The Hungarian city of Budapest is one of the smaller European capital cities, and rather inexpensive. It is extremely walkable and can be seen thoroughly in just about 2 days. If you get stuck in the rain or just don’t want to walk anymore, there is a metro, tram, and bus system that runs throughout the city. Also, there is an Uber equivalent in Budapest, called Bolt. Download the app and you can call and pay for a ride all from your phone!
Everything is pretty cheap in Budapest. I stayed in a hostel when I went and think I paid 32 euros total for 4 nights. They are a very cash-friendly city, so make sure to have some of their currency (HUF/Hungarian Forint) on hand before you arrive or exchange some when you get to the city. If you choose to exchange it once you get to town DO NOT exchange it at the airport, bus station, or train station as you will get a really bad exchange rate. Also, a lot of places will take the Euro; however, it will probably be a very low exchange rate, meaning you’ll lose money.
There are a few ways you can do this.
- Take a Bolt into town is probably the quickest way, but also probably a bit more expensive in comparison.
- Airport shuttle – it is available from the airport and will take you door to door, but the prices can vary.
- 100E bus (my recommended method) – This bus is very inexpensive and will take you directly into the city. It takes about an hour or less end to end and costs around $3 USD in total.
The type of transportation you take will also depend on where in the city you are staying. Use Google Maps to see what the quickest option is for you!
Don’t do what I did though and get on the wrong bus (200E) that only takes you to the edge of the city. Where I then had to walk 45 min to where I was staying. There is no metro line that will take you directly into the city from the airport. The 200E bus does stop at metro stations along the way if you prefer to do a combination of transportation. You can purchase tickets for the buses, metro, and shuttles at the airport, by baggage claim. Return bus tickets can also be purchased at the bus stops.
One thing I was not expecting but was delightfully surprised when I visited Budapest, is the amount of English spoken around town. Almost every place I went, I was greeted and could have a conversation in English. This obviously makes it a bit easier if you don’t speak Hungarian, which is actually considered one of the hardest languages to learn/understand!
Budapest actually used to be two different cities, split up by the Danube River. The two cities were named Buda and Pest. When they joined into one city, it was originally called PestBuda. Eventually, they realized that wasn’t working too well, and flipped the names into what we now know as Budapest!
So now that I got some general tips and tricks out of the way… here are my top things to do and how to spend 48 hours in the city of Budapest!
Buda Castle & Fisherman’s Bastion
One thing that is an absolute must-see, must do, you can not leave the city without doing this, is going across the river on the Chain Bridge to the Buda side to see the Buda Castle. You can go into the castle with a ticket, or just wander around the outside (what we did). Either way, the views are amazing. While you’re across the river make sure to see the Mattias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.
I would recommend the Official Budapest Castle Bus to get from the bridge to the Castle. It is 2400 HUF (8 Euro) and is a golf cart-style shuttle that will take you to each stop. The four stops are the Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Old Town, and the Castle Gardens. It is a hop-on, hop-off system and they run rather frequently (every 5 or 6 minutes). You do have to ride it in order of the stops because once you end up back at the base of the hill, by the bridge, your ticket expires. To get your tickets, once you walk across the Chain Bridge, go to the left and find anyone in the blue jacket. The Castle bus runs from 9 am to about 5 pm every day, but if you go in the morning, the crowds will be smaller.
The Parliament Building & Shoes
This building is just as important as it is beautiful. You can see the incredible architecture from the top of the hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. You can also cross back over the bridge, turn left and walk a short distance to see it up close and personal. The Parliament building is the home to the National Assembly of Hungary (as well as a popular tourist destination). The Building also houses the Holy Crown of Hungary. You can purchase a ticket to go into the Parliament Building, but make sure to read the important information and code of conduct before going in!
On your way to Parliament, stop along the river to take in the chilling history of the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial. Film director Can Togay and the sculptor, Gyula Pauer created this memorial in 2005. Together, they created 60 pairs of time appropriate iron shoes to represent and remember the 20,000 Jewish citizens that were forced to take off their shoes, then shot into the river during World War II. The memorial is a very simple, yet powerful representation of the terror that endured during the war.
A Night Out
For an Evening out, the Ruins Bars are the place to be. These bars were built in the old Jewish quarter. Typically the bars do not have big flashy signs or loud music pouring onto the street. They look just like normal homes/buildings. See this list from Nomadic Matt on the Best Ruins Bars to visit in Budapest.
You can even find an organized bar crawl if you are looking to bounce around and experience several of them all in a night!
St. Stephen’s Basilica
This church, honoring king St. Stephen (who founded the Hungarian state), is one of the most prominent and important churches in the entire country of Hungary. The Church began construction in the mid-1800s but actually had to be rebuilt multiple times because the center dome collapsed (twice!!). No need to worry though, the final re-construction done was thought out carefully and it is perfectly safe to go in! It is free to enter with a suggested donation, and you can actually purchase tickets to go up to the very top of the church.
The very top is said to have one of the best views of the city. Inside the church, is actually home to the mummified hand of St. Stephen. I personally was unable to see it because the day I went in there was a wedding happening that had the majority of the church blocked off to visitors, including the hand.
There are several different thermal bath locations around the city, but the most popular and one I visited is the Szechenyi Bath. It is over 100 years old and has 18 different pools, as well as a spa, sauna, gym, and more! The natural geothermal pools (the water comes from the underground caves and cooled to almost body temperature) are open year-round and the mornings are usually the quieter times. By mid-afternoon, it is likely to be packed by tourists.
You can purchase tickets online, on-site, or possibly even through the hostel or hotel you are staying at! Make sure to bring some sort of flip flops, or they will make you buy them there. You can also rent towels, lockers, and more! See more info on the tickets, rentals, etc. on their website. Also, almost every Saturday night, the lights go down, the music turns up and the party starts! The 18 and up party is one of the largest parties in the entire city and the only bath party.
River Boat Cruise
One of the top highlights of my trip to Budapest! There are several companies that do riverboat tours but we used Budapest River Cruise to do our night cruise. They have time’s all throughout the day, but seeing the lights of the city light up at night was breathtaking! We booked the simplest, Drink and Cruise package, where for roughly $20 you get two free drinks on the hour and a half cruise. Accompanied by live music, information on each site passed, and more drinks for purchase. They also have packages where you can do wine tasting, have a full buffet-style meal, and more! Check out their website for the time and package options!