Budapest is one of those beautiful cities that’s just perfect for a long weekend. It’s a city that I’ve wanted to visit for many years but, for some reason or other, never had the chance to. With no excuses this year (and a birthday to celebrate) I finally made it to the Pearl of the Danube!
A city that is as charming as it is vibrant, Budapest is home to stunning architecture, unique nightlife and world-famous thermal baths. There’s also an emerging food scene with plenty of restaurants and cafes offering local and international dishes.
We spent a long weekend in Budapest in July and now I want to share the best things to do in this amazing city.
Buda and Pest
Believe it or not, Budapest was nearly called Pest-buda! The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, does it? The hilly Buda, on the west of the Danube River, and the flat Pest on the east were actually two separate cities. In 1873, they merged with Óbuda to form Pest-buda but it didn’t take long for the city to be referred to as Budapest.
The Buda side of the city has a more residential feel to it. With sights like Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion, it would be hard to argue that it is also the classier side of town. Buda is the more peaceful and calmer of the two cities. It’s the perfect place for leisurely walks and stunning views across the Danube.
For those who are looking for a bit more action, then Pest is the place for you. The nightlife attracts many bachelor and bachelorette parties with its many bars and clubs. There are many great restaurants and cafes in Pest and it’s also where most of the affordable accommodation is.
The best way to get around Budapest is by foot (for us anyway.) If you are in Buda then it’s easy to walk from one site to another. The same can also be said of Pest although the sites are more spread across the city so you might want to use the metro, tram or bus. Depending on the location of the your accommodation, you can catch the bus or tram to Pest from Buda and vice-versa (catch the 16 bus).
Taxis are expensive and are best avoided. There is also no Uber in Budapest but there is Bolt which is the same thing in theory. There are stories that the taxi drivers may charge extra to tourists once they hear them speaking English. While I’m not sure if this is true or not, at least Bolt gives a fair price and is often preferred by locals.
You can also hire bicycles, segways, e-bikes with the fat wheels and e-scooters. Just be aware that Budapest has many cobbled streets so e-scooters might not be the cleverest way to get around.
Tip | Like many European cities, there is a city pass available and Budapest’s is called the Budapest Card. For €44 ($48) you get a 72 hour pass and this includes free public transport, free entry to some sites and a couple of free walking tours. I use the word free loosely – you did pay for the damn card!
Best Things To Do in Buda
Trinity square is where you’ll find some of the most popular buildings and monuments. As a result, it can be very busy at the square towards midday. In the centre of the square is the Holy Trinity Statue. The column was built to commemorate the people of Buda who died from two outbreaks of the Black Plague.
The Fisherman’s Bastion has some of the best views in the city. More of a terrace than a building, the ‘Halászbástya’ looks like something straight out of a fairytale. Built around 1900, the name may have come from a settlement called Fishtown, or the maybe it was the fishermen that protected the Buda City Wall.
Although it can get a bit busy, wandering around the Bastion and all its beautiful corridors and stairs is something not to be missed on your Budapest weekend! For 1,000Ft ($3) you can even gain access to the upper levels for a completely different point of view and, of course, less tourists.
The Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle, or Matthias Church, is probably not like any Roman Catholic church you’ve seen. Originally built in the 11th-century, it was then destroyed by Mongols and the current building was constructed in the 13th-century.
The ceramic roof tiles of this church are really colourful and almost looks like someone has knitted the patterns! Entry to Matthias Church costs 1,800Ft ($6) but it’s worth it to see the Chapel of Loretto and the impressive pulpit.
Buda castle was originally built in 1265 but was destroyed in the great siege of 1686. The castle today was constructed in the 1700’s in a Baroque style with a simple rectangular buildings. This explains a lot as I was never entirely convinced that I was looking at a castle!
Again, you have wonderful views of Pest across the river, and it is also worth exploring the courts and courtyards around the castle. They’re open 24/7! If you want to have a look inside then you’ll be pleased to know that Buda Castle is home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
Located on top of Gellert Hill, the Citadella is one of the best places for views across the city. Unfortunately, there is only one bus that will take you all the way to the top, and that is the no.27 from Moricz Zsigmond square (on the Buda side.) Otherwise it’s a 15-min walk to reach the Citadella from the bottom of Gellert Hill.
It was built in 1851 not to protect the city, but to remind them that they were under the oppressive rule of the Austrian Empire! Today, a sign of freedom looks over the city instead in the Liberty Statue. You can’t explore inside the fortress like, for example, the one in Dinant, Belgium. However, it’s worth seeing just for the views alone. There’s is a small museum as well as a cafe, a restaurant and some stalls selling souvenirs.
At the base of the Citadel you’ll find the classy Hotel Gellert, home to the Gellert Baths. The baths are decorated with beautiful mosaics and are one of the most popular baths in Hungary. The thermal pools contain water from Gellert Hill’s hot springs and are believed to have medicinal benefits.
Entry to the bath, including lockers, start from 6,200Ft ($20) and there are also massage treatments available as well as tours of the building itself. Just remember it is mandatory to wear flip-flops and bring your own towel or you’ll have to rent for 2,000Ft ($7) with another 2,000Ft for the deposit.
Best Things To Do In Pest
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is arguably city’s most famous building, and my favourite landmark in Budapest. The stunning Gothic Revival style building was built in 1904 as the new parliament building for the united cities of Buda, Obuda and Pest. You can even see the inside where there are grand hallways, galleries and displays including the famous Holy Crown of Hungary. Tickets cost 3,500Ft ($11.)
