Get the first impression of Budapest in 2 days
Surprisingly enough, and for NO reason at all, I never really visited Budapest. I passed through the city at night by bus on my way to Croatia in 1996 but the only memory from it stuck in my head since then has been the incredibly lit Parliament building above the Danube River.
So when I booked a flight going from Budapest to Porto on the 6th September 2012, I knew that was the right moment to get the first impression of Budapest. And it was only then when I found out there is an afternoon train connection from my home town Snina to Budapest that just takes around 7 hours. The you-never-have-time-to-visit-what-is-close-to-you rule could be completely applied here in my situation.
After changing the train twice in Humenne and Kosice, and an hour delay, I finally arrived in Budapest at 10.30 pm. Already before my trip, using comparison to obtain the most budget friendly Budapest hotels I chose to stay in Golden Park Hotel which is located just 2 minutes walking from the train station Keleti where I got, basically just the opposite side of the Baross square.
For the next three days Budapest played the main role in my life the same as it plays the central role in the country with its heart of Hungary location. It is supposed to be one of the most romantic capitals so it won’t surprise us to hear its nickname ”Paris of the East”. The Danube River divides the city into 2 parts: Buda (on the Western side) and Pest (on the Eastern side). Pest is the political and business part with restaurants, bars and boutiques. Both Buda and Pest are divided then into more districts.
I got a 72-hour Budapest card to use for my entire stay in this lovely city (there is one for 24 hours or 48 hours too) which helped me a lot when exploring Budapest. All the public transport is included in the card, then ZOO entrance, Walking Tour Buda and Walking Tour Pest (both around 3 hours), pocket guide app is free too and then you also get 10 – 50 % discounts to restaurants, spas, shopping, nightlife and many museums and other attractions. I really recommend you to get it if you will be using any of the mentioned facilities.
My first two days in Budapest I took a city tour Hop on, Hop off bus to get to know the main sites. The good thing is that you can buy tickets online and paying for 1 day you get a second day for free 🙂
Day 1 in Budapest
I started at the stop number 7 of Red Line Hop on, Hop off bus as it was just next to my hotel and my first stop was the Buda castle.
Buda castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. You could easily spend half a day, if not an entire day strolling around narrow antique cobbled-stoned streets, Fisherman’s bastion, and the palace where the kings used to live. Apart from the breath-taking views of Budapest, the Danube and the bridges, there are a few restaurants around, museums and galleries (Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum), beautiful old walls, underground bomb-proof military hospital built in the cave in 1939; and changing the guards in front of the Royal Palace is a must see too.
To get to Buda castle which can be visible from almost anywhere in Budapest, you have a few possibilities:
1) you can climb a hill walking.
2) take Hop on, Hop off bus stop number 5 Yellow Line or Red Line stop number 10 to a funicular Budavari Siklo (leaves from the outside of the Chain Bridge in the Buda). The funicular is 900 HUF one way or 1500 HUF return ticket. If you have time, don’t buy the return ticket but come back down walking.
3) or just get there on Hop on, Hop off bus – number 11 of Red Line Bus which brings you directly to the top and from there you get to Buda Castle walking in less than 10 minutes. If you have the Hop on, Hop off around Budapest, this is the best option probably. It will save you both time and money.
Please do visit Matthias Church if your time permits. It is not far from Buda Castle but this time I was not able to visit it.
After, I continued on Hop on bus to the stop number 12 – Citadel.
Citadel (Citadella in Hungarian) built in 1854 on Gellert Hill (a dolomite hill that has protected status) is the highest viewpoint of Budapest where both sides of the Danube can be seen from 140 meters. In the past it once served as a symbol of tyrany. Nowadays you can visit there the Statue of Liberty (yes, not only New York has one!), the Gellert Hill Cave with Chapel carved into the rock and the Statue of Bishop St. Gellert. And also popular Gellert thermal baths or some of the picturesque restaurants.
If you have time, I recommend you to spend the whole day exploring both Buda castle area and Citadel as there is more to see than you expect. And after a lot of walking you will be rewarded by night-time illuminations of Budapest, not just the daylight views.
I hopped on the bus again which took me to the stop number 2 – Elizabeth Square (Erzsébet tér) and Deák Ferenc tér which I strolled around a little bit and really fell in love with. You can even cool down with your feet in the fountain at Elizabeth Square in hot summer days.
