Hard to beat for sheer beauty, Budapest ticks every box you could want from a European city and seems to do it without trying.
Uber-cool ruin bars in derelict buildings channel the cool of Berlin, while relaxing here can mean an afternoon in one of Budapest's many parks or a dip in waters from its 100-plus thermal springs. The Hungarian capital is, simply, one of Europe's great must-visits.
If you’re in Budapest on a short layover, you can still see a good number of the main sights in a few hours. Begin your day in the Jewish District with breakfast in one of the many cafés and bakeries that dot its streets. After you’ve fuelled up, stroll down to the Dohány Street Synagogue and have a quick look at its stunning design before heading north towards the impressive St Stephen’s Basilica.
Spend 15 minutes or so wandering through the huge church before turning left along Arany János Street towards the River Danube. Head north along the river, passing the poignant Shoes on the Danube Bank monument and ending up at the elegant Hungarian Parliament Building. From here, cross the river by taking the metro from Kossuth Lajos tér to Batthyány tér to explore Budapest’s Castle district.
Once you’re on Buda’s riverside, you can either walk up a steep side street to reach the top of the hill or walk south for 10 minutes and catch the funicular railway instead. From there, explore Buda Castle and its grounds before heading to the magical Fisherman’s Bastion and the 14th-century Matthias Church. When you’re done sightseeing, walk towards Széll Kálmán tér underground station, stopping off for a quick bite at nearby Fény Street Market before you catch the metro back to a train station or the airport.
For weekend trips to Budapest, you’ll want to see all the same sights as a half-day visit but at a more relaxed pace. On your first day, catch the metro or walk to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út in downtown Budapest and head west, crossing over to Buda via the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
You’ll then be at the foot of Castle Hill and in the perfect place to spend a couple of hours exploring its palatial structures. You can then get the metro to Kossuth Lajos tér station just south of the Hungarian Parliament Building and a two-minute walk from the Shoes on the Danube Bank monument. Walk around both sights before heading west towards the House of Terror museum, stopping off for lunch in one of the many cafés along Andrássy Avenue.
After a couple of hours in the interesting yet emotional wartime museum, take the edge off by heading to one of the quirky ruin bars in the Jewish District for a drink and then bagging a table at one of the pubs or surrounding restaurants for dinner.
Your last day in Budapest should be about enjoying its more natural attractions. There’s loads of thermal baths to choose from – one of the largest and most central are the Széchenyi outdoor pools at City Park. After a day of pampering and fresh air, travel back to the Pest riverside and pick out one of the finer dining establishments for an atmospheric last meal in Budapest.
Spend your first day in Budapest getting your bearings around its central and downtown districts. Make St Stephen’s Basilica your first port of call before heading for Liberty Square park, with its iconic statues and fountains. Just to the east of the park is where you’ll find Hold Street Farmers’ Market, a great pit-stop for some cheap lunch and to pick up some authentic Hungarian delicacies. In the afternoon, take a turn around the nearby Hungarian Parliament before heading south along the river, past the Shoes on the Danube Bank monument, towards the downtown district where you can spend a few hours shopping or having a drink before dinner.
Spend the whole of your second day on the Buda side of the city, soaking up the sights of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Just behind them is where you’ll also find the Hospital in the Rock, a fascinating museum that was the site of a former hospital used in both World Wars to treat civilians and soldiers. For food, you could check out another food market on Fény Street or sit in one of the more upmarket restaurants at the Castle Garden Bazaar for lunch. The bottom of Castle Hill is dotted with small museums to while away a couple of hours, and you can also explore the castle’s cellars via the Buda Castle Labyrinth tour.
After breakfast, head to Andrássy Avenue to admire the beautiful buildings that house shops, embassies and opera houses before stopping off at the House of Terror museum for a couple of hours. From there, it’s then a 25-minute walk or a brief metro ride to City Park where you can spend the afternoon exploring its gardens, gazing at pretty Vajdahunyad Castle and relaxing in the thermal pools of Széchenyi Baths. If you’re visiting in the winter, it’s also possible to ice skate in the park.
Begin your day in the Jewish District with coffee and pastries in a Jewish bakery or friendly café. Afterwards, visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, with its Moorish architecture and moving holocaust memorial. From there, you can catch the metro from Kosztolyani Dezso ter to Kelenföld vasútállomás in Buda. Here you can hop on a bus to Memento Park.
On your fifth day in Budapest, spend some time outdoors by heading to Margaret Island. From strolling around its rose gardens and exploring its medieval ruins to going for a dip in the swimming pools or enjoying a performance at the open-air theatre, the island is packed with fun outdoor things to do and see.
Spend the day out of Budapest either at Lake Balaton – if it’s summer and you have a car – or Normafa Hill at any time of the year. Both are within an hour of the city and offer up a day of sportier activities, from boating and swimming to sledging in the winter.
Finish your week in Budapest by climbing Gellért Hill for stunning views of the Danube and the city. Take a look at the fortress before heading back down the hill for some relaxation at Gellért Baths (making sure in advance that it’s open to men and/or women as appropriate – it can vary each day). You can then head back across the river towards the Jewish District for a final dinner in Budapest and a few drinks in a ruin pub.