If you’ve been reading the blog recently you’ll know that I have not long returned from my first holiday sans kids (check out my post Why You Should Travel Without Children). Four nights with my best friend exploring 2 fabulous European cities. The first of which was Budapest, Hungary.
And what a city it is. Now I always do a little reading before I visit anywhere but I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for the ‘feel’ of a place. And I definitely wasn’t prepared for the ‘feel’ of Budapest. I admit that despite reading some travel guides and even signing up for a couple of activities, I still had no idea what to expect.
What a delightful surprise we were in for.
We stayed at the Hotel Museum Budapest, a 4 star hotel around a 10 minute walk from the banks of the Danube. The hotel was lovely and clean and provided free tea and coffee in the lobby. They were very accommodating to us arriving early and had our room ready for shortly after 11am which we were really grateful for. They also provided us with maps and recommendations of places to visit, eat and drink. We chose not to have breakfast there as I always like to try out some of the local places as opposed to eating in the hotel so I can’t comment on the food.
Take your pick. There’s so much choice. Budapest can be as expensive or as cheap as you would like. If you want great views of the Danube or a lovely restaurant with an outside area so you can people watch then it’s more expensive (on par with an average dinner out in the UK I would say). Likewise there are so many bars, cafe’s and markets that you can eat in that are so cheap. We did a little of all of these. You have to try the Langos (fried dough) with goulash, and of course, their crepes!
We only had two full days to explore so we wanted to make sure that we did a couple of the main sights whilst also not pushing ourselves to rush around. So, we opted to use the Visit a City app to help us plan and to book a couple of activities. I wouldn’t normally look to do planned trips or tours, however I found this to be a massive advantage as we found ourselves seeing and learning more than we would have if we had been fully left to our own devices.
We had a morning flight and had arranged a private transfer through our hotel (from what I read, the public transport links into the city are not the most straightforward and a transfer was relatively inexpensive at around £20 for the 20 minute journey).
We booked ourselves into the Széchenyi Baths in City Park thinking we’d be super tired from the journey and this would be a great way to relax. The building they are in is super lavish and beautiful and it boasts 15 indoor and outdoor thermal baths and 3 swimming pools, with water temperatures up to 38°C. Although the baths were busy, it wasn’t too overcrowded, though I imagine this isn’t the case in the height of summer. If you opt to visit any of Budapest’s thermal baths I’d recommend you bring some flip-flops as, although we found it very clean, it can be slippery.
We had a lovely time wandering around City Park after our visit to the baths and I would recommend you take some time to check it out too. There are some wonderful buildings, including Vajdahunyad Castle as well as a small lake used for boating in the summer, Budapest Zoo, the Amusement Park, the Municipal Circus and the Museum of Transport. Though we were here without our children it was the City Park that made me think of coming back with the family as there are playgrounds and wooden castles in the park as well as so much open green space.
With or without the kids, you have to enjoy a drink in the park on a deck chair!
We took a slow walk back to the Danube, past Heroes Square, the largest square in Budapest and stopped off for a lovely dinner. Day 1 was completed with an evening cruise along the Danube (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). I really recommend doing this as it was so cheap (£11ish for a 1 hour cruise and free drink) and to see all the lavish buildings along the river (including the Parliament building and Chain Bridge) lit up at night is magnificent. There are many different cruises to choose from, which can include dinner, traditional Hungarian Folklore Shows or even wine and beer tasting.
We spent the first part of our day exploring the Historical Buda City, including the Castle, Royal Palace and Fisherman’s Bastion. There are lots of ways to explore once you are over on the Buda side of the city and we chose to hop on one of the little buses for the equivalent of £5 to get up and down the huge hill. There’s 5 stopping points so you can hop on and hop off in the same way you would with the big sightseeing buses you find in every city. There’s a few places to eat and drink in the area (including that little-known coffee shop beginning with an S) so you can refuel. The views from Fisherman’s Bastion are spectacular and if you can find a quiet spot to sit and enjoy it, I would.
After heading back over to the Pest side and eating at a market for lunch (goulash again…that stuff is amazing), we walked along toward the Parliament Building to visit the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the Jewish men, women and children shot by Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945, after having first removed their shoes (valuable possessions at the time). This can be quite emotional to see, but I think it’s important to visit these memorials so we never forget the atrocities that happened during WW2.
We had dinner on the banks of the Danube and then walked back to the Buda side of the river for a night-time dark history tour of the castle and surrounding area. Don’t expect people dressed up and jumping out at you to scare you, this was a really professional tour which told us lots of the dark stories from Budapest’s past, including all about Vlad the Impaler (the inspiration behind the book Dracula, and I can see why!) Our tour guide was really informative and relayed the stories very well. There’s a fair amount of walking involved but I’d highly recommend it.
We ended our second day by visiting just one last bar for some much needed wine (after sampling the Hungarian wine several times and finding it somewhat…interesting, we opted for an old classic Chardonnay this time) before planning the trip to Vienna the following day.
So there you have it, How To Do Budapest in 2 Days.
We’ll have missed lots I’m sure, but that’s always the case when you visit a place for a short period of time. I believe in picking a couple of things you really want to do/see and then anything else is a bonus. Then take some time to sit in cafes or bars and just soak up the atmosphere (and have a tipple or two). For me it’s pointless trying to cram everything in because it becomes a tick-box exercise and you don’t actually appreciate what you see.
The city is absolutely beautiful, full of amazing architecture, history, great food and lovely people. We left feeling like we had stumbled upon some gems as well as really enjoying our planned activities and with both of us agreeing we would definitely return.
Have you ever visited Budapest? What are your recommendations?