15 Things to Know Before Caving in Budapest

I have a thing for caves. In fact, I’ve traversed them in countries as diverse as Belize to Bulgaria. I think it’s because growing up I was obsessed with rocks and geology – those some of the few science lessons that my wander-happy brain could actually tune into.

That same fascination carried into adulthood, and I’ve written about my cave experiences in ATM Cave and Saeva Dupka, two of my favorite caves in the world. So when I found out that Budapest had an extensive network of caves right in the city center, easily accessible by public bus, you know I had to go and explore them for myself.

I was quite surprised by caving in Budapest: first of all, it’s definitely caving as in sport, not walking through a cave as in a tourist attraction. It was high intensity and definitely not for the faint of heart. In fact, without my Budapest cave tour guide, I doubt I would have gone much further than the first room, but his constant encouragement helped us through tiny crevices that seemed impassable to human and up rocks that seemed too difficult to scale.

However, don’t worry if you feel like that may be too intense: there are two different Budapest cave tours, an adventure caving one and a walking cave tour. My experience comes from the adventure caving one, but if it sounds too intense for you, I’ll talk a little about the cave walk tour as well so you can decide what is right for you.

For me personally, I went adventure caving in Budapest with the company Discover Central Europe, as they had the best reviews, with 4.8 stars out of 5 and 125 reviews (at time of writing). This is the exact tour I took. Safety is paramount when picking your adventure Budapest cave tour, so I strongly recommend something that’s been vetted and recommended by fellow travelers. Do not attempt to go caving in Budapest alone!

Book your adventure caving tour today!

The Budapest caves are a way bigger system than you may think

I don’t know why, but I thought that the Budapest caves would be a small system, perhaps a kilometer or two long. I guess because when we think of caves, we think of remote natural places – not enormously popular European cities. Well, under the Buda hills, that is certainly not the case!

It turns out that caving in Budapest offers endless routes and possibilities. While you’ll only navigate a few hundred meters into the system on a Budapest cave tour, there are actually over 100 kilometers of caves in Budapest, which altogether constitute a national park and a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On my caving in Budapest tour, we traversed a section of the 31-kilometer-long Pál-völgyi-Mátyás-hegyi cave in Budapest’s Duna-Ipoly National Park. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a spelling quiz on that)

If you choose adventure caving in Budapest, it’s extremely intense & narrow!

I’ve been in many caves over the years and I’d never think of them as extremely physically depending, with the exception of perhaps the ATM Cave in Belize. I found that one bit tricky, but not too bad. Caving in Budapest definitely tested the limits of my coordination, upper and lower body strength, and mind most of all.

There are many parts of the cave tour where you have to squeeze yourself through what looks like an impossibly small tunnel, moving forward on hands and knees – or occasionally, just enough room to scoot yourself along on your stomach or back, using your feet and arms to move you forward.

However, if this is all too much for you, but you still want to do a Budapest cave tour, I strongly recommend the Budapest cave walk. It’s run by the same tour company that I went with and loved, Discover Central Europe, but it’s paved and has ladders to help you up and down. If you have extreme claustrophobia or a fear or heights (for the ladders) it still may be on the intense side, but it is nothing compared to the actual caving tour in Budapest.

Book the easier cave walk tour here!

You’ll end up with a few aches and bruises

The day after I went caving in Budapest, I had extremely aching arms and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I assumed it was the way I had slept… and didn’t remember until later in the day that I was probably sore from having to scoot myself along a slanted rock using only my arms and the tension of my back pressed against the ceiling of the cave.

I had a few bruises after exploring the Budapest caves, mostly on my knees from having to crawl so much. But it was entirely worth the bumps and bruises, and the achiness faded after a day. If you work out a lot and have a lot of muscle developed, you may not experience any achiness, but I’m pretty unfit.

After your Budapest cave tour, I strongly recommend going to take a dip in one of the city’s many thermal baths. While these baths are now mostly frequented by tourists rather than locals, they’re still one of my favorite parts of visiting Budapest and I make it a point each trip to Budapest to check out a new one.

After visiting the caves of Budapest, you’re close to Rudas Baths and not a far ride from the spectacular Gellert Baths, my personal favorite thermal baths in all of Budapest.

Good shoes are an absolute must for the Budapest caves

If you’re going caving in Budapest or even just doing the cave walk tour, don’t even think of coming without proper footwear! I hadn’t planned on doing the Budapest caving tour so I only had sandals and flats as I was visiting in the summer, and I had to run out to Vaci utca and do a quick shop for sneakers.

I ended up with some crummy $15 H&M sneakers, which suited me all right for navigating the Budapest caves — but they definitely weren’t the best idea. You’ll do much better with proper running shoes with some traction, or even hiking boots.

In terms of what to wear, I recommend either stretchy jeans or leggings for women and loose pants for guys and a T-shirt you don’t mind sweating in for both. They recommended we bring light sweaters, but it ended up being warm enough in the cave during the summer that we didn’t need to wear these under our caving overalls (which, trust me, is a whole look).

Be sure to book your Budapest cave tour in advance, as spots are limited

Due to the nature of this tour, small groups are a must, as a large group would mean that your guide would have a hard time giving people 1-on-1 individualized attention and ensuring everyone’s safety. I forgot to count but there must have been less than 10 people on my tour, likely 8.

Discover Central Europe is the best-reviewed caving company on GetYourGuide and the ones I trusted with my safety on this tour. Of course, spots are limited, so if you’re visiting in the high season you’ll definitely want to book in advance. I nearly missed out on my tour, with only one day of my three days in Budapest available, when I booked about 5 days ahead, so keep that in mind if this tour is on your Budapest bucket list.

Here is where you can book the adventure cave tour like I did, which is great for adrenaline seekers and active travelers. Otherwise, you can take the soft adventure cave walk tour which is better for kids, the mildly claustrophobic, or those who are healthy but have slightly less mobility than the caving tour requires.

