Why Budapest? If you’re planing a weekend away from Ireland, there are many reasons to choose Hungary’s capital as your destination.
From a practical point of view, there are flights on Friday and Sunday evening, meaning you don’t need to use up time from your annual leave to travel. Also, the prices for activities, food and transport are very reasonable and at least, from my experience, service and hospitality were consistently very good and at times excellent.
Having said that, such a short trip leaves you with a ticking clock and it’s not easy to squeeze in all of the beauty that the Pearl of the Danube has to offer.
I will share below the itinerary that I carefully crafted for my own trip. If you’re planning yours, I hope it gives you a couple of good ideas.
19:55 pm – Ryanair flight departs from Dublin.
23:55 pm – Arrival to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport.
1:30 am – Arrival to our Airbnb (even late at night, there’s plenty of public transport options form the airport).
9:00 am – Walk around the city center.
10:00 am – Breakfast at the Espresso Embassy café.
Own by award-winning barista Tibor Várady, the Espresso Embassy is a necessary stop for coffee lovers in town. The place looks like a large cellar, furnished with natural wood and industrial decor. It’s bright and modern yet warm and welcoming.
Coffee was amazing, and the pistachio croissant to go with it was one of the nicest pastries I’ve had in a long time.
11:00 am – City Sightseeing Budapest Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour.
While I’m usually in favour of walking tours with locals or just wandering around with my smartphone to guide me, limited time meant that a 24 hours ticket for a city tour bus was the best way to drop by the must-sees efficiently.
Our route included architechtural wonders such as the majestic St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Dohány Street Synagogue, the leafy Andrássy Avenue, the State Opera House and the Heroes’ Square.
1:00 pm – Lunch at Városliget Café & Restaurant.
We got off the bus at Heroes’ Square and after admiring the statues and taking the touristy photos de rigueur, we made our way to the Városliget Café and Restaurant for a light lunch. The place’s decor evokes la Bélle Epoque, in fact our chairs were old cinema seats in green velvet.
Books, black boards and a good dash of antiques here and there helped set the tone. The meal was lovely, a pumpking cream soup followed by “langalló” a sort of Hungarian pizza.
2:00 pm – Spa time at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
Just a 10 minutes walk away from the Heroes’ Square, you’ll find the world-famous Szechenyi Thermal Baths. It is worth noting that there are over 150 thermal baths in Hungary and this one is the biggest.
Its Neo-Baroque architecture is just stunning, even if you don’t get in the water, that alone is worth a visit.
The construction of these baths begun in 1909 and today it features 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor pools (it also has 10 saunas/steam cabins and a wide variety of spa and beauty treatments).
Tickets with private cabin access cost 22 Euro.
5:00 pm – Hop on back to town and complete the city tour. Have a Kürtőskalács.
For a sweet snack, don’t leave Budapest without treating yourself to a Kürtőskalács. This spiral pastry is made from sweet yeast dough wrapped around a cylindrical baking spit and rolled in sugar (or in the case of mine, cinnamon and sugar a.k.a. the best thing ever).
Some places sell the plain one, others have toppings and flavours and you can get ice cream inside (the hot pastry mixed with the frozen vanilla ice cream is just too delicious).
7:00 pm – Sightseeing on a Danube River cruise.
Included with the Hop-On-Hop-Off ticket, there was an evening Budapest River Cruise (there are more premium options with wine tasting, live music or even 4 course dinner included, but we kept it $imple).
It offered the opportunity to admire some of the city’s most beautiful buildings from the water.
The luminous sight of the majestic Hungarian Parliament, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the Budapest Palace (all UNESCO World Heritage Sites) and other landmarks was just magical.
9:00 pm – Dinner in town at Jerney Italian Bistro.
Yes, the romantic red and white checkered tablecloths made me stop, but the fact that the terrace was full of customers and the food looked lovely convinced us to walk in.
While the menu was mostly Italian, they had a few local specialities such as a Goulash soup we tried. Their wine list was a happy surprise, with plenty of Hungarian sips by the glass (in fact, part of the venue is dedicated to a wine shop with wines from various Hungarian regions at different price points.
11:00 pm – Quirky booze time at the Ruin Bars.
Ruin bars are something very Budapest. Once derelict pre-war buildings, these places now host unique-looking bars full of character and great vibes. The trend begun in the early 00’s, around the city’s Jewish Quarter.
First we went to Instant-Fogas, which has become Budapest’s largest ruin pub party complex and groups seven connected venues with different ambiance and music.
We ended the night at Szimpla Kert, a pioneer venue in the ruin bar scene and with a more independent feeling compared to the massive party station that Instant-Fogas has become.
The decor? Imagine old computers, fairy lights, random toys, broken antiques, musical instruments covered in stickers and missplaced street signs all together in a beautiful mess.
10:00 am – Breakfast at the New York Cafe.
After a long and activity-packed Saturday, we woke up a little later on Sunday and made our way to the iconic New York Café, part of the opulent New York Palace Budapest.
The building was constructed in 1894 and restored in 2006 and it is one of the most incredible cafés I’ve seen in my life.
Prices are as luxurious as the crystal lamps hanging from its ceiling. An assortment of mini pastries (Italian Breakfast) and two coffees translated in a €30 bill. But still, I think it’s worth a stop, just because it’s such a special place.
Queues to get in are ridiculous but they take bookings so grab that phone and plan ahead to avoid dissapointment.
11:30 am – Castle District tour.
The Castle District or Castle Hill is yet another of Hungary’s appearances in the UNESCO World Heritage list. You can walk the 6km trail for free or take a very affordable shuttle tour that will drive you around the key stops.
Some of the main attractions across the trail include Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle and the Hungarian National Gallery. There are numerous coffee shops and restaurants in the area.
1:30 pm – Ending with a sweet note at Marvelosa.
Marvelosa was our last stop at the Castle District Tour. A charming, family-run restaurant and café in a century-old house. Super cosy and with plenty of local recipes on the menu, it was a sweet way to end the trip.
We shared the Kákonyi poppy seed cake, served warm with a side of whipped cream and homemade custard. How come not every cake on earth is served this way? Baffles me.
2:00 pm – Back to the airport.
5:20 pm – Fight to Dublin.
Budapest was impressive, and loaded with beautiful contrasts: a convoluted past touched by glory and loss, a vibe sometimes deeply gloomy and sometimes incredibly cheerful. A city with venues so opulent it feels decadent just to walk through their doors and others that border the derelict.
It was moving, and inspiring. And while 36 hours were not enough to explore it in-depth, they are a good place to start.