I only had a day and a half in the famed Hungarian capital when I visited in December, as the starting point of my Danube Waltz river cruise with Viking. Not a whole lot of time, admittedly – but on the other hand, I was never particularly drawn to Budapest. 36 hours seemed like plenty of time, to me.
With my coat buttoned up to my chin and my wool scarf firmly tied (gosh it was a cold and humid weekend), I left the comfort of my stateroom and set off to explore Budapest, the crown jewel of Eastern Europe according to travel experts. Here’s what I did during my visit.
Things To Do In Budapest On A Long Weekend
Buda Castle is right up there on the left, hidden in the fog
It’s just a bridge, right? Errr, not really. At the time of construction, it was considered one of the great engineering wonders of the world; the twin-towered Széchenyi bridge was the first permanent structure to span the mighty Danube River and link the two banks, Buda and Pest. It holds great significance in the development of Budapest as the unified, cohesive city we know today.
Good to know: on clear days (aka not the incredibly foggy day I had to deal with), the right-hand side of the bridge offers gorgeous views of the Hungarian Parliament.
The Chain Bridge is right down there in the middle. On the left, you would normally see the Parliament. Thanks, fog.
Sure, you *could* walk the 170 metres up Castle Hill – but where’s the fun in that? I strongly suggest you opt for the old-timey-looking funicular, which only costs a handful of forints. Not only is it infinitely more enjoyable (again, not a hiking kind of gal) but it also offers unobstructed panoramas of the Chain Bridge, the Parliament, and the Pest side of Budapest. Money well spent, I tell you!
[left][/left][right][/right] I swear this is Budapest. You can sort of make out the Chain Bridge on the left!
Castle Hill dominates the Buda bank and essentially consists of the Royal Palace and the medieval quarter – which partly explains why it’s a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. My tight schedule didn’t allow me to visit the interior of the Palace nor the celebrated Hungarian National Gallery, especially since I knew I wanted to spend some time in the rainbow-coloured maze nearby.
Budapest sure has Instafriendly streets.
Located right at the end of the medieval quarter, therefore, just a few minutes walk from the funicular, Fishermen’s Bastion is one of Budapest’s most emblematic attractions. The neo-Romanesque meets Gothic is a beautiful place to relax, people watch, admire the Parliament on the adjacent bank, and to generally permeate yourself with the Budapest atmosphere.
Further east on the Pest bank, the Great Synagogue is an absolute must-see in Budapest. It’s the largest Jewish house of worship in Europe and, as such, houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum.
Unfortunately, like many of its European counterparts, the Jewish community of Budapest was virtually annihilated during World War II. The Jewish quarter, which surrounds the synagogue, was converted to a guarded ghetto surrounded by a high fence and stone walls where Jews were forced to live; even though Budapest was only occupied for a brief time at the very end of the war, hundreds of thousands of Jews still lost their lives to the Nazis. The Synagogue commemorates the tragedy in various ways, notably with the Holocaust Memorial Room, which is built right over the mass graves, as well as a metal Tree of Life, whose leaves are inscribed with the family names of the victims.
Alexandra Book Café
Budapest probably has hundreds of elegant cafés where you can have leisurely cakes and coffee but I think the most sumptuous of them all is the Book Café; perhaps because it is so inconspicuously concealed from the street (it’s hidden on the second floor of a really rather plain-looking bookstore).
I’m really not into nightlife (the sleeping is what keeps me pretty) but ruin bars are endemic to Budapest so I had to check one out; admittedly, Szimpla Kert was pretty quiet at four in the afternoon but it was quite fun to see bars literally made out of ruined furniture and appliances in what is essentially a heavily graffitied and glorified squat. Located in abandoned buildings throughout the city, these ramshackle pubs are *the* place to be after nightfall if you enjoy drinks, good company, and live music.
One thing I am TOTALLY into though is food, as demonstrated by the tightness of my jeans at the end of a trip (I have realised it’s not a coincidence). I had heard good things about the borsch, a traditional Eastern European meat soup, at Stonesoup Restobar, and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s a beautifully peculiar space. They also have a little boutique where you can purchase their homemade, traditional Hungarian delicacies and canned goods.
Night Cruise on the Danube
I will write another post about this shortly but OH MY this was the best part of my trip. If you think Budapest is stunning in the daytime, wait until you see it from the historic banks of the Danube River after nightfall. The city truly comes alive then, once it dons its shiny and bright evening coat on. There are a few cruises you can choose from, including a booze cruise (because why the hell not) and even a themed dinner cruise.
Things To Do In Budapest – Additional Suggestions
If you have more than 36 hours to spend in the Hungarian capital, here are a few suggestions of things you should check out and places you should eat at that all came highly recommended by my local friends.
Fun and quirky attractions:
- Central Market Hall
- Margaret Island
- Vajdahunyad Castle & Heroes Square
- Memento Park
- House of Terror
- Thermal baths: Art-Deco Gellért Baths, touristy but stunning Széchenyi Baths or quiet Király Baths
- Worthwhile walking tours: a visit for joggers, a visit for history buffs, a visit for foodies, a free visit for visitors travelling on a budget, a visit by bike or a visit for book lovers.
Cool indie coffee shops:
- My Little Melbourne (Madách Imre út 3)
- Kontakt (Károly krt. 22)
- Fekete (Múzeum krt. 5)
- Blue Bird Café (Dob u. 16, 1072)
- Espresso Embassy (Arany János u. 15)
- Bambi Eszpresszó (Frankel Leó utca 2/4)
- Madal Cafe (Hollán Ernő u. 3)
Yummy restaurants where locals go:
- Kiskakukk Étterem (Pozsonyi út 12)
- Centrál Kávéház (Károlyi utca 9)
- Spíler BistroPub (Király u. 13)
- Borkonyha (Sas utca 3)
- Borbiróság (Csarnok tér 5)
- Doblo (Dob utca 20)
I was a guest of Viking Cruises on this trip. All opinions are my own.