“Travel. As much as you can. As far as you can. Life’s not meant to be lived in one place”
This has been my motto for a long time, traveling has always been my passion and the need to live abroad, to fully experience a different culture, get to know the people, their habits, their culture, the food,…was what lead me to Budapest and to 9 incredible months living in this amazing city.
Straight after uni I applied for a global internship program – INOV Contacto – and I was placed to do a 9 month internship in Budapest (you don’t get to chose where you go, yeah I like the thrill).
First reaction: Yeyyyy!!! Second reaction: Buda what now?! I had a friend that had been there and he liked it, but that was pretty much all I knew. Little did I imagine that I would fall in love with this city. Its impressive architecture, relaxing baths, delicious food and vibrant nightlife captivated me and made it one of my favorite cities. Many people still ask me for advice and recommendations so here is my Budapest guide for 2 or 3 days.
How to get to the city and where to stay:
It takes about 40 minutes to get from the airport to the city and the easiest way is to get a taxi or a private transfer at the airport that will cost roughly 26€ to central Pest. I’d advise you to stay in Pest as it’s more lively and easier to get around (Buda is more residential and it’s on a hill). The only exception to this is if you get a room at the amazing Lánchíd 19 Design Hotel which has spectacular Castle view and River view rooms for as little as 77€/night!
Day 1 – my itinerary around Pest:
- Start your day at Heroes Square (Hősök Tere metro station); head to the Vajdahunyad Castle, a beautiful castle in different architectural styles (Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque); then have a stroll around the City Park (during winter there’s a big ice rink by the lake);
- Walk down Andrássy út to Oktogon square and continue towards the Opera House (it is worth visiting inside but to me the best way is to buy a cheap ticket to see an actual Opera, you pay less and get to see a play);
- Visit Szent István Bazilika and go up the cupola for breathtaking view of Budapest;
- The Hungarian Parliament is one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, splendid on the outside but also on the inside. I advise you to book a ticket online for a guided tour which takes about 45 minutes, there are visits in English, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, German, Russian and French and tickets cost around 8€ for EU citizens and 19€ for non EU citizens – buy your tickets here;
- Carry on by the riverside passing by the Shoes on the Danube Bank sculpture, (a memorial to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist militiamen in Budapest during World War II) and the impressive Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the 1st to connect Buda and Pest;
- If you want to visit the commercial area enter Vörösmarty tér and continue through Váci u. where you will find plenty of shops and souvenir stores but beware that, as a tourist area, restaurants/bar are overpriced;
- Head towards the Synagogue, the largest in Europe, which comprises the Jewish museum, the Heroes Temple, the Cemetery and the Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs, a big metal weeping willow whose leaves have inscriptions with the names of victims of the Second World War;
- Enjoy afternoon tea at the magnificent New York Palace Café, that although pricey has once been considered the most beautiful in the world.
Day 2 – my itinerary around Buda:
- I would usually start by heading to Hotel Gellért and going up
Gellért Hill, make sure you stop by the Gellért Hill Cave Church and keep on the riverside for a stunning view of Pest from the viewpoints;
- At the top of the hill you will find the Citadella, a huge fortress from the Hungarian Revolution and symbol of the city that offers a panoramic view of both Buda and Pest;
- Head down the hill and continue through the riverside to find the Buda Castle Funicular that will take you to Castle district;
- At the top you will find the magnificent Buda Castle which is definitely worth a visit (the National Gallery and the History museum are located inside);
- Wander around Castle district as you head towards Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, the beautiful stone towers and fortification which were once part of the city walls and protected by the guild of the fishermen (hence the name), it offers the best view of the Parliament as well.
Day 3 – time to relax:
After two busy days discovering Budapest there is nothing better than to relax and enjoy the lovely parks and baths the city has to offer.
- Start the day with a walk around Margaret island where you will find beautiful parks, a little zoo, cute cafes and plenty of spots for a picnic along the river;
- A visit to the Central Market will show you the best of Hungarian cuisine for a bargain as well as local delicatessen and artisan products;
- Finally it’s time for a relaxing moment in the famous thermal baths, my favorite is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath located in the city park by Heroes Square because it is both in and out doors, at the time it was one of the few mixed baths (now most of them are) and has big swimming pools (it is quite an experience to be inside the main pool with water at 38 degrees when outside is -15!). However the Gellért Thermal Bath and the Rudas Thermal Bath are also good options and both are beautifully decorated inside.
Where to eat:
- My favorite restaurant is Menza, a retro restaurant serving traditional food and delicious cocktails at a very friendly price – located in Liszt Ferenc tér where you can find several other traditional restaurants;
- Close to the Basilica you will find Café Kör, a bistro that, although slightly more pricey, has been considered several times as the best restaurant in Budapest;
- Central Cafe, a buzzing historical classic cafe that serves breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner in an exquisite environment;
- Other areas filled with cafés and restaurants are Andrássy Avenue (near the Opera) and around St. Stephen’s Basilica and Ráday utca (starting at Kálvin tér).
Where to drink and party:
- Simple: Szimpla! Szimpla Kert it’s one of the first ruin bars in Budapest and remains a must-go. People will say it’s touristic, yes, but it’s an ode to Budapest and to ruin bars. In an old abandoned building, behind a hanging plastic butchers curtain, you will find both locals and tourists enjoying a shot of Palinka surrounded by brick-walls, mismatched chairs, graffitis, a Trabant car, an open air cinema and funky objects;
- Other ruin bars worth visiting are Corvinteto (or Corvin club), located on the rooftop of another old, possibly abandoned building where you can expect to be offered to buy a drink straight in the elevator; and Kuplung, a cosy bar with live music and outdoor garden;
- If you are more into the clubbing scene check Romkert, a big outdoor club facing the river on the Buda side; and Akvárium Klub, located by Deak Ferenc square is a great place for live music or to chill outside in the park;
- For a party like no other (especially for the younger generation) don’t miss SPArty, a party that happens now almost every weekend in the Széchenyi Baths. Yes it is a party in a pool (with DJ, visual effects and performances) so go at your own risk (but I can tell you it is awesome).
Dos and don’ts:
Budapest is an amazing city with an incredible architecture so look up! You will find amazing buildings in every street. These streets are made for walking…it is very easy to walk around as the Pest side is flat (Buda, although on a hill is not terrible to walk) and the pavement is good, so save yourself some money and see the city above ground.
As for don’ts I usually recommend people don’t catch taxis on the street as they will overcharge you, if you need a taxi ask the hotel/restaurant to call you one. Also be careful around Váci u. as sometimes people (usually beautiful women) will try to lure you into very expensive restaurants and you’ll feel trapped, and beware of pickpockets in this area.
I hope you fall in love with Budapest as I did and if you want more advice or opinions just drop me a message and I’ll be happy to chat!