Joanna and I recently spent an epic 48 hours in Budapest, which was not nearly enough time to experience this fabulous city. We had an awesome time, and we can't wait to go back again someday.
Here is the play-by-play of how the weekend went down, what I would do again in a heartbeat, and what I would definitely skip the next time around.
Budapest, pronounced "Buddha-Pesht" actually consists of the Buda side (lots of sightseeing West of the Danube river) and the Pest side (lots of food and drinks East of the river). We booked a very nice apartment near the Jewish district on the Pest side, only a couple of minutes by foot from a metro station.
We had driven to Budapest, but the car stayed parked on the street the whole time (free street parking on weekends). When we got too tired to walk, we just took the metro for a little over $1 USD.
Pro Tip: If you're going to drive in Hungary, make sure you buy a vignette for your car ahead of time. It allows you to drive on highways in Hungary. You can buy a vignette online for around €11, which is good for 10 days.
We checked into our apartment at 1pm on Saturday afternoon. After we showered and put up our feet for a bit, we headed straight for Gettó Gulyás, a well-known traditional Hungarian restaurant.
We ordered the traditional beef stew and washed it all down with a pint of ice-cold Hungarian beer called Dreher.
I thought the beef stew was good, but it didn't blow me away. I tried it again at another restaurant and found it to be better. More on that later.
We were wandering around the Jewish district after our meal when we saw a mojito stand in the middle of the street, selling cocktails for less than $3 USD.
Why the heck not, we thought. We are on vacation, after all.
A big reason why Budapest is such a popular tourist destination is its affordability.
Another reason is that there are no public drinking laws. You can literally drink anywhere you want. It is obviously a huge attraction to foreigners, especially young Americans who can't even drink legally back home.
With mojito in hand, we walked over to the Dohány Street Synagogue, the biggest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we were at least able to check out its remarkable exterior and take a peek inside its gates.
We wandered around some more and found an absolute gem at Erzsébet Square. Not only did it have a giant Ferris wheel called Budapest Eye, it had a pool!
The pool wasn't one that you can swim in, but you could dip your toes in it while having beer and ice cream. It was so refreshing on a hot summer day.
It was one of our best highlights of the weekend.
After we cooled off, we walked across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Buda side for Fisherman's Bastion. It looks straight out of a fairytale. I couldn't get enough of both the beautiful architecture and the gorgeous view of the Pest side across the Danube.
Right next to Fisherman's Bastion is Matthias Church, a 14th-century church named for King Matthias. We would have loved to check out the church, but it was closed.
I guess Saturdays aren't the best days to visit religious institutions in Budapest.
We walked back to the Pest side and joined a free walking tour. It was packed with 50 or 60 people on a Saturday night.
The tour itself didn't involve a lot of walking. It consisted mainly of learning about the history of Budapest. For example, we learned that it was the first city from the communist era to get a McDonald's.
Our tour guide told us that the residents had no idea what McDonald's even was, other than that it was a big deal, so they dressed up to eat there as if they were headed to a fancy restaurant.
I would have loved to see a bit more on the tour, but it was difficult with such a big crowd. Nonetheless, it was nice learning about Hungarian history while exploring Budapest.
The free walking tour ended near the green Liberty Bridge, where a slew of people were hanging out. Our tour guide explained that for a few weekends a year, the bridge is reserved for only pedestrians.
People treated it like a picnic at the park. They brought blankets, food, and wine. Bands were playing music. The bridge had a great vibe.
We picked up a couple of drinks, sat in the middle of the bridge, and just soaked it in for a while. We couldn't have asked for a better way to really enjoy what the city had to offer.
By this point, we were both pretty exhausted and wanted to hit the sack. We headed back to our apartment through Király u., a crowded street full of bars and restaurants.
We stopped by Market BDPST, a trendy place that sold beer, burgers, and Mexican food. Chowing down on a quesadilla in Budapest to wrap up Saturday night wasn't exactly on my to-do list, but it was tastier than I expected.
The end of our night was a bit too eventful for our comfort level, though. As we turned onto the street where our apartment was, a car cut the corner way too fast because he had almost missed the turn.
Fortunately, he narrowly missed hitting Joanna. But he ended up splashing mud all over her before speeding away.
