Budapest is a fantastic city to spend a long weekend or to linger a little longer during a multi-stop Europe trip. If you’re boarding a Danube river cruise here, I highly encourage you to arrive a few days early to enjoy this lovely European city. It’s a stunning mix of beautiful architecture, a diverse & global food scene, and incredible history.
Here are some of my top highlights from my recent visit:
You really can’t go wrong with a food tour in Budapest! Goulash, chimney cakes, and the national snack known as the “langos” were just some of the many tastings we did with our private guide. I scheduled our food for our first evening and it was the perfect way to start getting acquainted with Hungary through culinary explorations. And as a bonus, no searching for dinner spots afterwards as we were quite satiated!
The Castle District / Fisherman’s Bastion
This neighborhood on the Buda side of the Danube is worth a dedicated morning or afternoon. It’s more than just a spot for some of the most famous Instagram photos! When many people think of Budapest they think of the iconic, Games-of-Thrones-esque towers and terraces overlooking the city with views of the Parliament. I encourage you to linger in the Castle District beyond Fisherman’s Bastion though. There are fantastic restaurants in this area as well as great monuments/sights such as Matthias Church, Buda Castle, The Castle Museum, the House of Houdini (museum), and the Hungarian National Gallery. If you are seeking the perfect place for a photoshoot, you’ll want to get there as early as 7am for the best light and for limited crowds – by mid-morning the tourists will definitely be hanging out in Fisherman’s Bastions with their selfie sticks.
This island in the middle of the Danube is about 2.5km long and located in the northern part of Budapest. Locals come here in good weather to stroll and enjoy the outdoors, and you can rent golf carts or pedal-cars if you’d like to take a break from walking. There’s even a small children’s petting zoo, as well as thermal pools, a rose garden, the Japanese Garden, and even the ruins of an old Monastery. If you’re craving a less urban feel or some exercise, this is a lovely area to slow down and just relax.
Central Market –
The well-known vast food hall where you can do your local grocery shopping as well as pick up artisanal souvenirs and street food. I stocked up on Hungarian paprika here too.
Night cruise down the Danube
A classic activity for a reason. The monuments are all lit up! Enjoy a narrated scenic sightseeing cruise or have dinner while sailing past the Budapest shoreline.
Probably the most iconic site of Budapest! I didn’t get to do a tour of the interior so I would love to do that next time. But I certainly had the pleasure of sailing past it during my Avalon river cruise and it’s such a lovely and recognizable building.
This is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Tours in various languages are given every 30 minutes and in addition to admiring the history of the synagogue in general and about Jews in Hungary through the ages, there is also the opportunity to bear witness to the occupation of Budapest and the mass graveyard (unusual for a synagogue) honoring the fallen of the adjacent Jewish Ghetto.
Sweet treats – Cafe New York and/or the Parisi Passages
The cafe culture in Budapest is strong! One of the most beautiful and famous is the New York Cafe which has been named “one of the most beautiful cafes in the world”. It’s terribly overpriced, but most people don’t mind because of of the sumptuous interior.
Another beautiful spot for coffee is the Parisi Passage Cafe (also connects to a brasserie for lunch/dinner!) where you will definitely want to order a treat and enjoy the beautiful interiors which feel rather Parisian. It’s part of the stunning Parisi Udvar Hotel, built around the Art Nouveau covered passageways.
The best known is Szimpla Kert but there are many in the city. These quirky buildings are mainly in the Jewish Quarter in previously abandoned structures, and sprang up as underground bars with eclectic furnishings and secret entrances. Nowadays they’re clearly not trying to be discreet, but it’s still a fun night out exploring a multi-story bar filled with antique furniture and great people-watching.
I know, I know… In full disclosure, I didn’t personally get to experience the famous Hungarian baths myself due to a schedule conflict. One thing that surprised me after talking to many Budapest locals is that the baths are truly a “thing” here. This is not a tourist trap! Doctors in Budapest will actually prescribe going to the thermal baths to their patients, and every single local that I talked to recommended a visit to the Baths. There are many different baths in Budapest, from the famous Széchenyi that are probably the most photographed and the least frequented by locals, to the Art Nouveau ones called Gellért, to the Turkish baths called Rudas which are open to co-ed bathing only on the weeke
Honorable mentions for history lovers
I’m not quite sure how to categorize these last two, but if you’re a history buff, Budapest has plenty to keep you occupied. First there’s the House of Terror, a museum focused on the fascist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and honoring the victims of these regimes. There’s also Heroes’ Square in a different area of the city, next to the City Park, which honors important Hungarian leaders throughout history.
As you can see, Budapest is worth than just a quick visit! Make sure to extend your stay before/after a Danube river cruise, or spend a few nights here on a multi-country European train journey. Reach out to get started on the planning process!