An hour-by-hour itinerary, meticulously planned outfits and matching pyjamas could only mean one thing: a 5 day city break with my best friend.
After flying from Stansted with Ryanair for a modest 2 hours, we landed into Budapest airport at around 3pm. We jumped in a cab and went straight to the hotel to check in, drop off our bags and freshen up before going out to explore the local culture… straight to a Starbucks in the nearby shopping centre.
You can take the girls out of London…
Budapest is actually considered both a city, and a country, made up of two cities: Buda and Pest. We stayed on the Pest side, where most of the nightlife is. We found the Buda side to be much more touristy, naturally, as it houses the big Buda Castle and main museums.
View of Pest from the outside of Buda Castle
We had a full itinerary planned with key places we both wanted to visit, along with restaurant reservations (recommendations from friends) and activity bookings. Given the location of certain things, we kept stumbling into key places completely unplanned. One evening after dinner, we chased the sunset and ended up ticking off “watch the sunset at Parliament Building” from our 3rd day to-do list without realising. While there are incredible buildings everywhere you turn while walking around Budapest, here are my top places you HAVE to visit:
1. St Stephen’s Basilica
This Roman Catholic basilica is the most important church building in the whole of Budapest and is absolutely stunning. Being one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest, getting a ticket to the observation deck at the top is a must; the 360degree views of the city are breath-taking.
Back on level ground, the stunning features of this building are as clear to see on the inside as they are on the outside.
TIP: Visit the church at 10am on a Sunday morning and catch the end of the local Sunday service which is an experience in itself.
2. Parliament Building
This remarkable building is one of the most iconic in the whole of Budapest. Sat on the Danube river bank, only a small portion of the building is currently used by government, and tourists can take guided tours around the rest of the incredible Gothic Revival style building.
We had a tour on our to-do list, however were unable to buy on-the-spot tickets due to high demand. Instead, we took pictures outside of it after having watched the sunset a couple of nights before.
TIP: be sure to book tickets in advance and take your passport with you as it is free for all British Citizens.
3. Buda Castle and Castle Hill
Discover Castle Hill at your own pace. There are so many different beautiful buildings to see and endless views to soak in. You could easily spend a whole day here, but if you are rushed for time, be sure to visit Trinity Square, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthius Church.
TIP: Take a funicular ride up to the top of the hill from Chain Bridge and visit the small History Museum tucked away at the far end of the castle.
4. City Park & Vajdahunyad Castle
This beautiful park is huge and reminded us both of Central Park in New York. The Castle looks like something out a fairytale film; the surrounding river, that also runs through the park, is so picturesque and a very peaceful spot to sit and relax for a while.
TIP: Try to visit on a Sunday where local businesses have stalls, music plays and large garden games are laid out for a fun family day out.
5. Heroes’ Square
Located in between two important and beautiful buildings, The Museum of Fine Arts and The Hall of Art, The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square was built to commemorate the 1000 year old history of the Magyars (Hungarians). The square is noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
TIP: If you have the time, visit the square both during the day, and at night.
6. Gellert Baths / Szechenyi Baths
Budapest isn’t known as The City of Baths for no reason. Hungary is the land of thermal springs and there are a number of baths for you to visit as a relaxing and unique spa experience during your trip to Budapest.
We opted for the Gellert Baths and Spa for a day of pure relaxation. Located just across the river on the Buda side, the roman-style columns surrounding the biggest of the 5 indoor swimming pools is the most photographed spa in Hungary. You can also take your pick of the outdoor thermal pools; one heated to around 36degrees celcius, and another much cooler wave pool which on the hour, every hour, creates huge waves for everyone of all ages to enjoy.
The stunning Art Nouveau style is mastered throughout in every aspect; from stained glass windows to mosaic tiled floors, the beauty of this building can be seen in every room down to the finest detail.
TIP: Book tickets in advance as it was very busy. We opted for the cabin changing room and 20 minute massage package which cost around £30 each. Be sure to pack some towels as the rental prices are ridiculous (around £10 for the day, £4 being a returned deposit) and some snacks. There is a bar/café selling drinks and food throughout the day but is as expensive as you would imagine for such a high tourist attraction.
