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What could be better than a weekend in Budapest? Pick any season and Budapest will have something for you to do. Visiting in the summer?
Catch beautiful city views and go bar hopping. Autumn? Stroll along the banks of the Danube and watch the leaves change colour. Winter? Take a dip in the thermal baths and enjoy the Christmas markets.
Budapest, located on the banks of the River Danube, is actually, historically, two separate cities on either bank having distinct cultural identities. Buda and Pest were combined in the 19th century to form one big city that we’ve all known and grown to love – Budapest.
Did you know? Budapest was almost going to be called Pestbuda? Just imagine!
Buda comprises of hilly regions, residential areas and the famous Buda Castle, while Pest is famous for its nightlife and parties, made famous because of the ruin bars.
A weekend trip to Budapest will leave you recharged and might be just the escape you need from your routine. So, here’s a Budapest weekend itinerary that will give you an insight into one of the most loved and famous cities in the world.
I’ve kept this Budapest itinerary flexible between 2 and 3 days so depending on how short or long your weekend is you can pick what you’d like to explore more of.
Getting to the City
The Intercity Express will take you from the airport to the city centre in 30-45 mins covering roughly 22 kms and the frequency between the trains is 15 mins.
The Budapest Card will help sort your weekend out so you can buy one online so you can use it on arrival. Since it’s a weekend trip, you can pick between the 48 or 72 hours Budapest Card which will cost you 33 EUR and 43 EUR, respectively.
This card allows you free public transport on buses, trams, cogwheel trains and even boats, and free entry into top attractions like Hungarian National Gallery and Hungarian National Museum, among others. The inclusion of some of the free tours in this card will also help you explore the city better within the 2-3 days’ timeframe.
If you opt for the Budapest Card Plus which costs 67 EUR then airport transfers and entry on the Buda Castle Funicular are among the additional services that you can avail.
Tip: Don’t forget to ride the Christmas tram (Tram 2) that is decked in fairy lights and travels to and from Margaret Bridge passing by the Parliament Building, the Chain Bridge and the Central Market Hall. It operates daily from end of November until early January.
Your first day is all about Hungarian history.
Hungarian National Parliament
Visit the Hungarian National Parliament, Budapest’s iconic and magnificent edifice, standing tall right on the banks of Danube in Pest. This Neo-Gothic landmark is the third-largest parliament building in the world and the seat of Hungarian legislature.
Built in Gothic Revival style with a symmetrical façade, it features a Renaissance style central dome and the unique feature about it is that along with bricks the building also comprises precious stones and gold. Talk about opulence!
Visiting hours depend on when the Assembly is not in session. You can visit from 8 am till 6 pm during the summer and till 4 pm during the winter. There are pre-defined time slots of approximately 45 minutes’ duration that you can pick from.
Guided tours are conducted in various languages so be sure to check the time slots for those as well. Ticket prices for EU citizens are 3200 HUF or 10 EUR and for non-EU citizens are 6400 HUF or 19 EUR. Students get a 50% concession.
Shoes on the Danube
Next stop is a little heart wrenching stop called Shoes on the Danube which is a 5-7 min walk from the Parliament building. These are shoe sculptures on the banks of the river memorialising lost lives during World War II.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Continue walking away from the banks for about 10-15 mins and you’ll reach St. Stephen’s (Szent István) Basilica. It is the tallest and the most important church in Hungary. It comprises two bell towers and a dome in the middle. Admire the beautiful stained windows, panoramic views and mosaics here. The calm atmosphere will have you spending more time within the church than you anticipated.
And if you’re in Budapest during Christmas, you might want to revisit this place later at night. You’ll find a Christmas market right in front of the Basilica with an ice rink in the middle. They even put on a laser show on the walls of the Basilica.
Pick from the city’s best restaurants that reside in the Pest part of the city and have a quick meal of Hungarian cuisine before you continue with your Day 1 itinerary.
Tip: Try some traditional Hungarian dishes and if you’re visiting around Christmas season, try the mulled wine or the Hungarian national fruit brandy “pálinka” and top it off with a hot chimney cake.
Dohány Street Synagogue and the Memorial Park
Another 15 mins walk from here will get you to the Jewish quarter of the city, Erzsébetváros. Start by visiting the Dohány Street Synagogue (also known as the Great Synagogue). This is the largest synagogue in Europe and it is built in Moorish architecture along with Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic elements, and draws influences from Islamic architecture.
The Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park and Jewish Museum are within the Dohány Street complex and you can check out the weeping willow sculpture commemorating Hungarian Jews and exhibitions detailing the history of these Jews in these places.
Hungarian National Museum
If you’re not overwhelmed by the history lessons yet, the Hungarian National Museum is your next and last historic stop of the day. It is Hungary’s largest museum and is a 5-10 mins walk from the memorial park. This is the place to visit if you want to learn about the country’s history.
If you don’t have the Budapest card, adult tickets cost 2600 HUF or 8 EUR. Students and senior citizens get a 50% concession on these and there are group discounts as well.
Central Market Hall
Central Market Hall or Great Market Hall is a 5 mins walk from the Hungarian National Museum. This Neo-Gothic style building has three floors and offers more than 100 stalls ranging from local delicacies to clothing.
So, you can try some local Hungarian food for your last meal of the day and even enjoy some wine tasting on a guided tour.
After all the partying, you can start Day 2 a little late. Head to one of Budapest’s many pretty, decorated cafés for a late breakfast or brunch.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Lánchíd or Széchenyi Chain Bridge is Budapest’s oldest bridge and also one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The chain bridge was the first permanent structure/bridge across the Danube and connects Buda and Pest.
It is a suspension bridge that features carved stone lions at either end and wrought-iron chains link the two river piers built in the Classicist style – giving the bridge its name.
