What is it about Budapest (pronounced as Boo-da-PESHT) that makes it so special? On my 2 days trip to Budapest during the weekend, I wondered what makes Budapest stand out on its own compared to other European destinations.
There was only one thing that I knew the most about, as I was ending my 7-day cycling journey from Vienna - the ruin bars of Budapest.
When you think of London, probably the Harrods, Buckingham, the London Eye, Hyde Park and trams are some of the most common sights and in Paris, it’s the shopping streets, Moulin Rouge, pastries, Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
However, Budapest has a different vibe; it is known for its monuments, complicated language, thermal baths, the Danube river and its socialist past.
It’s interesting how the city is divided into two personalities - Buda and Pest. In 1873, they were unified to form the city we know today. Buda is known for its peaceful boulevards and colourful houses but on the other hand, Pest is where life happens. Pest is known for living life in technicolour filled with ruin pubs, and having closer access to the metro station.
When in Budapest on a weekend trip or a 2 or 3 days itinerary, you’ll see traces of history everywhere. The constant reconstructions and restorations of Budapest makes this cityscape a captivating one.
The 2 days in Budapest itinerary below is perfect if you have only 48 hours to spare but this itinerary even works if you have 3 days in Budapest.
Before sharing the itinerary with you, there’s some really cool advice on things to do and places to see in Budapest on WeLoveBudapest and SpottedByLocals, a great resource for discovering lesser known places in Budapest.
Weekend Getaway: 2 Days in Budapest Itinerary
1. Walk to Buda Castle
Taking in the sights of Budapest along the Danube is always a trippy experience when you can see the best spots of the city from the Buda’s Castle, to the Parliament building and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
You can visit multiple museums over here like the Budapest History Museum or Hungarian National gallery which costs around 1,800 forint ($6 USD) or if you don’t feel like it, you can take a stroll and and witness a sweeping view of the city. At noon, catch the changing of the guards at the Hungarian Presidential Palace.
2. Shoes On The Danube Bank
It is hauntingly surreal and sad about the premise of the ‘Shoes of the Danube’ promenade. The Shoes on the Danube Bank was a memorial to the Jews who were executed in Budapest during 1944-45. They were ordered to remove their shoes and then were shot at the waters edge without any mercy.
Installed along the bank of the Danube River in Budapest and a short walk from the Parliament building, the monument consists of 60 pairs of 1940s-style shoes in the exact size and detail of the people who lost their lives, all sculpted out of iron.
The monument managed to convey the individuality of the victims in a way that museums can’t. It was such a stark contrast to those observing, and trying to make sense of what it was like for the Jews in 1945, while the rest of the tourists were having a good time placing their hands onto these little iron-cast shoes.
Looking back it shows how war can be senseless and illustrates how no one, regardless of age, gender of occupation was spared. You’ll see a man’s work boot, a woman’s pair of heels, and even the tiny shoes of a child.
3. Admire The Chain Bridge
You may end up crossing the chain bridge multiple times over the day, but it is probably the best way to admire one of the most symbolic buildings of Budapest.
The picturesque historic stone bridge straddles the Danube between Széchenyi Square on the Pest side and Clark Ádám Square in Buda. You can walk across it from Buda to Pest and back – it is a great way to take in the World Heritage-protected sights and see the city’s most stunning views with the mighty Danube flowing below you.
A little bit of history: During World War II, the bridge was bombed and mostly destroyed during the Siege of Budapest, but in 1949 it was rebuilt to what we see today.
3. Heroes Square
Take a walk to the Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), one of the main squares in Budapest, whose statues commemorate the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes who founded the country.
The square lies at the end of Andrássy Avenue, one of the city’s most important boulevards. The plaza and Andrássy Avenue were both recognised as World Heritage Sites in 2002. It might be hard to understand the history over here if you don’t have a guide-book.
I would recommend installing the pocket-guide app available both on iOS and Android. The guys at WeLoveBudapest have handpicked the top apps in Budapest to figure out your transportation woes or hunting for the best nightclubs in Budapest.