Then, I had a proper look of Andrássy utca from close. Instead of observing it from the bus, I walked it through and found it very interesting.
Andrássy utca – Andrassy Avenue runs from the Elizabeth Square to Varosliget park. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002 due to the gorgeous palaces and big decorated villas on its both sides. Closer to the city center, Andrassy Avenue is the area of the luxury brands, such as Gucci, Luis Vuitton, Burberry, etc.I was really impressed by Andrassy utca buildings, some of which very old and beautiful, such as the architectural gem of the Opera House, the Old Music Conservatory, the House of Terror or any unknown building situated along the street. The avenue is a part of the planned city walls of the end of the 19th ct underneath which the first underground of continental Europe can be found. Yes, the first subway in Europe (if not counting the islands – then it was in London) was built in Budapest!
Walking up to the end of Andrassy Avenue, I found myself at the impressive huge square. Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere) with its Millenary Monument and prominent figures of Hungarian history in the center is the most spacious square of Budapest and one of its World Heritage Sites. It was constructed to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian State in 1896. Great to visit both during the day and night time – busy during the day, peaceful at night time. On the left side of Heroes’ Square there is the Museum of Fine Arts with free entrance to year-round exhibitions. If you are a lover of Egyptian art, Raphael, El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Gauguin, Monet, Manet or many other painters, then you should not miss this museum.
Hősök Tere is the entrance to Varosliget. Varosliget, the City Park, offers a lot to do, from romantic walks both during the day or at night around the lakes, exquisite dining in one of the restaurants next to the lake, sunbathing in summer, kids playing in the playground, the only permanent circus in both Hungary and Central Europe, ZOO, Szechenyi thermal baths, Amusement Park, paddling boat in the summer or skate on the same lake in the winter months… Unfortunately, when I visited, there was a reconstruction going on the lake so it was without water.
The ZOO is one of those calm places of Budapest which offers you relax among 2000 species of plants and 700 species of animals. Like I mentioned already, with Budapest card you get free entrance so I just had to use it when there. I had a great time, taking photos of colourful elephant statues, observing water birds, kangaroos and monkeys and most of all staring at funny penguins and seals swimming. So cute! It reminded me of penguins in Punta Tombo in Argentina, how I missed that place!
After the ZOO I also laid my eyes on the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle and its surroundings. The castle is the place of music concerts and the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. I felt like in a fairytale there. Just a prince on a white horse was missing 😀 Maybe because it was summer?!
Afterwards, I strolled along the Danube Promenade which became one of my favorite parts of Budapest. The best way to finish the evening then was to take Legend Candle-lit Dinner Cruise along the Danube. Time for romance!
Day 2 in Budapest
The second day of hopping around Budapest I started with the visit of Parliament in the morning which is stop number 14 of the Red Line Hop on, Hop off, or number 8 of the Yellow Line.
Budapest Parliament is the largest building of Hungary and the second largest parliament of Europe. This neo-Gothic style impressive building with 691 rooms can be found on the Pest bank of the Danube. 17 years around 1,000 workers worked hard to build this monumental building the way we can see it now with 88 decorated statues on the outside, mosaic windows, gobelins and paintings.
To get in you need to buy a ticket at the gate X. There are Hungarian and other languages guided tours that take approximately 50 minutes and start at gate XII.
Apart from walking on the red carpet and being amazed by the golden majestic decorations, the Parliament building displays the Holy Crown and the Coronation Jewels – Hungary’s national symbol found in Dome Room surrounded by guards.
Still overwhelmed by the Parliament, I made my way to the Basilica which is just a few minutes walking.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the biggest church of Budapest which can hold up to 8,500 people. There is a possibility of hiring an English tour guide to show you around the Basilica for 2,000 HUF (you have to book it in advance for a certain time and date) or just walk this neo-Renaissance piece of beauty on your own like I did.
Don’t forget that in its right chapel the mummified right hand of St. Stephen is kept. St. Stephen was the founder of the religion and Hungary’s first king.
Climbing up 302 stairs or taking a lift to the Dome (top of the Basilica) is a must-do to get the best views of both Buda and Pest parts of Budapest. It costs only 500 HUF to get to the top but the panorama views are priceless. With Budapest card you get 20% discount.
