Drawn in by the thermal baths, this January we decided to take a girl’s city weekend break to the beautiful Hungarian city of Budapest. We had sight-seeing, spa mornings, river cruises, panoramic views and of course a few cocktails! This was our weekend in Budapest: with a three day itinerary that’s easy for you to follow and also heavily researched! (Yep, we like to think we packed in the best-bits so all the hard work is done for you) Might I also add: I think Budapest has GOT to make it into my Top 3 when it comes to my Favourite European Cities so you’re honestly in for a real treat!
Today is all about being a tourist and the easiest way to do this (which I couldn’t recommend more!), is the Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour. This is the bus tour we took, there’s quite a lot of choice when it comes to company and routes but we really did our research and this one came up tops when it came to price and experience. The route takes you as followed, and I’m going to highlight the places worth stopping off at (in my opinion), then go into a little more detail below.
Heroes’ Square –> Keleti railway station –> Hotel Hungaria –> New York cafe –> Astoria –> Vaci Street –> Castle Garden –> Castle/Funicular –> Batthyany Square/river cruise –> Margaret Island –> Nyugati railway station –> Parliament –> Basilica –> Chain Bridge –> River Cruise/Dock 11 –> Great Market Hall –> National Museum –> Kiraly Street –> Big Bus customer service center –> Opera –> Octogon/Liszt Ferenc Square –> Heroes’ Square
Heroes Square is the starting and finishing point for your tour and what better place to kick it all off? This is one of the major squares in Budapest, noted for its iconic statue complex, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes, often erroneously referred as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It’s beautiful in the day, but arguably even more spectacular at night- so well worth coming back for then too!
From here, you’ll jump on the double-decker bus. I recommend taking the top deck and don’t worry if it gets a little windy. We went in one of the coldest months in Budapest but we coped just fine, so brave it no matter what the season because the views are honestly so much better up there and it sure does add to the experience! As the bus takes you around, you hear all about the history, adding meaning and understanding to the things you see.
Making your way around the route, the first stop you’ll want to get off at is the Castle Garden. Don’t worry, it’s a popular stop so the audioguide even points it out for you. Now most people use this to head up to the Castle itself. This was home to the Hungarian kings in Budapest and offers great views from the top. It’s a great option. You can find out more about that here. We vouched however, to instead spend our time somewhere a little bit different, and took a 10- 15 minute walk to the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church, because the views are arguably even more beautiful here, but the atmosphere and architecture certainly tops it in my opinion! Prepare to have your breath taken away…
Can you see why it ended up being my favourite place of the trip? So magical! It was built in the 19th century to serve as a lookout tower for the best panoramic views in Budapest, and has become a huge attraction for tourists today. Not only are the views from there great, but the details and colours as you’re wandering around are incredible. It’s also free to visit so no matter what you end up doing during your visit, the Fisherman’s Bastion MUST be included in your 3 day travel itinerary in Budapest… 100%!
Alongside that you also have Matthias Church and this was honestly just as special.. Snow-topped in the shade, with the full multi-colours from the mosaic tiles coming through in the sun. It’s one of the finest churches in Budapest as well as one of the most unique churches in Europe. We spend a long while just sitting around here and soaking it all up!
After this, it was onwards and upwards (well I guess back downwards!) as we headed back onto the bus, until our next stop which was the Parliament. Along the route, there’s another stop off point where you may like to get off for short break to take a shot of the Parliament building behind the river. It’s very beautiful. If you’re good for this however, you can instead carry on until the Parliament stop itself where you can get up close to the real deal! To walk here it will take about 10 minutes from where you’re dropped off, but it’s mighty impressive when you reach it, and it actually looks so different from the entrance compared to the other viewpoints. Well worth seeing!
Once you’re done there, the route will then take you around to the Basilica. This was the sixth largest church building in the whole of Hungary before 1920 and still remains as an iconic beauty today. When you arrive, it’s well worth not only walking around on the outside, but going inside too. It’s free to visit and if you love architecture, you’re going to feel a little mesmerised entering inside! As I mentioned earlier, we visited in the winter which also meant it was still all beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and lights, only adding to the atmosphere and character.
Last but not least then, I recommend getting off at Chain Bridge. This won’t be the first or last time you’ll see this, but getting up close to it is something else. It’s the perfect spot to have a break, swing your legs over the edge and maybe stop for a quick drink or bite to eat.
For us, after a full-on day, we then had a lovely girly meal out, followed by some celebratory drinks. This started at the Original Ruin Bar: Szimpla Kert. Ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest and with good reason… they’re like nothing else you’ve been in before! These bars are built in Budapest’s Old District, in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores, or lots. After World War II, neighbourhoods were left in decay, but it created the perfect place to develop an underground bar scene.
