There is something special about being on the streets of a city before it wakes. The street lights cast their glow onto pavements. The trees are heavy with birds starting their slow song to welcome the day. There is a stillness, a calmness. I love the laziness of that pre-dawn time. It is special. A privilege to be a part of. So, during our 4 days in Budapest, we made sure that we rose early to see night turn to day, and observe the City as it awoke.
Seeing a sunrise in a new City, is a tradition that Nik and I started 27 years ago. Whenever we are in a new Country, a new city, we have to schedule it in to our plans (like we did in Prague). We are both always in awe of a beautiful sunrise or sunset, so it is never a hardship to set that alarm! Finding a viewpoint to watch the sunrise from was harder! There are so many options when it comes to the best views of Budapest. It seems to be a City built with its aesthetics in mind. So, as I take you through our time here, be prepared for an abundance of photos. It truly earns its majestic title of Queen of the Danube. Buckle up people, in fact, grab a cuppa. It’s a bumper post….
4 Days in Budapest
Getting to Budapest
We are very fortunate where we live in the UK. We have the choice of 5 airports to fly out of, all less than an hour away from our house! Usually, we drive to Gatwick or Stanstead. But, I have since discovered the ease and stress free experience of flying from Southend Airport . I did it for the first time when we had a short break in Portugal , and I was sold. If you are cabin bag only, and have already checked in on line, you can rock up about 90 minutes before. Park your car literally across the road and you’re good to go. Easy as that! We always look at the growing amount of European destinations Southend flies to now to see if there is one that takes our fancy. I like an easy life! Anyway, I digress…..
Just over 2 hours after leaving London, we were touching down in Budapest. The good news is, there are daily flights from most of the major airports from the UK into Budapest, not just my neck of the woods. Check Skyscanner for best prices.
You have a few options when it comes to your transfer from the airport;
* A taxi will cost you around €30, and will take about 40 minutes.
*A private transfer with meet and greet. Needs to be booked in advance and prices can vary. Stress free and simple.
*City bus – We got the 100E bus to the City centre, from right out of the front of the airport. It cost around €3 each and took approx 40 minutes.
*Don’t be afraid to use the public transport either. It not only keeps your costs down, but is a nice way to see the City. Budapest has a great network of busses, trains and trams, all reliable and easy.
I have already told you my recommended stay in Budapest, along with all the festive joy of visiting Budapest at Christmas time. This post will be putting the meat on the bones of my 4 days in Budapest itinerary. What we saw, how much things cost, any tips I have for you. Oh, and a lot of photos…..
Day One – Travel Day, Parliament Building, St Stephens Basilica and Shoes on the Danube
After settling in to the Prestige Hotel Budapest, we set off to get our bearings and explore the City. The Christmas markets were in full swing, so we immersed ourselves in the festive atmosphere for a while. Suitably warmed up with a glass or two of forralt bor, (mulled wine) we headed off to walk along the river.
The Hungarian Parliament Building is very impressive. You cannot miss this striking building. It is set right on the bank of the Danube, and is designed beautifully. Officially the third largest parliament building in the world, the construction started in 1885. Fun fact, there are 12.5 miles of stairs within the Parliament Building! Thats a lotta stairs…
You can do tours of the Parliament Building, which are apparently very interesting. We looked to do one, but struggled to get the time we wanted. It may be worth booking in advance, or as soon as you arrive in Budapest if you fancy doing one. We liked the look of this walking tour too.
Shoes on the Danube
The Shoes on the Danube is a simple monument, that speaks a thousand words. Representative of the Jewish men, women and children that were lined up along the East bank of the Danube, and shot in WWII. These lost souls were ordered to take off their shoes, then shot so that their bodies fell into the river. It gives me shivers just thinking of it. So, wicked and devastating. It is incredibly emotional standing on the banks, looking at the shoes of all sizes. It almost feels wrong to take a photo of them, but, it is part of history that should never, ever be forgotten.
St Stephens Basilica
This beautiful roman catholic basilica, is names in honour of the first King of Hungary. In fact, St Stephen’s mummified right hand is housed in there…. It is the largest church in Budapest, and is built to exactly the same height at the Hungarian Parliament Building, 96 meters. It also took over 50 years to build the Basilica! Free to enter, the neoclassical design of the church is absolutely beautiful so I would fully recommend going in.
Top tip – you can climb the 362 steps up to the viewing deck (or get the lift) and see beautiful, panoramic views of Budapest. The deck is only open April – October.There is a small charge, 500 HUF to go up to the cupola.
