Budapest is a cultural and historical playground. Every street has a story, and there is a plethora of historical gems to explore. It is also a city with a vibrant and diverse nightlife, and an exciting food and drink scene. Here’s how to spend a precious 48 hours in the Hungarian capital.
You won’t have time to see all of the sites in your two days, so choose the best. Spend your first day on Castle Hill, arguably the most interesting and impressive site of the city. Take your time wandering from one end of this walled hilltop town to the other, seeing Matthias church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Royal Palace along the way.
The Roman Catholic Matthias Church is not admired for its age; although the current building was constructed in the 14th century, its extensive restoration in the late 19th century gave it its current grandeur. A much older Romanesque church thought to have been built in 1015 originally stood in its place, though nothing now remains of the original building. It is a truly beautiful and magnificent church, both outside and in, with wonderful stonework and mosaics galore. Fisherman’s Bastion sits just in front of Matthias Church, with viewpoints looking across the river to the Hungarian Parliament and the rest of the city.
Finish your time on Castle Hill with a visit to the Royal Palace and Budapest History Museum to learn about the history of the city right back to its very origins; it has a fascinating and diverse history, and the museum is definitely worth a visit to put everything that you see on your trip into context.
If you have time after Castle Hill, head south along the river and climb the steps to the top of Géllert Hill to see Liberty Statue, holding her palm leaf high above the city. The statue was erected by the Soviets in 1947 to commemorate the liberation of Hungary during World War II. From the top of the hill you have the best views across the city, spanning from the Royal Palace on the west bank of the river, over towards Parliament on the east, and beyond.
In the evening, gather some friends and head to Claustrophilia, Budapest’s famous escape room game. You have one hour to find your way out of the room using the clues provided – it’s extremely clever and ridiculously good fun. Make sure to book in advance.
On day two, explore Pest on the east side of the Danube, seeing Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica, and having a dip in the some of the city’s famous baths. Start with a morning tour of the Parliament Building (a tour is mandatory to see inside) – remember to book online in advance, as the tours book up fast! One of Budapest’s most impressive buildings, Parliament was completed in 1904, and is thought to have been inspired by London’s Palace of Westminster.
Next, head the short walk to the impressive neo-classical St. Stephen’s Basilica, topped with two towers and a large dome, and fronted by a huge open square. After having a look inside, and perhaps climbing to the dome for views over the city, have lunch in one of the many restaurants in the area. Narrow pedestrianised streets packed with eateries offer everything from traditional Hungarian food to burgers to go.
After lunch, jump on the metro and head to Heroes’ Square at the end of Andrássy Avenue to see the Millennium Memorial, with statues of War and Peace battling it out and the Archangel Gabriel on his towering column. The memorial was completed in 1900 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin and the foundation of the Hungarian state in 896.
From here, head into City Park, behind the memorial, and towards Budapest’s most famous baths, the Széchenyi baths, for an afternoon dip. Soak up some autumn sun in the outdoor pools, and move inside to try numerous pools of different temperatures, enjoying the interior of what can only justifiably be described as a palace, built at the beginning of the twentieth century.
In the evening, make sure to fit in a stroll along the river to see the city turn to a beautiful gold as its buildings and bridges are lit up at night. On the Pest bank of the river near to Parliament you’ll find the Shoes on the Danube memorial, in honour of the Jews who were shot into the river by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. The sets of iron shoes sitting on the edge of the bank are so simple, yet so personal and striking.
If drinks are on the agenda, finish the day off at Szimpla, one of the city’s many ruin bars – essentially, a bar set in a ruined building. Szimpla is not just one bar, but more like a street, with numerous different bars each serving something different, whether wine or cocktails. It’s the decoration that makes it such a unique and memorable venue – it’s like a junk shop has exploded all over it, with an assortment of random objects and fairy lights covering every wall and surface. It’s a huge place, set across several floors, with a fun and happy atmosphere to suit the decoration.
Although Budapest has so much more to offer than can be seen in a mere 48hrs, it’s long enough to get a good flavour of the city, experiencing some of what gives it its status as one of the cultural hotspots of Eastern Europe. This makes it a great destination for an autumn weekend getaway.
Flights from London to Budapest this autumn start from as little as £40 return (Ryanair; correct at time of writing).