Your ultimate guide to Budapest by our by guest writer and local - Harriet Farkash.
I lived in Budapest for six months and boy-oh-boy is it the most insanely magical city. It’s got the beauty of Paris (only it’s much dirtier!) the history of Prague and the coolness of Berlin. It’s often underestimated, but that works in your favour because it means less tourists and super reasonable prices (although that is starting to change so you better get there quick!)
Here, I’ve compiled a three-day itinerary for you that hits all the major highs, as well as some tips on where and what to eat and drink at the bottom.
DAY ONE: THE MAJOR SIGHTS
Start at St Stephen’s Basilica. Built between 1851 and 1905, this grand basilica is named in honour of Hungary’s first Roman Catholic King, St Istvan (Hungarian for Stephen) and inside the church you can see his right hand. No joke.
You must: pay the few hundred Forints to climb to the top for truly amazing 360-degree views of Budapest.
From there, walk down towards the Danube and to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (or just Chain Bridge!). Side note: come back here at night when the bridge is lit up - it’s like a fairytale.
You must: Check out the lion statues. There are lots of rumours around these guys. One, that the man who made them believed them to be absolutely perfect and when someone told him they have no tongues, he jumped off the bridge becoming the first person to kill themselves there. The story then goes on add that another man was so sure there were tongues that he said he’d make a huge bet on it. It turns out he was right, they do have tongues. See if you can spot them.
After you cross the bridge, walk up to the Castle District and Fisherman’s Bastion. (Note: you can take the funicular, but it’s really not a tough walk.)
You must: take a million selfies - the view across the Danube to Parliament is insane - and then reward yourself for the walk by having a ruszwurm-cream cake at Ruszwurm, a tiny, 200-year-old dessert restaurant. In busy times, there’s often a wait but the staff are efficient so it’s never long. Plus there’s a bathroom you can use there!
DAY TWO: COMMUNISM & BATHS
Walk up Andrassy Utca a beautiful tree-lined street and home to the fanciest stores in Budapest, such as Chanel, Gucci and Max Mara.
You must: stop at Hungarian State Opera House. Built in neo-Renaissance style and completed in 1884, and is a real beauty. If you’re into opera, see if you can get tickets to a show. While I never understand a word of what’s going on, it certainly is a unique experience - the red velvet chairs, the women dressed in fur with red lipstick, men in long coats and hats, the chandeliers, the glittering gold leaf… It feels like you’ve been transported back in time.
Further along Andrassy Utca, you will come across a large sculpture of chains, an artwork to represent the iron curtain. This is at the entrance to Terror House, the former headquarters for the Hungarian fascist party, Arrow Cross, and now a museum. It’s sombre. It’s depressing. It will be a highlight.
You must: Get the audio guide. It’s not expensive but it will enhance your experience x 1,000.
From there, keep walking up Andrassy ut to Hero’s Square.
You must: Explore Ajdahunnyad Castle - not really a castle, more like a big mansion with spires, but still cool to see. Stop by the Anonymous statue.
Then head to Szechenyi Baths - always a highlight for any visitor to Budapest partly for the gorgeous architecture, partly for the pools themselves.
You must: You’ll obviously go to the outdoor pools, but make sure you go inside the building so you can explore all the different thermal pools and saunas.
DAY THREE: A BIT OF EVERYTHING
In the morning, wander around the Jewish Quarter and soak up the atmosphere. Budapest really is unlike any other capital city in Europe and slowing down and just wandering aimlessly with your eyes open will help you feel this.
You must: Pay particular attention to the walls. Budapest has a thriving street art scene and you’ll find many in the Jewish Quarter. Each has their own meaning so Google them as you find them.
If you want to do a spot of shopping, make sure you go to Retrock. This place stocks the best vintage finds, as well as super unique Budapest designers. Then head to Vaci Utca, the main shopping street where you’ll find major players such as Zara, but also a Christmas shop that is teeny tiny so don’t turn around too fast!
In the afternoon, head to Parliament for a tour. Why? I mean, have you seen the place?!
You must: Book well in advance. It’s super popular and often booked out for days! And walk along the Danube to find the shoes - a memorial to Jews who died during Communism.