4 days in Budapest – itinerary, travel tips, must-see
Budapest turned out to be the best travel choice I could make in autumn 2017. It was a long weekend planned at the very last minute, and we chose Hungary only because the flights were cheap. I didn’t even buy a Lonely Planet as I always do when I travel.
And believe me, I didn’t regret a single thing: I fell in love with Budapest at first sight. I want to learn Hungarian and move there, eat langos, and go to a different ruin pub for a drink every night!
Our hotel (booked randomly 2 days before leaving London) was the Roombach Hotel, Pest side. It turned out to be the perfect spot to visit the whole city without hassle. Tip: if you actually stay there, don’t miss the vintage shop just in front, I left my heart in there (it opens at 12).
Wizzair flight: 159.58£ (including extra fee for large hand luggage)
Return train tickets from Kings Cross to Luton (24.9£) + return bus tickets from Luton Parkway to the airport (more or less 3£).
Hotel for 4 nights and 5 days (breakfast included): 189.23£
We took it easy in the morning. After breakfast, we moved from Pest to Buda, the west side of the Danube.
Our first stop was Fisherman Bastion + Matthias Church.
You can pay 800HUF (2.3£) and actually go up the Bastion, but I don’t recommend it. The wall is not high and the view is basically the same as the free one you get from downstairs. If you keep left along the Bastion you can go up at the same level paying 200HUF (0.57£) and having access to a little café where you can enjoy a less crowded view.
Second stop: Buda Castle. There is no fee to pay here. Take the time to visit the gardens, you have more beautiful views of the city.
Near the castle, there are a museum and a library. We visited the library (400HUF, 1.15£), but I don’t recommend it. It’s just a modern library with nothing special.
For lunch, we chose a random place at the bottom of the hill because we were starving. And the choice ended up being a really good one. We stopped at Marvelosa, a super cute family restaurant.
When I’m on holiday I always try to eat local food and traditional dishes. So at Marvelosa I had “Mikszath” chicken paprika with homemade pasta. Delicious. (4000HUF, 11.47£).
Third stop was Gellért Hill. There we started our climbing (literally) towards the Citadel, the fort on top of the hill. Because I’m obviously always perfectly prepared, I found myself climbing the equivalent of the Everest… in platform shoes. Oh well. Mark my words and wear trainers if you go.
When you reach the top I swear the view will make you forget all the fatigue. You are welcome by the Statue of Liberty.
From there you can walk all along the path surrounding the citadel. It offers one amazing view after the other.
After Gellért Hill, we decided to cross the Elizabeth Bridge. Too bad we ended up walking all along the Pest side of the Danube
passing theSzéchenyi (Chain) Bridge
up until the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial
and the Parliament
In the evening, more or less dead, we ended up in a ruin pub. Take a chair, have a seat and let me gush about ruin pubs because the atmosphere there is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. You can’t go to Budapest without ending up in a ruin pub. Grab a drink, spend a couple of hours in there, chilling and enjoying the vibe. We went to Szimpla Kert, which apparently is one of the oldest. A beer is around 850HUF (2.44£, yes my dear Londoners, you are reading that right).
Just next to Szimpla there is a small but amazing food market called Karaván. After a couple of drinks, we headed there for some food. Really recommended, I had a nice beef goulash served inside warm bread (1800HUF, 5.16£).
Total expenses of the day (including random purchases along the way): Around 33£/34£ (crazy right?)
The second day we stayed in Pest.
We started with a visit to the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe (4000HUF, 11.49£). Our second stop was St. Stephen’s Basilica and that area.
We took a lift to go up to the observation deck (500HUF, 1.43£). To be honest the view was nothing special, compared to what I had seen from Gellért Hill the day before.
From there we started walking on the Andrássy út, apparently the most famous road in Budapest. You can see the Opera Theatre, but also shops like Max Mara, Gucci and Rolex, if that is more your thing.
For lunch, it was time to try another typical Hungarian dish: langos. We stopped in a place called Langos Papa where I had the simple langos with sour cream and cheese, but there were tons to choose from (1840HUT, 5.27£).
A few steps after Langos Papa I found an ice cream shop, Hisztéria Cremeria. Of course, I couldn’t say no to gelato. It turned out gelato in Budapest is super good (yes, I’m talking the same level of goodness we reach when I’m in Italy) and super cheap, too.
Ricotta + fig and apricot + lavender, delicious (660HUF, 1.89£)
Still walking on Andrássy út, we saw the House of Terror – no, not a theme park, the building was used by both the fascist and communist regimes to detain, interrogate, torture, and kill people
and we kept walking up to Hero’s Square.
We had a walk through the City Park (yes, I know, lots of walking was involved in this holiday)
until it was time to go and enjoy another typical activity in Budapest (I swear, no food this time): the thermal baths!
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, there are several scattered all over the city. We went to the Szécheny baths, the biggest in the city, where I also bought myself a gift: a 1-hour massage (13.500HUF – 38.67£).
We stayed until 21 and because we were both a pile of goo after the massage, we decided not to walk. Took a cab back to the city centre for dinner (more or less 5900HUF, 16.9£. I’m sure we got taken advantage of, given the price we paid to go to the airport. But, oh well, my feet were happy).
When I’m on holiday I always try to have at least one nicer meal (believe me, what I look forward to when I leave home is eating food not cooked by yours truly). And after the baths, I did play my cards. We had dinner at Cyrano, a Micheline restaurant.