Day Two – Seeking out the Best Views in Budapest
As I have already mentioned, Budapest sure is pretty! The capital of Hungary, it is made up of the old towns of Buda and Pest. The two districts have the River Danube creating a scenic line and separation of the two. The Danube, the second longest river in Europe, is up to 1.5 km wide in some parts, and is straddled by the famous, 19th century chain bridge. On one side of the river, the flat, fairly level terrain of Pest, to the other the much more hilly landscape of Buda.
In my opinion, the Buda side has the best views of Budapest. It’s elevated position means that it can give long and sweeping views up the Danube. So, introduction over, let’s get into the must see’s of the Buda district.
Ohhhh this place! It is truly stunning. Built between 1895 and 1902, it is not the most historical structure, but a contender for the most beautiful for sure! Not just a pretty face, it offers the absolute best panoramic viewpoint of Budapest.
Built to celebrate 1000 years of the Hungarian state, its style was inspired by the early medieval times. With its 7 fairytale turrets, arched viewing terraces, striking St Stephen astride his horse and sweeping grand stairways all combining to create the beauty of the Bastion.
Top tip – The Fishermans bastion is one of Hungary’s top tourist destinations. It does get very busy, so pick your times. After visiting on day one around lunchtime, we found it jam packed. So, we chose to go there for our tradition of seeing a sun rise to try to see it without the crowds. It was a good move. We had the place to ourselves until around 8am. By 930 am it was getting very busy.
Located in the Buda castle grounds, The Fishermans Bastion, (or Halaszbastya) can be reached via a few options. Once on the Buda side of the City, you can walk the roughly 20 minute (mostly up hill) walk. If you don’t fancy that, use one of the various transport methods. The castle bus, (which we took on this, our first trip to the Bastion) can be picked up near the Chain Bridge. It is convenient, and has a few stop off points within the price (around €4 pp). There are ticket sellers in abundance just milling around the area (all in their uniform so you know who you are buying from) so it’s easy to get a ticket.
Then you have the option of the more expensive, but fun funicular to take you up the hill to the start of the Bastion. The historic cable car takes just a few minutes to transport you up the hill. It costs around £5 (1800 HUF) return per person, and leaves every 10 minutes. Be prepared to wait in line at busy times, but the queues do go down quickly.
You can also get a normal number 16 or 16A bus from the Pest side, (just outside of the Four Seasons Hotel) that will take you to Castle Hill and the Fishermans Bastion.
Top tip – if you do decide to get the normal bus, (as we did when we went up there for sunrise) you must buy your ticket before getting on. They do not take payment on the bus so you could get caught out. Your hotel will tell you where to buy your ticket from.
The Bastion was built around the equally beautiful Matthias Church. The church, one of the oldest in Budapest, stands in Trinity Square. It has been serving the people of Budapest for over 700 years, although many restorations have taken place in that time. The church is steeped in Budapest’s history, and has seen royal weddings, conversion to a Mosque and important coronations in its past. Built to impress, the beautiful frescos of Hungarian artists, and the famous Hungarian Zsolnay ceramic tiles that adorn the roof, make the church visually stunning. The church also now houses a museum, and the entrance fee of around 1500 HUF includes entrance to both.
In the interest of full honesty, I was a bit underwhelmed by Buda Castle. Now, to be fair to it, the competition from its nearest neighbours (Bastion and Matthias) is high! Anything would feel in their shadow in terms of looks. Buda castle is not by any stretch, an ugly building, but the Fishermans Bastion is more castle looking than the actual castle. The grounds of Buda Castle are gorgeous, with fantastic views of the City laid out below. There are also some beautiful sculptures in the grounds. You will also see soldiers on sentry, guarding the castle, so it is 100% worth a visit. It is just not the fairy tale castle I had in my head.
Buda Castle is also home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The castle courtyards are open all day, every day. The actual interior of the castle is open 10-6 except Tuesday-Sunday. Admission price starts at around €10 per adult.
Day Three – Sunrise, Opulent cafe’s, Library of Dreams and Getting Lost in the City
Let’s pop back across the river and wander around the flatter, seemingly more built up area of Pest. As well as having the shopping areas that I spoke to you about in the Christmas in Budapest post, there is so much more! The architecture, the thermal baths, the Jewish Quarter, so much to explore! Here is my run down.