It’s really not for the claustrophobic

If you think you have claustrophobia, I can tell you, this really isn’t the tour for you! I’ve visited many caves and never had any issues, and even I had a few “oh shit” moments. There are some tunnels which seem way too small to fit a human body through… which end up fitting you with ease once you figure out the right way to twist your body through it.

Once you get used to it, it’s extremely cool and a ridiculous amount of fun, but if you have any history of freaking out in enclosed spaces, this is a pretty intense experience so it may be best to work your way up to it with more spacious caves first and see how you feel.

Again, the cave walk would be much better for those who have trouble in tight spaces, so long as your claustrophobia is not extremely intense. The adventure caving tour would definitely be too intense for claustrophobes.

Caving under Budapest is no walk in the park

There is a big difference between the two tours I’m discussing here. Most of what this post entails is about caving, not cave walking – and there’s a remarkable amount of difference in that seemingly pedantic nuance.

Caving means raising and lowering yourself through crevices, squeezing through holes, and scrabbling quite a bit on hands and knees. Meanwhile, other cave tours usually have a set of stairs that take you to one of the larger caverns, and you can stand and walk the whole time.

Cave tours are more physically comfortable, with paved pathways, stairs, and a limited amount of walking on bare rock. However, they won’t give you the true idea of the size and vastness of the cave network (nor the same adrenaline rush) that caving will.

But it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun!

I know I may have made this tour seem really intense, because it is, and I don’t want anyone to go into it thinking it’ll be easy and get caught off guard.

However, I’m an anxiety-saddled girl who has used her gym card exactly once in the last six months: not exactly a poster child for physical or mental health. And I was successfully able to complete the tour without freaking out or feeling out of my depth.

90% of the work required to complete the cave tour is mental: you have to believe that you can fit through these crevices, shimmy up that rock, and pull yourself up that ledge. Your guide and fellow tour takers will help you all the way, showing you where to place your feet and arms to have the easiest way through the harder parts.

If you’re not scared of challenging yourself and you’re in reasonable shape, a Budapest cave tour is an absolute can’t-miss item on your Budapest itinerary. I can’t believe it took me three trips to Budapest to finally do it, but I am SO glad I did.

Be honest with yourself about your physical capabilities

To successfully complete this tour, you don’t need to be ultra-fit (after many a langos, I definitely am not) or have any caving experience whatsoever. But you do have to have strong mental willpower and the ability to crawl on your knees and lift yourself a bit using your arms.

I had an ankle injury about 3 months before I did this cave tour that had finally healed up, but I was a little nervous I’d reactivate the injury on my tour. I took it slow and all was good, and my ankle didn’t put up any fuss, but if you have recently been injured – especially in your shoulders, back, or knees – you may want to opt for the cave walk, not the caving tour.

There is no weight limit expressed on the tour, and my guide said that people up to 150 kg have gone on the tour successfully and were able to squeeze through the smaller crevices. He said that in his experience, it’s more that people tend to get tired with the physical demands of the tour rather than having an issue fitting through the tunnels. He said that if you can move for 2.5 hours, you should be able to finish the tour no matter your size.

If you’re moderately plus size (for lack of a better word) and in good health, I’d say go for it! If you’re on the larger side of plus size or have hesitations about your fitness level, I think the Budapest cave walk would be better suited for your needs.

The cave you’ll explore is one of the most ancient landscapes you can traverse

The coolest thing about the Budapest caves is that they are 45 million years old, and you can see the fossilized bodies of shells which prove that it was sea floor millions of years ago. However, I have to admit that while the caves were really impressive from caving perspective of being physically challenging and extremely old, they are less visually impressive in terms of the geology of the cave system.

By this, I mean that there aren’t a ton of stalagmites or stalactites or pillars in these caves, nor are there lots of glittering crystals (though there are some small ones). I’ve definitely seen more impressive caves in my day, so this tour is more about the physical challenge, the age, and the immensity of the cave rather than the physical beauty of it. However, take this with a grain of salt as I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to caves – if it’s your first cave, you’ll certainly be impressed.

Don’t watch The Descent or read about the Thailand cave kids beforehand

OK, this is a bit of a joke, but I want to mention it all the same! I re-watched the Descent – a decade-old horror flick about cavers who go to an uncharted system and end up getting decimated by a bunch of cannibalistic albino humanoid creatures – about a month before taking my Budapest caving tour. Yeah, not the best idea.

I flinched every time I thought I saw a weird flicker of light from the headlamps and definitely wondered how the hell I’d get out of there if, after millions of years, I managed to wake up and anger the ancient Budapest cave people.

So yeah, stay away from cave-themed horror stories, both real and fictional, before taking the tour. (Also, on a cave-horror-movie-related note, don’t watch the Silence, another angry cave dweller horror movie, not because it’s scary but because it’s a horrible movie and you’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back).

The Budapest cave system is safe and not prone to earthquakes or flooding

This may be my California lizard brain talking, but when I thought about doing a cave tour I kind of panicked about the possibility of earthquakes. Luckily, my friend Katie, a fellow earthquake-paranoid West Coaster, let me know that the Budapest area is not prone to serious earthquakes, only the minor tremble here or there and nothing that would cause any damage.

Similarly, my guide told us that because of the specific geology of this cave, the Budapest cave system isn’t impacted by flash flooding the way other caves can be. You can rest easy that you won’t end up stranded like those poor boys in Thailand who had to get rescued.

It’s a long tour, so be prepared and eat a good breakfast

As I stated above, the tour lasts about 2.5 hours of actively traversing through the cave system. However, there’s plenty of rest time built into that 2.5 hours, as you have to wait for your group to finish going through some narrower bits, which does take some time. I found it to be at a good pace and never really felt out of breath or overexerted, and again, I’m not in any particularly good shape.

