I spent 2 full days in Budapest, capital city of Hungary. It is divided by the Danube river into 2 parts..Buda and Pest. I was able to see a lot in 2 days, but ideally, 3-5 days is a much better option. If you want to cover a lot of ground, get a ticket for the Hop On Hop Off bus. It’s by far the easiest way to see the city, plus it offers commentary. I walked around Pest on my first day; it is doable but if you want to save a bit of time..hop on the bus!
Atlas City Hotel – this seems to be a hotel that is often used by tour companies like Intrepid. It is easy to sightsee from here, however, the area around the hotel is surrounded by “less desirable people” to put it nicely. I never felt threatened or scared – just aware. I had a single room..it was spacious and clean. The staff were helpful .
Things to See:
Dohany Street Synagogue – also known as The Great Synagogue. I went inside even though the admission price of $20 seemed a little high. But this admission includes the entire complex which is also the Jewish Museum, graveyard, memorial garden. I skipped the museum, and walked briefly through the graveyard and garden. If you’re interested in Jewish history you can take a tour around this area, The Jewish Quarter.
St Stephens Basilica – MUST SEE. Free to go inside, or you can pay for a guided tour.
Szechenyi Chan Bridge – MUST SEE. Take pics from all angles, walk across it, take more pics from the other side. It’s an iconic landmark!
Shoes on the Danube – small but powerful memorial along the river banks. A short walk from the chain bridge on the Pest side.
Hungarian Parliament Building – MUST SEE. Another iconic site in Budapest. Impressive from the outside. It was closed when I went by, and I didn’t have a chance to go back. Guided tours are the only way in..they operate 3 times a day, $13..best to book online in advance.
Hungarian State Opera House – the only way to see it is to book a guided tour. The tours book up fast, so get there early or book online. According to their website, it is closed until 2019.
House of Terror – a museum dedicated to the fascist and communist regimes in Hungarian history, and also serving as a memorial for victims of these regimes. While not required, it’s more informative to do the audio tour so make sure you have 2 hours. $15, $8 for audio.
Heroes Square – a large square. Take a few pics, admire its greatness, and move on.
Funicular – easy and fun way to get up the hill to the sights in Buda. Great views on the way up. $6 one way, $9 return. Just get the return ticket…easier than walking down the steep stairs!
Buda Castle – MUST SEE. I wandered around the outside only. If you want to go inside, it houses the National Gallery, Budapest History Museum, and Szechenyi Library. If you have an extra few hours to kill, might be worth going in.
Matthias Church – MUST SEE. Beautiful on the outside. Admission to go inside is $7. I did not go in, but I regret it now!
Fishermens’ Bastion – MUST SEE. Another iconic site and the one I found the most annoyingly crowded with tourists. $5 to enter.
Labyrinth Caves – if you want the full effect of walking alone in the deserted tunnels, go within the first hour of opening. I found that the crowds of tourists were more interested in the bastion and the church than this hidden gem. Spooky, creepy, eerie. I really enjoyed it! Admission $12
Gellert Hill/Citadel – the only reason I spent any time here is because it is on the bus route and an inevitable stop. There are great views of the city, and you can walk around the citadel if you like. I decided to make it a quick stop and not do the citadel.
Great Market Hall – awesome place to get all of your souvenirs (and it’s not too expensive), and local eats. Definitely worth a look around.
Things to Do:
Ruin Bars – mostly located in the Jewish Quarter, they are abandoned buildings made into quirky bars. They’re not always easy to find, so do some research before heading out. Underground scene, funky, friendly…a definite MUST. We went to Szimpla Kert, one of the original ruin bars
Look for the Lucky Statues of Budapest – I’ve heard there are 7. I only saw the Fat Policeman. Could be a fun little hunt if you have time.
New York Café – if you fancy a really expensive coffee in the most beautiful café in the world…..
Things I missed, but would do the next time in Budapest:
Danube cruise at night – I fully regret not doing this, but I was exhausted. All the sites along the Danube are beautifully lit up
Faust Wine Cellar – Hungary has many wine regions, why not sample some underground? In the Buda Castle district
Margaret Island – a park in the middle of the Danube
Memento Park – an open air museum that features communist statues. You must take a city bus or train to get there; takes around 15-20 minutes
City Park – close to Heroes Square. Inside the park is the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, Vajdahunyad Castle.
Gellert or Szechenyi Thermal Baths – MUST SEE. I felt I needed at least a few hours for this experience and I could not fit it in. Indoor baths, outdoor pools, beautiful architecture.
Things to Eat:
Chicken Paprika – of course!
Galushka – Hungarian dumplings
Langos – deep fried dough with various toppings. I suggest sharing one between two people.
Goulash – Hungarian beef and veggie stew
Kurtos Kalacs – a tall round cake, with a slight lemon taste. Fun tip: you can find these at the Transylvanian Traditions bakery on Davie St in Vancouver.
Huszar Etterem – a quaint restaurant serving traditional Hungarian food.
Things to drink:
Soproni beer – this one was my favorite, but Arany Aszok and Dreher were decent
Tokaji – very sweet dessert wine
Palinka – a really strong fruit brandy. Shoot it or sip it!
Unicum – a digestive spirit similar to Jager but sweeter
Things to buy:
I’m a bit of a souvenir freak, so here are a few things I found that I think are cool…
Hungarian secret boxes – a wooden box that has a few secret steps to opening them
Painted easter eggs
Paprika– authentic and cheap
Alcohol – wine, Palinka, Unicum… can be hard to find or really expensive in Canada
Hungarian Dolls – in traditional embroidered costumes
Embroidery – clothing, textiles
Rubik’s Cube – it was invented here!
Paintings of the Danube – so many options!
In conclusion, Budapest should be on your radar for your next vacation. It is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I don’t often re-visit places, but this is a city I would definitely go back to!