The Parliament Building is also a great place to wander around at dusk/night. The building is lit up and you’ll see floating birds circling the dome. It’s enchanting and eerie at the same time. At first, I thought they were bats but I have since been told that they are black-headed gulls using the thermals coming off the building.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica
This Basilica was directly outside our accommodation so we know it quite well! Saint Stephen’s Basilica was completed in 1905 and is now the largest church in Budapest. It is free to enter the church but donations are welcome. It’s definitely worth looking around the beautiful interior of this magnificent building. Make sure you look out for the mummified hands of Saint Stephen!
For some fantastic 360° views around the city, get the lift to the top of the cupola (dome.) Tickets cost 600Ft ($2) so there are no excuses! You’ll be able to see some of the main sites right on the other side of the river in Buda.
Dohany Street Synagogue
The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest in Europe and second largest in the world! Built in 1859, the impressive building can seat up to 3,000 people. Entry is 4,500Ft ($15) but it does include an excellent guided tour and it is the best way to learn about the synagogue’s history as well as the struggles of the Jewish people during wartime. Just remember that they are closed on Saturdays.
Shoes On The Danube
This memorial on the bank of the Danube river was created to honour the Jews who were killed during World War II by the Nazi-occupied Hungarian government. As many as 20,000 Jews were murdered on the river banks. They were asked to take off their shoes before being fired upon and their bodies would fall into the river. Although it’s another reminder of the atrocities that happened during the war, it’s worth spending some time here to reflect on those horrific events.
The famous Andrassy Avenue dates back to 1872 and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Avenue is lined with Neo-Renaissance houses and palaces with beautiful facades built by the most distinguished architects. Andrassy Avenue was hailed as a masterpiece of city planning was even introduced the first subway in Europe in 1896
Some of the building worth seeing on the Avenue are the Hungarian State Opera House (which was covered in scaffolding during our visit) and the House of Terror, a museum/memorial to the victims of fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary. There are also high-end fashion boutiques such as Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani and others if that’s more your thing. Walk to the end of the Avenue, or take the Millennium Underground, and you will arrive at the City Park.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The Széchenyi Baths is located in the is a public park called City Park at the end of Andrassy Avenue. The park is quite large and has some nice attractions including Vajdahunyad Castle and the unmissable Heroes’ Square.
The baths are the largest medicinal bath in Europe. It is the most visited bath in Budapest and has 18 pools, 10 saunas and there are also various massage treatments available. The bath is famous for it’s outdoor pool in a Neo-Baroque setting. We had to choose between Széchenyi and Gellert due to time, and I’m sure both are great, but we didn’t regret our time here!
Entry to the bath, including lockers, start from 5,800Ft ($19.50). Like the Gellert Bath, there are also various massage treatments available. Flip-flops are also a requirement here and the towel rental, if you didn’t bring your own, is 1,000Ft ($3.50) with a 2,000Ft ($7) deposit.
Official the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the suspension bridge was the first to connect Buda and Pest. At the time of its construction, it was seen as an an engineering marvel and a symbol of the city. Taking a walk across the bridge is like taking a walk through history as you walk between two cities.
Situated in-between Buda and Pest is a 2.5km long stretch of land called Margaret Island. The island is more like a large public park and is the perfect place to spend a few hours away from the city. You can get around by renting all kind of cool vehicles like e-scooters, bicycles and strange-shaped cars. Don’t miss the water tower, Japanese gardens and the famous musical fountain.
The mighty Danube splits Buda from Pest and what better way to see the city than from the river? There are so many boat tours available and every taste catered for. There are traditional river cruise for the regular tourist. Party boats for all the bachelor and bachelorette parties. You can go on a romantic cruise with an a la carte dinner while a violinist serenades you. I even saw a bus floating along the river!
Statues In Budapest
A fun little thing we did as we explored Budapest was look for the statues that are placed around the city. We didn’t find them all but we did see some of the most popular and photographed ones. See if you can spot the Little Princess sitting on the rails by the river. Or Columbo with his dog. On the Buda side there are a few mini-sculptures but these are more difficult to find,
Something To Eat Or Drink
Budapest is one of Europe’s top cities when it comes to weekend breaks so, naturally, there are a huge amount of restaurants, cafe’s, street food joints and bars to choose from. I can’t say that we ate at every single restaurant, or that I had goulash for every single meal, however I can recommend Hungarikum Bisztro and Meatology as two of the cities most popular.
It’s safe to say that Budapest is also well stocked when it comes to drinking. There are so many bars for all tastes but I just want to make a special mention to the High Note SkyBar where Zuzi and I shared some bites and a few cocktails during a spectacular sunset above the city. The bar is on the rooftop of very posh Aria Hotel and, although it wasn’t cheap, it was definitely worth it (booking is recommended.)
A weekend in Budapest isn’t complete without a visit to a ruin bar. Originally set up in crumbling, abandoned buildings to offer affordable drinks, ruin bars became the trendiest places to party. Each bar has its own charm and while the traditional ruin bar will be filled with quirky furniture and cool graffiti, there are more upscale bars too for the hipsters and trendy folk.
Szimpla Kert was the very first of these bars and an unmissable place to quench your thirst. It’s one of the most popular places to party at night, but I recommend a visit in the day too. The venue is actually several bars in one location, each room with a different theme. If you only visit one ruin bar then it has to be Szimpla!
Did We Enjoy Budapest?
We absolutely loved our long weekend in Budapest.
I can’t believe I’ve waited so long to visit this place. Budapest is one of those amazing cities that has a little bit of something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing time in the spas, a historical tour or simply a few drinks with your friends. Budapest really has everything to make it the perfect weekend city break!
I hope that you guys have enjoyed this post. There’s just so much to see and do in this beautiful city but hopefully, now, you’ll be able to plan your own weekend in Budapest. If you liked this post, or want to know anything else, please leave a comment. Thanks.