Play Hard

48 hours in… Budapest

Luxurious rooftop bars, world-famous thermal baths and a foodie’s paradise – here’s everything you can’t miss on a Budapest city break.

Written by Molly Ashby
Published 25.03.2023

Despite an unusually cold and wintery March, our countdown to summer is on and, if city breaks are your thing, I can’t recommend Budapest enough.

Whether you’re looking for a breakaway with your partner or (in my case) a trip with your bestie, Budapest is home to incredible architecture, culture and my personal favourite – great food!

If you’re like me and always try to avoid having to stop over with your flights, you can get direct flights to Budapest from Manchester in just under three hours for around £300 per person.

We stayed at a lovely self-catering, urban flat in the heart of the city for around £300 for three nights. The flat was within walking distance of most of the restaurants and bars we wanted to visit, with lots of transport links close by to explore the wider city with ease.

I’d not been to Budapest before, but this beautiful city quickly clinched the top spot as my favourite place in Europe that I’ve visited so far. Even just walking down the streets, I was immediately blown away by its incredible architecture, the super-friendly buzz of its people and the sense of adventure that pervaded its streets.

In July, we were lucky enough to have great weather – around 25 degrees – which was perfect for me with my ginger skin!

As nearly always happens, four days away really didn’t feel like long enough, especially in a city I loved as much as Budapest. With so much still left untried, unexplored and undiscovered, I’ll definitely be back.

But, from what I did manage to find on my travels, here are some must-visits I would recommend to anyone thinking of visiting Budapest…

BEST PLACES TO EAT IN BUDAPEST

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Budapest was a foodie’s heaven!

I had a few restaurants in mind before arriving, thanks to the fountain of all knowledge: Tiktok. One of these was Mazel Tov. Located in the city’s centre, historically the Jewish Quarter, this Instagrammable restaurant is almost totally hidden from the outside, but you’ll be blown away by the beautiful open space and garden inside. The menu is Mediterranean and ideal for lunch/dinner serving everything from pita sandwiches to grill plates. And it’s dog-friendly, which is always a plus in my book.

We found another popular spot in the city centre to be the New York Café. Voted “the most beautiful Café in the World” by U City Guide in 2011 and 2012, this historical and beloved coffee house has been a staple in Budapest since the early 20th century. It used to be a common haunt for writers and editors and, today, gives home to the New York Palace: an eclectic, Italian Renaissance-style hotel. We only popped in for a coffee (although they serve breakfast and dinner), but we were greeted by a string quartet and a spirited atmosphere – it’s well worth a look around.

If you’re looking for authentic Hungarian cuisine on a budget, the Central Market Hall is for you. They have a great selection of Hungarian street food to choose from at a range of price points. We opted for Kobe sausages – sausages in a bread brisquette – which were unreal.

Honestly, though, there’s so much choice in Budapest with foodie joints on every corner, you could just walk the streets and choose an eatery at random and you still won’t go wrong.

BUDAPEST RUINS BAR AND OTHER DRINKING HOTSPOTS

We’ve established Budapest has a wealth of fantastic cafés, restaurants and coffee shops, but the city is also known for its thriving night-life. Whether you’re looking for cocktails with a view or dancing until sunrise, Budapest has some really cool bars.

I’m a sucker for a good sunset so, to celebrate my birthday, we visited a recommendation from Laura – the High Note Sky Bar. This chic rooftop bar Budapest is renowned for is home to some of the best city views and was voted as one of the Top 10 Best Rooftop Bars in the World by Conde Nast Traveller in 2018. With a lush, landscaped garden, this sky bar offers stylish cocktails, bar food and an extensive wine list to sip and savour while you enjoy those breath-taking views.

Another one for you sunset lovers is the Evening Sightseeing Cocktail Cruise. Costing around £30pp (which included three cocktails), we sailed along the Danube at sunset to admire the city as it began to light up with nightfall.

If you’re looking for something a bit livelier, you’ve probably already heard of the famous Budapest ruins bars and Szimpla Kert is the oldest of them all. Located in the edgy Jewish Quarter, this lively bar lets you continue your night into the early hours and the drinks (mostly craft beers, cocktails and wine) are very reasonably priced.

This Budapest ruins bar also offers homemade street food and is a labyrinth of funky rooms with indie music getting the vibe just right. Plus, it’s open to party to your heart’s content until 4am.

THINGS TO DO IN BUDAPEST

Now this wouldn’t be an authentic travel feature if we didn’t talk about the thermal baths Budapest is famous for.

I know what you’re thinking – hygiene! But I can firmly say that I visited the Szechenyi Thermal Baths during the daytime and it was honestly so clean.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe, with 15 indoor baths and three grand outdoor pools. It’s the perfect place to sit back and relax for a few hours with both soft drinks and cocktails available, and entry is around £35pp for a day ticket with a locker.

If you love culture, I’d always recommend a city tour. Are you even a tourist if you don’t ride around on the open-top bus?! Grab your camera phone and be sure not to miss…

  • The Shoes on the Dabube Bank
    • A sculpture series memorial to over 3,000 people, including 800 Jews, who were killed at the riverbank during the Second World War.
  • Buda Castle
    • A spectacular, 13th century palace atop Castle Hill, Buda Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum, and the National Szechenyi Library – a true culture hub.
  • Fisherman’s Bastion
    • A true fairy tale setting, with unbelievable views, Fisherman’s Bastion is an impressive viewing terrace situated on the Buda Bank of the Danube and Castle Hill.
  • Parliament Building
    • One of Budapest’s most famous landmarks, this 291-room building is famed for its Gothic Revival architecture, ornate statues and gorgeous paintings.

Other than these must-visits, I can’t recommend simply walking around Budapest and soaking up as much of this special city as you can. It really did steal a piece of my heart.

 

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