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Budapest: a charming city you absolutely need to visit

Updated: 7 days ago

Budapest is the capital of Hungary and has a very rich history. The location around the famous Danube River and its amazing buildings (where you feel like walking in a previous century) makes this city a must visit as a once in a lifetime experience.

There are many flights to Budapest and most people arrive by airplane. From the airport you can easily get to the city center in about 40 minutes. The public transport is very well organized. Upon arrival we picked up our Budapest cards in the airport terminal. You can choose for different options: 24 hrs, 48 hrs, 72 hrs, 96 hrs or 120 hrs depending on the time you will spend in the city. This card has a lot of advantages as you have free access to all public transport, a lot of different museums, thermal baths, free walking tours (both in Buda and Pest), many activities and discounts on restaurants as well.

You can use the card immediately after your purchase to go to the city center.

Where to stay in Budapest?

As in all big capitals there are many accommodations to choose from.

Hotels: there are many different hotels in Budapest, but as my niche is luxury travel we stayed at the Anantara New York Palace hotel. This amazing Thai hotel brand didn’t disappoint.

The building itself is an architectural ode to Europe’s Belle Epoque. The location in the historical downtown of Budapest with easy access to metro, tram and busses made it a perfect choice. The hotel is also part of the leading hotels of the world and the fact the famous New York café was located inside the hotel was an amazing experience. We had a very delicious breakfast each day in this beautiful café. The service in the hotel was outstanding as well. A complete review will be published here soon.

Spending 4 days in this beautiful city

Day 1: free walking tour Buda & Pest to get to know the city

I am a big fan of free walking tours as you decide the price of the experience yourself depending on the quality.

In the morning we visited the part of Pest (which is the lower part of the city, divided by the Danube). We started in the Jewish District near the Statue of Sissi. This famous empress of the Habsburg period in Budapest was loved by the Hungarians as she spent a lot of time in Hungary and even learned to speak Hungarian. We learned a lot about the history of Hungary and Budapest and went to see some impressive parts of the city.

Fun fact: there are a lot of cute little statues in the city, like these three:

1) bear of Mr. Bean hanging on th building of the former British Embassy.

2) a balloon dog on the balustrade near the Danube River

3) cute little girl sitting on the balustrade

We walked around the party district with a lot of pubs (the October fest was still going on there). We saw the Ferris Wheel, The St-Stephan’s cathedral, Ronald Reagan Statue, House of music, house of Parliament and many more.

In the afternoon we crossed the Danube by metro (thanks to our Budapest card we could freely travel around in the city using all kinds of public transport). At 2pm we joined a walking tour at the Buda side (which was free as well with our Budapest card). We walked alongside the Matthias church, which is absolute worth a visit. The roof made of pyro granite is very beautiful and colorful. We saw the castle and walked around it with amazing views on the Pest side of the city. We ended our tour at the Fisherman’s bastion, which is one of the best places for photography.

Day 2: The thermal baths of Budapest

A visit to Budapest is n complete without visiting one of the thermal baths. We could go to St. Lukacs thermal bath for free with our Budapest card, but as we had to choose one, we decided to go to Széchenyi Thermal bath and swimming pool. This is one of the largest bath complexes in Europe, with 21 pools. We still got a 20% discount.

The bath complex is very impressive, the outside pools were the best to my opinion. There are outside baths, two are about 35 degrees, so they are open all year round. The one in the middle is only for swimming and a swimming cap is needed only there. I would advise to bring your own towels, slippers and bathrobe (slippers are required). All these items can be bought at the Spa shop as well. If you like massages, you can book one at the entrance, there are also a lot of treatments available. My advice is to come as early as possible and better to avoid weekends.

Opening hours: weekdays: 7am to 7pm, weekends: 9am to 8pm

Prices: 7100 Ft (about 16,50 €) on weekdays and 8200 Ft (about 19 €) on weekends, including a locker. I would advise you to take a cabin which is available at only 1000 Ft extra (2,3 €)

Tip: In the evening hours the pools are lighted which gives it an extra romantic atmosphere.

Day 3: Margaret Island & the house of Parliament

Margaret Island is situated in the Danube River and can be easily reached by tram number 4 or 6. If you like you can take a public boat as well.

It’s a green part of the city where you can escape the busy city and relax. In the past this island was called: Rabbit Island and it was a royal hunting reserve. Nowadays it’s a public park.

Fun things to do on Margaret Island:

- Drive a funky vehicle (you can rent bikes or all kind of funny vehicles to ride around the Island)

- Climb Margaret Island’s water tower (during our visit the tower was closed, but it’s a popular venue for art & photography exhibitions, as well as being the location of the Budapest Summer festival.

