First Published by Weeqli
Believe it or not, Budapest has been on the tourist radar since long before George Ezra decided to sing about his fictional house there. In fact, it’s considered by those in the know as one of the hidden gems of Central Europe, although the ‘hidden’ part of that is fading away rapidly, thanks in large to the boom in budget-airlines now linking the UK to Hungary. The upside of this, of course, is that it’s opened up another gem of a city as the perfect destination for a quick weekend getaway. Add into the mix a rather favourable exchange rate between the British Pound and Hungarian Florint – even in these days of Brexit doom – and you have yourself a rather nifty and highly affordable weekend retreat, just two short hours from home.
Getting In & Around
Almost all visitors arriving for a weekend in Budapest will land at Franz Liszt International Airport, some 20km from the city centre. While the cheap-and-cheerful public bus 100E runs into town every 20 minutes or so, those with limited time may be better off splashing out on a taxi into town. Journey times are approximately 30-40 minutes and cost £15-£20 on the meter – great value and much more convenient than the bus, particularly for early or late arrivals!
Once in the city, the vast majority of sites can and should be visited on foot. That said, if you are planning to explore further afield, single trips on the excellent bus and tram network cost 350HUF – a little under a pound – making this a fun and cheap way to get around. 24-Hour passes, as well as the tourist-focussed ‘Budapest Card’, are available, with the latter offering token discounts at some of the city’s museums and attractions, although these tend not to be worth the cost for weekend visitors.
Where to Stay
Call me romantic, but I feel a weekend away in a grand city like Budapest deserves a hotel of equal standing. I couldn’t bear to spend days walking cobbled streets, admiring stunning architecture and designs only to return to an anonymous business hotel on the edge of town. Regular readers may also have gathered that I am one who enjoys his creature comforts, so it’s rather fortunate that the four-star Hotel Palazzo Zichy covers all the bases and is my go-to choice of digs while in town. A former palace, dating back to the 19thcentury, the 80 contemporary styled rooms offer thoughtful touches including a walk-in shower, complimentary Nespresso machine and buffet breakfast included as standard.
Before you go
The grand Hungarian Parliament is one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks, and while there are countless amazing views of the exterior across the city, getting inside isn’t as easy. In fact, you can only visit the grand interior as part of an official tour, which can sell out weeks, if not months in advance – so plan and book ahead!
See & Do
Budapest, like many European cities, is home to an excellent Free Walking Tour, run by local volunteers and covering a number of key sights, while also providing a little background on the city. I’m not a tour kind of guy but found the 2-3 hour walk around both fun and informative, without feeling like cattle being herded around the streets. Your guides are also an oracle of knowledge when it comes to great bars and restaurants! For the classic tour, simply meet at the Lion Fountain at Vörösmarty square daily at either 10.30am or 2.30pm. Alternatively, join one of the special interest tours to discover more about Budapest’s communist past, the fascinating Jewish Quarter or even join the tour dedicated to visiting some of the city’s finest drinking establishments!
If you’d rather go it alone, the mighty Fisherman’s Bastian is a great starting point. While impressive in its own right, the real attraction here are the stunning views out across the city, and the chance to snap that picture-postcard shot of the famous Parliament building. From here, it’s just a short walk down to the Matthias Church with its stunning roof, before enjoying a stroll through the Royal Palace complex and castle hill.
Having either walked or taken the funicular to the bottom of the hill, take a stroll across the historic Szenchenyi Chain Bridge to reach the Pest half of the city and make your way through the maze of streets towards St Stephen’s Basilica. As one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of the town, it’s worth spending the afternoon simply exploring on foot, with a tactical break for Coffee & Cake at Gerbeauds – the perfect mid-walk pick me up! Foodies like me will fall in love with the Great Market Hall, or ‘Nagyvasarcsarnok’ to those of you more linguistically competent than myself! Hungarian classics such as Paprika, Salami, Tokaji Wine and Palinka Fruit Brandy can be found virtually anywhere in the market and are perfect goodies to take home! When the sun goes down, see if you can sniff out one of the city’s trendy ‘ruin bars’ for a taste of the real Budapest nightlife scene. These are traditionally old abandoned factories or warehouses that have been converted into makeshift bars and are a popular hangout for those in the know!
The next day, if you’re feeling the need to relax, the famous Szechenyi Baths are without a doubt the most famous of Budapest’s thermal springs, but certainly worth a visit. Once you’ve soaked your way back to life, Heroes Square stands as a dramatic reminder of the city’s communist park and borders the equally impressive, although arguably more beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle. Returning to town in the evening, take a sunset stroll along the banks of the Danube, being sure to visit the ‘Shoes on the Danube’, a chilling memorial to the thousands of Jews who were murdered there during the Nazi’s occupation on Budapest.
And there you have it. A one weekend, whistle-stop tour of one of my favourite European cities. Well, a tiny bit of it, at least!