Budapest, the capital of Hungary, lies on the Danube River, with the hilly, castle-filled Buda on one side, and the flat, lively Pest on the other. Budapest's history hasn't always been a happy one, with multiple world wars, communism, and a failed revolution taking its toll on the city and its people. Despite these hardships, the city's stunning architecture, re-burgeoning food scene, and longstanding traditions like "taking to the baths," make Budapest a singular destination worthy of exploration.
Budapest has an excellent and efficient public transportation system offering metros, trams, and buses throughout the city. You can buy packs of individual passes (validate each one in the yellow ticket scanner as you enter said train, bus, or metro station) or opt to purchase a Budapest Card, available for different time intervals that offers free public transport throughout the city as well as discounts to a variety of attractions, museums, tours, baths, etc. UBER is not available in Budapest at this time.
Start your day with a latte and tasty slice of banana bread at Espresso Embassy, one of the better coffee establishments in the city offering a variety of brewing methods and all the classic espresso based drinks. The staff here is super friendly and there are a handful of tables both in the vaulted brick interior or on the sidewalk.
The massive and beautiful, Gothic-styled Parliament building has a prominent position along the Danube, and can be easily seen from many vantages in the city. Stroll by to take a closer look at the building and even take a tour if you fancy (open daily from 8am-4pm in winter & 8am-6pm in summer).
Shoes on the Danube |
Just a few minutes beyond the Parliament building is the sobering Shoes on the Danube memorial. 60 pairs of shoes, cast in iron, are scattered along the banks of the river representing those that were shot and killed by Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.
Great Market Hall |
Hop on a tram and head down to the neo-Gothic Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest market hall in Budapest. The market houses a variety of stalls on three levels offering produce, meat and cheese, pickled goods, clothing, paprika for days, food vendors and more. If you're hungry, grab something for lunch from the vendors on the upper level.
Opera House |
A stunning example of neo-Renaissance architecture in Budapest is the Opera House, opened in 1884 and considered one of the best in Europe. English tours are offered daily at 3 and 4pm or you can catch a performance if you are visiting during the Opera's season.
Chain Bridge |
The Szechenyi Chain Bridge was the first permanent, stone bridge to connect Buda & Pest and the second bridge to span the Danube in Europe. The bridge remains a notable feature of Budapest today, and affords lovely views of the city at Golden Hour. Take a stroll from Pest to Buda, enjoying the views as you go.
Sunset from Buda Castle |
Take the short funicular (or walk if you're up for it) up to Buda Castle to enjoy sweeping views over the Danube and the Pest side of the city. Don't worry too much about exploring the castle and museums here as we'll be back tomorrow.
Dinner at Tanti |
Catch a bus to head outside of the main part of town for dinner at Tanti, an unpretentious fine dining restaurant. The decor is modern, but colorful and fun and the staff is extremely friendly. The restaurant offers two tasting menu options or an a la carte menu - I recommend doing the 5-course tasting for a well rounded, beautifully presented meal.
Start your day with a tasty breakfast and cup of coffee at Fekete Cafe, a homey spot with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Buda & Castle Hill |
Once the seat of the Hungarian royalty, Castle Hill is home to numerous historical buildings and holds a commanding presence over the entire city as it can be seen all along the river. Buda Castle now houses the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the the Szechenyi Library and is worth an exploration. Walk along the cobblestoned streets taking in the charming 16th century homes (in many cases) until you reach Trinity Square with the colorful roof-tiled Matthias Church. The adjacent Fisherman's Bastion, built in the early 1900s is whimsical and also provides nice views of the city.
Visit the cozy Pest-Buda (get it?) Bistro for some classic, home-cooked Hungarian dishes.
Gellert Baths |
Budapest is gifted with tons of geothermal springs and water flowing under and throughout the city. Do as the locals do and enjoy a lazy afternoon at the Gellert Baths, featuring several indoor and outdoor mineral pools at different temperatures and a cafe. Another favorite, even larger bathing establishment is the 100 year old Szechenyi Baths near Heroes Square.
St Stephens Basilica |
The impressive St Stephens Basilica took half a century to build and is home to the mummified right hand of the first King of Hungary. Although the interior architecture isn't really my style, the dramatic exterior deserves recognition. Spend some time exploring the surrounding square and pedestrian areas before heading to dinner.
Zeller Bistro |
Just steps from St Stephens is Zeller Bistro, a spacious restaurant plus covered courtyard serving fresh Hungarian dishes with a modern twist. The ambiance is colorful and warm, the service friendly, and the ample portioned food tasty! Reservations are recommended!
Ruin Bars |
Unique to Budapest is the profusion of "ruin bars" throughout the city. At the turn of the millennium, these bars started springing up throughout the city, taking derelict, run-down buildings and turning them into fun, eclectic spaces without losing the crumbly nature of the buildings. One of the most famous is Szimpla Kert in the Jewish Quarter, an explosion of color and oddities, but an entertaining spot to have an inexpensive evening drink. Some like the Mazel Tov Bar and Restaurant (below) are a bit more manicured, but still maintain unassuming facades and rustic elements.