Looking for ideas of what to include on your Budapest Itinerary, but only have a weekend to spend in the city? If so, read on, as we’ve done exactly that! As our third visit to the Hungarian capital, we made sure to spend our time wisely and not make the same mistakes as we made in the past, missing out on great experiences because we didn’t do our research. Read on to discover our top picks in this quirky city!
Our Budapest Itinerary
- Check in to apartment at 12
- 2pm walking tour from Elizabeth Square
- Dinner at Komédiás Kávéház
- Bar crawl around the ruin bars
- Breakfast at Pesti Disznó
- Walk or take the metro to Heroes Square
- Széchenyi baths
- House of Terror museum visit in the morning
- Lunch at Retró Lāngos Büfé
- Dinner at Cafe Bouchon
- Sparty at Széchenyi baths
- Visit Szimpla Kert Sunday market
- Hair of the dog at Fröccsterasz – outdoor bar at Elizabeth square
- Dinner at VakVarjú
- Back to the airport at 6am
When’s the best time to go?
Winter can be very cold in Budapest, often below freezing. Summer is the exact opposite, with peak temperatures that can exceed 30 degrees celsius. Consider visiting between March to May and September to November, when the weather is milder and the city isn’t chock-full with tourists.
Start with a walking tour
At The Traveloid, we strongly believe a walking tour is the best way to get to know a city. It’s a chance to learn from a local about the city’s culture, hints and tips about things and places to see, and importantly, what tourist traps to avoid. Whether it’s learning where to go to get authentic and reasonably priced food, or finding out whether the attraction you had in mind is actually any good, a walking tour guide is the best person to get this information from, so skip the overpriced tourist busses and experience the city as a local!
We went on the Free Budapest Walk tour, starting at Elizabeth Square, and learnt a great deal about the city, as well as seeing all the main sights. No, the tour isn’t actually free, it’s a pay what you feel proposition. At the end, simply donate an amount you feel the tour was worth. The benefit of this is that the tour guides really do try and make the tour useful and informative, since their business is solely based on earning tips.
Back to the Budapest tour itself – In about three hours, you’ll see most of the main sights in the city, and end up at the castle above the city. In the warmer months, this means you’ll have the chance for some magnificent views over the city as the sun sets!
Visit the Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Budapest is known for its hot springs, and there’s plenty of thermal baths around the city. We’ve visited a few, but honestly, the Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the one you want to go to. It’s the largest in the city, and while that means you’ll pay a little more to get in, you really can spend the whole day here and explore up to 18 different pools inside and outside the building.
Alongside the thermal baths themselves, there’s plenty of smaller businesses operating within the baths inside the main building, where you can get massages and other treatments. On our visit, we stumbled across a beer spa – where you bathe in the spring water, enriched with beer ingredients (which allegedly is good for your skin). But the real attraction (for us at least) is that you have a beer tap right next to your bath, and can pour yourself unlimited beer for the entire 45 minute session.
Yes, it’s a tourist attraction, and not something that locals are likely to do – beer spas are not even a Hungarian tradition, and more known across the border in Prague, but as an unusual and quirky activity, it’s certainly fun!
Once you’ve had your fill of beer, you can get entry to the main baths and spend as much time in there as you like. With over 40 indoor baths of varying size and temperature, as well as a huge outdoor courtyard with three pools and sunbathing areas, like us, you could really spend an entire day there!
If you want to party then Budapest is a great destination, not least due to the low price of drinks. If you like beer (as I do), you might be disappointed to hear Budapest isn’t really known for it, the main local beer is Dreher which is pretty average, so most of the pubs and bars stock Czech or German beers. If it’s authentic Hungary you’re after, skip the beer – the local wine is where it’s at!
Go to the Sparty
Saturday night at Széchenyi Baths is where you need to be for a really unique nightlife experience. That’s right – Sparty is a portmanteau of Spa and party – truly one of a kind!
Again, it’s a very touristy activity with an international crowd, but to be honest, there’s not many places like it in Europe (if any?)
If you’re on a budget then it might not be right for you, drinks are around 50-70% more expensive than they would be in local bars. If you can, try and get one of the premium/VIP tickets for the event. These come with a number of free drinks tokens included, plus accessories like a bag and towel. The drinks tokens are better value than you might think, if you’re a beer drinker – you get 5 tokens with your ticket but each are actually worth two beers or one cocktail. Go for beer and you likely won’t need to buy any more drinks on the night.
If you do run out of tokens though, you simply load your money onto a special contactless card you carry on a lanyard. If you don’t spend it all, you can get the remaining balance refunded as you leave.
Drink at the ruin bars
If its nightlife you’re after then the ruin bars are a must in Budapest, and another unique thing about the city. These bars are, as their name suggests, housed in old ruined buildings, and a famous part of the city’s nightlife.
Long time readers of The Traveloid will know we’ve covered a few of these previously – see our post on our Budapest Pub Crawl. On our most recent trip, we visited a few old favourites including Szimpla Kert, Fogas and Füge Udvar.
If you’ve just done the walking tour and would prefer a self-contained night out without having to traipse between bars dotted around the city, then your best bet is to head over to Akácfa street 49, where you’ll find that Fogas, Instant, Robot, Liebling and a couple of other ruin bars are actually within two adjacent buildings, and combined into one large complex. It’s definitely possible to spend a whole night here, where you’ll most likely see it out in the main club Instant until closing time.
