Budapest is an incredible city with thousands of years of history and architecture to see. So where should you start exploring? Anywhere!
No matter where you are staying in Budapest, you can easily walk to many major sites and attractions. Below we have outlined our “grand circle tour” of the city. At a leisurely pace, this walk took us a full day. Many of our stops were exterior visits only, however we have included links for ticket purchases, should you be interested in touring some of the galleries and buildings mentioned.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
The first site we saw was St. Stephen’s Basilica as it was located nearby our AirBnb on the Pest side of the Danube. One of the most important churches in the country, St. Stephen’s Neo-Classical architecture and towering height make it a popular stop for tourists.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Traveling West toward the river, we stopped for an exterior visit of the Hungarian Parliament Building. We were unable to look inside, due to a private event, however you can purchase tour tickets in advance if you are interested.
Chain Bridge to Fisherman’s Bastion
A walk south along the river will take you past the Shoes on the Danube Bank. This striking display is “to the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45.” After taking a moment to look at the moving memorial, you can continue walking along the river until you reach the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge. This landmark conveniently takes you to the Buda side of the city. The area, known as the castle district, is home to the Fishermen’s Bastion and St. Matthias Church. To see both attractions, you can either walk up the large hill or take the funicular.
Upon entering the fortification wall, we were pleasantly surprised by the sound of accordion music and the overall liveliness of the area. The terrace, once used as a lookout point, is now a cafe where diners can can enjoy the neo-Gothic architecture and breathtaking views of the city. We purchased tickets to go inside of the St. Matthias church, and were amazed by the painted walls and ceilings pictured below.
Gellert Hill and Thermal Baths
Descending the hill you will reach the gardens of Buda Castle. This royal palace is home to the National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. If you have time to go inside, you can look up the hours here.
A stroll past the castle and through Gellert Hill will take you toward the Gellert Thermal Baths and Spa. Inside, we enjoyed about an hour and a half of relaxation. The hot water felt great after our cross country travels. Although pictures make the space look tranquil, we found that the baths were actually boisterous in feel. Posted signs asked for silence, but conversations reverberated off the walls, giving you a sense of the baths’ social importance. Originally created as a blend of Asian and Roman culture, the Turkish baths of Hungary were built to celebrate important occasions; from bridal rituals to “tear drying” baths after a death, the thermal spas marked every stage of life. Although Gellert was not opened until 1918, you can still feel this cultural significance in the beautifully designed spa.
Central Market Hall
We reluctantly left the comfort of the baths and continued back toward the Pest side of the the Danube. We were pleased to stumble on the Central Market Hall, where vendors sold unique Hungarian foods. The high ceilings and compact market stalls created a unique setting to purchase fresh meats and treats. If browsing through the aisles of sausage and paprika whet your appetite for Hungarian cuisine, we recommend continuing toward the Jewish Quarter for street food at Karaván.
Although Karaván looked amazing, we opted for a sit down dinner. The restaurant we chose was Caviar & Bull, the sister location of Chef Marvin Gauci’s restaurant in Malta. The degustation menu was a phenomenal blend of local Hungarian ingredients and tastes of the Mediterranean.
After dinner, We finished the evening at Szimpla Kert. Szimpla was the first ruin pub or “romkocsma” created in Budapest. If you aren’t familiar, a ruin pub is an abandoned building that has been re-claimed as a bar or club. Szimpla is an old warehouse that is now filled with eclectic furniture, artwork and lots of beer! Because of it’s reputation as the first and top rated pub, Szimpla is filled with tourists instead of locals. But don’t let that stop you from experiencing the one of a kind atmosphere. We were enchanted by the mazes of rooms and deep symbolism. You can’t help but appreciate the resilience of a space that has endured years of poverty and neglect only to become a beacon of art and community. Now that’s something we can drink to!