Sunrise at Fishermans Bastion
I mentioned earlier about our sunrise tradition. Every City shows off it’s best self at sunrise I think. It will never get old to be part of one. So, if you are having anything more than 3 days in Budapest, set a morning aside to get up early. The Fishermas Bastion at sunrise is incredibly special and I urge you to see it. Not only because you will experience it with no crowds, but because the views are something else. Trust me ok? I have nothing else to say on the matter, but will leave this photos here….
Getting Lost in Budapest
We decided that we would walk from our hotel located by the river, to try to find New York Cafe. We wanted to explore the city a little more unstructured, so set off with google maps as our guide. It was apparently a 30 minute walk, so, bundled up against the elements, we set off. It turned out to be the best decision. We did indeed find the cafe, (and had the most amazing coconut latte and apple cake ever), but we also got a real feel for the non-tourist side of Budapest.
Turning right when we should have gone left. Taking roads that led us in a circle. Taking our chances that a direction we headed in “just felt right” All tiny mistakes that meant we found little gems that we wouldn’t have, had we got on the bus or taxi. Including the slightly spooky, but weirdly fascinating cafe pictured above that was tucked into the corner of a little courtyard. It looked to me like it was being claimed back by nature! Wonder what it is like at Halloween…….
Ervin Szabo Library – The Gold Room
Well what a little find this was! My love of books is well documented both here, and on my social media. I just love books and reading! In fact, when I think of the ideal, dream house that I am going to be moving to soon, (I am okaayyyyy), it has a library. In my library, I will have one of those sliding step ladder things that all the best libraries have. Big, overstuffed wingback chairs will help create cosy corners in my library. I have given it a lot of thought. However, now I think I am going to trade my sliding step ladder, for the beautiful spiral staircase that this library straight from a Harry Potter film has.
This library, that we came across purely by accident, was exquisite. Not only in this part, where the floor to ceiling books nestled on shelves. Oh no. This beautiful place had more to offer in the form of its Gold Room! An elegant, gold accented room with crystal chandeliers sending twinkling light around the room. All there for the library goers to read in. We wandered around the library, trying some of the gorgeous comfortable chairs out for size, for a good hour or so. I was in my literacy loving element. What a find!
Top tip – The library does charge a small fee, (in local currency only) to go in of you are not a resident, but it was worth it.
New York Cafe – Budapest
If you are a fan of Instagram, and have ever typed in Budapest cafe, you would have seen New York Cafe. It is literally the most fancy cafe I have ever seen. It has an undeniable feeling of granduer, a real feel of high society. Starting its life in the late 1800’s, New York Cafe was a haven for those that loved the good life. Writers, artists, people of stature, all graced it’s gilded gold interior. In fact, some of Hungary’s most influential newspapers were editied in the upstairs rooms of the cafe!
Despite a few twists and turns in the cafe’s history, it now holds its place as one of the most visited venues in the City. Located within the New York Palace hotel, you cannot fail to be enchanted with “the most beautiful cafe in the world”. The soft sound of violin accompanied us as we enjoyed our coffee and cake. To give you an idea of prices, a full Afternoon Tea starts at €65, a snack selection including drink for €33, and coffee (or hot chocolate) and cake for €21. You can see the New York Cafe Menu here.
Top Tip – We did not book the cafe, so had to wait for around 15 minutes for a table. Queues can be long at very busy times, so waits can be in excess of 30 minutes. If you know you would like to visit here, I would recommend making a reservation.
The Jewish Quarter of Budapest
The Jewish Quarter is the smallest district in Budapest, yet the most populated! It is full of small, narrow streets that link to each other. Although it does not have the same atmosphere and concentration of Pragues Jewish Quarter, it is a must visit. There are plenty of signs that show the areas Jewish history. Three synagogues hold court in the area, including the Dohany Street Synagogue, which is the largest in Europe.
In 1944, the Jewish Quarter, also known as The Ghetto, housed over 70,000 jewish people. The area is less than a square mile! They were put into “yellow star houses” ready to be deported en-mass. Now, the area is a bustling, lively part of the City. Street art, some of the best bars in Budapest and of course, tours of the synagogue make it a must visit in your 4 days in Budapest.
The Ruin Bars
I cannot finish my day three run down without mentioning the ruin bars. These famous bars of Budapest are not to be missed. Situated in the old Jewish Quarter, they are a quirky, eclectic mix of bars, housed in the remains of abandoned buildings.
