Sing it with me, “miiiiiiiiiles from Budapest.” Sorry, I had to! My mom and I spent two days in Budapest during our 10-day Europe trip, and had no idea going into it, that Budapest would be our favorite stop! The city is filled with so much history, beautiful architecture, and Hungarian pride. Here’s a breakdown of our time (just under 48 hours) in the city!
Day 1 // 3 – 5:30 p.m.
We arrived at Budapest Keleti (the train station), just before 3 and were greeted by a driver, which was handled by our hotel (who proactively reached out and asked if we needed any transportation booked for our stay)! Having a driver waiting at the platform was SO helpful! From here, we were dropped off at the incredible Aria Hotel Budapest, where we checked in.
After we dropped our bags and settled into our room, we were given an in-depth tour of the hotel, and fortunately, were able to take advantage of a lot the hotel had to offer during our stay (read all about it here)! The first order of business, wine and cheese hour (which takes place every afternoon), where we were able to decompress a bit from our rushed morning in Vienna, train ride, and gear up for our evening activities!
Day 1 // 5:45 – 7:30 p.m.
Since we didn’t quite have our bearings in the city yet, we hopped in a cab and were dropped at our first big adventure in Budapest, a river cruise! There are several cruises available, but we chose to go with the one-hour Danube Legenda cruise, which cost about $20 each and included free Wi-Fi onboard, one drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic), and an educational video (available in several languages) on the history of Budapest, as well as background on some of the biggest sights.
To be honest, we only half-paid attention to the video, because we wanted to look at the sights from the back of the boat, where we could snap some better photos. It was a great way to get our bearings straight for the main sights though, and we were able to see amazing views of the city lit up at night!
Day 1 // 7:45 – 8:45 p.m.
After seeing and hearing about the Harmony Spa at our hotel, my mom and I immediately exchanged looks and agreed, yes, we should spoil ourselves with massages, because why not?! We called down to make a spur-of-the-moment reservation, and sure enough, they were able to squeeze us both in a few hours later. It was well worth it!
Day 1 // 8:45 – 10 p.m.
Post-massage we were pretty hungry, so we ventured out to find a bite to eat. Lucky for us, there was an Italian restaurant right next door, Trattoria Mamma, where we split a pizza and caprese salad, both of which were delicious! We also opted for some Hungarian beer and wine, which was a great way to top our meal off! It was also incredibly affordable, at about $20 total for the two of us!
By the time we finished dinner, we only had about a half hour left until the Christmas markets closed, so we walked around for a bit, scoping out the booths and the mesmerizing light show at St. Stephen’s Basilica. This is one of my favorite photos that I snapped in Budapest!
Day 2 // 8:45 – 9:30 a.m.
After getting ready, we made our way downstairs for breakfast in the lobby, and were blown away at how delicious the food was, great the service was, and how beautiful and colorful the table was! During breakfast, we also discussed our big itinerary for the day (this was, after all, our only FULL day in the city), and geared up for the big adventures ahead.
Day 2 // 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
First up was passing through another Christmas market on our way to our free walking tour, and making mental notes of which places we wanted to revisit. We came across this really cool tree made of wood chunks, and inside was a little hangout area that several people could fit into. It was pretty nifty!
Our “Original” walking tour (there are several types available, depending on your interest) with Free Walking Tours started at 10:30 sharp, and there was a HUGE crowd of people there to take advantage of it (note: even though the tours are free, it’s still customary to give your guide a tip at the end). We were broken into several smaller groups to make it easier to hear our guide, which was incredibly helpful!
I highly recommend taking this one, because you’re really able to see a lot of the big sights AND learn more background on them (loads of history in this city)! Also, bring walking shoes! It’s a good 2.5 mile walk and the starting and ending point are different, which means more walking! On our tour, learned that Budapest was at one time divided into two cities, “Buda,” and “Pest,” separated by the Danube river. The “Pest” side is more touristy and new (where the tour started), while the “Buda” side is older, houses more of the big sights, and is more residential (where the tour ended).
We learned tons of historical facts about places like the famous St. Stephen’s Basilica (next to our hotel), that was built by the first Hungarian king, King St. Stephen, who died in 1038. Years later, he was dug up and his right hand (now called “The Holy Right”) was cut off and mummified, after the Hungarians decided to take the words on the front of the church literally. This is now an attraction you can visit during the Basilica’s open hours. Crazy!
Next, we crossed the famous Chain Bridge and made our way to the “Buda” side of town. It’s worth noting that the “Buda” side is not flat land like “Pest,” but rather mountainous in comparison! After crossing the bridge, we hiked our way up a bit toward Buda Castle (that beautiful building behind the Chain Bridge I keep showing you) and the Castle District! By the time we reached the top (they do also offer a lift ride you can take to the top if you’re unable to walk up), I was beyond ready to ditch my jacket. What a workout!
