Long walks along the Danube, relaxing spa sessions at the thermal baths, delicious soups in the local Hungarian taverns: here’s what you’ll experience in the next 3 days in the magical Budapest.
If you want to treat yourself with a relaxing weekend getaway without renouncing to history, fun, and a little bit of exploring, then this is the guide for you! Grab a piece of a paper and a pen and take notes of the incredible gems to visit.
But before we start with our itinerary, here are a couple of tips to make the best out of your stay in the Eastern Paris.
Where to Stay in Budapest
Budapest is a rather cheap city and you’ll easily find a nice accommodation. A great solution is the Hotel City Inn: a quiet and affordable place, located right by the Corbin bus station, from which you’ll be able to reach the city center. Here’s the website to book your room: cityinn.hu/en/.
Transports in Budapest
As for transport, the decision is up to you! If you love long walks and you just want to unwind for a couple of days, without worrying about visiting every single attraction that Budapest offers, then you can walk pretty much everywhere without buying any ticket.
However, if you’d like to get around quickly and make the most of your visit, then it’s highly advisable that you buy a 72-hour ticket, which will allow you to get any bus, metro, tram and train within the city. You can buy it at the airport (right at the cash machines by the bus stop) and it doesn’t need to be validated. But do make sure that you always have it with you since security is very strict!
Buda or Pest?
The name of the Hungarian capital derives from the fusion of two terms: Buda and Pest. These are the two parts of the city, respectively the old (on the West of the Danube) and modern one (on the East). Buda is the place of the first settling of the Celts, around the I Century b.C., whilst Pest was conquered by the Mongols during the XI century. Finally, in 1873, the two parts were united, creating Budapest.
Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s start our journey along the Blue River.
The Jewish Ghetto
As soon as you land in Budapest Airport, don’t waste time and go straight to the bus stop to catch bus 200E or 100E, which will take you to the city center in less than half an hour.
Let’s start with a nice walk in the sparkling Jewish Ghetto, full of shops and cafes that will enchant you with their old fashioned yet modern charm. If you want to know more about the background of the Jewish community in Budapest, then check out this website to book a free tour of the area: triptobudapest.hu/.
The heart of the community is undoubtedly the Great Synagogue, the biggest in Europe with more than 3000 seats and the second largest in the world after New York. Constructed between 1854 and 1859, this building will leave your breathless with its elegance and sophistication. Moreover, you’ll have the chance to visit the Jewish Museum, whose price is included in the entry ticket.
Right outside the Synagogue, you’ll find the Jewish Cemetery, as well as the Tree of Life, a state-of-the-art steel construction representing a weeping willow. On its leaves you can read the names of some of the victims of the holocaust, written there in order to be remembered forever.
Liberty Square and the Parliament
Once you’ve become familiar with the Jewish community, you can head over to Liberty Square, the symbol of Hungarian independence. Right in the middle of it, you’ll find a nice cafe where to have a restorative lunch, gazing at business men rushing to work, posh cars parked in front of the American embassy, and children playing in the garden. The perfect relaxing break!
But don’t get too comfortable, because one of the most distinctive buildings of the city is waiting for you: the Hungarian Parliament. With an extension of 18.000 square meters, this majestic construction is located precisely on the shores of the Danube, which reflects the elegant and polished details. Imre Steindl, the architect who designed the building, worked at the project since 1885, and the works finished only in 1904.
It’s absolutely worth visiting the Parliament from the inside as well! Every day some guided tours are organized by expert employees. Check out the official website to book you tour in advance: parlamentobudapest.com/it/basket.php.
A Stroll along the Danube
After your visit of the Parliament, it’s time for a stroll along the Pest shore of the blue river, from which you’ll be able to gaze at the breathtaking view of Buda. And, if you look carefully, you’ll see the symbol of the older city: Buda’s Castle.
Whilst you’re on your walk along the shore, keep your head down and you’ll see a peculiar sculptural work: seventy shoes made of bronze. They are the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial conceived in 2005 by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer. The purpose of the composition is to commemorate the owners of those shoes: men, women, and children, indiscriminate victims of the Arrow Cross Party police, whose members brutally threw people into the freezing waters of the Danube between 1944 and 1945. Before being murderer, they were forced to remove their shoes, which were much more valuable than the lives of thousands of Jewish people.
From the river bank, there are daily sightseeing cruises that will show you around, giving you the opportunity to look at the city from a different perspective while sipping a refreshing drink. Here is the website of one of the numerous companies that organize the water tours: legenda.hu/it/danubio-leggenda.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Last but not least, let’s conclude our first day in Budapest visiting one of the most significant Hungarian places of worship: St. Stephen’s Basilica, consecrated to the founder and first king of the city. Stephen, who became saint because he founded the Hungarian Catholic Church, is worshipped all over the country, and his mummified right hand, the Holy Hand, is visited every day by thousands of tourists and compatriots. The majestic neoclassical building inaugurated by Emperor Franz Jospeh in 1904 can house up to 8000 people and has a 90-meter high dome: the triumph of the Hungarian grandeur.