I walked all the 302 steps to stay in shape – up where I took some photos and videos, and then back down 😉
From the Basilica I walked to Elizabeth Square and got on the Yellow Line bus again which brought me to the Synagogue.
The Great Synagogue situated on Dohany Street just a few steps from Kiskorut, with the capacity of 3,000 people is the biggest synagogue of Europe and the 5th biggest in the world. Musician Franz Liszt played its organ and nowadays concerts of classical music are held in here.
Together with the inside of the synagogue you should visit the cemetery of the Jewish Heroes of WWI and the Holocaust Memorial Park with the so called Emanuel Memorial Tree – a very interesting metal tree with the names of the holocaust victims on its leaves.
Close by there is the world famous Jewish museum showing the history of the Jews, their relics and utensils of the everyday life. Close by there are 2 other synagogues (the Rumbach Street Synagogue and the Kazinczy Sreet Synagogue), kosher restaurants, a ritual bath mikveh from 2005, Jewish institutions, schools and bars.
After the interesting visit of the Synagogue, I jumped on the open roof of the Yellow Line bus again and enjoyed the views of Budapest once again with the wind in my hair until the stop number 10. Lunch time at the market!
The Great Market Hall Vasarcsarnok is one of the several market halls that survived from the beginning of the 20th century. Located at the end of Vaci utca offers traditional Hungarian sausages and meat, paprika, vegetables and fruit, alcohol (wine and Hungarian palenka).
On the first floor you can visit the famous restaurant Fakanal and order one of their delicious traditional Hungarian meals (perkelt, goulash, filled paprika). I had gnocchi with chicken there for lunch as I just could not resist it when I spotted it. It was so delicious that the waiter had a lot of fun when looking at me licking my fingers and lips trying to get the last yummy flavour.
With full stomach, I decided to burn some calories walking the pedestrian shopping street – Vaci utca. You can do all the shopping in here and have some great food too in one of the many restaurants. At the other side of Vaci street, at the Vörösmarty tér (Vorosmarty Square), there is the world-known Gerbeaud cafeteria selling the famous yummy dessert žerbo among many other extraordinary and classic desserts.
I ended the day relaxing in Szechenyi thermal baths, yupiiii 🙂
Tropicarium – displaying the biggest sea water aquarium of the Central Europe of 1,4 million litres of salt water being the home of 8 sharks and hundreds of various colourful fish. As well many other smaller aquariums of 5 to 40,000 litres can be found in here and the rarity is a piece of rainforest where it rains every 15 minutes above the calm alligators from the Mississippi.
Margaret Island – it is easy to get there walking from the Margaret Bridge after taking tram number 6. No cars on the island, relaxation, Japanese Garden, medieval ruins, a music fountain, open air theatre and bars, the Water Tower and also a little zoo will be one of the best places for your recreation while in Budapest during the day, and party time at night. Margaret Island is also the place where you will find many runners.
There are more Market Halls in Budapest apart from the Great Market Hall, such as Hold u. (District V), Lehel Square (XIII), Feny u. (II) or Klauzal Square (VII).
There is a floating bus Riverride which will guide you around both on land and water.
Magnolia Day Spa where they offer beer and wine baths or massage with traditional Hungarian alcohol palenka.
Aquarium – a concert club under the city, below Elizabeth Square (Erzsebet ter) is separating its guests from the pond above their heads just by a thick wall of glass. I’m sure you have not been into a club like that before!
New York Café in Boscolo hotel built in the end of the 19th century is one of the Budapest’s famous coffeehouses where a bunch of writers and artists used to spend hours. It is supposed to be the world’s most exquisite coffeehouse.
Ruin bars – Budapest speciality that cannot be found in many other places around the world. In the old, un-used buildings bars and pubs are built as meeting places of young artists and anyone wanting a drink listening to music. The famous ones are for example: Corvin Teto, Szimpla kert, Fogasház, among others.
Ice bar – for a completely different experience to cool down in hot summer days or just to make cold winter even colder.
Budapest is definitely one of those cities that makes you crave for more. I am already looking forward to revisit it in the near future.
My Budapest visit was a press trip organized with the help of Velvyslanectvo Maďarskej republiky (visit their website to get more info in Slovak). For more information in English about Budapest, please visit Hungary Tourism website and Budapest info website, Budapest Parliament website and hop on, hop off buses about Budapest city tour buses, also Legenda Danube cruises. All the thoughts in this article are my own.