36 Hours in Budapest

The Hungarian Parliament Building is third largest in the world.

After having George Ezra’s song “Budapest” as my morning alarm for the past three years, it is only fitting that it was one of my first travel destinations during my semester abroad. Visiting cities that I do not know much about has always gotten me more excited than places I constantly see in the media. Going to Budapest was mostly a mystery for my friends and me. I had a rough outline of what we were going to do, but other than that no expectations. It made my short time there amazing.

There is nothing better than going to a city where you feel like you are splurging, but actually spending less money than you thought you were. That is Budapest. Average entrée prices at nice restaurants hover between eight and thirteen dollars letting you order a three-course meal for virtually the same price you would get one plate back in the states. If you are on a budget, it is possible that you could spend less than 20 dollars a day on food if you find the right places. Visiting Budapest’s main attractions is budget-friendly too. A day at the baths will only set you back 18 dollars, and your metro ride to get there will only be one dollar and 25 cents. Many of the places to see in Budapest are actually free and bars rarely have a cover.

The worst part of my trip to Budapest was that we only had 36 hours to cram in everything we wanted to do and see. Originally, it would have been 48 hours, but with a cancelled flight and scrambling to find a new one, we arrived 12 hours late. Surprisingly, it was easy to hit most of the sights when using the metro and being dedicated to an early morning. From grand monuments, to comfort food and breathtaking views, Budapest should not be overlooked.

The view from the top of Buda Castle is one of the best.

Where to Stay

Traveling with seven girls made it affordable for us to book a big, loft-style Airbnb in the heart of the city right by the Budapest Eye. The city has amazing options for hostels, hotels and Airbnb’s depending on your budget.

Hostels & Hotels: Hostels are our recommendation for young travelers who want to save some money and do not mind meeting new people. Oftentimes they offer amazing free walking tours, breakfast and helpful hosts to answer your questions, which can be great for travelers who are not sure about what to do.

  • 11th Hour Cinema Hostel & Apartments ($): With a movie room, game room, nightly pub crawl and free wifi, this hostel has exactly what you need for a comfortable stay in Budapest. A bed here starts at 8 dollars a night.
  • Hostel One ($): With free wifi, daytime activities, dinners and pub crawls this hostel has it all for young travelers looking to socialize. It is one block away from the famous Szimpla Kert bar. A bed here can be booked for 10 dollars a night.
  • King’s Hotel ($): Room rates include a free breakfast buffet, and it is very close to the city center. They will also help arrange airport transfer for you. Rooms here cost around 30 dollars a night.
  • Budapest Panorama Central ($$): Located in the historical center of Budapest with amenities including free wifi, a TV in each room and air conditioning. Rooms here are around 40 dollars a night for a single and 60 dollars for a double.
  • Eurostars Budapest Center Hotel ($$): A four-star hotel in Budapest with double rooms starting at 50 dollars.
  • Sofitel Budapest Chain bridge ($$$): If you want to splurge on a five-star hotel in Budapest, you’ll be set back the rates of mid-range hotel in the states. This is the beauty of Budapest. Located right on the river, rooms at this stunning hotel start at 115 dollars a night.

What to Do

In only a short amount of time, it was impossible for us to fit everything in. These are the spots we saw and a list of ones we wish we got to.

