Budapest is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities as well as the capitol of Hungary. The city is divided in two sides, Buda and Pest, separated by the river Danube, which happens to be the second largest river in Europe.
Budapest is the destination for a weekend trip. While it does hold a lot of places to see and explore, the size of the town and the excellent transportation system makes it possible to experience it all in just a few days.
The beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, on the Castle hill in Budapest, around Matthias Church. If you only have time to see one thing in Budapest – this is it. The Bastion itself is a work of art and as it’s situated on a hill, the views from it are stunning. You’ll find this beauty on the Buda side of Danube.
Located next to the Fisherman’s Bastion you’ll find this Roman-Catholic church. It was built in 1the 4th century and looks like a giant Gothic gingerbread house.
Buda Castle and the Castle Hill Funicular
Also on the Buda side of Danube you’ll find the Buda Castle, historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. The castle now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum.
If you wanna save yourself a steep walk up the hill, the funicular is a much more pleasant way to get to the castle. It is located at the Buda end of the Chain Bridge, the ride itself takes only a few minutes, and it does provide a unique and beautiful view of Budapest.
While you’re still on the Buda side of the city you might as well walk over to the next must see location – Gellért Hill. The name does it away – it’s a giant hill, 235 m (771 ft) high. And yes – it was like a little piece of hell on earth to walk up the hill during summer time, even if there are stairs to help. BUT the view from the top (and resting places on the way up) are way worth the hassle. On the top of the hill you’ll find a beautiful citadella (castle) and on your way up you can make a pit stop to see the famous Gellért Hill Cave.
Pro tip: bring A LOT of water.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
This one is hard to miss as you will most definitely pass it at some point of your stay in Budapest. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is an instagram friendly suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest.
Take a stroll on Margaret Island
Margaret Island is a 2.5 km (1.6 mi) long island, 500 metres (550 yards) wide, in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest. The island is mostly covered by landscape parks, and is a popular recreational area. You can go for a run or stroll around the island or make your way in to the middle to see the beautiful Japaneese Garden and Medieval buildings. It’s easy to get to the island as the boats that pass it are included in the local transportation system.
Parliament of Budapest
You’ll find this iconic building on the Pest side of the city, however, if you want to get a good shot of the whole building your best option is to get to the other side of the river, to the station Batthyány tér.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica as the name gives away, i kickass cool Roman Catholic basilica. You’ll find it on the Pest side of the city, and it’s pretty hard to miss. Best to visit during the early morning if you want a picture without a million tourists in it. Don’t make my mistake.
Budapest Central Market Hall
The great market hall built in 1897 is without question the most beautiful market hall in Budapest (yes, there are more than 1). If you’re interested in fresh food, shopping and general people watching, this is your place.
Pro tip: Make sure you check the opening hours beforehand! You’ll find them here.
The Budapest city park is as the name gives away a huge park where you’ll find the famous Széchenyi Medicinal Baths, Vajdahunyad Castle, Heroes square, the zoo and botanical garden (just to name a few attractions). It also has a big lake where you can paddle boat. Definitely a cosy pit stop during your weekend in Budapest.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial on the east bank of the Danube River made to honour the Jews who were killed by militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.
Heroes’ square is a UNESCO World Heritage Site dedicated to the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of the Hungarian people and their national independence. You’ll find it adjacent to the City Park.
If you’re in to medieval buildings that seem to be taken straight from a horror movie, you will LOVE Vajdahunyad Castle! In front of it you’ll find a bit of a tourist trap (of course) with tiny booths selling candy and souvenirs but give it a chance. Take stroll around the castle and inside, it’s definitely worth it. The best view of the castle is from a distance, on the opposite side of the water in the City Park.
Take a moment to relax at a world famous Bath
This is a MUST when you’re in Budapest! There are several baths to choose from but the two most popular ones are the Széchenyi bath and the Gellért bath. Keep in mind that there will be a lot of people there.
1. If you’re a cat lover then make sure you make a visit to the cat café. It’s filled with furry friends who are walking around the coffeedrinkers and you can even cuddle them (if they are in the mood). You’ll find it very close to the Basilica (see map).
2. If you’re up for a chilly adventure do make a pit stop at the Budapest Icebar where everything from the walls to the glasses are made of ice. If you’re a Star Wars fan you’ll probably enjoy the original life size set of when Captain Han Solo is frozen in carbonite. You’ll find it on the opposite side of the river from Gellért Hill (see map).
Where to stay
Budapest’s transport system is very good and hotel rates are fairly low so as long as you choose a hotel near a metro station, you’ll be fine. We chose to stay at Hotel President which had a really nice spa with different pools and a fantastic roof terrace. It was very central, right next to the Basilica which was nice communication wise but since it was right in in the middle of the tourist area, the prices for food where a lot higher.
What do eat
Hungary is famous for their Goulash soup, Langos and Wienerschnitzel (yes, you read right – due to their Austrian influence of the Austro-Hungarian era), so these are some must tries when you’re in Budapest. You’ll find these dishes in almost every restaurant.
How to get around
The metro system in Budapest consists of only 4 lines so it’s very easy to understand and use. This is the best way to move around the city, unless you choose to use your own feet.
With a metro card you can travel on all 4 metro lines/change lines or change for other public transportation unlimited number of times within the validity period of the pass/card.
Prices for a 24 hour card is approx 5 EUR. You can see all the card options and prices here.
Or you can purchase a Budapest card and use the public transport for free, as well as get a discount admission to a number off sights and attractions. If you’re staying for at least 2-3 days, if might be worth it. You have a choice to purchase a 24-hour, a 48-hour, a 72-hour, a 96-hour and a 120-hour Card (prices from 22-64 EUR).
Depending of course where you’re from, you’ll probably find that Budapest is a relatively low cost city. You can live and eat for a very low price if you choose the right neighbourhood to to so. The touristy areas are not cheap, and can be compared to prices in high cost cities like Stockholm. So if you’re on a budget, go a few blocks away from the main streets.
Average prices for hotels:
- 5-star and 4-star hotel room rates : 80-300 EUR(double room).
- Budget Hotel room prices: 30-50 EUR.
- Hostel room prices: cc. 12 EUR in dormitory, cc. 20-23 EUR in single room, cc. 15 EUR in double room (person/night).
- Apartment rental in Budapest – a budget apartment in a central district is around 40-60 EUR /night (or lower).
Pro tip: Prices depend on the season. The majority of hotels have higher prices (by min. 20 %) during summer, Easter, the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Average prices for food:
- 2-course menu in a good cheap street food place is around 1000 HUF (3 EUR)
- Pizza (32 cm): 1 200 – 2 000 HUF (3,5-6 EUR)
- Meal in a high-end restaurant from 7 000 – 15 000+ HUF (21-46 EUR).
Some restaurants charge 10-15 % service fee which should be displayed on the receipt. In this case tipping is not expected from guests.
If there’s no service fee charged you can give around 10 % tip to the waiter either by rounding up the bill, or giving the amount to the waiter/waitress when settling your bill.