I was really happy that I ate a big, carb-y breakfast beforehand though, as I would have been ravenous by the end of the tour without it. The tour starts at 10:30 and ends around 1, so you’ll be super hungry for lunch by the end of your tour. And after all that hard work caving in Budapest, trust me, it will taste doubly delicious.

Drink some – but not too much! – water right before your tour

There is no bathroom in the cave system – obviously – so make sure you don’t overload on water in the morning. In fact, if you’re a small-bladdered person like me, I’d recommend skipping water at breakfast and then drinking some water right before you go on the cave tour.

I was afraid of having to use the bathroom in the cave so I didn’t drink any water beforehand, but that meant that I was exhausted and super thirsty at the end of the tour. That wasn’t exactly ideal, either. You have no room for a bag of any kind on your Budapest cave tour, so you can’t bring a water bottle with you, so be sure to have some (but again, not so much that it means you’ll have to pee mid caving adventure) before you enter the caves.

Buy your public transportation tickets ahead of time

You’ll need 4 public transportation tickets to get here and back, and not all the bus stops have ticket machines, especially the ones by the cave. Unless you happen to be staying in Obuda near the bus that takes you the caves, you most likely will need to take two separate trains/buses and validate your ticket at each both on the way there and on the way back.

That totals up to four single ride tickets. Each is 350 forint, or about $1.25 USD, so you’d need to buy 1400 forint ($5 USD) worth of tickets to get there and back.

You’ll find that once you get over 4 tickets in a day, it may be cheaper to buy a 24-hour ticket, which is just 1,650 forint ($5.80 USD). 72 hour tickets are available for 4,150 forint, or $14.60 USD. If you plan on visiting a lot of museums, a Budapest Card may come in handy and save you a bunch of money.

I was using my 72-hour Budapest card (check prices & inclusions here) and I was really happy that I didn’t have to pay for any of my public transit rides while in the city, and definitely found that it saved me some money when adding up a Danube river cruise, free museum entry, free public transit, etc.

In Summary: Should You Go Caving in Budapest?

I’d answer this with a resounding yes – with the caveat that you are fit in body and mind to do so! Again, you don’t need to be extremely good physical shape (I most definitely am not) but if you have any recent injuries or mobility limitations, it may not be right for you. Most of the tour requires mental fitness – so if you are extremely anxious or claustrophobic, again, this may not be the tour for you.

But if you are the adventurous, mind-over-matter type, who gets a thrill out of seeing the unknown and getting your heartbeat racing — caving in Budapest is an incredible thrill, and something you can’t miss on your Budapest itinerary.

To recap: Adrenaline hunters, seek the adventure cave tour like I did – or opt for the soft adventure cave walk tour if that’s too far off the deep end for you! Both will give you an incredible experience exploring the Budapest caves.

17 Magical Things to Do in Budapest in Winter

From the adorable Christmas market stalls selling steamy lángos and flaky, cinnamon-flecked chimney cakes to warming up in thermal waters amidst a lightly falling snow, experiencing Budapest in winter is a dream come true.

I first fell in love with Budapest when I stayed there for two weeks last July, making the most of the long summer days despite the intense heat. After that visit, Budapest clawed its way firmly to its spot as one of my favorite cities in Europe. On my second visit to Budapest in December, I confirmed it deserved its spot in my mind as one of the best cities in Europe.

In fact, I’d even venture to say that I think I liked winter in Budapest just a touch more. What can I say, this already-gorgeous city is absolutely perfect when dusted with snow! And when the cold got to be too much, hearty Hungarian food, tasty wine, and delicious coffee were never far from reach.

If you’re planning a winter trip to Central Europe, here are my favorite things to do in Budapest in winter.

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Want to know the best things to do in Budapest in winter? This winter in Budapest travel guide includes popular places to visit in Budapest like the baths, but also includes delicious restaurants, fantastic shopping spots for Budapest souvenirs, Christmas Markets, packing tips, and snow-covered castles!
Want to know the best things to do in Budapest in winter? This winter in Budapest travel guide includes popular places to visit in Budapest like the baths, but also includes delicious restaurants, fantastic shopping spots for Budapest souvenirs, Christmas Markets, packing tips, and snow-covered castles!

Stroll the many adorable Budapest Christmas Markets

Every year, the Budapest Christmas markets open around the middle of November and go strong until around December 31st (or in the case of the Basilica market, until the 2nd of January – check exact run times here).

Other Christmas Markets in Europe close on December 24th, so in the event you’re planning a winter Europe trip for late December, Budapest is a great choice as the winter markets will still be going strong for about a week after Christmas.

Better yet, the Budapest Christmas markets have been named one of the largest and most affordable Christmas markets in Europe. If you’re looking for a dreamy Christmas in Europe getaway that won’t break the bank, Budapest is perfect. I definitely found this to be true, as accommodations in Budapest in December were surprisingly affordable even during the peak travel time in the week before Christmas.

The largest and oldest market can be found at Vörösmarty Square, which started running relatively late compared to many Christmas markets around Europe, in 1998. There are concerts and performances here throughout the Christmas season, from jazz to soul to folk music, running from 5 PM to 8 PM on weekdays and 4 PM to 8 PM on weekends.

There is another large market around St. Stephen’s Basilica, radiating outward for a few blocks and seeming to merge with the Vörösmarty market.

The markets are basically of a labyrinth of stalls which sell delicious traditional foods like open-fire-smoked salmon (drool) and lángos, deep-fried dough rubbed with garlic and covered with sour cream and shredded cheese (double drool), as well as souvenirs and handicrafts. Unlike other Christmas markets I’ve seen in Europe, there’s a real focus on traditional crafts and folk art made by local artisans, rather than the mass-produced kitschy junk you’ll find in many other markets (sorry Prague Christmas markets – I’m looking at you)

Don’t miss trying Hungarian chimney cake, called kürtőskalács. You actually may recognize this from Prague markets, where it’s called trdelník and is decidedly not traditional! This Budapest Christmas classic is a specialty of Hungary, where it came to the country from Transylvania (which once was part of Hungary). You can’t miss tasting it when in Budapest in winter – it’s extra delicious to tear into while it’s still steaming hot.

