Budapest City Guide
a guided walk through one of Europe’s most vibrant cities.
by Charlotte Lint
If you’ve never been to Budapest before let me just tell you that you are in for a surprise. The first time I visited I was completely blown away by all the different types of architecture, the rich history and by the fact that it left me completely mesmerized. So what I would like to do is take you on a journey with me through this amazing city on a two day trip.
Let’s start at the very beginning: getting to Budapest from the airport. This one is pretty simple since taxi fares in here are remarkably low. For 25 Euros you will be able to reach your accommodation in the city center. However, don’t forget to exchange these Euros for Hungarian Forints if you would like to pay cash, otherwise most taxi drivers do offer a credit card service but always ask before you get into a taxi.
Once you’re there it’s time to stretch your legs and there is no better place for this then to walk up to the Gellert Hill. It’s a pretty steep one but I promise you, the panoramic view that you get for it in return is so worth it. It’s a 140 meter high dolomite rock rising above the Danube in Buda. The enormous female statue in front of the citadel is called the Statue of Liberty and it commemorates Hungary’s liberation from the Nazi empire.
From here we walk down again straight towards the Liberty Bridge (that’s the green one). It’s one of the nine bridges across the Danube in Budapest and was built for the Millennium World Exhibition in 1896, it’s original name being Francis Joseph Bridge. During summer this bridge is packed with people hanging out on top of it, drinking a glass of rosé or eating a sandwich, it’s all possible here. From here simply cross over from the Buda side to Pest and on your right you will find one of the most amazing places Budapest has to offer: the great market hall. Anything typical Hungarian you may find here. The market is divided into three floors and holds some of Budapest’s finest delicacies. On the ground floor you will find mainly food and liquor stalls. So if you want to take some paprika, Tokaji or Palinka home with you, this is the place for you. The first and second floor contains souvenir shops and eating stalls.
After indulging on some delicious food we are ready for another nice walk through one of Budapest’s most famous tourist streets Vaci street. If you would like to take a nice souvenir back home this is the place for you. Keep walking on and you will find yourself in front of one of the most beautiful basilica’s you’ll ever see: St. Stephens basilica. It is named in honour of Stephen, the first king of Hungary. Today, it’s the third largest church building in present-day Hungary. If you are visiting the city during wintertime you’ll find a wonderful Christmas market right in the middle of the square. For the best view of Budapest head up to the top of the Basilica. You can either choose if you take the winding stairs or the elevator, but whichever one you choose the view will be breathtaking. If you prefer the best view of the basilica itself pay a visit to the Aria Hotel and head up to their rooftop bar. After all this climbing up and down treat yourself to the prettiest ice-cream you’ll ever see at Gelato Rosa.
For some more afternoon fun, let’s take the subway. Very important in Budapest is that you always validate your ticket, unless you want to get a big fine from the Hungarian police. We are heading now towards the Freedom square all the way at the end of Andrassy avenue. It’s noted for it’s iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders. It hosts the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Hall of Art on the right. The Millennium Monument in the middle of the square represents the 1000-year-old history of the Magyars. But the best part here is the area behind the square named Varosliget park. Let’s go to the right first across the bridge to see some more stunning architecture. You will end up in a big park with in the middle Vajdahunyad castle. It’s one of the romantic castles Budapest has to offer by the boating lake/ice skating rink. Yes, you read this right, during wintertime the entire lake is transformed into one enormous ice skating rink.
All of this sightseeing can get very tiring of course, so if you’ve brought your bathing suit with you just go and relax at the other side of the park in the Széchenyi Spa Baths. Once inside you can choose between a locker or a private cabin. If I were you at would opt for a cabin since they are very spacious and comfortable. Now get ready for some pampering. It is one of the best and largest spa baths in Europe with 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor pools and it is said the water actually contains therapeutic powers. It is open every day throughout the year, including national holidays. Besides the outdoor and indoor geothermal pools, you can get massage treatments, enjoy the saunas or even taste the natural waters that supply the pools from over 1000 meters below the surface. Oh, and did I mention this place is the perfect spot for a romantic afternoon?
I am sure that by now you will feel hungry again, so why not have a dinner with a view? Head back to the Danube but stay on the Pest side. The best way is to head into the direction of the Chain Bridge and then go left once you’ve reached the promenade next to the Danube. One block further you will find Jerny bistro. They serve some exquisite Hungarian dishes but also delicious Italian food if you’re not that adventurous. Enjoy your meal and enjoy the Buda castle in the background glistening in the sun. There is actually no better place to enjoy the sunset than this area. Once you’ve finished your meal we will cross the Danube once more to end up at the base of the Buda Castle. Don’t take the funicular up, instead opt for the scenic route and walk a little to the left. The castle is part of the Budapest World Heritage Site as from 1987 and has many must-see attractions, gothic arches, 18th century baroque houses and cobblestone streets. Buda Castle Hill is also home to a large interconnected cellar system that consists of natural caves created by thermal waters and man-made passageways. The best option is here to just explore at your own pace and enjoy the sunset from the top of the hill.
Make sure to have an early night cause you will definitely have an early morning since we will be heading towards the castle district once more. This time not to visit the Buda Castle but my all time favourite: the Fisherman’s Bastion. Get ready to be transported into a real-life fairy tale. The castle-like Fisherman’s Bastion was built in 1905. In medieval times, the fish market was nearby and the bastion was built to commemorate the fisherman who protected this part of the city. It is open every day, during day and night and most of the sights are free of charge. If you want to go to the highest lookout point you need to pay a fee. But all the other ones give you an equal beautiful panoramic view of beautiful Budapest. In between the many arches you will get the best view of the Parliament. Don’t rush this place but explore at your own pace and just take in all of the magnificent architecture and views. Since this is such a popular attraction, get there before or during sunrise if you don’t wish to be surrounded by hundreds of other tourists.
Our final stop will be Margaret Island, the green gem of Budapest. It provides peaceful hideaway from hectic downtown Budapest with large green areas, flowery gardens, old trees and lots of entertainment. The 2,5 km long and 500 m wide island stretches between Arpad Bridge an Margit Bridge in the embrace of the Danube. The best way to get there is by tram 4 or 6 or take bus 26. If you prefer walking this is certainly also a possibility. If you don’t feel like walking through the entire island or you are accompanied by kids you can rent out a bring cart or a bicycle. Once you’ve entered you will stumble upon the musical fountain. After sunset the fountain is illuminated by 250 colourful LED lamps making it also once of Budapest’s romantic spots. And every hour a different setlist will be played followed by a magical water show. At the end of the island you will find the ruins of the Franciscan Priory. There is also a beautiful water tower to be found, an open-air-theatre, a mini-zoo, a Japanese garden, a rose garden and some nice restaurants.
I hope you had fun exploring this marvelous city with me and I can’t wait to take you with me on my next trip!