Some of the bars open during the day too, though many are in cafe guise rather than bar. Szimpla Kert even held an indoor market on the Sunday we visited.
Other nightlife ideas
If you’re after something a bit more fancy, then head over to 360 Bar on Andrássy út 39, where you’ll find an expansive rooftop terrace. If you’re visiting as a group, your best bet is to book one of the large igloos – self-contained seating areas dotted around the roof. Otherwise, there’s not much seating space, and it can be cold if you’re not visiting in the summer.
There is a cover charge on entry, however this is effectively refunded in the form of a voucher to put towards your first drink. Drinks are fairly expensive so if you’re on a tight budget, maybe limit it to one, or look elsewhere!
Where to eat and drink (and what to have!)
As with any touristy city, it can be difficult to find authentic, well priced restaurants where locals would actually eat. Fortunately, our tour guide recommended a few options, which we’ll share here, as well as a few restaurants we researched online and visited.
First off, what should you eat for lunch or when out and about? When in Budapest, you just have to try Lāngos, which is a deep fried flatbread covered with sour cream and cheese, plus other optional toppings. It’s a true Hungarian speciality, lovingly known as a “communist pizza”, according to our guide.
The place he recommended was Retró Lāngos Büfé at Podmaniczky Frigyes Tér 4, where you can get a standard Lāngos for approximately €1-2, or one with extra toppings for slightly more. Honestly, I’m still salivating at the thought of the Hungarian sausage and onion one I had, and its incredible to be able to have a filling lunch in a capital city at this price!
Another well known snack in Hungary, and if you’ve been to Prague, you’ll recognise these. They’re essentially sweet dough wrapped on a a wooden cylinder to be baked, then rolled in sugar and other flavours. They can cost the equivalent of several Euros at some of the most touristy spots, however, our guide recommended a kiosk at Andrássy út 1 where they’re sold for approximately 1 Euro – ironic as this is one of the most expensive streets in the whole city and home to high end stores like Rolex and Cartier.
Another Hungarian speciality, one of the national dishes and a symbol of the country, that’s served in pretty much every Hungarian restaurant. It’s essentially a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. Yes, Hungarian cuisine is known for it’s ample use of spice, particularly paprika, and one of the reminders of Hungary’s heritage – as the country was founded by tribes that travelled from the east and settled in the Pannonian Basin.
Traditional Hungarian Food
Our guide recommended Bécsiszelet vendéglö at Király utca 69., üllöi út 16./a, where you can try guluás and other soups, filled schnitzels and desserts. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try all his recommendations, this being one of them, however it does have a 4.3 rating on Google Maps!
A few of the other places we visited to include:
Komédiás Kávéház – a cafe/restaurant with a live pianist and violinist. Great food and service, with a 4.5 rating on Google
Pesti Disznó – we stopped by for a spot of breakfast, which includes the “breakfast of champions” and includes a pint of Dreher beer, Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich with French fries, espresso, and the Champagne breakfast – orange juice, eggs benedict with salmon fillet, a glass of champagne, cortado. We tried both which made for a great start to the day!
Cafe Bouchon – probably the fanciest restaurant we went to on our trip. This restaurant serves a wide range of Hungarian wines, and unlike other restaurants, the price per glass works out the same as getting a bottle. They make a point about encouraging diners to consider trying different wines instead of the same one for the whole meal. We opted for their set meal which comes paired with three wines over the four courses.
VakVarjú – We popped in here for dinner after a long day exploring, expecting it to be a bit of a tourist trap given it’s location near Elizabeth Square, but were pleasantly surprised! Here, you can sample some traditional Hungarian dishes including goulash soup and pork knuckle. The service was a real highlight, we were even given some complimentary wine by our waiter!
The truth is, there’s plenty of great attractions in Budapest, so this is in no way a definitive list. Here’s a few places we’ve been to:
The House of Terror is devoted to telling the stories of some of the darkest parts of Hungary’s history, mainly focussed on the Fascist Arrow Cross and Communist regimes. If you’re a history buff then it’s worth a visit, to learn about Hungary’s transition in the inter-war years.
Shoes on the Danube – a memorial to those who lost their lives during the Arrow Cross terror of 1944-1945, conceived by film director Can Togay.
Castle Hill – Discover winding cobble stone streets and magnificent views across the river. Make sure you’re there before sunset for the perfect light for your photos. It’s also home to Buda Castle, home to the Budapest History Museum and National Gallery.
Margaret Island – a great place to relax or sunbathe on a hot day. You’ll find landscaped gardens, yet more thermal baths, a few bars and more! While you can reach the island by tram or walking over the bridge, why not get there via a river boat on the Danube instead?
Hungarian Parliament Building – Inspired by London’s Houses of Parliament, and currently the largest building in the country. Plan for around a 2-3 hour long visit if you want to take a guided tour.
Yes, there’s plenty more to add – but lets face it – you could go to TripAdvisor for a definitive list!
Budapest is a must-visit city as part of any inter-rail trip or tour of Europe, or alternatively an affordable destination for a weekend city break. Have we whet your appetite? Consider choosing your accommodation via the Booking.com search box below. If you book through the link, we’ll get a small commission to help support the site at no extra cost to you!
Think we’ve missed anything? Why not let us know in the comments!