However, the markets in Vörösmarty Ter and in front of St. Stephen’s are far from the only Christmas markets in Budapest. There are several smaller ones throughout the city – the cutest of which is located at the foot of Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest’s City Park.

Note: Pickpocketing is rife in Christmas Markets — lots of crowds and guaranteed tourists make an easy target. Be prepared and protect yourself!

While travel in Europe is safe, pickpocketing is a major issue. Thwart would-be pickpocketers with a chic, sleek backpack with double-interlocking zippers, slash-proof construction, & RFID blockers! I’ve carried this PacSafe backpack to 30+ countries with me, and it’s my #1 travel companion. Pick from one of seven colors — I have and love the classic black one!

Warm up with some hearty Hungarian food

Full of soups and stews and rich, warming ingredients like paprika and lard, Hungarian food is simply made for winter. When I visited Budapest in December, I went on a dinner walk with Taste Hungary, and it was easily my favorite thing I did on my entire Budapest winter trip.

We started off at their wine room, the Tasting Table, where we tried a sparkling Hungarian wine and a still red wine called Kékfrankos and snacked a few types of sausage: beef, water buffalo, and a pork sausage with plum jam (soooooo good). There was also a fantastic Slovakian-Hungarian smoked cheese called parenyica. Everything went perfectly wtih the Hungarian wines, which are seriously some of the best wines you’ve probably never heard of. I’m a serious wine geek, and Hungary’s wine scene is lit.

But don’t fill up here – there are several stops after this! Afterwards, we went to a Jewish-Hungarian restaurant, where we tried hummus, a “Granny’s Jewish egg” made of chopped goose liver, egg, red onion, and lard (that sound you hear is my heart trying to beat over all that artery-clogging), kőrözött (cottage cheese with paprika and onion), and goose cracklings (OMG DELICIOUS). We also got our choice of soup; I opted for a matzo ball soup because you can take a girl out of New York but you can’t take New York out of the girl, and others went for the bean gulyás (goulash). Oh, and that was just the starter.

Next, we walked to Szimpla Kert, the largest and most famous ruin pub, where we tried raspberry pálinka and learned a bit about the history of the ruin bars for which Budapest is so famous.

Afterwards, we had a fantastic group dinner, which included chicken paprikás, veal paprikás, pörkölt (a venison stew), a pork knuckle stew, and lecsó, a thick vegetable stew. But my favorite part of it all was a side dish: a baked curd cheese noodle dish wrapped in bacon that will forever haunt my dreams until I return to Budapest.

Finally, we stopped to taste two of Budapest’s most famous cakes, the Eszterházy (walnut) and Dobos (chocolate), right next to the beautiful Hungarian State Opera. I nearly needed to be wheeled out of the restaurant afterwards.

The best part of doing a food tour like this is that you get to try more food than any reasonable human would ever get to taste, perfect for FOMO-havers like myself (and even better when you’re traveling solo and have no travel companion’s plates to mooch off of). Food tours are one of my first ports of call when visiting a city, and I’m so glad I explored Budapest’s food scene more deeply.

If you want to do the same food walk that I did, this is the exact tour with Taste Hungary, which you can easily book online here!

Sweat it out in the thermal baths

While Budapest’s thermal baths are lovely any time of year, they’re especially enjoyable as a respite from the biting winter weather. In the winter, I think the outdoor area of Széchenyi is the best of the thermal baths, as it has the largest and warmest outdoor pool area. I love the outdoor pools as you can really feel the contrast of cold air on your face and the warm water all around you – it’s so relaxing.

A quick history lesson: Széchenyi was built in 1913 and was the first thermal bath in Pest, in a gorgeous yellow Neo-Baroque building that screams to be Instagrammed (seriously, the pool is like one giant #followmeto shoot). The baths are composed of 18 indoor and outdoor natural geothermically heated pools ranging from around 30º C to 40º C (86º F to 104º F).

The saunas are especially enjoyable in the winter, but be sure to drink plenty of water and skip the beer or wine being sold on premises if you are making use of the sauna, as you can easily get quite dehydrated! I didn’t drink enough water while there and ended up with a nasty headache… so learn from my foolishness and do as I say, not as I do. If you’re feeling like a baller, you can even add a massage.

If you have limited time, I recommend spending an evening unwinding at the baths, and saving your daylight hours for exploring the others sights of Budapest. The sight of steamy water lifting into the dark night sky off the mineral baths is so relaxing and beautiful!

A smart way to take advantage if you have limited time in Budapest is to pre-book your ticket online and skip the lines at Széchenyi, which can often be quite long, and instead get helped right away at their special Welcome Desk. It’s the same price as buying at Széchenyi, but it saves you time. You can book in advance here to skip the line.

Money Saving Tip: If you book online, you’ll be asked if you need a cabin – I would say no, unless you have an issue with changing in front of people of the same gender. The ordinary lockers are secure, and the cabin is basically just a small closet that gives you privacy to change in – it’s not somewhere you can lounge or relax in. Get your full-day pass – with or without a cabin – here!

However, if you prefer indoor thermal baths, I think Gellért’s are the most beautiful. With gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture and stunning blue-tiled interiors that are unlike any other building I’ve seen before, Gellért is a wonderful place to while away a blustery Budapest winter day.

Opened in 1918, the Gellért Baths on the Buda side of the river are part of Hotel Gellért, though anyone can purchase a day pass to use the baths. The Gellért complex has several rooms with heated pools of different temperatures as well as saunas and massage rooms.