From outside they look like normal buildings. But once you walk in and enter the inner courtyard, you find yourself in the middle of a hip, artsy, and funky bar bustling with crowds talking, dancing, and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere. Szimpla Kert is one of the biggest ruin bars and still one of the most popular. It covers two floors and has themed rooms, amazing to explore in itself, but I guarantee once you get here- you’re not going to want to leave! Our ‘casual drinks’ turned into a bit of a big night out because of this place, but… when in Budapest! 😉
If you are interested in the nightlife in Budapest, you may be interested in combining my two recommendations, jumping on this Pub Crawl & Party Boat. If you’re traveling alone and also don’t want to miss out, this Backpacker Pub Crawl will also have you meeting new people (it has great reviews!) There’s plenty of options to ensure you’re experiencing what you really want whilst you’re there.
After a busy first day, we then decided we were in much need of a little relaxation and headed over to Szechenyi Spa Baths on Day 2. With approximately 1000 natural spring water sources in Budapest, visiting the thermal baths are an absolute must. You have plenty of places to choose from, but for us, we decided on Szechenyi as it’s the biggest one of them all (not only in Budapest but also in the whole of Europe!) with palace-like architecture that looks a little like a wedding cake. Heading here on a Sunday afternoon, we knew it would be pretty busy- but if you’re looking to visit like a local and miss the crowds, try going in the week or early mornings. You’ll then pretty much have it to yourself!
The complex in Szechenyi Spa Baths is huge, with 18 indoor and outdoor geothermal pools. Besides chilling in these, you can get massage treatments, enjoy the saunas, the gym, relax with some beer, wine or even taste the natural waters that supply the pools from over 1000 meters below the surface. The pools aren’t just any old pools either. They have jets firing out water, Jacuzzi-type sections, streams of water and even rapid-like systems pulling you around on a not-so-lazy lazy river: yep, it goes pretty fast! There’s so much to enjoy here and you can easily spend a good afternoon at the baths.
When it comes to tickets, you can buy them directly here, or if you’d like to complete your experience with a massage, visit here. Alternatively you can buy them from the Spa website itself: they take the payment in their currency for a slightly higher price but you do have more options booking through the website, so it’s totally up to you!
On our way back, we then passed through the City Park, where -in winter- they have this huge ice rink. Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, I definitely recommend it. It sits right by Heroes Square and in that beautiful white building you’ll see in the clip below, there is the nicest restaurant that you have to try out! If you do go there, also be sure to treat yourself to a hot chocolate- it comes with cream & marshmallows and is literally like drinking melted chocolate… Delicious!
After this we headed down to the riverbank for a magical evening River Cruise. If you love taking photos this is the tour for you! It’s super affordable, comes with a welcome drink, has a bar & full seating inside, plus an outside deck so that you can capture the most amazing shots. This tour takes you along the Danube River, past monuments such as the National Parliament, Buda Castle, and the Várkert Bazár. You’ll glide under Margaret Bridge and see panoramic illuminated views.
So your final day and what to do?! Well, there’s plenty to choose from but a few of my top recommendations:
- Gellert Spa: Loved your last Spa Day? Then why not double up for a second one here? The interiors are unreal!
- Budapest Parliament 45-Minute Guided Tour: That’s right, you get to go inside that majestic building and see the scale of it with your very own eyes!
- By Land and Water, Floating Bus Boat: If you want to swap day 1’s hop on hop off bus to this for a different experience, DO IT! I tried one of these over in San Fransisco and it has stayed with me ever since.
- Budapest Chocolate Museum: This includes chocolate tasting too… uh huh, I will say no more!
- Explore Jewish Budapest with the Great Synagogue: Something you won’t have seen yet if you follow this itinary so well worth fitting in on your last day here.
- Bike Tour/ Segway Tour/ Tuk Tuk Tour/ E-Scooter Tour: Yep, you name it and there’s a different way to do it. Discover new areas of Budapest in different ways. Which one takes your fancy?
- Underground Caving Tour: In Budapest? Yep, that’s right. A whole underground world waiting to discover!
- Traditional Hungarian Folk Show: For a different, cultural experience: this one is perfect! Worth considering earlier in your trip on one of the evenings, depending on flight and show times.
Aside from that, I also recommend checking out some of the amazing panoramic viewpoints in Budapest. These include: Gellért Hill and the Citadel, 360 Bar, St Stephen’s Basilica, Elizabeth Lookout Tower or József-hegyi kilátó, Rózsadomb: that ones a bit of a mouthful but equally as spectacular, particularly on a sunny day!
Huge thanks to these gorgeous girls for making my trip extra extra special. “Friends that travel together, stay together.” 💛
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy Budapest as much as we all did. Any questions, just send them through or comment below. Happy traveling!