4. Travel In Tram #2, The Most Scenic Tramline in Europe
Who knew that Tram #2 is considered as one of the most scenic tram journeys in Europe? This claim was made in 2010 according to National Geographic Top 10 Trolley Rides in the world.
It is the best way to enjoy sundown views of Budapest as it follows the Pest Embankment and showcases the special treasures of the Buda bank. This is the best way to see the Parliament building up close and a panoramic view of Buda Castle across the river. Take your favourite snack and drink with you, and sit on the side nearest to the river for the best views.
Start at the Jászai Mari tér stop and make it a point to not travel further than Boráros tér, after that it is just modern office buildings followed by an okay-ish neighborhood. There are also other tram lines that could be traveled just for the scenery and they are #19 and #41.
If you’re travelling in holiday season, the #2 tram line turns into a Light Tram, displaying 1000’s of LED lights.
5. Climb The Gellert Hill and the Citadella
It would be a shame to miss out on this short climb up to the Citadella to witness Budapest from a different angle. The Statue of Liberty on Gellert Hill, Budapest is a communist statue erected in 1947 to commemorate the liberation of Budapest and Hungary from the Nazi rule.
What’s interesting is that the hill is one of the earliest inhabited parts of Budapest and has played a significant role in Budapest’s history. It is a 235 metre high dolomite rock, hanging over the Danube on the Buda side of Budapest.
You can start your 15 minute climb up the hill- at the Gellért Hotel or the end of Elisabeth Bridge. On the hill itself, you can also check out a World War II museum located inside the citadel on the hill.
But you don’t have to do that and instead stop by to have some coffee or a champagne on the terrace near the main point at the hill. There are even several exhibitions available at the hill, some which are free and some for a small fee.
6. Dine At A Medieval Restaurant, Sir Lancelot
If you fancy yourself having a grubby time in a 15th century castle where swords, shields and fighting knights are your condiments served along with meaty big portions, then look no further.
One trip to the Sir Lancelot medieval restaurant in Budapest, and you’ll know why this place is special. The portions are enormous and are meant for sharing with no forks and knives, all meant to be eaten with hand as you grab fistfuls of grub and smear excess barbecue sauce on your bib.
There are belly dancers, sword fighters and fire dances enough to keep you entertained through the entire night with their dangerous feats. It was a fun restaurant for us to rest our tired souls after cycling in the heat for days along the Danube.
A plate for 2 people costs around 13,000 HUF ($47 USD) while the plate for 6 people cost around 34,000 HUF ($122 USD). The portions are huge and prepare to let your hair down as you pick the best meat for your palate, and stay mesmerized by some Hungarian performances.
You’d also need to make reservations in advance but I would recommend not giving this a miss. It is located near Nyugati tér where you for can find the Western Railway station (Nyugati Pályaudvar)
7. Get Trippy at the Budapest Ruin Bars
Sipping your favourite poison in derelict industrial spaces and post-war torn buildings has become the utlimate and coolest things to do for thousands of people visiting Budapest.
Located in the Jewish quarter of Budapest, we spent one night bar hopping to some of these watering holes to sip, savour and soak Budapest nightlife. There were so many to choose from such as light shows to basement quiet house music, and metal grounds or for everyone in between.
Instant-Fogasház and Szimpla Kert are the two original, most visited ones that one should not be missed. You are likely to see more foreigners and students than locals hang-out at these places.
Our first stop at Szimpla Kert set the tone and benchmark for all the other ruin bars in Budapest. Featuring a courtyard garden, with old furniture and old stylized artistic pieces, it was nice to just hang out and stay somewhat sane on a night out in Budapest.
If you fancy painting the town red and continuing your bar crawl mission, Mazel Tov hits the spot as the hippiest and trendiest ruin bars in the Jewish district of Budapest. It was only fitting to have a bar influenced by Jewish culture on a street that was left empty after WWII.
During the day, this cool place serves Jewish food in a garden recreational area and by night, Mazel Tov lights up and transform into a bar and musical shows with acoustic artists and techno groups.