Entrance lines can be quite bad at Gellért too – luckily, you can outsmart the rest of the tourists by pre-booking your full-day entrance ticket online here. Again, renting a cabin is only necessary if you don’t feel comfortable changing in front of other people of the same gender.

There are other thermal baths as well which are a bit more off the beaten path, such as the Rudas Baths which have a gorgeous outdoor bath overlooking the Danube and one of Budapest’s eight bridges – swoon!

I haven’t personally been to these baths yet, but they are next on my list after seeing gorgeous photos of the views. If you’re keen, they have a dining and full-day entrance package deal.

No matter which you choose, all the baths use naturally geothermic water chock full of minerals like calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride, which are all purported to have magical, anti-aging, skin-refreshing benefits.

Be sure to bring your own swimsuit, flip flops, and towel or you’ll have to rent or buy them… which is not cheap. I forgot to bring flip flops (I mean, in my defense, who packs for Central Europe in winter thinks to bring flip flops?) and had to pay like $15 USD for a single use pair which gave me sad-looking blisters on my toes.

Have coffee and a pastry at one of Budapest’s best coffee shops

Budapest’s coffee scene is booming, with a handful of delicious third wave and specialty coffee shops popping up around the city. I tried a few during my stay, the best of which were Apricot Coffee in the Palace District and Espresso Embassy in District V.

I especially loved the delicious flódni cake at Espresso Embassy. It’s a traditional Jewish cake composed of layers of walnut, poppy seed, fruit jam (usually plum or apricot), and spiced apples. It’s beautiful to look at and even better to taste!

Espresso Embassy is also a great place if you find yourself needing to work on your trip. I spent a few hours here catching up on e-mails and it was a great atmosphere for it, with fast wifi and a creative, buzzy vibe without being too loud.

Catch a Christmas light show at the St. Stephen’s Basilica

If you are traveling Budapest in December before the markets close, you’re in luck – you won’t miss the spectacular light show which gets projected onto the face of the St. Stephen’s Basilica!

This quirky light show is rather magical to watch dance across the white building face of the Neoclassical basilica. It plays every 30 minutes (on the hour and half past the hour) after dark, so you’ll have plenty of chances to catch it. It runs from roughly the last week of November until the end of December, in concordance with the Christmas market in the square.

Apparently the show is actually watchable in 3D, and you can get glasses somewhere at the market! I had no idea and just watched it without the glasses (3D glasses make me nauseous anyway) and found it enjoyable. The light shows have been going on since the first Christmas market at the Basilica in 2011, and are now a beloved part of a Budapest Christmas.

The Christmas market in this square also has a small ice rink for children, delicious food and drink options (don’t miss the mulled wine – a great way to warm up in winter!) and handicrafts on sale.

While you shouldn’t miss the light show, be sure to also go inside earlier in the day and see the beautiful interior, which is open from 10 AM to 4 PM each day in winter. It’s free to enter but a donation is recommended to keep this basilica looking beautiful.

Even better, don’t miss the opportunity to go up to the top. The panoramic tower, which costs 600 forint or about $2 USD, is open until 6 PM, so it’s possible to get a photo of Budapest’s Christmas markets all lit up and glittering in the night.

I went here during the daytime and it was magical, but I’ve seen photos at night that are even more spectacular! There are two elevators so if stairs are difficult for you (or you’re really lazy, like me) you can take these up, although note that you will still have to climb some stairs so it is not accessible for those with mobility limitations.

Another fantastic way to experience St. Stephen’s Cathedral is by enjoying a classical music concert, offered once a week on Sundays. You can book your ticket and choose your seating area online here. Keep in mind that as concerts only happen on Sundays, they often sell out a week or two in advance – so book early!

Visit the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle

The Vajdahunyad Castle is beautiful all year round, but it’s fairy-tale-level magical coated in snow. While it may look old, looks are deceiving and the castle has an interesting origin story. It was first built in 1896 for a temporary exhibit celebrating 1,000 years of the Hungarian state, made of cardboard and wood. However, it was so beloved that it was made into a permanent stone and brick castle in 1908.

The castle’s look is particularly distinctive as it contains copies of several buildings from different eras of Hungary’s rule – the most notable of which was copied from the Hunyad Castle, one of the most beautiful castles in Romania (remember, Transylvania was once part of the Hungarian kingdom!). This mishmash contains elements of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, creating one crazy-interesting castle.

It’s home to the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, which is the biggest agricultural museum in Europe. Since I’m not really an agriculture nerd (what, you neither?) I just walked around and enjoyed the beautiful castle grounds, particularly the adorable Christmas market stalls around the entrance.

If you’re visiting Budapest in January or February, you’ll miss the Christmas market here, but it’s still well worth visiting regardless – especially as it’s close to the ice skating rink and Széchenyi baths, two other Budapest winter musts.

Go ice skating with a castle in the background

The biggest ice skating rink in Budapest, and indeed the biggest outdoor ice rink in all of Europe, you shouldn’t miss ice skating in City Park on the lake in front of Vajdahunyad Castle at Varosligeti Mujegpalya.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I made a massive travel blogger fail: I thought it was closed when I went, but it was actually just taking its daily break… whoops. The hours vary a bit, but here is a rough estimate of the schedule: 9 AM to 1 PM, a 4-hour break, then from 5 PM to 9 PM on weekdays and 10 AM to 2 PM, a 2-hour break, and then from 4 PM to 9 PM on weekends. So if you go in the middle of the day like I stupidly did without researching it first… you will be disappointed!

Tickets cost 1000-1500 HUF (about $4-5 USD) on weekdays and 2000 HUF (about $7), plus an extra cost for skate rental (800 HUF or about $3 USD per hour), so it’s a pretty inexpensive way to enjoy Budapest in winter.

There are a few other ice rinks in Budapest, like the teeny-tiny ice rink in Basilica Christmas market or the smaller Obuda Christmas Market, but neither come close to the size or beauty of this ice rink.

