goulash, this is the place to try it out. The first floor has shops selling souvenirs andHungariann embroidery. It’s a nice quick stop and a pleasant break from all the architecture in the city 🙂
Nightlife in ruin pubs
The ruins bars are almost an institution in Budapest situated in dilapidated ruin like structures with colorful lights, mismatch furniture, walls filled with newspapers or music notes, toilets covered in photographs, connecting courtyards and balconies, and small and big decors which make it look like a flea market. Almost all the ruins bars are in the Jewish quarter of Pest and they begin to get busy only by 11 pm till the wee hours. If you land there early, they are pretty quite and not as much fun. Drinks are incredibly cheap so I don’t blame you if you spent the next day in bed 🙂
We started out ruin bar hop with Szimpla Kert, which is the most popular one. This bar had a central courtyard with small rooms built on all the four sides, we went to the first floor and sat in a room which has a dysfunctional ensuite bathroom covered in black and white photographs. We then moved to the next room with the crowd dancing to the tunes of different songs. Every room is different in style and has different music playing. There are multiple dance floors and quiet areas where you can sit and have a quiet conversation over drinks. We then moved to another ruin bar called Instant which was equally crazy and much busier now almost nearing midnight. We ended the night at 4 am in a Karaoke Bar singing everything from Spice girls to Flyod 🙂
Where to go for a night out :
Szimpla Kert (Address 1075 Budapest, Kazinczy utca 14)
Ellátó Kert (1075 Budapest, Kazinczy utca 48)
Instant (1065 Budapest, Nagymező utca 38)
Fogas Ház (1072 Budapest, Akácfa utca 51)
If you’re not spending the morning in bed nursing your hangover then head over to the Synagogue, visit the St Stephen’s Basilica and climb up to the observation deck. Then stop by for lunch at the food truck lane. Walk down to the House of terror, visit the museum and go over to the Heroes Square, finishing your day in the Szchenyzi bath.
Visit the Synagogue
The Dohany Synagogue is Europe’s largest synagogue and the second largest in the world after New York’s Temple Emanu-El. The Tree of Life in the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Garden has a weeping willow with the names of the Holocaust victims engraved on the leaves. The garden is named after a Swedish diplomat who managed to save the lives of thousands of jews by preparing Protective Passports under the authority of the Swedish Embassy.
There is a Holocaust Memorial room which exhibits the events of 1944-45 and a memorial standing on the mass graves where 2,000 people are buried. There is a real weeping willow tree in the garden outside the synagogue which stand alone symbolically representing the atrocities committed against the jews. If this part of the history interests you then, you could go for ‘Secret of The Jewish Quarter Tour’ to know more. Don’t miss the House of Terror and the display of the boots on the banks of Danube just past the Chain Bridge.
Unfortunately, like many of its European counterparts, the Jewish community of Budapest was virtually annihilated during World War The Jewish quarter, which surrounds the synagogue, was converted to a guarded ghetto surrounded by a high fence and stone walls where Jews were forced to live; even though Budapest was only occupied for a brief time at the very end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews still lost their lives to the Nazis. The Synagogue commemorates the tragedy in various ways, notably with the Holocaust Memorial Room, which is built right over the mass graves, as well as a metal Tree of Life, whose leaves are inscribed with the family names of the victims.
Opening hours and entrance fee: The synagogue is open from 10 am to 3:30 pm in winters and 7:30 in summers. It is closed on Saturdays. The entrance fee is 3,000 HUF and group tours are available too which can be booked on the spot. Remember to cover your shoulders and don’t wear shorts and skirts inside the synagogue.
St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica is the biggest church in Budapest and id named after Hungary’s first king. It houses Hungary’s most sacred treasure, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand. Go up the observation deck and take in the view of whole Budapest from above. Watch our video here to see the white and yellow balloons flying over one of the towers of the Basilica. This sight alone was worth climbing all those stairs. Several musical programs are organised in the church throughout the year.
