Here’s what I tell everyone when asked about Budapest: The first time we went it was in February 2014, and the first full day it poured buckets of the rain almost all day. And we still absolutely loved it. That’s how great Budapest is. So much so, that it is another city we’ve returned to just because it is so beautiful and fun and, despite its growing popularity, still incredibly inexpensive.
When we went the first time, there were very few tourists around – maybe it was because of the time of year or more likely, at the time, I don’t know that it was talked about as much as it is now. The location is deep in Eastern Europe with Vienna being one of the closer bigger cities at just a couple hours drive away.
Since our initial trip (recap here), I’ve been back once with John and friends during the 2015 Eastern European Road Trip (with the first part talked about in the Revisiting Prague post), and then most recently in 2019 with my friend Karyn.
2015 Eastern European Road Trip
When: May 2015
Hotel: K9 Apartments
Why Budapest: Budapest was a town John and I wanted to go back to, and when coming up with the itinerary for our Eastern Europe Road Trip, Budapest was a must included on the list as it was a place our friends Jake and Renee hadn’t been to yet and wanted to see.
The Trip: Like Prague, we had a day and a half dedicated to Budapest, which I’ll be honest, isn’t nearly enough time. (It will do if that’s all you have, but try to add in more time!) Budapest isn’t as compact as Prague and there is more to do and see. The time we had was enough to hit most of the highlights, but it also meant a crazy packed itinerary and not a lot of time to simply enjoy the city. The drive from Prague takes about five hours, and we also added in a stop for lunch in Bratislava, which meant we really only had from mid-to-late afternoon to look around the city the first day. When we arrived we headed out to the Szechenyi Baths, an absolute must-visit if in Budapest. The baths are in the middle of Budapest’s City Park, which is outside of the city center. It’s a good excuse to hop on Metro Line 1, which is the third oldest underground line in the world and still retains much of the charm. The line drops you off at the entrance to the park, which is Heroes Square and the Millenium Monument. On this trip we didn’t go in, but the walk to the baths also takes you by the Vajdahunyad Castle, and the Anonymous statue. (More on this in the second part of the post).
Make sure to purchase your tickets in advance for the baths, and definitely get a cabin to change in – you can also lock it and leave your stuff in there, which is just easier. There are multiple areas in the compound, but the outdoor baths are my favorite. Leave some time on the itinerary to really be able just to relax and not be rushed. These are to be enjoyed…not just to tick off some box on a list.
The next day was totally packed – from visiting the Buda side (the city is actually split in two by the Danube River…the hilly side is the Buda side) and the castle, to walking back across the bridge to see the Pest side with the Central Market, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the pedestrian shopping area on Vaci U street before dinner at Café Kor (probably my favorite place to eat in Europe…I’ve eaten there five times in three trips), and a night cruise on Legenda (whatever you do…don’t miss a night cruise in Budapest). We rounded out the night at Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s famed ruin pubs.
Final Impressions: It was a great intro to the city for the first time visitors and a fun revisit – but we missed going up Gellert Hill to see the Citadella and Liberty Monuments and the amazing view, as well as getting up close with Parliament Building, which is my favorite building in all of Europe (I just realized how many of my favorite things in Europe are in Budapest). We did get to do wine shopping – which is not to be missed. Hungarian red wine is delicious and super inexpensive. The visit was super fast but also very fun.
When: April 2019
Hotel: Paprika Deluxe Apartments
Why Budapest: My friend Karyn had come to Europe to run the Paris Marathon, and then tacked on additional days for her and me to hang out a little bit. Since I first got to Germany, she and I have taken a ridiculous number of trips – Germany road trip in 2013, London in 2014, Italy in 2015, Christmas markets (with a trip to Florence for Karyn to run the marathon there) in 2016, and a French road trip in 2017. We talked briefly about going to Prague, but we had four days to fill and that was way too much time to fill in Prague. I suggested Budapest, and thankfully, Karyn trusted me and so a plan was born!
The Trip: Thankfully, the first night we only had a Legenda Cruise planned so when our flight was delayed, we weren’t missing out on too much. It didn’t dawn on me until we were in the car from the airport to the apartment that this was Karyn’s first trip to an Eastern European country – and it’s important to remember that these towns suffered under communism rule, so while I love Eastern Europe, sometimes the outskirts can be a little jarring. But when we got into Budapest proper – and the absolutely adorable street where our apartment was – the beauty that is Budapest was shining. This was the first time I hadn’t stayed in K9 Apartments (they were all booked), but I was super happy with the location of this apartment – it was close to the start of the pedestrian only zone, and it was just a really cute area. The Legenda cruise did not disappoint – Budapest has arguably the best riverfront – the buildings are displayed and can be seen perfectly.
Because we gave ourselves a couple of days, we were able to break up the two full days into one completely on the Buda side and then one on the Pest side…and I completely recommend doing it this way. We started the day with a tour of Parliament, which I also recommend. I had never done this before, so I was super excited. The building is incomparable outside and equally gorgeous on the inside. It also puts you in a great location to walk down the Danube, past the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the Jewish people killed by Nazi’s in WWII, to the Metro to take to the baths. We had time to walk around the Vajdahunyad Castle – which is also a must-do. The grounds are super pretty, and we had great weather. It’s not out of the way to the baths, so while there – take the detour! Because we had the extra time, we just sat outside in the baths chatting and relaxing. It was awesome. We rounded out the night by sharing a bottle of wine at Café Kor. Perfect first full day.
The next day was another new stop – breakfast at New York Café, which is called the prettiest café in the world (reservations are a must!) It was a super fancy breakfast and while maybe not a necessary stop, it was super fun. From there, we hopped the metro to the Chain Bridge, then walked across to the funicular to go up to the Buda Castle. Here’s a little tip – we showed up and the line to go up the funicular was INSANE! (I’d never had to wait before…a clear nod to Budapest’s growing popularity) We ended up hopping this little train-like cart clearly made for tourists, but it was super cheap and would get us up the hill way faster than waiting in line. Definitely a worthy option. We saw all the usual sites in that area, starting at Fisherman’s Bastion, Matyas Church and finally the Royal Palace. Another new discovery from 2015 is an elevator at the far end of the Royal Palace compound – there was no one there, and it takes you right down to the main road in the direction of Gellert Baths. It’s free, and is another option if the funicular is packed.
From there, we made our way up Gellert Hill to the Citadella to enjoy the UNESCO-recognized view, and then walked our way down the hill (you can also walk up…but I recommend taking the bus up and then walk down – everyone we passed looked miserable!) From there we crossed the Elizabeth Bridge, and waiting at the end of that on the Pest side is the Central Hall Market, which was sadly closed due to it being around Easter. We had such a good time at Café Kor the night before we made it a repeat night.
Final Impressions: Maybe because four years had passed, but Budapest was even more charming than I remembered. There were pockets of cute neighborhoods with string lights throughout, and we also got to see the Easter Market (and buy goodies) while there. It was a great way to round out Karyn’s time in Europe, and it made me want to go back…again. Budapest is fantastic and one of my favorite places in Europe. Don’t miss it!