Curl up with a book in Budapest’s prettiest library

Hidden in a dull-looking modern library, this gorgeous 19th-century aristocrat’s mansion has been converted into a stunning library for all to enjoy.

The rooms have been preserved beautifully, showing the elegance of turn-of-the-century interior design and providing a window into the life of its original owners, the wealthy Wenckheim family. It was purchased by the City Council in 1931, who converted the palace into reading rooms for a library.

Signs will then direct you to the library. The rooms are simply gorgeous, and you’ll find locals with laptops studying or lolling about in the su-filled rooms with a book in hand with beautiful Neo-Baroque architecture everywhere you look.

It’s called the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library, located just a few blocks from the metro stop at Kalvin tér. It doesn’t look like much at first glance – just an ordinary city library.

It can be a bit confusing to find the beautiful part of the library so first find the information desk (you may need to be redirected to someone who speaks English). There, you can pay a small fee – I think it was about 600 HUF, around $2 USD, cash only – for a small slip of paper which will grant you admission to the library on the 4th floor.

If you have time, find a seat and curl up with a book (I’d recommend bringing your own rather than trying to find one) and while away a few wintry hours here! It’s open every day except Sunday, from 10 AM to 8 PM (4 PM on Saturdays).

Taste delicious Hungarian wines

I don’t know what it is, but as soon as winter hits, I find myself shunning beer and drinking wine all winter long – white, red, sparkling, it doesn’t matter, I’m into it.

Luckily, Hungary is an under-the-radar wine powerhouse, producing some of the most stellar wines I’ve ever tried… and that’s high praise as I grew up just outside Napa County – I’m certainly no stranger to good wine!

If you have time during your Budapest winter trip, I highly recommend doing a wine tasting class at the Tasting Table with Taste Hungary, the same company I went on my food tour with.

At the wine tasting class, you’ll try eight wines – one sparkling, three white wines, three red wines, and one Tokaji dessert wine. All the tastings are led by a sommelier, so even if you don’t know much about wine (Hungarian or otherwise) beforehand, you’ll have learned a ton by the end of the two hours.

The sparkling wine was a magnificent welcome, but the white wines afterwards stole the show – I think this is where Hungarian wine shines the brightest. It was fantastic paired with three local cheeses.

Next, we tried three red wines, which were also delicious and went perfectly with the charcuterie pairings. My favorite of the reds was the Bull’s Blood blend.

The story behind the wine’s name is a fun one. The legend goes that during a 16th century battle in present-day Eger, the Hungarians beat the Ottomans much to everyone’s surprise after quite a lot of liquid courage, and the teetotalling Ottomans thought that the Hungarians’ wine-stained faces were painted red from bull’s blood. Whatever the story, I can attest that the wine is certainly delicious.

But the real star is, of course, Tokaji, a dessert wine for which Hungary is deservedly famous. And paired with a creamy blue cheese, it’s one of the dreamiest flavor combinations I’ve ever had in my life. Truly, if I could afford to end every night of my life with Tokaji and blue cheese, I would.

This is the exact tour that I took, and it was a definite highlight of my last trip to Budapest. The wine will warm you up and it’s insanely educational while still being really accessible, great for everyone from wine geeks to novices alike. I definitely recommend this if you’re curious about Hungarian wine!

Take a festive winter tram

One of the cutest Budapest Christmas traditions, the winter trams and buses celebrated their 10th year of running in 2018. A simple but adorable initiative, the city wraps several of their trams and buses in literally thousands of LED lights and sends them crisscrossing around the city after dark, brightening everyone’s night.

The most classic way to enjoy a winter tram would be to take the Budapest number 2 line along the Danube. They also run on the 4, 14, and 47 lines, but be sure to check the schedule as they don’t actually run on each line every day. This site lists the days and times that each tram runs. You can also find them on a handful of trolleybuses, namely 70, 72, 75, 76, 80A and 83.

While on the outside these trams are glowing and charming, they’re also decorated within as well. To get in the holiday spirit and give to those less fortunate, you can make a donation of a gift pack during your journey, which will be given to the Hungarian Red Cross and then distributed to families in need.

Even better, there is no added charge to take a Christmas tram – it’s just 350 HUF or 450 HUF if bought from the driver (about 1.25-1.50 USD), making it one of the cheapest things to do in Budapest in winter!

Tour the magnificent Hungarian Parliament building

A true icon of Budapest, if you don’t see the Hungarian Parliament building on your trip, then you are truly missing out.

Construction started on the Parliament Building in 1885 and was intended to be finished in time for the 1896 1,000 year anniversary, but it would take 6 more years after that – despite employing over 1,000 workers to build it. The building was inspired by London’s Houses of Parliament, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who doesn’t find the Hungarian Parliament to be even more beautiful.

Since you cannot visit the inside of the Hungarian Parliament without a guide, it’s highly recommended to plan in advance and book a tour, especially if you are visiting Budapest in December when the winter tourist season is at its peak. In peak season, you must book at least a week in advance, especially if you are looking for an English-language tour. You can pre-book a guided tour here.

Prebooking allows you to skip the line and simply pick up your tickets at the Visitor Center before your designated tour time. Tours last 45 minutes, a perfect way to warm up from the cold winter weather and see one of the most beautiful buildings in the world in one fell swoop.

Don’t be disappointed – tours often book well in advance, especially the English tours! Check your travel dates and book in advance on Get Your Guide to make sure you don’t miss out.

Inside, it’s pure majesty – literally, 40 kilograms of gold majesty (my fellow confused-looking Americans, that’s nearly 90 pounds) accenting the intricately-designed ceiling and sweeping staircases. As if that wasn’t enough bling, you’ll also get to see the Crown of St. Stephen, which is constantly kept under watch by two guards who rather dramatically change their swords’ position every 5 minutes.

