Budapest is nicknamed "the Paris of the East" and the nickname couldn't be more accurate. If you have never been, I recommend you to read our itinerary with the best things to see and do in Budapest. We have tried to concentrate the essentials of the city.
Day 1: Start your vacation in an emblematic place
Budapest is an elegant and stately city. Walking through the center you can feel the atmosphere typical of European capitals. This atmosphere is most clearly perceived in Gerbeaud, a pastry shop that has been in Vörösmarty Square since 1858. Crossing its door is like stepping into a time machine, as the wooden counter, the lamps and, more generally, most of the original decoration have been preserved.
The most traditional dishes
I'm not going to lie to you, it's a bit touristy and the prices are a bit higher if compared to the city average. However, it is worth entering to feel like a bourgeois of the nineteenth century. Once here, you can taste some traditional desserts:
- Sacher, who can resist if they put this cake in front of you? I know, this dessert is originally from Austria, but during the imperial era, its consumption was also widespread in Hungary.
- Esterházy, a dessert that owes its name to Count Pál Antal Esterházy who filled the role of Foreign Minister in the 19th century. It is a fluffy sponge cake with chocolate buttercream, apricot glaze and fondant icing.
- Gerbeaud, a cake made with ground walnuts, chocolate and homemade jam. It is inspired by a recipe elaborated by Emile Gerbeaud (a founder of the pastry shop) and is simply delicious.
- Dobos, the dessert symbol of Hungary. It is made with cookie dough and chocolate butter cream. The last layer is covered with crunchy caramel-covered sheets. It is as beautiful as it is rich.
Day 1: Spend some time at the monument in honor of the Hungarian Jews
After breakfast, walk towards the river and follow the signs to the Hungarian Parliament. Before you reach the center of power, you will see some metal shoes on the banks of the Danube. This monument commemorates a page of history that no one would ever want to see again: the shooting of Hungarian Jews by the Arrow Cross, a party allied with Nazi Germany. During World War II, shoes were very valuable.
For this reason, the militias led their victims to the river bank, made them remove their shoes and only then fired a few deadly rounds.
The memorial was inaugurated in 2005 from an idea of film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer. It is very sad to think that in this beautiful city in the heart of Europe such a violent crime was perpetrated. If you have enough time, you can opt for a cruise on the Danube. A few tours start their journey on this stretch of the river.
Day 1: Walk to the Parliament
After having paid tribute to the victims of Nazi barbarism, it is time to visit the third stage of the day: the Budapest Parliament. The building combines three architectural styles - neoclassical, Renaissance and Baroque - and is a must-see stop on any trip to Harry Houdini's city. By the way, if you are passionate about the history of the famous escapologist, I recommend visiting Houdini's House which is located within walking distance of Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom).
Now let's get back to business. The Parliament of Budapest is the true icon of the city and its silhouette is the typical picture that appears on postcards and travel guides. Built between 1884 and 1902, it is the third largest in the world and resembles the Palace of Westminster. For its construction, only Hungarian materials were used, except for the marble columns, which were brought from Sweden.
The interiors are as beautiful as the elegant facade overlooking the river; for this reason I recommend booking a guided tour. Tours usually last about 45 minutes and are available in several languages, including English.
Day 1: Visit St. Stephen's Basilica
This church is the largest in Hungary and is characterized by the two towers that protect the facade. Inside is preserved a somewhat chilling relic: the mummified hand of St. Stephen. He was the first king of the country and has gone down in history as the person who converted the Magyars to Catholicism. The construction was quite complicated: it was finished in 1905 after more than half a century of work, two architects lost their lives and the dome collapsed in 1868.
If you like soccer and you are a Real Madrid fan, I recommend you to enter the basilica. Here you will find the tomb of a legend of the merengue team: Ferenc Puskás. The former striker also has a statue in the district of Óbuda (Bécsi útca 57).
If you travel to Budapest in December, you can do some Christmas shopping in the square in front. In any case, this area is perfect for souvenir shopping and a bite to eat in the many restaurants and bars nearby. After a snack, walk to Andrássy útca.
Day 1: Ride the second oldest subway in Europe
To reach the next stage, take the metro at the Bajcsy-Zsilinszky útca stop. The suburban network of the Hungarian capital was anticipated only by that of London and retains some original elements such as the red metal columns with floral decorations on top. Line 1 (the one you will take) was declared a World Heritage Site in 2002 forpreserving the art nouveau style of the nineteenth century. After six stops, get off at Hősök tere.
Day 1: Stroll around Heroes' Square and its surroundings
Heroes' Square (Hősök tere) is a large monumental space at the end of Andrássy útca, one of Budapest's most iconic streets. Tourists come here to see the 36-meter column topped by the Archangel Gabriel and the seven statues commemorating the leaders of Hungary's founding tribes. Snap some photos and explore the nearby streets that host some great destinations of interest:
- Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum), a cultural institution housed in an eclectic-neoclassical building. In its rooms you can admire works by Raphael, Dürer, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec and other artists. It is located in the Plaza de los Héroes. To learn about its temporary exhibitions, I recommend you take a look at its official website.
- Zoo and Botanical Garden, one of the oldest in Europe. If you are traveling with children, it could be a good option. The kids will be able to see lemurs, lions, monkeys and other animals up close. You will recognize it by its elegant entrance decorated with two stone elephants. You can check the opening hours on the zoo's website (Állatkerti krt. 6-12).
- Városliget, the municipal park. Originally a royal hunting ground, it was gradually transformed into a public garden between the 18th and 19th centuries. Inside is an artificial lake which in summer is crossed by small rowboats for hire. When the waters freeze, it becomes an ice rink (Kós Károly stny).