World War II saw the bridge being blown up by the Germans with only the pillars surviving only to be rebuilt in 1949, forming an integral part of the history and culture of Budapest.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is illuminated at night so do check it out at the end of the day.
Cross over the bridge to explore Buda on Day 2 to explore the Castle district.
Buda Castle and Hungarian National Gallery
The iconic Buda Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses the historical castle, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum within the palace complex.
The first construction of this former Royal, Baroque-style palace was started in the 13th century but completed only by the 18th century.
The Hungarian National Gallery, located in Buda Castle, moved here in 1975. You’ll find beautiful paintings and international art masterpieces depicting the rural landscapes, everyday life and the turbulent history of Hungary on display here.
The collection at the gallery comprises paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. Each information board is written in English and you’ll find English-speaking guides, usually volunteers, available for free.
The gallery also has a café and a gift shop. Entry will cost you 3200 HUF or 9-10 EUR and there is a 50% concession for students 1600 HUF or 5 EUR. Budapest Card holders can enter for free.
The Dome Terrace provides spectacular views of the Pest side of the city and the river Danube. It is free to visit along with the Gallery entry. The Dome is closed from November to April and on Mondays but otherwise open from 10 am to 5 pm.
Buda Castle Hill Funicular
The Buda Castle Funicular is a 19th century cable railway that offers great city views. It offers commute to and from Buda Castle (free of charge if you have the Budapest Card Plus).
Otherwise it costs 1400 HUF or 4 EUR for a one-way trip and 2000 HUF or 6 EUR for a return trip. Children get a 50% concession on the fare.
It is available from 7:30 am to 10 pm and runs every 5-10 minutes depending on the passengers. The funicular does have days when it does not operate due to maintenance works being carried out so do check their website for details.
River Cruise on the Danube
The Budapest Card includes boat rides so take a boat or an inexpensive ferry ride along the Danube river. You could opt for the scenic river cruise to check out the historical landmarks and views of the Liberty Statue, Chain Bridge and Margaret Island.
It operates from march to October daily from 12 noon and lasts 1.5 hours.
Book your guided tour in advance especially during holiday season to avoid the rush.
It is said that a guild of fishermen protected the building, giving the Bastion its name. The name could also have been derived from the fact that the Bastion overlooks a small town where the fishermen lived.
Thick walls protecting Buda Castle stood where the modern day structure now stands but over time the walls were attacked, destroyed and rebuilt.
The Fisherman’s Bastion, one of the most popular attractions in the city, has an ornate design with stone turrets, spires and balconies resembling battlements. The reconstruction in in Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque style involved wider arches and better viewpoints.
It comprises seven towers symbolising the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars (founders of the city) and has spectacular views of Budapest.
You can explore the Bastion by taking one of the tours included in the Budapest Card. A ticket to the upper observation deck of the Bastion will cost you 1000 HUF or 3 EUR but the other parts of the Bastion are free to walk around.
Ruin bars or Ruin Pubs
You can relax some more after the river cruise and let your hair down by going bar/pub hopping to the ruin bars or ruin pubs in this side of the city. Budapest has become the go-to party spot thanks to these. These are abandoned spaces turned into bars and clubs by locals with a whole lot of creativity.
The famous Szimpla Kert was the very first of its kind top start this trend and is now a major attraction of this area. So, it should rightfully be your first stop.
Image via Szimpla Kert website
Hungarian State Opera
If you’re into art, then catch a performance at this neo- Renaissance Opera House considered one of the finest in the world. Its architectural beauty comprising of a grand foyer and stunning frescoes will leave you amazed.
Take a cab or train to the Budapest City Park (Városliget) where your next set of attractions await.
Heroes’ Square is a 10 mins drive/train ride from the Hungarian State Opera.
Built in the 19th century, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has statues of the seven chieftains (leaders) of the Magyars statue complex and the Memorial Stone of the Heroes. These leaders of the tribes are said to have founded Hungary and died defending it.
The statues are at the tip of Andrássy Avenue which is Budapest’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées. The boulevard is filled with stores, cafés and restaurants so you can have lunch here.
Adjacent to Heroes’ Square is the Vajdahunyad Castle. This 19th century ‘Transylvanian’ castle was first built out of wood and cardboard but was later rebuilt with stone and brick.
You are allowed entry into two of the towers of this castle – the Apostle tower and the Gatehouse tower. A combined ticket to the towers and the museum will cost you 2100 HUF or 6 EUR. Students, senior citizens and groups get concessions on the prices.
If you visit the city park area in the summer you can go boating in the lake, while in winter, the lake turns into a picturesque City Park ice rink.
The castle also houses the Hungarian Museum of Agriculture which is the largest agricultural museum in Europe.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
End your weekend trip on a great note by visiting the Széchenyi Baths which is a 5 mins walk from Vajdahunyad Castle.
One of Budapest’s most popular attractions, it is an indoor/outdoor thermal bath complex located in City Park with several pools and a special rooftop pool from where you can see the Danube and the city around you.
It is open from 6 am to 10 pm every day. If you have the Budapest card, you can get a 20% discount here. The card allows you free entry only to the Lukács Thermal Bath, the others are on discount. You can get towels, swimming suits and swimming caps on rent. Check out the ticket prices here.
Tip: If you’re a beer lover, you can even try the Beer Spa where you can soak in the hop- or malt-filled wooden tubs for 30 EUR lasting 45 minutes with all the beer you can drink.
You can head back to the Vajdahunyad Castle for a dining experience in the restaurant adjoining the castle called Anonymus. And then head to the open-air bar Kertem by the lake.
If you have an extra day to explore around, you can check out the Kőbánya caves and the Budapest Chocolate Museum both of which are in the outskirts of the city.
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