- Visit the Rose garden & the Japanese garden

- See the musical fountain: music is played 5 times a day: 10.30 am, 5, 6, 7 and 9 pm

Visiting the house of parliament: important things to know.

In the afternoon we visited the house of parliament, make sure to make a reservation beforehand but be careful because there are a lot of illegal websites selling these tickets at very huge prices, please only use this website. You can have a tour with an audio guide in many different languages.

The tour takes about 45 minutes (you cannot visit the parliament on your own).

Opening hours: every day from 8am till 4 pm.

Prices: EU-citizens around 10€, non-EU around 20€.

Day 4: St. Stephen’s Basilica, Gellert Hill, Liberty bridge and Central Market Hall

We already saw the outside building of this basilica on the first free tour we did. We decided to to visit the interior as well. It’s absolutely worth a visit. If you are the lucky owner of an international teacher card the visit is completely free. Don’t worry about the height because you can take the elevator up. The view from the tower is amazing! Did you know this was the highest old building in Budapest?

Afterwards we walked the path alongside the Danube towards the Liberty Bridge, personally I think this is the most beautiful bridge in Budapest. It was built for the Millennium World Exhibition in 1896. Originally it was called Francis Joseph after the emperor at that time. After World War II the bridge got its new name.

At the end of the bridge on the Buda part you can climb up the Gellert Hill towards the citadel. The views along the way were stunning! Unfortunately, the Citadel was closed but you get a good sight up there from the liberty statue. We walked down again on the other side of the hill to arrive in Gellert Palace, which hosts a hotel and another famous thermal bath.

By crossing the bridge again to the Pest side of the river you are very close to the Central Market Hall. Here you can buy all kind of food and drinks, like the famous Palinka (a typical Hungarian liquor made mostly with apples, plums, pears or apricots. On the first floor you find mostly souvenir shops but there are also some food stalls where you can eat typical Hungarian dishes as Langos, it’s a very rich snack that will get you easily through the day as it contains around 2000 calories. Or try the goulash, Chicken Paprikash or stuffed cabbage leaves. On the first floor there’s also a restaurant where you can sit down. The building is nice to visit. I especially love the roof with the pyro granite.

Our favorite restaurants, coffeehouses and bars in Budapest

New York Café: this place is an icon in Budapest, on the windows you will find the inscription: ‘Most beautiful café in the world’ and this isn’t exaggerated. The former Belle Epoque café has kept its grandeur and the interior is simply stunning. I had read a few reviews that were not so promising about the service, but we had a very good experience dining here on our first evening. We were happily surprised that this café was part of our hotel and our breakfast buffet was served here every morning.

Spago: restaurant of the famous chef Wolfgang Puck, bringing the Beverly Hills culinary and social legend Spago to Budapest. The restaurant is in Matild Palace and is the first European Outpost of Wolfgang’s flagship restaurant, recommended by the Michelin guide. The signature cocktails are a must try! The food is delicious, we had salmon pizza with caviar, homemade gnocchi and roasted chicken.

Tereza: best Mexican food in Budapest. This restaurant serves an authentic Mexican cuisine and the best Margaritas. Their slogan says it all: Mi casa es su casa! You couldn’t feel more welcome. Reservation is recommended.

Twentysix Budapest: ‘The greenest restaurant in Hungary’ by entering it you will feel that there’s a temperature of 26°. Welcome to the jungle! The restaurant is a cozy urban jungle and feel-good hub for all the nature and gastro friends located in the real heart of Budapest with 4 elements:

- Garden: a nutritious, soulful Mediterranean restaurant

- Studio: for yoga classes every day

- House: kitchen workshops & tailor- made events

- Shop: here you can buy eco-friendly items of interior decorations, that appear in the restaurant

Mazel Tov: when visiting Budapest, a very trendy place to go is a ruin bar: ruin bars are cool drinking spots situated inside neglected pre-war buildings. Mazel Tov is a bit more upscale as the exterior looks like other ruin bars, but the inside is a different story. Instead of cheap drinks you will find cocktails and a real Middle Eastern restaurant. Make sure to make a reservation as we had to wait more than one hour without one.

Gerbeaud: this café and coffee house exists more than 160 years. The pastries and ice-cream are must try here. Also, the interior makes you feel like you’re stepping back into the Belle Epoque period.

The Ruszwurm:. This coffee house, founded in 1827, is the oldest one in Hungary and was also frequented by Sissi (the former empress of Hungary), it was one of her favorite addresses. You should try the “Ruszwurm” cake or the Chestnut cake “Gellenhazy”. Both very delicious.

If you have any questions about visiting Budapest, please let me know in the comments!

 *Disclaimer: This post contains affiliated links which means that purchases made through these links reward Destination Explorer a small commission without any additional charge for the purchaser. 


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