Budapest is all things to all people, with plenty of sides to explore. Judit, a member of our team in Hungary’s bustling capital, wanted to delve into the city’s romantic side, without forgetting its history or excellent food. Join her on this trip on either side of the Danube, and a bit further upstream, into the past, and back to the city’s newest trends.
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Day 0 – Meet Buda, and Pest!
Your afternoon arrival will leave time for a short stroll on the banks of the Danube, followed by a dinner with wine (and perhaps a nightcap on the way home). The promenade on the Pest side is the loveliest between the Elizabeth and Chain bridges. May the magnificent view of the Buda Castle, painted over with shades of orange, red, and lilac by the setting sun, be your first impression of Budapest!
I recommend heading to Kiosk, to the right of the Elizabeth Bridge (if you’re facing the river), which offers excellent takes on Hungarian classics. My favorite dish here is the butternut squash pottage, but feel free to give their chicken paprikash a go, too. In good weather, make sure to sit outside and enjoy its views of Gellért Hill. Alternatively, you can visit Spoon, a stationary restaurant boat offering avant-garde Hungarian-Asian fusion cuisine (the food and wine in both restaurants is superb).
Day 1 – Buda
Börze is an ideally located eatery, offering a wide variety of breakfast dishes on the Pest side of the river. After an abundant breakfast, you should visit the Parliament (with a pre-booked ticket), following the river so you can stop at the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. These bronze shoes commemorate the 3,500 people (800 Jewish) shot by Hungarian fascists in the last months of World War II. After visiting the extravagant parliament, explore Liberty Square and amble towards the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Regardless of whether they’re religious, every visitor should see this opulent, sacred building and ascend to its dome’s vista (admission to the dome is around 5 EUR/person).
Time at last for Buda! Simply walk down the pedestrian path towards the Danube, cross the Chain Bridge, and you will have arrived. The funicular is an easy and spectacular way to get to the medieval town. The halls of the former royal palace house the Hungarian National Gallery, the country’s largest collection of paintings, and a must-see for fine art aficionados. Follow the romantic promenade north, taking in views of the Buda Hills. Turn right at the elevator and, before reaching the Holy Trinity Square and Matthias Church, make sure to pop into FIAN Koncept for some thoughtful souvenirs and unique finds. Ruszwurm Café, the nation’s oldest confectionary, is another near-mandatory stop. Even if you’re not ready for a coffee break, it’s worth peeking into, since Empress Sissi herself used to order its desserts and candies.
Return to the embrace of a UNESCO World Heritage Site by passing by the seven towers of the Fisherman’s Bastion. Walk a bit further to the northernmost end of the hill, where another relic awaits: the Mary Magdalene Tower. The last remnant of a church destroyed during the closing days of World War II, the tower has 173 stairs, but the view is worth every step. Here, from up close, you can enjoy a carillon concert at noon, or hear them play a shorter piece on the hour, every hour. By now, it should be late afternoon, when the Pest side is best lit, making for perfect photo opportunities! And yes, you must be hungry by now. Just across the square you will find Baltazar Grill, where there are good bites available for anyone, regardless of their tastes or dietary restrictions.
Ascend to the Buda promenade, through the Castle Garden Bazaar, and catch the sunset from the Citadel! Hop on any tram in the direction of Liberty Bridge and alight at Gellért Tér (Square). The marked hiking route begins at the foothill on the other side of the square. After a smooth 15-20 minute uphill climb, you will reach the Hungarian Statue of Liberty and the sunset.
To head downhill, just hop on the only bus circling here, the 27 and travel to its terminus. You will find yourself in Bartók Boulevard, a part of Buda with a different feeling, chock full of authentic, fancy, and trendy bars, bistros and eateries. Hustling and bustling, the street’s jazz and sparks come from the locals. Every place here is well worth a visit or two. By now it’s a bit late for a coffee, so head to the legendary Hadik coffee house for its other drinks and dishes, or the Palack Wine Bar, with its art exhibitions, and massive selection, including highlights from smaller wineries, which the resident sommelier can recommend.
Day 2 – Pest
Today will be a bit more retro. On your way to Fekete, a good cafe for breakfast, you may pass by Tisza, a traditional shoe shop offering quality, clear design, and good value. After you have enjoyed a lovely croissant and tried the best coffee in town, it’s time for time travel. You will visit Memento Park, a collection of communist statues, from Engels and Marx, to Lenin and others further down the pecking order. Board the M4 subway line at Kálvin Square and travel to the terminus, where you have to transfer to a bus to reach your destination. You can find clear directions here. I recommend buying one of Memento Park’s guides. This thoughtfully designed, reliable book offers a good overview of our last 100 years, including periods of communism. Plan to spend a good two hours there.
On your way back, disembark from the M4 at Móricz Zsigmond körtér (roundabout) and walk towards Gellért Square. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because the Gellért should already be on your checklist, as one of the city’s most famous and impressive thermal baths. Before plunging in, head a block south to the Vegan Love bistro, with its delicious vegan food (try the burgers!) Book a spot at the Gellért spa before your arrival, then recharge in its warm, healing waters.
Spend the rest of the day discovering the Jewish district, including the world’s second largest synagogue. You can stay here for dinner in Macesz Bistro or Gettó Gulyás. It’s hard to decide between these two, which serve local classics, but the former includes more old Jewish favorites. Now that you are in the heart of the city’s party district, the “Ruin Bar Quarter,” have a spirit or two and dive into the night. In addition to the famous Szimpla, you can find plenty of great spots on Klauzál Street.
Day 3 – Szentendre
Budapest’s closest (and most charming) neighbor is Szentendre, which would be a shame to miss. After a 20 minute drive or 40 minute train ride, you’ll arrive at this Danube pearl. Get up early, have a bite at cozy Mediterranean-centric Babka, then continue to the day’s destination. The picturesque riverside town has been favored by artists since the late 19th century, so you can find both contemporary and modern art. Yet, there is a real retro gem at the other end of the pedestrian area, the Retro Design Center. Culinary delights also offer plenty of reasons to visit. A marzipan museum, plenty of confectioneries, snack spots, and good restaurants await you after your stroll. Be sure to grab a museum ticket entitling you to visit all the institutions belonging to the Ferenczy Museum Center. Say goodbye to Szentendre with an ice cream or a lemonade by the Danube.
It’s also time to wish a hearty goodbye to Budapest. Your last night in the city should bring you to Heroes’ Square. Marvel at the historical edifices of the Millennial Monument, walk under the shady trees or just sit and recharge in the park. There are plentiful opportunities for farewell dinners, from from romantic to dog-friendly to high-end, including the famed Gundel, an institution since the 19th. There are few bad choices here!
As you’ll now be aware, Budapest has many angles to explore, from romantic panoramas to renowned restaurants and plentiful parks putting the past in perspective. We’ll be happy to show you around the city ourselves, offering plenty more suggestions, as well as tours, and the up-to-the-minute knowledge of our team in Budapest.
As one of our destination managers and city hosts Judit bings to bear a wealth of experience in travel and tourism. She loves exploring the city, its surroundings and further afield in Hungary with her young family.