After a restoring sleep, you’ll be surely ready for your second day in Budapest. So wear something comfy, and let’s get started! Our first stop is the National Museum, conveniently located right opposite the Kalvin Ter metro and bus stop. The museum will give you the priceless opportunity to immerse yourself in the authentic Hungarian history, starting from its origins to the independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire, the Soviet period, leading up to the present day. The ticket is super cheap and, if you’re a student form the European Union, it’s free; so you really can’t miss this place!
After your journey inside the charming Hungarian history, it’s time to discover another fundamental aspect of the culture of this country: the music! The Opera House, located right outside the namesake yellow line metro stop, is one of the city’s most fascinating and magical gem. However, keep in mind that the structure is undergoing some constructions, so you won’t be able to visit a part of the building. But you can still book a guided tour of the Opera House and see some talented musicians perform.
The House of Terror and the Great Market Hall
The charming Hungarian culture isn’t just music, history, and art. Unfortunately, Budapest has lived years of devastating Soviet dictatorship after the Second World War. If you really want to understand the atmosphere that people were living in during those years, then head over to the House of Terror, in Andrássy út 60, which you can easily reach with the yellow line metro.
This museum will give you the priceless opportunity to see with your own eyes the hardships and privations that Hungarian citizens experienced during the Soviet domination. However, if you are very sensitive, be aware of the fact that some moments will be particularly intense. But we promise you that you’ll never forget this journey inside the true history of Hungary.
Once you’ve finished your tour of the museum, you’ll surely be hungry! Fortunately, Budapest offers many cafes, pubs, and restaurants to fill your stomach; as an alternative, you can also pop into the Great Market Hall, where you can try delicious bowls of goulash, as well as other typical Hungarian dishes.
After your lunch, it’s time to head over to the Heroes’ Square, one of the most iconic symbols of Budapest. It’s a wide square right at the end of Andrássy Street, framed by the Museum of Fine Arts on the left, and the Palace of Art on the right.
However, the true heart of the square is the Millennial Monument, right in the middle. This large funeral monument consists of seven statues representing the tribal leaders who founded Hungary in the IX century. Among them, the most famous is Árpád, who’s considered the founder of the nation. The name of the square, given only in 1929, derives from the inscription on the tomb that says: “To the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence”.
City Park and the Thermal Baths
If you go beyond the monument, on the right, you’ll enter the marvelous City Park, the largest park in the city, originally swampland but reclaimed in modern times. This idyllic oasis of nature is the perfect place to get lost in long and peaceful walks along the little artificial lake (which becomes an ice rink in winter).
If you look at your reflection in the crystal clear waters of the lake, you’ll also see the reflection of a fairytale castle: the Vajdahunyad Vara Castle. Originally built in wood and papier-mâché in 1896 to celebrate the 1000-year anniversary of the nation, the castle was only later reconstructed in stone and bricks.
After this long day, you’ll certainly be exhausted, so it’s time to pamper yourself in the relaxing Széchenyi Thermal Baths, conveniently located right by the City Park. You’ll get a peaceful afternoon surrounded by pools and steam rooms with the fresh Széchenyi water. There is also an external pool that, with its 38 Celsius degrees, will always offer you a warm hug.
Here we are, at our last day in Budapest. But don’t be sad! If you can find a flight that leaves late in the day, you’ll be able to visit the old part of the city today: Buda.
As mentioned before, the Hungarian capital is divided into two parts by the Danube river. So, if you want to visit the original center of the city, you’ll have to walk along the Chains Bridge. This unique stone and iron construction was designed by engineer Clark Adam in 1849, when it connected Buda and Pest for the first time. While you cross the bridge, think about the happiness and joy felt by those first Hungarians who could finally reach the other part of the city! Don’t rush your walk; take your time strolling around the bridge, accompanied by the lovely music of the occasional guitars players who will surely make you smile. And once you’re in the middle of the bridge, stop for a second and gaze at the breathtaking view of both shores.
Once you’ve reached Buda, get on the Buda Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) that will take you up the Buda Hill. A quick tip: if you can, try to sit on the bottom wagon, so that you’ll have a great view over Pest while going up. But if you can’t make it, don’t worry! Once you’re on the hill, you’ll be able to gaze at the wonderful city, a view that will leave you breathless.
Right on top of the hill, you’ll find the majestic statue of Matthias Corvinus, consecrated to him not only because he was one of the most important Hungarian kings, but also because he transformed the previous medieval stronghold facing this statue into the Royal Palace: Buda’s Castle. The castle now hosts the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.
St. Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion
Once you’ve visited these gems, you can come back down with the funicular and head to St. Matthias Church. The building was originally built by King Béla IV in the XIII century, and then, in 1400, King Matthias constructed it again. This is why it’s now called Matthias Church. The church has an extremely rich history: it was transformed into a mosque (its interiors still have an unmistakable Baroque and Oriental style), and, from 1896 onwards, it was transformed into a Gothic church.
And lastly, on the right of the church, you’ll find the Fishermen’s Bastion. The original name of the stronghold is Halaszbatsya Bastion. Halaszbatsya was the name of the corporation of fishermen who originally protected this land. Today, the construction offers an astonishing view over the city and the colorful roof of Matthias Church.
Here we are at the very end of our incredible journey along the Blue River. These are the attractions of the city that you can’t miss if you visit the Eastern Paris. However, don’t be too hard on yourself, and take your time to stroll around the Hungarian streets. That’s the only way to authentically taste the true Hungarian folklore!