In the Castle District, we caught a glimpse of the President of Budapest’s home, an awesome view of the city from atop, and ruins from a battle between the Turks and Hapsburgs in the late 1600s, and again, during battles in the 1940s. And by ruins, I mean rubble. There was really nothing to see, it was all left to the imagination.
Our walk continued upward until we reached the cutest little area of town, and another famous Budapest sight, Matthias Church, which was just absolutely gorgeous! The architecture of churches in Europe is unlike anything else! It was here, across from the church, and next to the last big sight on the tour, Fisherman’s Bastion (named for being a fish market during medieval times), that our tour ended. This is where you’ll get the most INCREDIBLE view of Budapest. But more on that in a minute.
Day 2 // 1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
Our tour guide recommended a cheap and authentic Hungarian dining experience, where many of the guides ate post-tour, and locals frequented. Since we were starving by the end of our 2.5 mile walk, we went for it, and tried a traditional dish, Hungarian Goulash. It was SO good! We also received a recommendation to pop around the corner to Ruszwurm Cukraszda, the oldest pastry shop, opened in 1827. It was packed but worth waiting a few minutes in line for – the cookie and cake we split really hit the spot!
Following food, we walked back over to Fisherman’s Bastion to explore the area guarded by the fisherman of Budapest during the Middle Ages. There are several different pathways you can take to check out the area. It looked and felt kind of like exploring castle grounds, just minus the indoor castle part. Despite taking a lot of energy to hike up here, this is something you just don’t want to miss!
As our daylight hours were becoming limited, we trekked back over the Chain Bridge to see the “Shoes on the Danube” monument back on the “Pest” side. It was such a chilling thing to see, but important to the Hungarians that the Jewish people who died during the WWII occupations were remembered. As you can see, many people leave flowers and candles around this area to honor those individuals.
Day 2 // 4 – 6:45 p.m.
The next couple of hours were spent wandering the Christmas markets and shops near Vörösmarty square, where a lot of the exciting action in the city was happening. I found the cutest store, Oysho, that I’m so bummed doesn’t have a presence in the U.S., but bought the most comfortable PJ pants ever there. Next time I’m in Europe, I’m hunting one down!
We also tried Kürtőskalács, or “chimney cakes,” the most popular Christmastime dessert in Budapest. It’s basically sweet dough rolled in sugar. A dream, I know. We didn’t quite understand where it got its name, but once they handed the treat over to me, I realized it. The center is hollow and since it’s a warm dessert, hot steam comes out of the top, making it look like a chimney smoking. Brilliant!
From here, we ran back to the hotel to grab our bathing suits. It was getting late, but we knew we could take a trip to Budapest and skip the famous baths.
Day 2 // 7:15 – 9 p.m.
We only had about 2 hours until the closing, but we just had to make sure we included a visit to one of the baths, no matter how short of time we had. There are several to choose from, but based on our hotel’s location, the bath’s hours, and reviews, we opted for the Szechenyi Baths. It’s an extremely popular one, and one that the locals frequent moreso than the others (e.g. Gellért, Rudas). Tickets are about $20 each for entrance and a locker (the standard option), and it’s important to know, they don’t provide towels, so bring your own! We had to get a bit crafty since we also only had winter/closed toed shoes with us, but we made it work and had a blast relaxing in the outdoor baths, despite the fact that it was freezing outside (we had to make quick dashes from the warm bath back inside)!
Since it was dark out and the steam was rising up, it was hard to capture a solid picture, but there are plenty online you can view to take the full scenery in! This particular one was built in the early 1900s, but baths in the Budapest area have been around since the Roman times – it’s a huge attraction to the city! I think it’s worth a trip to test out the “healing waters,” even if you’re crunched for time like we were! But do note that English speakers are VERY limited at this bath, and the locals walking around in the locker rooms aren’t afraid to prance around in their birthday suits.
Day 2 // 9:15 – 10 p.m.
To end the day, we hailed an Uber (yes they operate in Budapest!) back to the hotel, dropped off our wet clothes, and went out for one last hoorah at the Christmas markets. Then, back to the room we went to order some room service and sleep like we’d never slept before!
Day 2 // 8:30 – 10:30 a.m.
Our last morning was another whirlwind. After packing up, we scarfed down some breakfast and then went over for a quick visit of the inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica. We had heard it was beautiful but hadn’t been able to get there during their hours to see the inside. There was a small fee of ~$1.50 per person to enter, and we were SO curious about the King’s hand, so our last 20 minutes were spent exploring the beautiful church… and seeing the mummified hand. YIKES!
If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely LOVED Budapest. I think to get the full effect, 3-4 days would be better, but I think we were able to cram in quite a bit, despite our time constraints. This is one place I cannot WAIT to get back to!