- Vajdahunyad Castle, an eclectic fortress. Built in 1890 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian nation, it consists of 21 buildings of different styles (Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance).
Day 1: Conclude the first day in the Jewish quarter
After the walk, take the subway in the opposite direction and get off at Opera. Walking for a few minutes you will reach the old Jewish quarter. If you have time and desire, I recommend you to book a guided tour of the Great Synagogue located in Dohány Street. It was designed by the German architect Ludwig Förster in a neo-Arabic style.
After a walk through its impressive interiors, you can have a drink there. The old Jewish quarter of Budapest you will find the Heroes' Square, which is at its best at dusk. The lights illuminating the monument and the nearby castle create a fairytale atmosphere. In addition, this is a very lively area where you can find restaurants, bars and nightclubs. For a bite to eat and a pint or a drink, you can opt for the surrounding ruin bars.
Day 2: Treat yourself to a sweet breakfast at Cirkusz
To start the day with energy, you have to have a good breakfast. Before the walk, I recommend you to book a table at Cirkusz Kávéház, the Mecca of brunch. This establishment was opened in 2014 and has reaped great success thanks to two factors: a roasted coffee made in house (Bagira) and a family atmosphere that makes every guest feel at home. The establishment is located in the Jewish quarter, between the synagogue on Rumbach Street and the Orthodox synagogue on Kazinczy Street.
Its most famous dishes are Egg Royal (English muffin, spinach, salmon and poached egg accompanied by hollandaise sauce), New York bagel (with marinated salmon, cream cheese and capers) and Pulled Pork Benedict (potato croquettes, low temperature cooked pork, onion and poached egg with hollandaise sauce). You can also opt for some sweet recipes. Cirkusz brings out of the oven some delicious plain and chocolate croissants. If you're looking for something healthier, you can opt for homemade granola with white yogurt and fresh fruit.
Day 2: Cross the Chain Bridge
Once your stomach is full, head towards the Danube and cross the great river on its most emblematic footbridge: the Chain Bridge. Designed by William Tierney Clark, it was inaugurated in 1849 and is the oldest in the city. However, it was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt at the end of the conflict. It finally reopened to the public in 1949, exactly 100 years after the first ribbon cutting. You will recognize it by the two lions guarding the entrance. Legend has it that these felines would come to life if Hungary were in any danger.
Once on the other bank, you will find Clark Ádám Square and another symbol of the city: the funicular. This means of transport connects the riverbank with the top of the hill where the next stage of our journey, the Buda Castle, is located. The ticket costs about 1,200 guilders (about 3.5 €) and the trip lasts a few minutes.
Day 2: Take the best panoramic pictures
The Buda Castle was the residence of the kings of Hungary while nowadays it houses the Széchenyi Library, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The building was looted by German and Russian troops during World War II. At the end of the conflict, the Hungarian government initiated a reconstruction process to restore the complex to its former glory. On the same hill are two monuments not to be missed:
- Matthias Church, the scene of the coronation of Franz Joseph I and his wife Elisabeth (Sissi). Once at its feet, look up to admire the roof with colored tiles and the 80-meter tower in openwork stone. I recommend you go inside to see its interiors that mix art nouveau, oriental influences and traditional Hungarian style.
- Fishermen's Bastion, the viewpoint of the buda hill. Despite its name, it was originally a bastion with a defensive function. It is a very romantic place as it is a balcony overlooking Pest. From here, you can take some breathtaking pictures of the illuminated Parliament.
After the walk, go back down to the Danube bank and take the streetcar at the Halász utca stop. You can take several lines (19, 41 and 56A, for example) to then get off at Rudas Gyógyfürdő.
Day 2: Relax at the Széchenyi Spa
Any weekend in Budapest should include a stop at a spa. The city has a wide range of options and each one has its peculiarity. If you visit the Hungarian capital during the summer, you have tobook a ticket for the Széchenyi spa, as it will be an ideal plan for these dates. On the other hand, art nouveau lovers choose Gellért, a thermal center with large columns and balconies overlooking the main pool.
However, to follow our route we recommend you a different destination: the Rudas Baths that are located between the Danube and the hill of Gellért. Its foundation dates back to the XI century although the present structure is the fruit of a first reform carried out during the Ottoman period and a second series of works carried out in 1896. Its distinctive feature is the octagonal pool topped by a dome 10 meters in diameter. For a different experience, I recommend a night swim. To clarify doubts and check prices, I recommend you take a look at the official website.
Is it worth visiting Budapest in two days?
Of course it is! The Hungarian capital is not very large and if you stay in the center you can see the essentials. In my opinion, a vacation of 3 full days is ideal to explore it without too much haste. On the other hand, those who choose a stay of four or five days can take advantage of the occasion to make some excursions inside or outside Hungary.
When is the best time to visit Budapest?
Personally, I consider that any season is the right one. Unlike other European capitals, the city of Houdini has attractions for all seasons: the spas.
The first time I was in Budapest was in February, a month characterized by freezing temperatures. To escape the cold, we took refuge in the Széchenyi thermal baths (Állatkerti krt. 9-11) whose three open-air pools continue to operate even in the middle of winter. The contrast between the warmth of the water and the fresh air is an energy boost.
Don't worry, if you're chilly you can stay in the indoor pools or choose other thermal baths that feature indoor pools only. These same places offer relief during the summer; in fact, between June and August temperatures can reach 30º and the humidity rate increases the sensation of heat.
Another option to cool off is Lupa, a beach on the homonymous lake where you can relax on deck chairs, practice water sports and enjoy a cocktail. It is located in the town of Budakalász and can be reached by suburban train line H5 (HÉV) to Budakalász.