Keep in mind that photos in the Dome Hall are strictly forbidden, so if you want impressive photos of the Hungarian Parliament, it’s best to get them from the exterior. I recommend walking across the bridge to the other side of the Danube and getting your photos near the Batthyány Tér metro stop – this is where everyone goes for their classic Parliament photos.

Warm up in a ruin pub

Ruin pubs (also called ruin bars) are a Budapest institution and I think that it’s an essential part of any visit to the city. While granted, they have become quite touristy, I think it’s with good reason: there is no real equal to these pubs anywhere else I can think of.

Ruin pubs started cropping up in the Jewish Quarter in the early 2000s, which was previously full of abandoned buildings after World War II decimated Hungary’s Jewish population.

It all started as an experiment of sorts, when some locals took over an abandoned building complex in the area and furnished it with random antiques and junk, selling cheap drinks to a crowd of young forward-thinking people: this would be Szimpla Kert, the first and most famous ruin pub.

While Szimpla is easily the most popular, it’s not without its reasons. I spent a good portion of my first summer trip in Budapest drinking cheap wine (literally, the equivalent of 80 cents for a 100 ml glass) and enjoying the shade.

I returned to Szimpla this winter and found it just as cozy and lovely as I did in summer. I just kept my coat on but it wasn’t that cold… nothing a short of two of pálinka couldn’t help.

If you like shisha/nargile, there are also water pipes available to rent here for about $13-18 USD for a pipe for as many people as you like.

There are way more ruin pubs than just this, Budapest’s largest – but sometimes it’s best to keep things szimpla, no? Pardon the pun, I truly can’t help myself sometimes. If you want to check out the other ruin pubs in Budapest, a fun way is with a ruin pub crawl through the city – you can book the most popular one here.

One last note: please don’t get too drunk and be respectful of the neighbors when going out in the Jewish District. Many people are leaving their homes because of the horrible behavior of tourists who treat Budapest like a party spot and not like a real city with actual residents. By all means, go out and have a good time, but know your limits and call it quits before you start acting a fool.

Stroll down Váci utca

Váci utca (street) is one of the most famous streets in Budapest; in winter, it’s lit up beautifully and decorated cozily, making it a beautiful place to walk (and the fact that you end up at the largest Christmas Market in the city sure doesn’t hurt).

While Váci utca is quite touristic (skip the restaurants, cafés, and souvenir shops on this street, as it’ll just be overpriced and low quality) it is still magical, full of beautiful buildings and Budapest charm.

It’s well worth strolling, especially all lit up for winter – just resist the people calling you in to eat at their restaurants (travel rule of thumb – never eat somewhere where they have to hire someone to lure people in off the street). Start at the Central Market Hall (more below) and walk it all the way to Vörösmarty tér.

Snack and shop at the Central Market Hall

Housed in a gorgeous Neogothic covered market hall building, the Central Market Hall is a Budapest must. This is the place to go for any souvenirs, edible or otherwise – you’ll get fair prices and fair quality, and the paprika and other spices on offer here are going to be much fresher than you’d find in some random shop on Váci utca.

But there’s one main reason why you should visit the Market Hall: rétes. This delicious, flaky strudel sold on the first floor is one of the best pastries that I’ve ever tasted – that sour cherry (meggyes) rétes alone will bring me back to Budapest time and again.

Skip the restaurants on the second floor, which are low quality, though the lángos here is passable.

Or, do it one better and go on a Market Tour & Cooking Class which will show you an insider look at the Great Market Hall before taking you on a hands-on tour of how to prepare hearty Hungarian cuisine. It’s the perfect Budapest winter activity – and even better, you’ll get to take home some Hungarian recipe know-how as the ultimate souvenir of your trip! Pre-book tours here.

Peruse the stacks at a beautiful bookstore

Budapest is no stranger to beautiful bookstores. There are several cozy places where you can rifle through shelves full of books (many with plenty of English-language options), which is one of my favorite things to do in winter, in Budapest or elsewhere.

Two of my favorites are both in the Jewish District: Atlantisz Book Island, which has plenty of new books and a gorgeous layout, and Massolit Books & Cafe, which has a smaller selection of English-language books but also a cute café (and super Instagrammable doors). Yellow Zebra near the Hungarian State Opera also has a nice selection of used books.

Explore Budapest’s synagogues and Jewish history

Like so many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest’s Jewish population was forever changed by the Holocaust. The Jewish District, formerly the Jewish Ghetto, was largely depopulated for the second half of the 20th century and only started experiencing a revival in the last 20 years.

While the Jewish District’s revival has been primarily driven by tourists, the preservation of this part of Budapest’s history is important. One of the best ways to ensure that the district continues to preserve its history is by visiting its synagogues.

In particular, don’t miss the beautiful Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world, fitting nearly 3,000 people inside. It was built in the 19th century, primarily in the Moorish Revival style, but also incorporating Byzantine, Romantic and Gothic design elements.

After the Holocaust decimated Budapest’s Jewish community, the Dohány Street Synagogue fell into disuse. After the fall of communism, It was renovated extensively in 1991, which took nearly 5 years (the same amount of time it took to build, incidentally) to finish. Now, it welcomes tourists throughout the year.

While the price of admission is rather high, especially for Budapest which is largely pretty affordable, it goes towards ongoing renovation work and ensuring that this beautiful, resilient historic building can be enjoyed by all in the future. If you visit, I recommend prebooking your ticket to avoid lines, especially if you’re visiting during the Christmas market season when Budapest is still quite busy.

Eat (overpriced) cake in one of the beautiful classic coffee houses

One of the most can’t-miss things to do in Budapest in winter is eating a delicious (but expensive) piece of cake in one of its iconic coffee houses. There are two popular, classic options: New York Café and Central Café. Both are exquisite: the New York Café looks more like an ornate chapel with beautifully painted ceilings and architectural details, whereas the Central Café has a more understated yet elegant charm.

