Amazing architecture, delicious food, cool bridges, thermal baths, fairy lights and breathtaking views. This is how I would describe Hungary’s capital in a few words. Out of all the cities I’ve been to, this is probably one of my favourites. One of the few where I’ve thought “I could live here”. The warm and sunny weather obviously helped.
I spent four days in Budapest, and I’m really glad I did. I think it is the perfect amount of time to properly visit the city without rushing. On my first morning, I went on a free walking tour that gave me a great overview of the city’s main sights and history. But more importantly, it served as a sort of “teaser”, making me want to explore the city and helping me to get familiar with it.
After this long introduction, on to the details of the most famous sights and my favourite places, the ones I would recommend to anyone who wants to visit the city.
First stop: Castle Hill
This hill is located on the Buda side, which is West of the Danube, the river that runs through the city. The hill is easily accessible with a funicular or by foot. Either way, from up there the view on the Danube and the other part of the city, Pest, is amazing! There are a lot of great things to see there, so you could almost spend an entire day visiting that part of the city. I didn’t do that and only selected the few things I wanted to see the most.
First of all, the Fisherman’s Bastion. This medieval looking fortress offers a great view of the city and makes you feel like a character in a fantasy book.
Right behind it is the Matthias Church, with its colourful roof tiles. You may want to stop there and admire its architecture from the outside, but what really surprised me was the inside. All the walls and the roof are painted with warm colours and amazing patterns.
After that, I went to a restaurant that my guide book recommended (see at the end of the article for more details). It was quite a long walk but definitely worth it as I had probably the best goulash soup I had ever eaten!
Relaxing evening at the Gellért Baths
My first day in Budapest ended with a visit of one of the most famous spas of the city: the Gellért Baths. I knew Budapest was famous for its thermal water and spas so I definitely wanted to try them. Even though I am not the biggest fan of public swimming pools, I though it was part of the experience and went for it, and didn’t regret it!
I picked these as they are closer to the centre, and wasn’t disappointed at all. The buildings are amazing, and there are a lot of outdoor and indoor swimming pools. Each room is decorated in a slightly different way and besides relaxing in the swimming pools I also walked around a lot to discover every part of this facility.
Probably the most famous building of the city with its stunning and surprising architecture. Again, this monument is amazing to look at from the Danube banks outside, but it is equally beautiful on the inside. The day before, I booked a tour of the Parliament, and it was great, giving a lot of explanations on the Hungarian political system and history.
It is an island a bit further away from the centre, between the Buda and Pest sides, that can be reached through the yellow bridge. It is a great place to go for a walk, especially when the weather is nice. There is apparently a Japanese garden at the other side of it, that I didn’t see, but I stopped in front of a huge fountain to get some sunlight. I know that I definitely want to walk there a bit more when I go back!
Walk along the Danube banks and Jewish quarter
From there, I wanted to go back to the centre, where my accommodation was. I then proceeded to walk along the Danube, stopping in front of the “Shoes on the Danube Bank”, iron shoes that are now surrounded by candles and flowers, as this monument is a memorial to the Jews who lost their lives in the Second World War.
My walk ended in the Jewish district of the city, one of the most vibrant parts of the centre, where I came back multiple times just to enjoy the atmosphere, especially at night. To learn more about the history of this district I went on a very interesting tour of the Great Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe.
At night, I stayed in that part of the city and wandered around in the streets, amazed by all the fairy lights and decorations, all the ruin bars, street food markets and cool restaurants.
Boat trip on the Danube
It was something that I didn’t really want to do at the beginning, but while I was walking along the river, I saw this company that offered a very cheap tour, that worked for at least 24h. I then decided that I would try it, also as a nice and relaxing way to rest my legs for some time. Needless to say, I am really glad I did! This offer allowed me to do the tour twice, once at night, which was wonderful, and during the day, where I could see all the places that I had already been to and the ones that I was planning to visit.
Both tours were great but I strongly suggest the night tour as it gives a very different impression of the city because everything is lit up: the bridges and all the monuments. I think Budapest at night is really what fascinated me the most.
St Stephen’s Basilica
The largest church in Budapest and also the first monument I encountered when walking out of my accommodation. It is a stunning building that contains a lot of history (including a mummified hand…), but also offers an amazing view of the city, from its cupola.
As always, be prepared to climb a lot of stairs, and if possible, try to go up there on a nice sunny day.
Shopping streets and Central Market
The Southern part of Pest (East of the Danube) has nice little shopping streets with all kinds of shops, mainly the most famous brands of what I’d call “fast fashion”. I only had a small suitcase, so I wasn’t very interested in buying anything, though I enjoyed walking around these streets and discover quirkier shops.
This led me to the Great Market Hall and its vibrant atmosphere. As it was close to lunch time, I took this opportunity to taste a lot of different things and wander around the souvenir shops snacking on everything that looked good.
Probably one of my favourite places in Budapest. As you might have guessed from its name, this hill is right in front of the Gellért spa, but I didn’t go there right after my relaxing bath. Instead, I went there on the sunniest autumn day, with an amazingly warm weather. The hike up there can be tiring, but it is 100% worth it in my opinion.
Of course, you can see the Citadel and the Statue of Liberty, but the view is really breathtaking. I stayed there for a big part of the day, walking around, admiring the nature and the city, enjoying the sun. The walk down was also wonderful as there is a little shaded path that goes all the way to the Danube, right in front of one of the bridges.
Szimpla Kert and ruin bars
If you have planned to go to Budapest or if you have already been there, you probably know that the city is famous for its “ruin bars”. These were originally abandoned buildings that were turned into bars, furnished with a lot of random stuff and furniture you could find at a flea market, and decorated by local artists.
The most famous one is the Szimpla Kert, and if you’ve been there, you know why. It is quite hard to describe as it is so different from everything I had ever seen, but I can try. It is a bar that serves drinks at night, but that also hosts a farmer’s market on Sunday mornings. The decorations are the most surprising part as you can find EVERYTHING there: disco balls, mannequins, plants, musical instruments, bikes, street signs, toys, etc.
And that is all! I know that I haven’t seen everything there is to see in this city, as I mainly focused on the touristy spots, but I definitely want to go back and discover it more in depth. Maybe I’ll talk about it on another blog post!
Have you been to Budapest? What was your impression of the city? What would you recommend? I’d love to hear about it!
Places I’ve been to – Food & Drinks: