Whenever I cross one of the eight bridges of Budapest, my heart beats louder. This gorgeous city amazes me; the Danube bank view takes my breath away every time I come home for a visit. It’s certainly not only feeling sentimental: Budapest is rising as a top destination to visit. It’s beautiful, affordable, and fun. Tucked in the heart of Europe, it’s easy to visit and it’s a perfect place to spend a weekend away. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Budapest, my hometown.
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One of the first things to know is that Budapest is situated on two sides of the Danube river: Buda and Pest. The two parts (plus a third one, Óbuda) united in 1873 forming the capital. Buda is more green, hilly and romantic while Pest is flat, more vibrant and fun. With these two distinct parts, it becomes obvious to divide your 48 hours in Budapest as one day in Buda, and one in Pest.
What to pack for 48 hours in Budapest as a responsible traveler?
When exploring new places it’s important to keep our impact on the environment (and the society) minimal. Luckily, in Budapest it’s not super difficult to be eco-conscious; alternatives to plastic are becoming available and plastic bags in supermarkets are only given for money.
Yet there’s still a long way to go for a widespread eco mindset, so travelers need to think of ways to keep their footprint low. Here’s what to pack for a weekend in Budapest to enjoy the city in a responsible way.
- Reusable bag (such as tote or foldaway bag) for shopping
- Produce bag if you go shopping for fruit & veg at the supermarket or markets
- Reusable cup for your beer or fröccs at outdoor bars
- Water bottle to fill up with tap water (our tap water tastes great!) – feel free to ask in bars or eating places for a refill
- Ask or google some of the most useful Hungarian phrases before hitting the city. I know it will be difficult to remember (or let alone, pronounce) them, but you’ll see that Hungarians will love you to bits for using them!
For even more easy-to-do ideas, read these tips for responsible travellers on keeping a low footprint anywhere in the world.
Day 1: A day of uphills and downhills in Buda
Here’s the best way to start your 48 hours in Budapest by beginning in Buda.
Breakfast at Kelet Café
Let’s start our 48 hours in Budapest by enjoying a hearty breakfast at Kelet Cafe, a small, authentic café with many books. You can watch locals going to work through the big shop windows. Books, breakfast, and people watching – sounds like a great way to start the day.
Buda Castle, where you won’t be alone
A day at Buda couldn’t be complete without a stroll at the iconic Budapest Castle situated on the Castle Hill. And you certainly won’t be be the only one thinking this. However, it’s worth braving the crowds to visit. When spending 48 hours in Budapest, it’s not to be missed.
Take the old-fashioned funicular from Clark Adam Square or simply walk up to the Castle District (it should take 5-10 mins). The interior of the Castle itself cannot be visited, except the part where the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum are housed.
If you’re an art lover, it’s really worth checking out the outstanding collection of Hungarian paintings in the National Gallery. Plus you’ll get a beautiful panorama of the Danube river showcasing many bridges, including the oldest, the Chainbridge. Those interested in history will find an intimate and well-explained exhibition in the Budapest History Museum.
If you’re interested in learning in depth history from a knowledgeable guide, consider booking this 3 hour Buda castle tour, which includes a skip the line ticket.
Stroll the Castle District
Have a walk in the little cobbled stone streets of the Castle District which is the most affluent and only car-free district of the city with preserved houses dating from the Middle Age. Almost all the buildings that you’ll pass by are protected.
You can visit the (fake) Gothic style Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom; entrance 1800 HUF) which colourful tiles were made from the world-famous Hungarian Zsolnay ceramics; and the romantic lookout terrace Fishermen’s Bastion that offers the best views on the Danube bank.
Local chill time at Tabán
This area at the side of the Castle Hill offers a nice chilling spot on your way to Gellért Hill. You’ll see young locals playing music, frisbee or having a picnic. Tabán is a no-frill district, especially after the fancy Castle District, with great close-up views on the Castle.
Lunch at Hadik Cafe
If you fancy a coffee at a remarkable place, I recommend the classic Hadik Cafe on Bartok Bela Road. It was frequented by famous Hungarian authors in the beginning of the 20th century. If you are into literature, get a book from Dezső Kosztolányi or Ferenc Karinthy who lived their cafe life here.
Sunset at Gellért Hill
Your first evening of your 48 hours in Budapest trip should find you at the impressive 140-meter high dolomite rock Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy) that you surely have already noticed. Going up to the Citadelle is the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the beautiful Danube river.
On the top of the hill, there’s a female statue holding a palm tree. That’s the Statue of Liberty – it commemorates the liberation from Fascist rule. Locals dub it “the bottle opener”; you’ll quickly see where the name comes from.
Dinner and drinks at Bartók Béla Road
For dinner, stop by at one of the many cool places on Bartók Béla Road; for example the Hummusbar serves very tasty vegan treats. There’s a lot of good vegan restaurants in Budapest, more than you could take in 48 hours!
Carry on on the same road for bars, such as the Béla. bár, étterem, lakás, arborétum (yes, this is the name of just one place) with jungle style painted decoration.
Day 2: Plunge into the vibrant life of Pest
Ready for day two of your 48 hours in Budapest? Let’s spend the day in Pest!
Breakfast at the Central Market Hall
Start day 2 of your 48 hours in Budapest with a breakfast at the Central Market Hall (Vásárcsarnok). It’s the largest and oldest market hall of the capital and is on Fővám Square. You can buy just about everything you expect from a market: fruits, veggies, and delicacies. If the weather is good, eat your breakfast outside on the Danube bank, looking over at the green Liberty bridge (Szabadság híd).
Walk on the Danube bank
After breakfast, start your day of a thousand-mile walk. One of the best places to enjoy the river view is on a stroll on the Danube bank. If you want to save a little time, hop on the world’s most scenic tram line, number 2, that rolls along the river bank.
Whether you’re on foot or hanging at the tram window, don’t forget to admire the view on the city side too. You’ll pass by amazing buildings, such as Vigadó Concert Hall or the Hungarian Scientific Academy. Just before reaching Kossuth Lajos Square where Parliament is located, you’ll see an artwork of Shoes on the Danube Bank. This is a commemoration of Hungarian Jews who became victims of the Nazi regime during the Second World War.
The newly renovated Parliament is regarded as the most beautiful building in Budapest, with the backdrop of the Danube. You can also visit it from the inside for a peek at the Hungarian crown jewels; but I advise to book in advance to avoid the queue.
Get lost in the narrow streets of Pest downtown
This is by all means one of the best activities to do in Budapest in a weekend. Get lost in the narrow streets of Pest’s 5th district, bordered by Kossuth Lajos Square in the north, Teréz Bulevard on the east and the curvy Múzeum Bulevard on the south.
Most buildings in this area were constructed during the fin de siècle, so at the end of the 19th century. That’s a time when Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire aka. the Habsburg Monarchy.
Comments that Budapest somewhat resembles Vienna are not too far-fetched; the downtown of Budapest was built at the same time and in the same style as Vienna. In fact, Vienna is not the only city that reminds me of Budapest,. Surprisingly, another city on the other side of the world has many buildings which were built in a similar style: Buenos Aires, nicknamed the “Paris of South America”.
In the upper part of this area you’ll find beautifully renovated grandiose places, such as the walking street Váci Street, the charming Vörösmarty Square, and the governmental Liberty Square (Szabadság tér). In the bottom part, south of Andrássy Avenue, the streets become narrower and more local.
You’ll bump into hidden squares with art-nouveau and art-deco buildings, odd graffiti and ruin bars, such as the famous Szimpla Bar on Kazinczy Street. Do have a drink in Szimpla and make sure you walk through ALL the amazing and differently decorated rooms. Actually, the best time to come is late afternoon, to avoid the crowd and queuing at the door.
Churches around Deák Square
Just like all roads lead to Rome, all the little streets near the central Deák Square lead to St. Stephen’s Basilica. It’s a monumental Catholic church that is named after the very first Hungarian king crowned in 1000. His holy right hand is kept inside the Basilica. The entrance is officially free. Another must-see near Deák Square is the Dohány Street Synagogue.
Do like Hungarians and enjoy your main meal of the day at lunchtime
For Hungarians, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, as opposed to other nations in the world. So, you’ll find that lunch menus will have a large variety of options.
There are numerous restaurants offering vegan menu in this area. My personal favourite is Jelen Bisztró, which is housed in a traditional fin de siècle building with high ceilings and a terrace in the summer. You’ll find it at Blaha Lujza tér.
Metro your way to Heroes Square
From Deák Square catch the oldest subway in continental Europe. The tracks run not so deep underground and the metro cars are the cutest I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love travelling on it!
Get off at Heroes Square (Hősök tere) for an Instagram selfie with the statues of the seven oldest chieftains of Hungary in 9th century. If you’re interested in art, check out the two museums on the two opposite sides of the square; the Museum of Fine Art and the Hall of Arts.
Chill time in the City Park
With so much walking during your 48 hours in Budapest, you’ll need some relaxation time in the park. Heroes Square is your gateway to the green lung of Budapest, the City park (Városliget). The big central lake is just a few minutes walk; rent a boat in the summer or ice skate in the winter (skate rental available).
It’s a magical setting with the Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad Vára) on the shore which houses the Natural History Museum. I used to spend a lot of time in the City Park as my high school was literally next to it. My favourite place to chill, sunbathe and picnic was the Sunbathing Hill (fitting name!) in the middle of the park.
Enjoy an afternoon drink at a local outdoor bar
Have a refreshing afternoon drink in Dürer Kert (on Ajtósi Dürer sor, just outside the City Park) or in Kertem (inside the Park). Dürer Kert is the inner yard of a university college with a ping pong table, hammocks and swing dancing class on Monday summer evenings; while Kertem is a beer garden style outdoors bar. Prepare with your own reusable cup for both places, as they sadly still serve in single-use plastic.
Relax your tired body in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths
It’s been a long 48 hours in Budapest. I’m sure you’re feeling a little bit tired. And now it’s time to really let it go in the natural healing waters of the beautiful Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
If you’ve seen only one picture of Budapest, chances are high that it was of this iconic bath where old local men play chess in the smoking outdoor pool. You can reserve a full day pass ahead of time to skip the line. However, if you don’t mind waiting until the evening to visit, there’s a discount at the door after 7pm. Take your swimsuit and towel with you and explore the 18 pools on a romantic or relaxing evening.
Dine and go out in Budapest’s official going out district
After rejuvenating at the spa, it’s time to hit downtown again for dinner and your last evening drinks. The official party district is around Kazinczy Street; Szimpla, Instant and Gozsdu Courtyard are the main tourist magnets with hardcore partying and practically only English spoken.
In the summer, get a bite at an open-air food market next to Szimpla, called Karavan; both international and Hungarian favourites are available here. If you prefer bars with more locals, choose Ellátó Kert or Kőleves (both are drinking and dancing places in Kazinczy Street).
Hopefully, this 48 hours in Budapest itinerary helps you plan your upcoming trip to the city. I’m sure that after spending a weekend in Budapest, you’ll be itching to return as soon as possible.
This guest post was written by Anna of GreenMochila.com. Anna is an environmentalist, a born Budapester living in Europe. To her hometown she returns from time to time, no matter which part of the world she’s roaming at the moment. She blogs on GreenMochila.com about eco travels and her one-year backpacking trip in South America. If she’s not travelling, you can find her at art events or on a swing dance floor. You can also find her online on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.