Budapest is such a gorgeous, fascinating city to spend a long weekend in. So much so, that my lovely friend and I have been twice, and I simply had to share 19 of the best places to go in Budapest on a city break. Egészségére! (That’s Hungarian for cheers!)
Straddling the Danube, the towns of Buda, Pest and Óbuda merged in the Nineteenth Century to form the capital city of Hungary. With over a thousand years of history separately, the cities coped through much turmoil, and the Magyar people emerged with a lightness of spirit that echoes through the streets. Now often known for the litany of stag parties, as the Paris of East or the Pearl of the Danube, Budapest is a city that we fell in love with. At one point I think I even grandly declared it my favourite city break ever – you can simply spa and sup, or get all culture vulture, or a mixture of everything thing you love the best.
On our first visit, we wandered as far as we could over almost 3 days (managing to clock up 12 hours of walking one day and 6 hours of nibbling the next). It was one of the least planned breaks on my behalf (bar some serious Pinterest and Instagram stalking) but with Sam’s meticulous notes, leaning on technology and just following our noses, we saw more than we could share in a month of Sundays and whetted our appetites for a longer revisit. We can conclusively say Budapest is not a one day city.
Our second visit to Budapest was just shy of 5 days – with travelling from London our long weekend was 3 whole and two half days respectively. Thanks to the serious research done on each of our seriously relaxing girls weekends, the best places to go in Budapest on a city break are:
Luxuriate in the natural geothermic spas of Budapest
Sitting on a patchwork of 125 hot springs, visiting the nearly 50 natural thermal baths is often prescribed by the city doctors for helping a litany of ailments. Honestly, I could almost start and finish this list right here. Sadly on our first visit we only had time to visit the infamous (and quite touristy) Szechenyi Baths – a morning spent floating in the healing waters was essential for our weary London souls (and tired soles for that matter).
On our second trip, we also luxuriated in the art deco surrounds of the much less touristy Gellert Spa. It is beautiful, and one of the best places to go in Budapest.
Watch both sides of the river – Buda and Pest – simultaneously light up on a sunset cruise
During the day the UNESCO protected Danube shores are beautiful on their own merits, but seeing them light up as the sun sets made my weekend. Both of us just sat quietly (on the top deck of the boat which we booked on spec) and took in the changing landscape. It was such magic, that we did it again on our second trip – just watch those sunset times.
Admire the amazing view over Budapest from Fisherman’s Bastion
Full of tourists taking selfies and glorious buildings, Fisherman’s Bastion is another ‘tourist must do’, but look. Just look. Perched on the historic Buda hill, Fisherman’s Bastion overlooks the funkier, more modern Pest and appears to be a Disney castle on steroids. Named after yesteryears when the fishermen protected this area, it was something they were told to do in case the Mongolian army would return again (as they first did in 1240-1241).
Enjoy a glass of the local wine
The skies were clear for our whole first visit and the temperatures hovered around 30°C which was the perfect excuse for trying several glasses of the local wine. As we pottered/Instagrammed our way around Fisherman’s Bastion, we decided that taking in the glorious views from the ‘Panorama Cafe’ was too irresistible. It’s definitely one of the best places to go in Budapest. Ground Level of the Fisherman’s Bastion.
So good that we had to go back – even if the sun wasn’t quite so high.
Admire the intricate roof tiles
Yes, I have now recommended booking a 2 or so hour flight on the basis of pretty roof tiles. It simply doesn’t get any more rock and roll than that.
Walk up the side of Buda – or take the tourist furnicular
Spend a decent amount of time admiring the views from the top (and watch the changing of the guards)
Spend a moment paying respect to the memory of Hungarian Jews
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial in Budapest, Hungary. Conceived by film director Can Togay, he created it on the east bank of the Danube River with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honour the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.
Take in a tour of the Budapest Parliament building
The Hungarian Parliament Building, also known as the Parliament of Budapest after its location, is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, a notable landmark of Hungary and a popular tourist destination in Budapest. It lies in Lajos Kossuth Square, on the bank of the Danube.