The Szechenyi Baths are located inside City Park and was, again, a beautiful building. We didn’t go inside these baths, however admired the building from the outside (and the inside of the reception hall).
7. House of Terror Museum
This is an eye opening museum into the history of Budapest and the underpublicized horrors and impact that the Soviet Union, Stalin and Hitler had on the country during, and after, the Second World War. A very moving and interesting museum to visit.
TIP: Get yourself an audio guide tour and go through at your own pace.
8. Shoes on Danube River
A moving tribute along the Danube River bank to the honour the 3,500 people (mainly Budapest Jews) who were shot into the river during World War II. 60 pairs of period appropriate shoes are laid along the bank along with 3 cast iron signs with the following text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew: “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005“.
TIP: Just behind the river bank, you will see the sitting statue of Attila Jozsef, the Hungarian born poet.
We got a few tips before we left from a family member (of which I will be passing on to you all) – one of those was to avoid the tourist trap restaurants, mainly those offering local ‘traditional’ Hungarian food. Even without this tip, I can hold my hands up and say we weren’t tempted by the look of the local cuisine. Admittedly, we didn’t try too hard to find a Hungarian restaurant that did take our fancy and non-tourist trap-esque. We stuck mainly to Italian and Turkish, however there was a fair few Thai restaurants dotted around that looked nice too. We did, however, try the local pastries for breakfast a few times (all hail the Nutella filled croissant). We also bought a few bits from Lidl to cover us for breakfast and dinner for a couple of days. A couple of restaurants we LOVED were Mazel Tov and Zeller. Be sure to book in advance though as they are both really busy.
Lunch at Mozel Tov
Dinner at Zeller (complete with colouring pencils and paper place mats)
Dinner at Turkish restaurant Titiz
Lunch at Italian restaurant Millennium da Pippo
TIP: Have a look on Trip Advisor for restaurants that are reviewed well – depending on where you are staying you may find the best
The nightlife in Budapest is fantastic so it’s no surprise that there were stag and hen do’s almost everywhere we looked. The Ruin Bars are your best bet for a cheap night but also for a great atmosphere, most open until 4/5am. If you’re going to try them out, definitely go to Fogas or Doboz, or both!
There are also bars scattered around the city, Brooklyn Bar is great, along with big night clubs. We only went to one, Hello Baby, but Peaches and Cream was also a highly rated nightclub that played RnB music.
We were staying at the Ivory Apartments located a stones throw away from the iconic St Stephen’s Basilica. The one bedroom apartment was the perfect size and location with all of the amenities and utensils we needed throughout our stay.
I think the best thing we could have done was stay in an apartment as opposed to a hotel. Most conveniently, we had access to the kitchen as and when we pleased, allowing us full control over eating breakfast in our pyjamas, cooking meals when it suited us and eating ice cream straight from the tub after midnight.
TIP: Request a room on the top floor facing the Basilica for incredible views
1. Take ID with you at all times: If you are under 26 and/or a student, you will get discounts on most of the museum and tour prices.
2. Read up and learn: When planning, get an idea of what it is you will actually be going to see. Learn a bit of the history and purpose of the buildings and landmarks. Get to know some of the basic phrases to impress the locals!
3. Spend wise: As it stands, the country is cheap compared to London. We each took £300 worth of Hungarian Forint (which is over 100,000 Monopoly type Forint) and I ended up bringing back around £80.
4. Don’t be lazy: Hop on buses and cabs are everywhere you turn, but resist temptation (while wearing comfy shoes!) and stick to walking everywhere. We saw so much more of the country through getting lost and wandering little back streets, which we would have missed had we stuck to main roads and buses.
With all of the tourist money coming in to Budapest at the moment, I fear the country will begin to lose it’s originality. There is a lot of building work being down throughout both cities, with cranes and developments scattered around.
I would recommend going to view this time capsule of a country while the history can still be felt walking down the streets.
That being said, the country is perfect for anyone, of any age, travelling alone, as a couple or as part of a group. We spent 5 days (4 nights) laughing and making incredible memories, and felt the length of time was perfect; we didn’t feel rushed to do everything, all the while not getting bored or running out of places to go.
Camera’s at the ready Budapest is definitely a European must-see!
*All pictures were taken on a Samsung S8, iPhone 6 or Olympus Pen EPL-7