After we cursed the driver, we got back to the apartment safe and sound. We crashed hard after a long day of walking nearly 30,000 steps.
We wanted to take it a bit slower on Sunday. We started our morning with a much-needed coffee at Cafe Frei, which had an extensive selection of coffees from around the world.
More impressive than the coffee was the menu itself. It was almost like a coffee guide. We spent more time reading the menu than drinking the coffee.
I really enjoyed the coffee there. Highly recommend!
We then walked over to the Opera House. The outside was under construction, but the inside was super nice. We toured the interior for a bit and almost bought tickets to a "mini-concert" later, but ultimately decided against it.
Next, we went to St. Stephen's Basilica, an imposing Roman Catholic basilica named after the first King of Hungary. We climbed the stairs up to the top of the building for a bird's-eye view of the city.
We bought tickets to an orchestra concert at the basilica for later that evening. To say that we regretted it would be an understatement.
Once again, we crossed the Chain Bridge. This time, we headed straight to the Buda Castle.
There was a Frida Kahlo exhibition going on, so we decided to check it out. The line to buy tickets was literally out the door. We had to wait quite a while to get in, but once we did, we really enjoyed the exhibition.
I didn't know much about Frida Kahlo prior to seeing the exhibition, and I'm glad I got to learn about her a bit.
As we walked out of the exhibition and explored the grounds of the castle, we just happened to catch the changing of the guards.
Although I never really seek them out, it's always cool to see the guards going through these elaborate motions.
I can't help but think about how disciplined the guards must have to be in order to stand still while rowdy tourists snap photos of them all day long.
We took the metro back to Király u. to grab a bite of lángos, a traditional Hungarian deep fried dough, topped with cheese and sour cream.
I don't really know what to compare lángos to. It was good, but I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if I were inebriated.
We then just happened to walk by a weekend market of a bunch of vendors selling random stuff. They ranged from modern hand-made souvenirs like soaps and jewelry all the way to super old stamps, postcards, and currency from who knows how long ago.
The market was in the middle of Gozsdu Court, an alley of countless modern restaurants and bars. The prices there were slightly higher than the rest of the city, but the setup was also a step up.
I would definitely seek out Gozsdu Court again next time.
As soon as I told friends that I was headed to Hungary, they told me that I had to try the local wine. Americans don't usually hear about Hungarian wine because it's not imported there.
I'm not a wine connoisseur by any means, but there's definitely some truth to the quality of Hungarian wine. They are also very affordable.
On our way back to Poland, we ended up buying 7 bottle of wine for less than $20 total. What a deal!
We went back to St. Stephen's Basilica for an orchestra concert that we thought would be pretty good. Boy, were we wrong. The concert was underwhelming, to say the least.
The basilica was way too big for the 7 piece orchestra. The concert was only about 25% full. The seats were uncomfortable and squeaky. There was just no energy at all.
The whole thing lasted for about an hour. Afterwards, we both agreed that it was something we wouldn't do again.
Our last meal in Budapest was also our best. We randomly walked into a restaurant after the concert and ordered beef stew again. I figured I'd give it another shot, and I was not disappointed.
Buso Bistro's food was flavorful and on-point. We happily gobbled up everything, washed it down with a beer before taking the metro back to our apartment.
It was a great way to call it a night.
At 8 o'clock on Monday morning, I rushed out to the street and paid for parking. We then took our time getting ready before grabbing a cup of coffee at this cute little coffee shop called Matinée.
Our last stop of the weekend was at City Park, where the super famous Millenium Monument, Vajdahunyad Castle, and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath were all located.
We wanted to check out the thermal baths, but we had forgotten to bring our swimsuits. Oh well.
So there you have it. We spent an epic almost 48 hours in Budapest. Well, technically it was 46 hours. Close enough.
It's not like we discovered a hidden gem of a city or anything. Budapest has long been on the radar of tourists.
In fact, this was my 3rd trip to this wonderful city. But it was the first time that I really got to know it. I'm so glad I did, even if it was for just a couple of days.
We planned our trip around a few things, but there's something to be said about being spontaneous. Many of our decisions were made right on the spot, and I think it made our visit to Budapest a lot more fun.
Our only regret was that we couldn't stay longer.
Do you have plans to visit Budapest? Do you have memories that you'd like to share? Feel free to write a comment below with any questions or thoughts!
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