Nibble at Lángos
On a foodie tour last time, we stopped at a nearby streetfood market to share a traditional Lángos, a ridiculously moreish fried bread dough, often served with sour cream, garlic and cheese. Absolute heaven. They were originally made as snacks by busy bakers ripping off a handful of dough and knocking up a treat, but have been adopted as a perfect hangover cure. Since our last visit, there are stores dedicated to Lángos popping up all over Budapest…
Explore the Ruin bars like Szimpla Kert
Everyone says you have to visit one, and it’s for a good reason that they always top the best places to go in Budapest lists. We wandered the seemingly labyrinthine streets one evening, and just before we gave up hope, we wandered through the bar district to find one of the craziest, coolest places ever. Trotting into Szimpla both in the evening and the following morning, our eyes just couldn’t stop. Originally meant to be temporary bars in dilapidated buildings whilst the owners tried to sell them, ruin bars have become an entire glorious sub-section of the entertainment scene.
Eat sour cherry ice cream
In summer, every corner seems to have a serving case full of dairy delights, overseen by a scoop wielding ice cream maiden. Full of an incredible array of flavours from the classic chocolate and vanilla, to olive and lavender we simply let ourselves indulge. Calories don’t count in foreign countries, right? But my favourite? Without question, it was the sour cherry.
Languidly explore the coffee houses
Much like the Viennese cake houses, Hungary has a rich history of writers and cafes which sparked our curiosity. Penniless writers would meet in the warm and inviting cafes, where they would put pen to paper, and often ‘paid’ for their meals with their thoughts. On our first visit, Sam had the gloriously ostentatious BookCafe on her hit list where we stopped in for a quick slice of cake and many photographs. You walk into a perfectly High Street Book Shop, drift past the shelves full of books (resisting the urge to pick one up) and float up the escalator to this glory. Close to the Opera House – Andrássy út 39.
On our second visit we stopped briefly in the confection that is the New York Café – Erzsébet krt. 9-11.
Curl up in the presence of a good book or two
Budapest is lucky enough to have what are undoubtedly some of the world’s most beautiful libraries, and many are protected monuments of national importance (what’s known as a “műemlék” in Hungarian). For the 13 most beautiful libraries in Budapest, click here. Just make sure to double check the visiting hours before you go – they are some of the best places to go in Budapest whilst on a city break.
Explore Margaret Island, an island in the Danube River
In the Danube River, between Buda and Pest, verdant Margaret Island is a tranquil getaway within the city. Pedestrian promenades navigate around parkland, an art nouveau water tower, the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent and a small zoo. Other attractions include jogging tracks, thermal spas and swimming pools. Summertime brings pop-up bars and restaurants, as well as live music.
Lurk in the local cat cafe – 100% one of the best places to go to in Budapest
Ok, don’t lurk, just linger and chill out with the fabulous kitty cats. Each time we’ve visited, we’ve ended up gravitating towards the local cat cafe.
Enjoy the Hungarian sense of humour
Just these. Ampelmann eat your heart out.
Watch the sunset from the roof terrace of the Aria Hotel
Our last dinner on our first trip, we spent watching the sunset over Budapest, drinking fruity mocktails and laughing at our Faulty Towers-esque Waiter in the top floor restaurant at the Aria Hotel. Despite his surliness, our meal was lovely and to see the city light up almost at our feet was magical. Close to the Basilica – Hercegprímás 5, 1051.
Luxuriate in the beautiful hotels
We nipped into the Art Deco glory that is the Four Seasons Hotel, and sipped refreshing cocktails/mocktails tucked away in the wings of the opulent foyer. Pest Bank of the Chain Bridge – Gresham Palace,
With Michelin starred restaurants, quirky boutique hotels, a fairly weak currency (all notes fronted with stern looking blokes), kebab shops for *those* moments, a love of good bars, music everywhere and of course the beautiful thermal baths for every kind of pocket, what isn’t to love?
Where to stay in Budapest
If you like to party, stay in Pest. If you aren’t so bothered about partying stay on the edges of Pest (like we did at the beautiful Hotel Moments on our first visit, or in our private apartment on our second visit) or up in Buda. To book your own hotel stay, feel free to use my booking.com affiliate link here for your own luxurious break the centre of Budapest. It won’t cost you anything extra.
Where to eat and drink in Budapest
I wrote an entire post of our favourite places to eat and drink in Budapest, and then updated it!
How does a particular destination lure you to their distant shores? Is it history, personal recommendations, budget, Instagram or simply curiosity?
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