The best part about living in Italy is being able to book spontaneous European vacations without breaking the bank! A few weeks ago, I had a couple free days ahead of me and decided to hop on Skyscanner.com and browse the cheap flights (a very dangerous hobby btw). As luck would have it, flights from Milan to Budapest were stupid cheap and, having been wanting to visit Hungary for years, I decided to book right then and there. Although I only had time for a quick 2-day visit, it was plenty of time to see the city highlights. Keep reading for my complete list of what to do in Budapest!
where to stay
Whenever I travel alone, I always book hostels. When choosing the perfect hostel for solo-travel, make sure it ticks the following boxes: affordable, great location, in-room lockers and, of course, a hostel bar. Wombat’s City Hostel checked all my boxes and ended up being the perfect accommodation for my mini-vacay!
what to do in budapest
THE PARLIAMENT BUILDING
As the most recognizable landmark in Budapest, the Parliament Building is even more stunning in person. It’s currently the largest building in the country as well as the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary. Completed in 1904, the gothic structure is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Hungary and stands as a beautiful symbol of Budapest.
ENJOY THE VIEWS FROM FISHERMAN’S BASTION
Fisherman’s Bastion is hands-down one of the most beautiful viewpoints in all of Budapest and should be on every traveler’s to-do-list. The terrace is filled with windows and stone arches and anywhere you look you’ll be greeted with a stunning view of the city. Fisherman’s Bastion is free to enter but the terrace is littered with tiny bars and restaurants all boasting the same magnificent view. Although a cocktail there will cost you at least 3x anywhere else in Budapest, it’s relaxing to have a cold drink and enjoy the views of the city below.
EXPLORE THE GROUNDS OF BUDA CASTLE
Just down the street from Fisherman’s Bastion, it’s no surprise that Buda Castle offers the same stunning views of Budapest. Although I didn’t have time to tour the inside of the castle, the grounds are home to some of the most beautiful views in the city. As it’s only a short bus ride away from the city center, Buda Castle should definitely be on your list of Budapest must-sees.
RIDE THE BUDAPEST EYE
Apparently forgetting how much I hate Ferris wheels…I decided to hop on the Budapest Eye and check-out the city views from above. Although the views were gorgeous, especially at night, they weren’t quite gorgeous enough for me to forget my fear of heights, a fear that became very apparent when my car stalled at the top for five full minutes.
DO SOME SHOPPING AT CENTRAL MARKET HALL
There’s nothing I love more than a local market in a new destination. The Central Market Hall is home to aisles of fresh produce, meat, fish, flowers and anything else your heart desires. Even better, the top level houses a “street food” market with some of the most delicious eats in the city. The market was my first stop after arriving in Budapest and I can honestly say it was some of the best food I had during my short time there. Be careful though, the upstairs can get very crowded, especially around lunchtime.
(Keep scrolling to find out where and what I ate at the Central Market Hall).
RELAX IN THE SZÉCHENYI BATHS
Budapest is known for it’s abundance of thermal baths and of them all, Széchenyi is the most well-known. The Széchenyi Baths have a large indoor area of heated pools, but the real fun is outside. Although the pools are heated, the experience is much better in the summer months when you can work on your tan in one of the beach loungers and grab a frosty Hungarian beer from one of the many food stands nearby.
If you happen to be in town on a Saturday night, head over to the Baths for one of their famous sparties! Tickets can get a bit pricey at upwards of €50, but partying in a “nightclub pool” is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to attend a sparty while I was in Budapest, but it’s definitely on my bucket list for next time.
Check out the sparty calendar here.
AND IN THE THERMAL BEER SPA!
The only thing better than a good thermal bath is a great Thermal Beer Spa. The staff treats you like a VIP while you get changed in your own private dressing room and brought downstairs for the relaxing, hops-filled main event. They fill a tub of hot water with the fresh ingredients that go into making beer: malt, hops and yeast. The ingredients are all-natural, smell great and are supposed to do wonders for your skin! And the best part? It includes your own personal and unlimited beer tap!
Book your beer spa here.
ENJOY THE VIEWS FROM ARIA HOTEL ROOFTOP
Rooftop time!! Always one of my favorite parts of a new city, the views from the Aria Hotel Rooftop did not disappoint. On my last evening in Budapest, I ordered a Hungarian-crafted Pilsner and enjoyed the sunset overlooking St. Stephen’s Basilica. Not a bad ending to my short time in this magical city!
TAKE IN THE BEAUTY OF ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA
As one of the most beautiful basilicas in Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica is definitely worth a quick visit. Entrance to the church is free and it only took me about 10 minutes to pop in and have a look around. Built in 1905, the basilica is the third largest church in Hungary. In addition to the high arches and religious artwork, St. Stephen’s Basilica holds Hungary’s most sacred treasure, the mummified hand of St. Stephen.
where to eat
Now that you’ve gotten a dose of Hungarian culture, it’s time to move onto the more important part…Hungarian food! Although I only had two days to experience Budapest’s finest, I did my best to sample some of the highest rated local cuisine. Read on if you want to get really hungry…
Good to know Italy is not the only carb-filled country in Europe. One of Hungary’s most popular dishes is a deep fried pastry smothered in sour cream and cheese known as Lángos. A friend of mine swore that the best lángos she’d ever had in Budapest came from a tiny street stand by the name of Retro Lángos and, although I didn’t have anything to compare it to, I enjoyed every bite of my classic lángos. I even contemplated going back for seconds!
Retro Lángos offers an array of flavors and twists on traditional lángos! Some of their flavors include southwest, greek and Nutella.
When I arrived at the Thermal Beer Spa, I had an hour to kill before my scheduled time. I decided to stop for a quick bite at a quaint restaurant outside the Széchenyi Baths, Széchenyi Kertvendéglö. I ordered the egg dumplings, which is basically the Hungarian equivalent of gnocchi. Although it was absolutely delicious, I would probably not order it again before putting on a swimsuit.
A quick Trip Advisor search on the best restaurants in Budapest brought Mazel Tov to the top of my list. The main area of the restaurant is an indoor patio with plants, lights and every other decoration that makes for the perfect brunch Instagram shot. Although the food was more Mediterranean than Hungarian, everything I ordered was incredibly delicious. I would definitely come back to Mazel Tov on my next visit to Budapest. Although I would be sure to make a reservation in advance next time!
CENTRAL MARKET HALL:
MACKO MAGYAROS KONYHA
Pretty much the second my Wizz Air flight landed at BUD Airport I headed to the Central Market Hall to buy myself a cold beer and a stuffed cabbage. Living in Italy, it’s a bit refreshing when at least some of the local cuisine doesn’t include pounds of carbs and creamy cheese. If you’re looking for traditional Hungarian food, it doesn’t get much more authentic than this. Stuffed with savory ground beef, rice and tomato sauce, stuffed cabbage is a must-try in Budapest.
Yet another local dish I was eager to try…you can’t get more traditional than Hungarian goulash. Savory broth filled with beef, spices and roasted vegetables is delicious even in the summer heat. There’s no better dish to really taste that Hungarian paprika!
Reliving all the yummy food I ate is tempting me to get online and book a flight back to Budapest! Hopefully I’ll be able to go back and enjoy all the culture, food and hospitality Hungary has to offer soon enough. For now, I’ll have to make do with some Italian pizza and a cold Spritz.
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As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!