The exterior of the church is as stunning as the interior with gold work, a combination of neo-Classical and neo-Renaissance architectural styles. It took 54 years for the construction to finish due to the death of the first two architects. In 2003, St. Stephen’s Square was remodeled and the church exterior was fully renovated. It is considered the most sacred church in the whole of Hungary.
Opening hours and entrance fee – The church is open from 9 am to 6pm Monday to Friday and on weekends the church is not open to the tourist in the morning. The entry to the church is free but a donation of 200 HUF is recommended. Entry to go up to the observation deck is 500 HUF.
Visit House of Terror
This museum is a memorial to the victims of Nazi and communist rule in Hungary. As you queue up to buy the ticket, there is a screen which plays a short film about a man in tears recounting the horrors of the torture by the Nazi. The exhibition starts on the 4th floor and ends in the basement and one must go in order that it has been exhibited. The exhibition is well thought out and an excellent and a smooth experience. The experience in the museum can be overwhelming and emotional and it’s important to prepare yourself for it. There are audio guides available for an extra 4 Euros which help you understand in detail. Else there are paper handouts at the entry of every room which details out the events. There is a lot of information so if you would like to immerse yourself then spare atleast 2-3 hours for the musuem. There is a huge cut out of the faces of all the victims put in the courtyard, its overwhelming to see how many lives were taken by the brutality of the Nazi Rule. Faces of the victims are put on the wall on the facade of the musuem as well.
The building is called the House of Terror because it really was the house of Terror. It was the former headquarter of the Nazi party in 1940, and its basement was used as a prison. The basement is still kept as it was where thousands were tortured. During the Communism rule, the building was taken over by them.
Opening times and entrance fee: The entrance fee for adults is HUF 2,000. EU student & senior: HUF 1,000. The museum is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 am to 6pm.
This is the biggest square of the city constructed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. The location of the square is perfect between Andrassy Avenue, the shopping street which gives the city the name, ‘Paris of the East’ and the city park with quaint lakes and walking paths. Situated on either side are two magnificent buildings, Museum of Fine Arts and Hall of Art. This is also the space used to local to stage protest.
The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square has a man holding the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity. Themen who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary can be seen on the stand below. Statues of kings and other important historical figures stand tall on top of the colonnades on either side of the central monument.
Opening time and entrance fee– It’s a city square and is open all the time and is free.
Tip: Take the metro to visit the Heroes square, Metro line M1 or the yellow line is the oldest metro in the world and has been declared World Heritage Site. Don’t forget to take a stroll along the Andrassy Avenue or try the pedal boat in the lake in the city park next door. The city zoo is also stone’s throw away and is one of the oldest zoo’s in the world.
Take a dip in one of the Turkish Baths
This is one of the best things about Budapest, I’d go back to the city in a heartbeat just to spend all day in one of the baths. We went to the Szechenyi Bath which is one of the biggest baths. We hired a cabin to change into our swimming wear and started exploring all the pools one by one with different temperature. Vatsal finds comfort at a temperature of about 25 C and for me, it felt like heaven dipping into a pool at 40 C, so that means we couldn’t enjoy the pools together (We can never agree on the temperature of heating at home or the air con back in India). We spent almost about 4-5 hours in the bath jumping from one pool to the next and relaxing in the different saunas.
Budapest has thousands of thermal spring under the city. These baths are the legacy of the 150 years Ottoman Rule in the 16/17th Century. The bathing culture is part of the life of Hungarian and is even prescribed to patients for their healing quality. Visiting these baths are a must, if you are not a big fan of public bathing then you could go for a massage or a tour to marvel at the architecture.
Opening hours and entrance fee:
Szchenyi Bath: 6am-10pm. Entry from 4900 HUF without cabins and 5200 HUF with a cabin. You are given a digital watch which gives you access to your cabins.
Gellert Bath: 6am-8pm. Entry from 5100 HUF
Lukacs Bath: 6am-10pm. Entry from 3400 HUF.
Rudas Bath: 6am-8pm. Entry from 3300 HUF. This bath has single sex days, men and women are not allowed together.
Massages are available too which are priced separately.