  • Széchenyi Thermal Bath: Do you see this in every Instagram post from Budapest? Yes. Is it overrated? Not at all. The price of a soak here at only 18 dollars is reason enough to visit. The atmosphere is so stunning and regal, you will feel like you are bathing in the courtyard of a palace. For a little more fun, you can visit the bath side bar and grab a drink to relax. This the perfect way to destress from a flight. My friends and I visited at night and the steamy surroundings helped us forget about our cancelled flight earlier in the day.
  • Hungary Parliament Building: A great place to start your sightseeing filled day because it is in walking distance of the Chain Bridge and all of the attractions on the other side of the river. Situated right on the Danube, it is stunning during the day and at night. The National Assembly of Hungary meets at this extraordinary landmark.
  • Shoes on the Danube Bank: Walking from the parliament building to the Chain Bridge you will stumble upon a moving memorial dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust. It honors the thousands of victims who were shot into the Danube river by Arrow Cross militiamen with 60 pairs of iron shoes facing the water.
  • Széchenyi Chain Bridge: This famous pedestrian and automotive bridge connects the two sides of Budapest with gorgeous views of the city from the middle. Be sure to walk over it as you make your way to Buda Castle.
  • Buda Castle: This landmark is hard to miss sitting high above the city on a hill. To get to the top, you can take a ten minute hike up or pay for the bus or funicular to bring you up to the top. If you have a hard time walking, the bus may be the best option for you as one ticket includes round-trip fare as well as a stop at Fisherman’s Bastion. Once there, take in the panoramic views overlooking the whole city. Inside Buda Castle, you will find the Hungarian National Gallery museum.
  • Matthias Church & Fisherman’s Bastion: Located right next to each other, rounding the corner to these two landmarks is like walking into a fairytale storybook. These two sites were by far the favorite of our group, and we did not even go inside the church. If you have the time, the views from the church’s tower are said to be incredible and a ticket up is only five dollars. If you do not have the time, just walking around the church and noticing the architecture dating back to the 1500s is enough to take your breath away. Climb the walls of the fisherman’s bastion for more sweeping glimpses of Budapest.
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica: On your way back to the other side of town across the bridge, be sure to stop at St. Stephen’s Basilica. This large, historic church has a one euro entry fee that allows you to see its elaborate interior. You can also pay more to climb to the top.
  • River Cruise: A trip to Budapest is not complete without a Danube River cruise at night. Being study abroad students, we went on a boat party cruise, but there are also dinner cruises and drink cruises that last a few hours. See Budapest from an entirely different perspective and light with a night cruise.
  • Szimpla Kert: When your boat cruise is over, if you go to no other bar, make it Szimpla Kert. It is Budapest’s most famous ruins pub featuring different themed rooms and floors to keep you exploring into the early morning.
What We Wish We Did

If our flight had not gotten cancelled, these are the other destinations we had queued up for our time in Budapest.

  • A visit to Central Market Hall
  • House of Terror Museum
  • A visit to the Budapest Opera House
  • Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum
  • Gallery Cave Churches
  • Sunset at the Citadel

Where to Eat

Coming to Budapest, I was only familiar with two of their famous dishes goulash and paprikash. I was not particularly excited for dinners out until our first night’s feast. With unbelievably affordable prices and so many hearty, rich choices, I have never been so happy about a city’s culinary scene. Throughout the weekend, I indulged in porcini mushroom soup, goulash, veal and chicken paprikash, dumplings and so many other warm, comforting dishes. Eating here felt like sitting down for a meal at your Hungarian grandmother’s house.

  • VakVarjú Etterem ($$$): We ate here our first night in Budapest after relaxing at the baths and were very impressed. The portions are large, and the food tastes amazing. Each dish has a special piece to it adding a level of intrigue that will make you anticipate its arrival.
  • Avenue Café ($$): This is a great place to stop in for an American style breakfast. They offer pancakes, eggs benedict, croque madames, homemade pastries and coffee.
  • Iguana Bar & Grill ($$): If you are in Budapest for more than a day and want to try something other than Hungarian food, Iguana Bar & Grill is the place to be. The fun restaurant was packed the night we tried to go, and the food and drinks looked incredible. They offer tacos, enchiladas, burritos, nachos and more.
  • Hungarikum Bisztro ($): For a more traditional Hungarian food experience, this restaurant has it all. It offers live music and classic dishes served in a no-frills atmosphere.
  • Bock Bistro ($$$): For a modern twist on Hungarian food, Bock offers classic dishes reimagined, tapas style.
  • Paprika Vendéglö ($$): In an atmosphere resembling a ski lodge, indulge in traditional Hungarian classics or goose liver served with lecsó and roasted wild boar.

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