Your Complete and Total Guide to 48 Hours in Budapest
Budapest is the city you’ve been looking for. It has everything: the art, the history, the complex geographic culture, and of course, the food. This is the ultimate city to visit in Eastern Europe, and I have the complete and total guide just for you so you can start your post-COVID travels off right.
Before you go, you should be aware that the city of Budapest is actually split into two regions. Buda, the west side, and Pest, the east side. These sides are split by the Danube River. This might make it easier or more difficult for you to tour the city, depending on how confused you may get trying to keep track of which side you’re on. That’s why our two days are going to be pretty evenly split between the two sides of the Danube River.
As one does when they visit any European city, you have to start off your day with brunch. It’s a thing, you might as well get used to it. And if you’re asking for my oh-so-professional opinion, you should start your mid-morning enjoying brunch at Central Cafe and Restaurant. Opened as a restaurant in 1887 in Pest, this cafe has all the vibes you could ever want. Its tall windows, glossy wood in- and exterior, an abundance of plants, and warm lights make for a filter-free Instagram post, I promise. Not to mention the food is phenomenal, accurately reviving the peak of the golden age of gastronomy in Hungary. Everything from lots of potatoes and meat to beautifully presented cakes, stuffed quiches, and fresh fish. If you’re in the mood for a more American-style meal, they have lots of different egg, meat, and pancake options. They open every day at 0800.
After you finish your brunch, you’ll have all the energy you'll need to enter further into downtown Budapest. You’ll have a few different options for getting around the city: taxi, public transport, by foot, bicycle, personal vehicle, or tour bus. I personally recommend traveling through Budapest using the official City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off bus company. You can buy tickets for their buses online or at the kiosks in Budapest. Either way, I would say that after a little research it is the most physically and financially efficient way to get around the city.
As you continue through Pest, you should visit the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a Holocaust memorial monument of bronze shoes in honor of the thousands of Jews in Budapest that were executed along the riverbank. If you continue your walk north, you’ll find the Hungarian Parliament. This Gothic-style building has many open rooms for you to visit. Even if you don’t go inside, its exterior is wonderful to admire even for just a few minutes during the day and especially at night. If you’re caught up in the European lifestyle, you can sit for a few minutes and enjoy a coffee or rich hot chocolate at a nearby cafe called the Tulipán Cafe and Bistro. Continue your journey by crossing the Danube via Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Buda.
Here you can visit Buda Castle, located in the creatively named Castle District. During your hike, or ride, up the hill to the castle you should stop by the Matthias Church, an 11th-century church at the heart of the Castle District. Just a forewarning, unlike most European churches and cathedrals, this church charges you to enter. While you’re in that area, you should make sure you visit the Fisherman’s Bastion which provides a large panoramic view of the city. Don’t worry, this visit will be free. These sights are conveniently located right next to each other.
If you’re feeling hungry around this time, I highly recommend Arany Hordó Restaurant, a restaurant serving traditional Hungarian cuisine. You won’t have to walk too far, as this eatery is right across from the Matthias Church. While you eat, you can enjoy beautiful frescos along the walls, window views of the Castle District, Danube, and Pest, as well as lively music. A family favorite in Budapest is the paprika chicken and dumplings, but Arany Hordó has a special twist to this traditional Hungarian dish. They serve “pancake Hortobagyi”, which is essentially the same thing but with a savory pancake rather than dumplings. If you’re a puritan about that sort of thing, don’t worry, they still serve the original paprika chicken.
Now you can continue your hike to Buda Castle. Once you reach it, you can view the Hungarian National Gallery. Accompanied by the architecture, they showcase 6000 paintings and 2100 sculptures. While you’re at the gallery you can climb the dome and see the breathtaking views of lower Buda, the entirety of Pest, and the Danube. Make sure you don’t miss the Changing of the Guards at the Hungarian Presidential Palace part of the castle. This happens every day, every hour, on the hour, from 0830 to 1700.
You should wrap up your day with City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off boat tours. These tours go from 1045 to 2045, and the ride lasts an hour. The views by boat are best at night when all the buildings are lit up, including the churches, palaces, the three famous Budapest bridges, the Buda Castle, and the Hungarian Parliament Building.
Wake up bright and early to get the most important meal of the day at Á la Maison Breakfast and Brunch Restaurant. With locations in Buda and in Pest, you won’t have to worry about crossing a bridge. They have a large and varied menu, including a long list of alcoholic drinks to fuel your European morning drinking habits. This restaurant has a unique Parisian-Hungarian aura, so it only makes sense that its menu would be just as international with breakfast items from countries including, but not limited to, Europe, the United States, Canada, and Russia. The vibes of this place are immaculate, and their food is top tier. They open at 0800 every day, and I recommend making a reservation because this place is pretty popular and fills up fast with locals and tourists alike.
The next stop is St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary’s second-largest church. It opens every weekday at 0900, and regularly hosts concerts. This Neo-Renaissance structure was completed and dedicated in 1905 after almost 100 years of construction. As well as other features such as paintings, frescoes, statues, carvings, and general architecture, the dome has a panoramic lookout that tourists are allowed to access.
One of the top attractions and food stops in Budapest is the Great Market Hall. This three-story building of market stands is filled with fresh produce, dried spices, delicious salamis and sausages, coffee, alcohol, Hungarian paprika, clothes and fabric, souvenirs, snacks, and even whole meals. The market is open Monday through Saturday and is the perfect stop for any meal.
Next, make the trek by bus or taxi up to Heroes Square. This large square displays statues of some of Hungary’s greatest national heroes, and a huge obelisk in the middle. This is within short walking distance of Budapest’s largest public park and Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens. But the main attraction in this area is by far the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
The Szechenyi Thermal Baths is a 100-year-old luxurious thermal bath and is actually the largest in Hungary. Set in and around neo-Baroque style buildings, their three large outdoor and fifteen indoor baths still use all-natural sources and are a popular attraction for visitors and locals year-round. They also have saunas and specialty baths, like a hops and barley brew bath.
Finish your short trip at Rustico Restaurant, a traditional Hungarian restaurant with Italian and Austrian influences. Their food is richly spiced and hearty, and their walls are completely decorated with a rustic, traditional Eastern European Roman Catholic touch. A very niche aesthetic, but perfectly in tune with the vibes of their staff, cuisine, and live music. A must-try here is their beef-goulash, a traditional Hungarian stew with lots of meat and vegetables. Finish off your dining experience with their “sweet fried pastry with apricot mousse”, which is kind of like a fat, puffy funnel cake with apricot preserves and whipped cream.
And there you have it, a whole two days in Budapest. Whatever you end up doing on your trip to this wonderful city, you’ll be sure to fall in love with the architecture, culture, food, history, and people, and never want to go back "home".