how I made the most of 3 days in Budapest
Where to even start with this one oh my lord. I had the best time, in one of the best places I’ve ever been, with my best friend. Could just leave it there tbh.
Like that’s gonna happen. 🙂 Probably one of my most photo heavy posts ever, just a warning! Couldn’t help but photograph everything in this place. Since this was only my first time visiting Budapest I wouldn’t consider myself nearly qualified to write a guide or anything, so I’m gonna go with a ‘Diary Plus A Few Pointers For Other First Timers‘ as my not so catchy title. I’ve included both Hungarian and English names of everywhere we visited too, in the hope that I can save anyone else the confusion of figuring out whether 2 different names are actually the same place!
Despite our many hours of Pinterest and travel blog browsing, we decided not to bother with a fixed itinerary. Didn’t want to feel like we were following a military regime tbh. Obviously we had a vague idea of the sights we couldn’t possibly leave Budapest without seeing, but the ‘go with the flow’ approach suited us just fine. It gave us some very random experiences, that’s for sure!
Dohány Street Great Synagogue
OK so this one hadn’t actually been on our vague list, but we found ourselves walking past it on our first morning and thought why not. And I’m glad we did. 🙂 Obviously from outside the synagogue’s ridiculously impressive (largest synagogue in Europe, don’t you know!) but we weren’t actually allowed inside the main church part as our skirts were too short. Wandering around the gardens and nosying in the museum was still a good call though. We’d both said beforehand that we wanted to visit the places that tell part of the story of Budapest’s past as well as the ‘pretty’ places, and this hit the nail on the head. Just seeing the number of names displayed on the memorials was quite the humbling (and worthwhile) experience. Looked around in silence for a little while there.
Szabadság híd / Liberty Bridge
Another place we hadn’t actually intended to visit – getting an idea of our sense of direction yet? Our ‘plan’ had involved walking to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and exploring Buda from there, but on reaching the Danube we found ourselves at a bridge that didn’t look like the one in our guidebook. Yep, we totally were the cringey tourists walking around with a mini guidebook and foldout map. No cares given. 🙂 Now for the daft / fortunate move – assuming that we’d gone too far north, when we’d actually gone too far south. Only realised this later, of course! Cue a very long round trip along the Danube. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because we probably wouldn’t have made the trip over to Liberty bridge otherwise, and I’m really glad we did. There are far worse walks to find yourself on! Our feet would probably have thanked us for taking the metro, but nope, we kept walking as they passed.
Sziklatemplom / Gellért Hill Cave Church
Now this, THIS, was up there with my most random experiences. And I’ve had some bloody random ones in my life, I tell you. Bearing in mind by this point we were still bemused by the lack of funicular to take us up the hill (thinking we’d headed for Széchenyi bridge), we hadn’t the faintest idea what a Sziklatemplom was. Our knowledge of Hungarian is what you’d call nonexistent, btw. Still clueless, we walked in, paid the few hundred Forints, were handed a pair of audio headsets and a large tea towel thingy for me to cover my bare shoulders with, and were sent off into a cave. Or precisely, an actual church inside an actual cave. Inside an actual hill. With actual people deep in prayer inside. Our headsets didn’t work, so we hadn’t the faintest idea of the history of the place, but we gave a few token nods anyway. Definitely a unique experience – I’m not religious, but if I was, I can’t really think of a cooler place to worship. The most bizarre part though? The speakers dotted around, playing Snow Patrol on repeat. ‘If I lay here’ just seemed a little out of place. 😛
No particular attraction here. Just a cool #soloparking spot.
Castle Hill Funicular
Several thousands steps on the pedometer app later, we finally made it to the funicular and up Castle Hill. We saw a hell of a lot of the Danube that first day – unplanned but definitely not a bad thing! Scaling the hill via funicular was a fab way to cheat the climb and see amazinggg views of the city. With a little added novelty value too, of course.
Buda Castle and Matthias Church
One of the most touristy spots we visited, and you can see why. Stunning or what? Strangely for me I didn’t actually take many photos here – too busy just meandering around and taking it all in. If we’d been in Budapest for longer (or planned our time more efficiently) we’d definitely have visited the Hungarian National Gallery whilst up there too, but for our first trip just admiring from the outside was enough.
Mistake no.2 of our day: taking the funicular back down from Buda Castle, only to get a little lost en route to the Fisherman’s Bastion and land ourselves with a hell of a hike back up the hill again. At least it felt like a hike 13km into our day, anyway! So. Many. Steps. I feel like all this walking gave us a real feel for the city though, so don’t regret it at all. For a capital city with so many tourist hotspots the streets were noticeably calm and clean. Budapest felt like a city with lots going on, lots of fun, and lots of beauty to see, but without the suffocating feeling of a capital like London. Felt like everybody had space to breathe, and I liked that. Budapest’s vibes were right up my alley.
Halászbástya / Fisherman’s Bastion
The steps were worth it! Fisherman’s Bastion literally looked like something straight out of a Disney movie. A close second to Buda Castle for the most touristy place. Unsurprisingly. Everybody wanted that same photo through the arch windows lol. I can only imagine how magical it must be at sunset.