8. Soak In The Thermal Széchenyi Baths
In a city where there are 118 natural thermal springs, it would be only natural to visit a thermal bath in Budapest and soak in your tired feet after days of walking as you admire the Neo-Baroque buildings of the Szechenyi Baths.
Szechenyi Spa Baths in Budapest is one of the best and largest spa baths in Europe with its 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor pools and it also one of the cheapest costing approximately 6,500 HUF ($23 USD).
In one of the large outdoor pools, you can witness a group of men playing chess while immersed up to their chests in steaming water.
You must also know that the Szechenyi Baths are medicinal in nature and they come from natural hot springs (think Iceland!). Rich in beneficial minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, sulfite, and sodium, these pools are said to have some healing magical powers. If you’re suffering from years of joint pains, arthritis and other injuries, jump right in.
If you’re going in Summer, you might wonder how hot the pools can be. I would recommend going in the evening or trying their night parties when it is slightly cooler or perhaps in the morning when the sun is not out in its full force.
9. Stroll the Budapest City Park, Városliget
After taking a much-needed break from crowds, the heat and the city-life, I wanted to get a bit of greens and be away from the hustle and bustle.
It’s a blessing when everything is within walking distance and not too far from the Szechenyi Baths, you’ll find a hidden gem in Budapest, the city park, Varosliget.
There’s almost something from everyone in the Budapest City Park: the Vajdahunyad Castle, lawns, a lake, museums, the zoo and botanical gardens, boating ride and Holnemvolt park.
The City Park Pond is a great place to rent a row boat or to even just relax at the bench, but if you're in Budapest in the winter, you can ice skate there instead. When it freezes over, it becomes the largest outdoor skating rink in Central Europe. The main entrance building, originally erected in 1893 in a Baroque style, is even quite impressive.
10. Get Acquainted with The Best Museums in Budapest
While this may be a comprehensive itinerary, you might not have enough time to visit the other museums in the 2 days that you’re in Budapest. If you’ve extra time in your hands, there’s some fascinating museums in Budapest that are worth a visit to understand the history of Hungary, even if you’re not a museum fan.
The House of Terror is an interesting and austere museum detailing what happened after the Nazis were driven out and the Soviets took power. Although interesting on paper, the audio guides were often finished even in the morning and what was offered were just dozens of pages or pamphlets. You’re better off watching a documentary of what happened but it would still be an interesting visit provided the lines are not long, and if there are enough audio guides available.
Memento Park is another interesting open-air museum in Budapest, Hungary, dedicated to monumental statues and sculpted plaques from Hungary's Communist period. Memento was devised by Hungarian architect Ákos Eleőd, who won a competition to design it back in 1991, and describes it as a park "about dictatorship." The most obvious statues includes Lenin captured in the middle of a speech. “Others are busts of Hungarian communist leaders who are less known internationally than their Russian overlords,” as said by CNN Travel.
The Hospital in the Rock underneath the Buda Castle district is one of the most unique and oddly fascinating attractions of Budapest. It is an underground hospital turned into a nuclear bunker beneath Buda Castle, which was kept secret until 2002. You get an interesting mixture of a preserved 1940s-1960s hospital built in a set of caves in castle hill; and a nuclear bunker added in the 1960s. In an hour long tour, it covers a combinations of a history lesson including the use of medicine during the period, the history of conflict in Budapest, and the perils of a nuclear war.
Where To Stay In Budapest?
What About Budget in Budapest?
To ensure you keep to a minimum budget, I would suggest aiming for at least €25 per day excluding accommodation. Hotel prices may significantly vary depending on your budget.
Shoestring: €25 (hostel dorm €10, attractions €5, meals and entertainment €10)
Mid-range: €75-150 (1-2 hotel room or a cosy Airbnb stay €30, attractions €20, meals and entertainment €25)
Comfortable: €150 (1-2 comfy hotel €75, attractions €30, meals and entertainment €50)
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