A weekend in Budapest: the best things to do

by Gaetano
View of the Parliament Building from the Buda Hill

The Budapest City Marathon was an occasion for me to visit the capital of Hungary. So I took the running shoes, registered for the half marathon, and made a two-day city tour in one fell swoop.

I was actually enchanted by this city, quite well organized, which can be easily visited on foot or using public transport, with a lot of attractions and affordable prices.

I think two full days are enough to see the essentials (not including the museums). Anyway, I recommend to anyone who can stay at least one more day, to visit some museums or one of the beautiful thermal baths.

Since I traveled with very light luggage, I didn’t have any photo equipment with me. I just enjoyed the city taking snapshots here and there. 

Budapest has two souls: 

  1. Pest, which stands on a flat area on the left side of the Danube, and is today the busiest part of the city.
  2. Buda and Óbuda (ancient Buda), which are the two old medieval cities located on a hill on the right side of the Danube.

For those who stay two days in the city, the tour is quickly done. The first day you visit Buda and Òbuda, the second day you visit Pest. Or vice versa.

Budapest in a nutshell

The following is an interactive map. The monuments and the points of interest are marked with blue pins, the thermal baths with red pins.

Must-sees (itinerary)

Day One (Pest)

Since my hotel is located near the railway station, my day in Budapest begins from here. My first destination: Városliget Park (it means more or less City Park).

Városliget Park

This big and beautiful park hosts several attractions inside:

  1. Vajdahunyad Castle. Built to celebrate Hungary’s 1000 years, it is an ensemble of buildings designed as a copy of several monuments from the Kingdom of Hungary. 
  2. Zoo and botanical garden.
  3. Széchenyi Baths, among the most beautiful and famous in the city.

Heroes’ Square

Heroes’ Square is the most famous square in Budapest. It hosts the Memorial Stone of Heroes, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hall of Art Műcsarnok.

Andrássy út (Avenue)

Budapest’s most famous avenue, Andrássy út, starts in the city center and ends in Heroes’ Square. Since I am in Heroes’ Square I will walk it now backward. This street is more than 2 km long and is surrounded by palaces, historic buildings, and shops.

Along the avenue, there are some famous buildings such as the Franz Liszt Academy of Music (Zeneakadémia) and the Hungarian State Opera House. If you don’t want to walk the Andrássy út on foot, you can use the underground which runs below it and brings you to the city center.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

On the other end of the Andrássy út avenue, there is one of the most famous churches in Budapest: St. Stephen’s Basilica.

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Deep in the middle of the city center, I now have to random move because my next two attractions are located on opposite sides of the Basilica: the Parliament Building and the Great Synagogue.

Parliament Building

Raise your hand if you have never seen the Hungarian Parliament Building! This is an impressive neo-gothic construction with a central dome. Its main feature: instead of developing vertically, like the churches built in the same style, it extends its walls horizontally.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building

Great Synagogue

The Great Synagogue is the largest in Europe and was built in the Moorish Revival style, a style that takes inspiration from Oriental and Islamic architecture.

Near the Great Synagogue, there is the Heroes’ Temple, the Memorial, and the Jewish Museum. Altogether they turn out like a beautiful and exotic building complex.

My first busy day in Budapest ends by passing by the Hungarian National Museum, located a few minutes walk from the Synagogue, till I reach the famous Liberty Bridge.

Day Two (Buda)

Chain Bridge

From the hotel, I take the underground to the city center and then from St. Stephen’s Basilica I walk to the Chain Bridge, an incredible work of art and the most famous bridge in Budapest.

Chain Bridge and Parliament Building

Chain Bridge and Parliament Building

Since it’s hot outside (more than 30° C), instead of walking up to the hill of Buda, I take the first bus that comes along (alternatively, there is also a cable railway).

Matthias Church

After reaching the top of the hill, I wander the streets of this little city in the city.  The most impressive building in this area are:

  1. Matthias Church, a neo-gothic building with a beautiful ceramic roof.
  2. Fishermen’s Bastion, a construction with 7 towers in neo-romanesque style. 

Fisherman’s Bastion

From here you also have a splendid view of the city.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle is also known as Royal Palace or the Royal Castle since it was the historical seat of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. This big building complex now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

My time in Budapest is over. I now walk downhill to the city center and towards the railway station. I had a great time here and will come back for sure!

If you have extra time

  1. Memento Park. This is an open-air museum that collects and exhibits the monumental statues and sculpted plaques from Hungary’s Communist period. It is located about 10 km from the city center.
  2. Citadella. This is a fortification located on the top of Gellért Hill in Budapest, south of the Buda Castle, and is the highest point of Budapest.
  3. Thermal Baths. They are one of the major attractions of the city. The most famous are marked in my map above and are also buildings of architectural interest.
  4. Margaret Island. Located in the middle of the Danube, it is a popular park and recreational area. It hosts some attractions like the Centennial Memorial, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the city’s unification, a small Japanese garden, and a zoo.

If bad weather happens

  1. Museum of Fine Arts with the Old Master Paintings Exposition. It is located in Heroes’ Square.
  2. Hungarian National Museum. The history of Hungary through its art and its artifacts.
  3. Hall of Art Műcsarnok. Also located in Heroes’ Square, exhibits works of contemporary art.

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