Don’t think I’ve seen a sweeter cafe with a better view in my life.
I just wore dresses all week, which was definitely the right decision. Temperatures were around 25-28 degree every day so anything too clingy or heavy like denim would have just felt yucky. Shoes-wise I could have made better choices, but I’ll know for next time! This dress was from H&M a couple of months ago.
End of day 1! By the time we’d made it back down the bajillion steps, past the lions, and across to our apartment in Pest, ain’t no way we had enough energy to head out again so called it a day. A very good day at that. 🙂
Városliget / City Park
Another observation on Budapest: 50% of buildings look like castles. 4 brick walls doesn’t cut it round these parts. We took the scenic route to the Széchenyi baths through City Park and past another couple of museums and various photogenic backgrounds. I’ll take all of my OOTDs in front of castle-like buildings from now on, please.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths
No first time trip to Budapest would’ve been complete without a dip in the baths. In the ‘city of baths’ we had plenty to choose from, but couldn’t help make the iconic Széchenyi ones the top of our list. If pushed to choose, I’d say this was one of the highlights! Once we’d eventually found our way to the outdoor pools (the indoor part is one hell of a maze, I tell you) we grabbed ourselves a locker, popped the phones and cameras away for a few hours, and just chilled. It was perfect. The beaut setting, the 37 degree water, the sun on our backs, chats about life with my best friend, ahh. One of my favourite afternoons ever, seriously. Obviously it was busy given that it’s July, but again, it didn’t feel crowded.
After realising we were only minutes from Heroes Square we decided we might as well tick some more sightseeing off the list on our way home, and weren’t disappointed. I’ve seen a million and one photos of the landmark on Pinterest, but was surprised by how big it was in real life! Somehow the scale doesn’t quite come across in photos – this momument is huge. It’s a UNESCO world heritage site, of course it’s impressive.
Gotta love golden hour and an impressive backdrop. 🙂
Andrássy út / Andrássy Avenue
OK so we didn’t actually hit the main boutiques and whatnot of Andrássy Avenue, but even just the little section we did stroll along on our way home was cute beyond belief. My fave thing? The way locals were just relaxing with a book on the benches, and the whole vibe was so luxurious and calm. Oh and it made for some good nosying. City house goals, omg.
Since we’d taken it slower and actually had energy in our bodies by 8pm this time, we listened to all the recommendations and made for the ruin bars on Wednesday night. I’d heard Szimpla Kert was one of the best and it was fairly near, so that decision was an easy one! More on the food and drinks in another post, but here’s a snap of our seat for the night:
Right by the Trabant car in the middle of the bar. Standard stuff. Ruin bars seem like the kind of place where literally anything goes. Nothing matches, nothing is ordinary, you’re half inside and half outside, people are from all over the world. We just bloody loved it tbh. Still quite bemused by the girl walking around offering everybody raw carrots though…
I’m gonna skim over the part where we giddily walked home, ate Snickers flavoured ice cream, bought a couple of dirt cheap margaritas from a convenience shop, and crashed out on the sofa. Onwards to day 3!
Nagyvásárcsarnok / Great Market Hall
Being the dimwits we are, we didn’t realise that we’d practically walked past here on our first day. Smart, huh? A few words to summarise these epic markets: vegetables, paprika, sausages, and smocks. With many other bits and pieces too, of course. Don’t think I’ve ever seen so much fruit and veg in one place in my life. These markets were huge! Very clean, tidy and organised though.
Metro along the Danube
The one form of transport we took in Budapest other than our own 2 feet. Besides the airport taxi, ofc. Taking metro 2 gave a whistlestop tour along the Danube and cost about £1.20 each. Win win.
Margitsziget / Margaret Island
Budapest is full of parks so we could have taken our picnic anywhere, but we fancied checking out Margaret Island so wandered around a little, found a bench, and parked ourselves for a couple of hours. What a pretty place for a picnic it was.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Think I genuinely can let the photos do the talking for this one! We didn’t take any of the tours to see inside this mahoosive building, but the outside was grand enough.
Shoes on the Danube
Another sight Saskia and I both felt we really needed to visit. We’ve both learnt about the war and the holocaust in history lessons many times, but there’s something different about visiting the exact places where you know people were shot to death. Just kinda sat there and thought for a while really. Mainly about how it’s horrific that massacres like this happened in the past, of course, but it’s horrific that they’re still happening today too. Similar memorials could be made in Baghdad, Orlando, Brussels and god knows where else, just from 2016. Scary stuff.
Szent Istvan Bazilika / St. Stephen’s Basilica
What a beauty. Don’t think there’s an angle of this cathedral that isn’t ridiculously impressive. Perfect way to round up our sightseeing before a final evening in the ruin bars again.
If you’re wondering why the flip there’s no food included in this roundup, fear not – I have a whole ‘nother post dedicated to the eats and drinks coming your way.
Budapest you gave me all the feels, thank ya. I want to go back already.
lily kate x