We arrived late in the afternoon to the city of Budapest. Budapest is the capital of Hungary. It is the most populous city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the European Union. Continue reading to find out how we explored the Hungarian Capital city of Budapest in 36 hours – this is your perfect Budapest Itinerary covering historical sites, city life and the amazing dinner cruise.
When I think of Budapest, the picturesque River Danube comes to mind. And rightly so, the entire city gets its character and personality from this River, dividing the city to Buda and Pest.
The Budapest Itinerary: Explore Budapest in 36 Hours
On our first day of arrival, we checked into our hotel in the Pest area – Ibis Style Hotel. Prices for accommodation and food is cheaper in Pest area as compared to Buda.
- Central Location: Boutique Hotel Victoria Budapest, Hilton Budapest, Corinthia Hotel Budapest, Queen’s Court Hotel & Residence
- Budget Hotels: Kings Hotel, Atlantic Hotel, Ibis Style Hotel, Casati Budapest Hotel
Room prices range from 52 Euros and above. Most Downtown hotels start at 127 Euros+
After checking in, we headed out to explore the city (and it was raining that day)
First few hours: Budapest Itinerary
A few blocks from our hotel was the beautiful New York Cafe.
We decided to spend the evening there as it started to rain outside. Rain makes this city even more beautiful and serene. New York Cafe is considered as one of the world’s beautiful cafes. Check out the interiors to know why.
New York Cafe – This cafe was built in the late 19th century. It was built in Renaissance style and has a hotel included in its vicinity (the hotel is called Boscolo Budapest Hotel). This cafe was very popular among writers and influential people of the early 20th century. The cafe was ignored during the 2nd World War. Once the war ended, the cafe was used as a sporting goods store and later was renovated and restored to its original splendor. Since 1954, the cafe has remained open.
We spent a few hours in this beautiful cafe, with cappuccino and cookies. We ordered for SacherTorte and it tasted okay. The menu has multicultural cuisines, including Hungarian classics like Beef Goulash, Chicken- Paprikash, Wiener Schnitzel. The items in the menu were expensive. (Cappuccino was about 8 Euros). We went in there for the cafe experience, not for the food. The coffee was good, nevertheless.
The Next Day – Budapest Itinerary
The next morning, we were ready for a day – full of exploration. We began the day with Heroes Square or Hősök tere. It is one of the major squares in Budapest, known for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important leaders. The color of the columns and the green statues shine even brighter with the raindrops, adding a melancholic charm to the square’s history. This complex also hosts the Museum of Fine Arts and the Műcsarnok. Visit to the Square is absolutely free.
From the Heroes Square, we proceeded to the Buda Castle. We drove over the river Danube.
The central area, along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes important sites like the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Matthias Church and the Liberty Statue.
When we reached the Buda Castle complex, St Matthias Church welcomed us. Built in Romanesque style in 1015, St Matthias Church is a roman catholic church. With the rain, fog and “peek-a-boo” sun-rays, the diamond pattern roof tiles and the gargoyles laden spires sparkled beautifully.
A few steps away and we were at the Fisherman’s Bastion. The towers in the Fisherman’s Bastion refer to the seven Magyar tribes of Hungary. From these towers and the terrace you can get a spectacular view of Danube, Margaret Island, Pest to the east and the Gellért Hill and of course the stunning Hungarian Parliament.
Many of the balconies and 7 towers are free to enter, while the upper towers have a small entry fee.
The easiest way to get to the free parts of the Fisherman’s Bastion is from the Matthias Church. Just walk to the balconies of the Halaszbastya to enjoy a superb view.
At last the Buda Castle. It is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings. A massive Baroque palace, this site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are funicular options available to reach the top of the Buda Castle.
Other than the historical UNESCO structures, there are souvenirs shops and restaurants in the Castle District.
From the Buda Castle, we started for the centrum for souvenir shopping. Vasarcsarnok: Central Market Hall is a vibrant shopping area. Shop for paprika, embroidered knickknacks, crystals. You can shop for souvenirs for 1-10 Euros
Souvenir Ideas: What to buy in Budapest?
Embroidered items (table cloth, mats, mittens, you name it), Crystals, Paprika, Lace Items, Rubiks Cube, Painted Wood Souvenirs (pencils, toys), Hair Accessories
After some shopping, we took a quick stroll around the central area. Rains had colored the city with a refreshing lustre. We were mesmerized at the stunning bridges on one hand and on the other, were the lovely road-side cafe and historical market-places.
For lunch, we stepped into a restaurant called – Casablanca and tried their lunch specials. We tried the Goulash soup. It was good and the menu prices were decently priced.
Restaurants and Food in Budapest:
Food to Try: Goulash Soup (Beef Stew), Chicken paprikash (Chicken Paprika), Töltött káposzta (Stuffed cabbage), Lángos (fried bread dough), Chimney cake (Transylvanian specialty, famous as Hungary’s oldest pastry), Winter salami
As we walked back to the hotel (yes, it’s all within walk-able distance and we love to walk), we saw a monument shine brightly from a distance. That’s the Liberty Monument.
Situated on the Gillert Hill, the Liberty Monument was built to commemorate the sacrifices of many Hungarians for their country. It was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazis. This monument has undergone many changes, including its inscription, which has been altered to reflect the freedom from Communism. And currently this is what it says, “To the memory of those all who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary”
Its location upon Gellért Hill makes it a prominent feature of Budapest’s cityscape (and also gives great photography options). Entrance to the monument is free.
An Evening to Remember – Danube River Cruise Budapest
Our evening in Budapest was going to be spectacular. We had booked a dinner cruise on the Danube River. Isn‘t it amazing and romantic?
There are lots of options to choose from, when selecting a cruise on the Danube. Dinner cruises are for 2.50 hours. The cost of dinner cruises start at 50 Euros.
We enjoyed a 3 course meal including a few glasses of Hungarian Tokaji wine. We stepped outside to the dock and it was amazing. The city of Budapest was lit beautifully. All the bridges were sparkling with lights. Our eyes were fixed on the Budapest Parliament – it was gorgeous!
Read about our Danube Dinner Cruise Experience
Other Sights and Activities
- Great Synagogue: Great Synagogue is the largest Jewish house of worship in the world (other one is in New York City). Built in the mid 19th century (1859), the synagogue has both Romantic and Moorish architectural elements.There is a Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial on the north side of the Synagogue, built over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis. The synagogue also has a Jewish museum inside.
- Opera House: The Hungarian State Opera House is one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest. Its facade is decorated with statues of muses and great opera artists like Puccini, Mozart and Verdi. The Opera House conducts three tours daily.
- Thermal Bath: There are tons of options for Baths in Budapest. The Széchenyi Medicinal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Other notable baths include – Gellért Baths , Király Baths, Lukacs Baths, Rudas Baths. This is one of the must-do items in Budapest. (I am not a hot spring, bath type of person, but if you do like thermal baths – make sure you experience this in a royal way in Budapest). These baths have medicinal properties, other than being of relaxation and entertainment value.
Good to Know About Budapest:
- Nearest Airport: Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD)
- Road Trip: Get into a car and reach Budapest from Vienna, Austria in 2+ hours
- Currency: The official currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Euros are widely accepted. (1 EURO = 300 HUF approx)
- Please keep cash with yourself at all times. Most shops and restaurants don’t have card machines.
- When to Visit: I was in Budapest in Spring (mid March). Spring is a great time to visit. It does rain though, but tourists places are less crowded (and tourist-y things a little less expensive). Summer is festival season and busy. Autumn is beautiful, just like Spring. Winter is okay, but certain tourist attractions are closed during that season.