Tips: Carry flip flops, towels, and toiletries. The outdoor baths are always busier than the indoor ones till about 8 pm, that’s when they begin to prep the outdoor area for sparties. So, you could have two hours of calm even in the outdoor pools.
Well, if you are still upto seeing more of the city then surely head to Magaret Island, walk over to the Gellert Hill and enjoy the view of the city during magic hour or enjoy a performance at the Opera House. End your fabulous trip with a Danube Night cruise. We skipped the first three and just walked around the city during the day and opted for the Night Cruise.
Go To Margaret Island
This island is in the middle of Danube river just off the Margaret island, the huge green patch show in the picture below. It is full of greenery and is a great place to explore on the bike or just relax and enjoy the musical fountains. The island is car-free and is an important place for the locals as you’ll see many running, jogging and practising yoga. The island can be reached via the Margaret bridge or even the sightseeing boat tours. If you have more time at hand and want to get away from the hustle bustle of the city then Margaret Island is te place for you.
If you walk down from Charles bridge towards the Margaret Island, then you’ll come across boots on the banks of River Danube. It is one of the most moving memorial in Budapest, one which would leave you in a sombre mood but is important to visit. The memorial has 60 pairs of shoes cast in iron of different sizes and styles showing no one was spared the brutality of the Arrow Cross Militia in 1944-45. The jews were rounded up on the banks of the river and were asked to strip naked and stand facing the river, they were then shot and bodies washed by the strong currents.
Enjoy a performance at the world-famous Opera House
One of the most modern European theatre of its time was built on similar plans as Vienna’s Opera’s house by the architect Miklos Tbl in 1884. With its opulent interior it is a must visit. If you don’t manage to see an opera then there are tours during the day along with a guide. The tour also includes a short performance by an opera singer just to give you a peek into what it would be like to watch one.
Opening hours and entrance: A 45 minute guided tours are at 3 pm and 4 pm in English and various other European languages. Prices are HUF 2,900 for adults and HU 1,900 for students. A performance at the Budapest Opera can be enjoyed for as little as USD 10.00.
Named after St Gellért, a Benedictine monk who died in 1046, the hill’s northeast slope is home to the Gellért Monument. The tribute to Hungary’s most famous saint is perched high above a man-made waterfall with magnificent views over the city. It’s a pleasant hike up to the hill, at the top of which is the Statue of Liberty which was erected during the communist rule signifying liberty from the Nazi rule. It is said that after the fall of the Soviet in 1989, the statue was covered in a white cloth for three days and after which was the symbol of freedom from communism. The hill also has a citadel which was built by the Habsburgs after 1849, has been a military checkpoint, prison and anti-aircraft missile launch pad in the past.
The panoramic view of the city from the Hill are amazing and it’s worth it to go there just for that. Since, it’s the highest point in Budapest, the views are very different from what can be seen from Castle Hill or St. Basilica. It can get crowded so it’s best to go early in the morning to enjoy the hills and there are no entrance charges.
Take a Danube Cruise for beautiful panoramic views of Buda and Pest
River Danube divides the city into Buda and Pest. All the major attractions are located along the banks of the river with the Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church on the Buda side and The Parliament on the Pest side along with some boring facades of the luxury hotels which pull you out from the beauty of an otherwise stunning city. The city is as stunning during the day as during night time when all these buildings are lit up, it’s the perfect place to end your Budapest visit.
Always fix a fare for your taxi before you get in.
The 24/72 hour Budapest card gives travellers unlimited use of public transportation, free entry into 8 museums, and entry into the St Lukács Bath.
Always punch your ticket at the station before boarding the metro.
If you say ‘Thank you’ to the waiter after paying, that means keep the change. Hungary has a tipping culture and it’s the norm to tip 15% of the total bill.
Tap water is safe.
In the ruin bars, always check your bill, they usually add extra drinks to your bill.
It’s better to use Forints than Euros. There is an exchange bureau in almost every street.
Many museums have discounts if you are an EU citizen so carry your passport.
Lastly, go to a pastry shop and enjoy some of the delicacies.
What was your favourite spot in Budapest?
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