In case you don’t follow me on Instagram (and if you don’t, you should), then you may not know that I recently went to Budapest with my boyfriend, Brad. And if you do follow me, then I’m sorry but I’m mentioning it again. We’ve been wanting to go since before the pandemic hit, so naturally my excitement at finally getting on that plane was high. Before going, I did lots of research into the best things to do in Budapest and of course, the best places to eat, and honestly I was overwhelmed. The city is so rich in culture which so much to see and so many recommended places to eat, I didn’t know where to start! But I eventually created our own little itinerary with a mix of must-see’s, must-do’s and plenty of hidden gems.
Now that I’m back, I thought it was only fair to share with you my findings, from both my pre-departure research and also what we discovered along the way, to inspire and help you plan any upcoming trips you may have to this amazing city!
Starting with the obvious and on the Buda side of the river, you’ve got to visit Castle Hill. Crowning the hilly west bank, Castle Hill is essentially a huge limestone outcrop with the top dramatically perched above the Danube. Reachable by many a stair or by the old-fashioned funicular, winding cobblestone streets lead you to key attractions such as Buda Castle, now home to the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum, and Fisherman’s Bastion. The view from the top is spectacular as you can see the whole of Pest.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
A harrowing yet sobering experience was visiting the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial that honours those massacred by Fascist Hungarian militia during the Second World War. The haunting tribute sits at the edge of the water, with iron shoes scattered and abandoned, representing those left behind by their owners as they were told to remove them before being shot into the water.
As we stood with our thoughts, we could hear stories of survival or of loss being told by the various tour guides. As sombre as it may sound, I would absolutely recommend to experience this important part of Hungary’s history.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Perhaps Budapest’s most iconic offering, it wouldn’t be right not to visit one of the city’s numerous thermal baths. As it was our first time, I opted for the most well known, and in fact the largest in Europe, the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. It was a really affordable way to spend a few hours, enjoying the thermal pools, sauna and restaurant facility.
No trip to a European city would be complete without a quick browse of the shops on offer, and Budapest did not disappoint. Fashion Street is a pedestrian-only area located in central Pest, offering a whole host of brands to enjoy. Not only were the buildings which house the stores stunning (you MUST go to H&M), but the prices were UNBELIEVABLE. If you think the Euro/GBP rate is good, wait until you discover the Hungarian Forint. I would consider booking a trip back just to empty the shelves of Zara, Mango and Massimo Dutti.
If luxury fashion is more your thing, then you might want to head over to Andrassy Avenue, a 2.5km long tree-lined boulevard with stunning Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses that wouldn’t be out of place in Vienna or Paris ( funnily enough it is often referred to as the Champs-Elysees of Budapest), and home to high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Dior.
And if the likes are just out of your budget, as they are mine, then it’s still a gorgeous area to explore, connecting City Park to the City Centre and where you’ll find a range of museums and exhibition halls as well as the spectacular Hungarian State Opera House.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Backing onto Andrassy Avenue, funnily enough I completely missed the front of this stunning building until our penultimate day! It’s the perfect spot for grabbing a coffee (or beer if you’re my boyfriend) in one of the restaurants that make up St Stephen’s Square as you admire the beauty of this huge building.
Dinner Cruise on the Danube
One of the main highlights of our trip would have to be the dinner cruise we took along the Danube. To enjoy a four-course meal and drinks whilst sailing along, gazing at the wonders of the city all twinkling in the inky black sky was an experience I will never forget. After doing my research, I decided to book with Legenda Cruises (recommended to me by several locals also), and they did not disappoint. It was a super romantic yet super affordable experience and I would recommended it to all couples visiting the city.
I found this restaurant through my research where it was recommended to try the Goulash and boy am I glad I did. The food here was excellent, specialising in traditional Hungarian dishes, and so reasonably priced (as was everything in Budapest!). Located a stone’s throwaway from Andrassy Avenue, I would encourage anyone to make a reservation for an evening meal at this buzzing eatery.
For any cocktail lovers, Boutiq Bar is a must-visit. With its intimate, speakeasy-style setting and carefully thought out creations, this upscale cocktail bar pioneered Budapest’s craft cocktail movement. Make sure to try the ‘Selfie First’ cocktail with polaroid included.
Named the greenest restaurant in Budapest, Twentysix Budapest is a cosy urban jungle located in the heart of the city where you can enjoy an amazing brunch, grab a coffee or even enjoy a yoga class. FYI the pancakes are to die for!
Whilst on this side of the river, we spent a gorgeous evening at Leo Rooftop. Set on the 8th floor of Hotel Clark, Budapest, we enjoyed exceptional food (I would highly recommend the duck) with a backdrop of the city lit up by night.
No trip to Budapest would be complete without a drink in one of its famous ruin bars. We spent an afternoon in perhaps the most famous, Szimpla Kert. The oldest ruin bar in the city, it’s a huge building with a myriad of rooms all leading into one another and packed full with random trinkets, plants and even an abandoned Trabant car.