The furniture, fixtures and fitting are also collated from house clearances, skips etc. Sustainability at its best right? The first of these bars to spring up was Szimpla Kert, and has been around since 2002, but there are now a few others. I’d recommend doing a tour of the bars if a good night out is on your itinerary. They are beyond cool. The atmosphere, the decor, the drinks….. I mean, where else can you sit in a bath in public and have a beer?
Day Four – Thermal Baths, Atmospheric Castles and Hero’s Square
It is our last full day. As you can see, we managed to get a lot into our 4 days in Budapest! It never felt rushed though. We had a lot of time to enjoy the city. I think you could do everything if you had 3 days in Budapest, but it may be more rushed. Our last day was a little more chilled, with visit to one of the famous thermal baths. We got the underground from Deak Square (city centre) to Szechenyi baths. Its the M1 line that you need and will cost you just a couple of Euro’s each.
There are a few choices when it comes to the best thermal baths in Budapest. Each of the main ones have their own charm. We chose to go to Szechenyi, which is the largest of the two. It was a must for us that it had a large outdoor thermal pool, and this one does. Some of the other baths do not have outdoor areas, or they close certain times so it is best to check.
Built in 1913, it is not the most historical baths, (they are Rudas and Kiraly) but is the most popular. With 18 pools, the huge outdoor pool and 10 saunas, it is popular with tourists and the locals. It is not cheap. A ticket for the baths is around €24 each. You then have to pay for the hire of a towel if you don’t have one with you. To hire a towel and flip flops is around €15 extra! We spent a few hours here, and it was a great experience. The water is like a hot bath! I was hoping it would snow while we were in here, but we just got rain. I had this notion of being in the natural thermal baths, snow falling, dusting the tops of the ornate domes in white sugar icing snow, laughter ringing out as we all marvelled at how warm we were while the snow fell. Ok, I may have just played out a scene from some naff christmas film in my head there, but…..you get the picture.
Top tip – It is compulsory to wear flip flops at the thermal baths. You will be made to pay for hire of a pair if you do not have any. Pop a pair in your case if you have room to save on the additional cost.
If you have the patience, (and you are in Budapest in the colder months) dry your hair on the excruciatingly slow hairdryers at the baths. You need to explore the area over this side of town, and you don’t want to freeze with wet hair. I’m just looking out for you people….
This area is City Park. Here you will find the ice skating rink in the winter. Just beyond that, is the Vajdahunyad Castle. The castle was built in 1896 (again, part of the 1000 year birthday of Hungary project). Now a museum of Agriculture, it is an incredibly romantic, fairytale looking castle. The style of the castle is eclectic, for very good reason. It was built to represent the changing styles of Hungarian architecture from the middle ages onwards.
We didn’t go into the museum (it was shut for Christmas concert). We did however wander through the grounds. There are the most amazing sculptures scattered throughout the gardens. Faceless men, hooded figures, all add to the fabulous atmosphere of this place. There is also a cosy little coffee shop tucked away underneath the castle. I would fully recommend popping in there for a mulled wine or other hot beverage. It is so lovely.
Leaving the castle, going back across the front of the ice rink, a 5 minute walk will bring your to Heroes Square. Again, a celebratory 1896 addition to the City, it is the largest square in the City. With the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Hall of Arts building flanking the square, it can attract a lot of people. We were here on a rainy, grey old day, but it kept the crowds away, so always a silver lining!
The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square, was erected to celebrate Hungarian National leaders. The seven chieftans of the tribes that founded Hungary (the Magyars) are featured astride their horses around the main column. Then, set into the two curved parts either side, the statues of past Kings and Heros. You can see a full run down of who is honoured just here.
Top tip – If you decide to visit Szechenyi thermal baths, then allow time to see the castle and heroes square the same day. They are literally all next to each other. Allow maybe a morning/afternoon for the baths. You would only need an additional hour or so if you are not going into the museum for the rest.
Final Thoughts on our 4 days in Budapest
Well, if you have made it to the end, congratulations! Budapest is a City packed with so much to see and do, I could have probably written another eleventy milion words! Trying to give all the details on our 4 days in Budapest itinerary, without taking up your whole day for you to read it, was hard! We really did pack a lot in. I have not even mentioned restaurants, food and drinks! Maybe another day eh????
I would love to know your thoughts. Have you been? Is Budapest a City you have considered? Is it now? In truth, I was less keen than Nik to visit here, but I think I need a return visit. I loved it! It has an immense charm in the Winter. However, just like when we had a mini break to Salzburg, I would love to see Budapest in the Spring or early Summer. I think it would be beautiful. What do you think?