It is sunset and as the light fades , the banks of the Danube river in Budapest come alive with brilliantly illuminated buildings. This is when the city comes into its own like no other in Europe. By day , Budapest brims with typical European charm – cafes lines the sidewalk , trams rumble past and the cobblestone streets are full of tourists clicking selfies.
At night , it is bewitching. The Danube flows silently in the dark , dividing the city into two. The dazzling Parliament building stands proudly on the Pest side while the softly lit Castle hill district towers on the Buda side of the city. Connecting the two , the chain bridge glows in the dark , forming the backdrop of a thoudand postcards. Abandoned courtyards and crumbling buildings turn into ‘ruin bars’ – with quirky decor and inexpensive drinks , they are a Budapest ‘original’.
I could easily spend a week here but if 48 hours is all you have , then fret not. The itinerary below will help you take in the major attractions and fall in love with Budapest.
9 am : Start your day with breakfast at New York Cafe , which calls itself the most beautiful cafe in the world. Don’t believe it? Have a look at the pictures below!
Address : Erszebét krt 9-11 . Open : 8am to 12 am. Prices : 25 euros per person for buffet breakfast .
10.30 am: Take the M2 metro from Blaha Lujza Tér to Deák Ferenc Tér ( 2 stops, 5 min) and stroll down to Vorósmarty Tér to meet your guide for a free walking tour of the city. I have always found such a tour very useful on the first day to know more about the city and to get some orientation for the rest of my stay there. We did quite a few tours with Free Budapest Walking Tours and I highly recommend them. They operate on a tips-only basis and the guides are all excellent. Typically the tour lasts 2.5 to 3 hours and ends on the Buda side, near the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Clink on the link below to view all the tours they offer and schedules:
2 pm : Lunch at Ramazuri Bistronomy , which is a 3 min walk from where the tour ends. The food is excellent and they have a couple of vegetarian options!
Address: Uri utcá . Open : 10 am to 10 pm . Prices : approximately 30 euros for lunch ( 2 people ) without alcohol.
3 pm : Continue exploring the Castle hill district on your own. Start with Mathias church , named after King Mathias who carried out renovation works on the church and transformed it into its current avatar. [ Open from 9 am -5pm. Ticket : 1500 HUF per person ].
Just behind the church is Fisherman’s Bastion with its fairy tale towers and viewing balconies. Named after a guild of fishermen who helped protect the castle walls in the Middle Ages, it is today probably the top tourist attraction in Budapest.
Stroll onto the Royal Palace , which is a short 10 minute walk. It currently houses the National Gallery and Budapest History Museum [ Open 10 am-6pm , closed on Mondays]. The courtyards of the Palace are open to visit at any time of the day and offers panaromic views of the city.
6 pm: Take the funicular down or Bus no 16 to Deák Ferenc Tér. It is time to visit a ‘ruin bar’ for a drink! There are numerous such pubs now but I recommend Szimpla Kert on Kazinczy utca in the Jewish Qaurter – the first ruin bar of Budapest.
Furnished with eclectic, flea market finds , it first opened its doors in 2002 in an abandoned building. Think old radios , discarded desktop computers, bare bulbs, chairs hanging from the ceiling , mismatched furniture and graffiti on the unpainted walls – you will find all this and more!
Try a local beer , wander through its maze of rooms and though it is the most touristy thing to do in Budapest , you will be glad you did!
There are concerts and movie screenings here too – check out their website for the latest events.
8 pm : Next door is Street Food caravan – skip the food trucks selling burgers and instead head for langós – a local snack made of fried dough topped with sour cream , garlic and cheese.
9 pm: You can either call it a day and head back to the hotel or you can continue your ruin bar experience by heading back to Szimpla Kert.
9 am: Start with another great breakfast at Cafe Gerbeaud on Vorosmarty Square . It is a Budapest institution and was first established 160 years ago!
Address : Vorosmarty Square 7-8. Open : 9am – 9pm. Prices : From 12 euros per person for breakfast
10 am : Take the M2 metro from Deák Ferenc Tér to Kossuth Tér. It is the closest metro stop for the Hungarian Parliament. This is the seat of the National Assembly in Hungary and is a grand old building with 691 rooms!
Guided tours are available when the Assembly is not in session and it is best to buy your tickets in advance.
Visit the official website for opening times and ticket prices:
12 pm: Walk a few steps from the Parliament towards the Danube river and here you will come upon a touching memorial to Jewish men and women who were killed during the World War 2 by the fascist Arrow Cross militia in Budapest – the Shoes on the Danube bank monument.
1 pm: Make your way to one of the many vegan/vegetarian restaurants around St Stephen’s basilica for a tasty and healthy lunch.
Great Bistro vegan restaurant : Address – Budapest, Bank u. 6, 1054 Hungary
Open 9 am to 5 pm , closed on Sundays
Govinda vegetarian restaurant ( ISKCON) : Address – Budapest, Vigyázó Ferenc u. 4, 1051 Hungary.
Open 11.30 am to 9 pm , closed on Sundays
2.30 pm: Join GenerationTours for their 2.30 pm Jewish legacy tour , which starts from St .Stephen’s Basilica. Or if that’s not your thing , try their Red tour of Budapest, where you come to know more about Budapest during the Communist regime after WW2. Check out their website for more details and tour timings:
5 pm: You can choose to spend your last evening in Budapest by taking a cruise along the Danube or relaxing in one of its thermal spas.
Danube cruise: We did a one hour evening cruise with Portum lines. Try a cruise at twilight as it is truly magical when the lights get switched on!
Cost: 9 euros per person for a one hour cruise and free welcome drink.
Book with Portum lines or TripAdvisor.
Thermal Spa: I did not go to a thermal spa while in Budapest as it is just not my thing . However many of my friends highly recommend it and if this is something that interests you , go for it!
Szechenyi thermal baths and pools: This is the most famous and is one of the largest bath complexes in Europe. The first thermal bath of Pest , it was built in 1913.
Website : http://www.szechenyibath.hu/
Opening times : 6 am to 10 pm
Gellert Spa : Part of the Hotel Gellert , it was built in 1918 . This is grander than the Szechenyi spa and is famous for its Art Nouveau arhitecture.
Opening times: 6 am to 8 pm
And that will bring your 48 hours in Budapest to an end.. You can choose to go on to another European city from here as Budapest is well connected by train and air to major European destinations. We went on to take a night train to Krakow and that was an amazing experience! More on that later..
Useful facts to know before you go:
- The currency is Hungarian Forint , not the Euro. As of March 2019 , 1 indian rupee will get you 4 HUF , thus making Budapest easy on the wallet for the Indian tourist.
- Where to stay – Buda or Pest? I suggest finding accomodation in Pest. The Jewish quarter in Pest is lively with restaurants, ruin bars and pubs. In my opinion, it is the best neighbourhood for someone who is in Budapest for a short trip.
- I was surprised to find plenty of vegetarian/vegan restaurants in Budapest so it is very easy to find good food at reasonable prices!
- Almost everyone speaks English, though the official language is Magyar.
- Random fact : Did you know the song Hawayein from When Harry met Sejal was shot in Budapest? I know , I know – the movie is terrible but if you are a Shahrukh fan , I am sure this will probably make you want to come to Budapest!