I had the Hungarian Rapshody, an amazing duck leg risotto with cremini mushrooms, spinach and grilled goose liver. With dessert and drinks we spent more or less 10.000HUF, 28£, I forgot to annotate it. But yes, super cheap if I think that in London I spend 28£ for a pizza, not a dinner at a Michelin restaurant.
Total expenses (including random purchases during the day like postcards and water, renting the towel at Szechény, and so on): 117/118£
We saved day 3 to visit the “tourist” part of Budapest. We walked on Váci Utca, and arrived at the Central Market Hall (guess what, more food!!).
The Market is amazing. On the ground floor, you have all kind of fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, tons of paprika (ideal for gifts). On the second floor, you have the typical souvenirs and amazing street food.
We had lunch at the Kolbice stall, famous for sausages served inside a bread cone (2300HUF, 6.58£).
After lunch, it was time for another gelato. We stopped at Lavendula in front of the Central Market Hall
Violet and Lavander (680HUF – 1.95£)
In the afternoon we wanted to go for coffee at the famous New York Café. Walking there we ended up in the bookworm paradise of Budapest (and I didn’t know!!). I wasn’t expecting anything like that. Of course, I fell in love and I stopped in 3 different bookstores (that’s where I decided I want to learn Hungarian. All those books!!!).
(The used bookstores I found were on Muzeum Krt, but I bet there are tons in all diferent areas of the city)
New York Café
Magyar kávé (Hungarian coffee) 2700HUF – 7.75£
From the New York Café we took a bus to Margaret Island, a small green island in the middle of the Danube.
In the evening we ended up in the Gozsdu Udvar area, a complex of buildings and courtyards full of little places where you can have dinner, one better than the other.
We stopped at Spiler. And there I had the only foodie disappointment of the holiday (not because the food was bad, on the contrary). I ordered another traditional Hungarian dish called kella, which ended up being… a pizza (more or less 2340HUF, 6.7£).
To make up for it we went back to Szimpla for some drinks (10£).
Total expenses of the day: 45£
We took it easy as we had to check out from the hotel, leave the luggage, and so on. I reserved this half a day to chill and shop. I started the day finding a Happy Sock pop-up store, so of course I bought 2 pairs of socks.
For lunch, we moved to Vörösmarty Tér, and we stopped at Puli. I’m ashamed to say that I ended the holiday without having a traditional Hungarian dish. I was so tired of beef / pork / chicken that I chose a smoked salmon salad! (2200HUF, 6.3£).
Total expenses of the day: 47£
I can now say that Budapest is a real beauty. Go visit it! You have a perfect balance of sightseeing, outdoor activity, relax, and nightlife. Everything you need for a brief gateway. And, on the plus side, it is quite cheap!
And now a few travel tips:
- Go early to the Fisherman Bastion. The earlier the better. Especially if you want to enjoy the view not flooded by tourists.
- I probably wouldn’t go to the Szechény Baths. They are very big, yes, but very crowded too. Not the ideal place to relax and chill. It was hard to actually make it into the water.
- If you go to any thermal baths, bring with you a pair of flip-flops and, if you can, a towel. At Szechény baths you can rent a towel for 1000HUF (2.86£) but you have to pay 3000HUF deposit upfront (to rent a bathrobe the deposit is 7000HUF). Bringing your towel you also don’t have to queue for both renting and returning it.
- If you go to Szechény, when you buy the ticket you have to choose the package entrance + locker room or entrance + cabin. I suggest the second one. It cost us 5600HUF (16£) and it wasn’t much more expensive than the locker room. With the private cabin at least you have a (super small) space all by yourself.
- If you book the day at the thermal baths from your hotel (most hotels offer this service) and they can’t find aviability for a massage, don’t give up and ask directly at the SPA. They usually have empty slots there.
- Ruin pubs: GO GO GO! You cannot go to Budapest without visiting a ruin pub. If you want to try Zsimpla Kert the address is Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary.
- If you stop at Zsimpla, definitely grab a quick bite at Karavan (Kazinczy u. 18, 1075 Hungary).
- Where to stay: I would say Pest side. Now that I have been there, Buda is more picturesque but Pest has tons of places where you can drink, eat, shop and everything. It is also very easy and fast to go from Pest to Buda. I highly recommend the hotel we stayed at, as its location was perfect to walk everywhere (no, they are not paying me for publicity).
- Don’t buy travelcards, unless you know in advance you will require transportation a lot. We bought a daily travel card on our first day (1650HUf, 4.73£) because we were not familiar with distances. Budapest turned out to be amazingly walkable. To cover bigger distances or if you are tired, you can get a single ticket for 350HUF (1£. Yes, I know. Forget London, the tube, and all the money you give to TFL).
- If you can, I’d suggest visiting in autumn. I loved the colours, the weather… ok, the everything.
- Gellért Hill: for an amazing (free) view of the city, you can’t skip this.
- Time your day so that you end up crossing from Buda to Pest at sunset. The view is amazing.
- You need cash, however I didn’t change any money beforehand. I withdrew some at the airport, and you can easily find ATMs everywhere.
- I regret not having had the time to go see Memento Park (Balatoni út – Szabadkai utca sarok, 1223 Ungheria). If you go let me know how it is!