Reminiscing on past travels, I came to the conclusion that Budapest is one of my favourite cities in Europe. With third year looming, two friends and I enjoyed the last three weeks of summer interrailing around Europe (would highly recommend). Our fifth stop was Budapest, the capital of Hungary, welcoming us with its perfect September climate and variety of attractions. As poor university students doing our best on a budget, here’s how we spent 48 hours in Budapest.
We arrived in Budapest in the early hours of the morning after an eight-hour night bus from Krakow (because we missed our train) and found our hostel, which was cheap, aesthetically pleasing and central to all the big attractions. After a quick nap, our hostel provided us with a filling breakfast, and we embarked upon our first day in the city!
Due to our location, we began our adventures with a short walk to the famous Heroes’ Square, one of Budapest’s major squares with its awe-inspiring statue complex of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars. Our quick stop at the cash point made us feel richer than we were, after receiving 10,000 HUF notes (roughly £24). From here, we wondered towards the City Park, crossing the immense lake (you can hire a pedalo or canoe) and through the Gatehouse Tower to the very grand Vajdahunyard Castle, completed in 1896. The luscious park is perfect for a summer stroll.
Our main destination of the day was the super popular Széchenyi Thermal Baths. The complex has fifteen indoor thermal pools (water temperatures up to 40°C) and three outdoor pools. When we arrived, one pool was closed and in the main pool you had to wear a swimming hat (which we did not have), but we still spent about three hours there. Although it was September, it was super busy around poolside with little space to make a base, so if you want to sunbathe, I would suggest getting there early, otherwise you can put everything in a locker like we did. If you happen to be in Budapest on a Saturday night, the Széchenyi Bath Parties are highly recommended.
In the evening, on our way into Budapest’s hustle and bustle, we stopped to admire St. Stephen’s Basilica, and wandered into the city’s Jewish quarter, home to beautiful architecture. Instead of a wild night out, we selected a few insta-worthy bars to explore, including Akvárium Klub, a below ground-level bar with colourful fairy lights, and ruin bars Szimpla Kert and Kőleves Kert. Szimpla Kert is the most well-known ruin bar and was super busy, but its quirky and eccentric atmosphere is not to be missed, with graffiti-covered walls and live music. Kőleves Kert was the opposite extreme; it was super chilled, brightly coloured, and you can drink in hammocks. Visiting ruin bars is a MUST for anyone visiting Budapest! We ended our night, as every uni student does, in a cove of street-food vans, where I experienced the best Pad Thai I have ever had.
For our second day in Budapest, we had a HUGE day of walking (make sure you wear a good pair of trainers), and discovered that Budapest is made up of three towns unified in 1873, with Buda and Óbuda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank. For the best of Budapest’s history and culture, we wandered to the Danube River. First, we viewed the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, memorialising the Jews killed by Fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during WWII. Then, we walked towards the Hungarian Parliament building, with its magnificent Gothic revival-style, and statue of Gyula Andrássy, Prime Minister of Hungary 1867-71.
Continuing along the riverside, we visited Margaret Island, situated in the middle of the Danube, covered with beautiful landscape parks, perfect for long walks or bike rides (available for hire). Here you can witness the incredible Music Fountain, bringing water to life to the sound of music, though be aware of show times; we were lucky to capture the 10:30am show, but the evening light shows do not start until 5pm. After viewing the island’s petting zoo, we had lunch at a wacky, open-air restaurant, ‘Hippy Island’.
Our next stop was Buda Castle. I recommend walking there down the promenade on the other side of the Danube for some stunning views! Once there, you can get a Funicular railway up the hill, but being the money-savvy students we are decided to walk. The castle and gardens are beautiful, with must-see views. From here, we spotted the Liberty Statue at the top of Gellért Hill, first erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary during WWII, and optimistically trekked it up to the top, passing the Citadella. The view from the top provides the most breath-taking views of Budapest, so I would recommend the hike if you have time. On our way home, we crossed the famous Chain Bridge. In the evening, as all tourists should, we tried traditional Hungarian food and then visited another ruin bar.
The central location of our hostel was perfect walking distance from everything, however, to get to and from the main bus and train stations we used the super cheap metro. Most of the things we did were free, however, there are plenty of other attractions in Budapest including a wealth of museums such as the National Gallery and House of Terror, other Baths, and the Fisherman’s Bastion, which we gave a miss.
Budapest is a relaxing and very easy-going place. There is so much history and culture to keep you engaged, yet this is balanced with an all-round social vibe, perfect for a quick getaway.