I had a delicious sour cherry and poppy seed cake and a perfect cappuccino at the fin-de-siècle-era Central Café during my recent trip to Budapest, while a jazz band played softly in the background.

It was the perfect way to rest my legs and warm up a bit, and I mean – look at the surroundings. It was well worth the hefty price, which was about $10 USD for a cake and coffee.

Go on a (heated) Danube river cruise

Does a river cruise seem like a summer-only thing? Luckily, in winter Budapest’s riverboats are enclosed and heated, creating a warm and cozy atmosphere even on the most miserable winter days.

The most magical way to experience the Danube is at night, lit by candles and with live music in the background as you pass by sites as beautiful as the Hungarian Parliament, the Gellért Baths, and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, all of which get an extra beautiful glow at night.

For the most special way to experience the Danube, book a beautiful dinner cruise – accompanied by live music! It’s more affordable than you’d think, at about 45 euros per person. You can book your dinner cruise here.

Money-Saving Tip: If you’re on a budget, don’t worry, a river cruise isn’t out of reach: you can do a simple 1-hour sightseeing cruise with a welcome drink for an extremely affordable price.

Bonus tip: Visiting Budapest during the holidays? You can book a special Christmas or New Years cruise here to celebrate Christmas or ring in the new year in style! Check holiday cruises here.

Planning a trip to Budapest in winter? Pin this for later!

Planning a trip to Budapest in winter? Whether you visit Budapest in December to see the Budapest Christmas markets, or after the holiday season is over, winter in Budapest is magical. From thermal baths to delicious food, here are the best things to do in Budapest in winter, to help inspire your winter Budapest itinerary!

Note: I received a complimentary food tour and wine tasting class from Taste Hungary. All opinions expressed and pounds gained are entirely my own. 

2 Days in Budapest: Itinerary for a Magical Weekend in Budapest

Budapest is one of my favorite cities in Europe, and that’s saying something – I’ve visited over a hundred cities on the continent and of them all, Budapest still stands out as one of the best. It’s one of the most beautifully photogenic cities I’ve ever seen, and despite having had its big break tourism-wise, the city somehow never feels overrun with tourists – even when I visited in July of 2017, the highest of high season.

I think one of the reasons why Budapest feels so much less touristy than other cities is that there is no “Old Town” so to speak – the entire city is steeped in history, yet it’s not concentrated in certain hot spots the way, say, Prague is.  While there are certainly places that will be packed with tourists – Fisherman’s Bastion in particular is Instagram Hell – I found that Budapest still doesn’t feel that crowded.

I spent two weeks in Budapest in 2017 relaxing and enjoying this beautiful city, but I know most people don’t have the luxury of having such an extensive amount of time to see one city so thoroughly. So, I’ve crammed two weeks worth of knowledge and suggestions into this 2 day Budapest itinerary, perfect for those who only have time for a quick Budapest weekend trip or a 2 day stop on their larger Europe itinerary.

Day 1 in Budapest: Markets, Views, & A Cruise

While there is certainly a lot to see in Budapest, I think that 2 days in Budapest is a good place to start — 1 day is simply not enough. If you have 3 days, even better, as this Budapest itinerary is pretty jam-packed.

Have strudel for breakfast at the Great Market Hall

The Great Market Hall is one of Budapest’s most interesting landmarks, a beautiful covered market hall building bustling with produce vendors, bakers, souvenir sellers, butchers, and spice vendors on the ground floor. If buying some Hungarian paprika – Budapest’s most famous souvenir – is on your list, here is the place to buy it. The volume they sell spices in here all but guarantees the freshest spices.

Don’t miss the delicious plum strudel in the downstairs bakery, pretty much smack dab in the center of the market – their strudel is truly out of this world. I stayed in an Airbnb not far from the Market Hall and I ate strudel for breakfast no less than 6 times.

Go up to the 2nd floor for a better view of the market, and you can also stroll around looking at the restaurants and clothing stalls, selling a mix of traditional Hungarian garb and cheap Chinese-made souvenirs.

Location:  Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: Closed Sunday, 6 AM – 5 PM Monday, 6 AM – 6 PM Tuesday-Friday, 6 AM – 3 PM Saturday

Cost: Free to enter

Take the #2 tram to Budapest Parliament for a tour

Taking a ride along the #2 is equal parts convenient and scenic.

Nominated by National Geographic as one of the most scenic tram rides in the world, the bright yellow #2 tram clacks nostalgically along the edge of the Danube, connecting many of Budapest’s most iconic landmarks.

For a touch of sight-seeing and to give your feet a break, hop on the tram and enjoy the Danube and epic views!

However, do note that Tram 2 is really popular as a tourist attraction and as such, it does attract the attention of some pickpockets! Keep very aware of your belongings while on the tram, especially if it’s crowded.

While travel in Europe is safe, pickpocketing is a major issue. Thwart would-be pickpocketers with a chic, sleek backpack with double-interlocking zippers, slash-proof construction, & RFID blockers! I’ve carried this PacSafe backpack to 30+ countries with me, and it’s my #1 travel companion. Pick from one of seven colors — I have and love the classic black one!

Location: Fővám tér tram stop, right across from the Great Market Hall

Hours: Daily from 5 AM to midnight

Cost: 450 forints if bought on board ($1.60) or 350 forints if bought in a station. Free with your Budapest Card.

Check out the Budapest Parliament

The Budapest Parliament is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen in the world, a true work of art. During your 2 days in Budapest, you’ll get the chance to see it from a variety of different angles (the best views are from across the river on the Buda side). However, you also should check it out up close and personal to truly appreciate the fine attention to detail of this beautiful building.

As the Budapest Parliament is a functioning government house, you can’t exactly waltz in and visit – you must visit on a guided tour. If you have the budget for it, I highly recommend doing a tour, which you must book at least a week in advance, especially if you are looking for an English-language tour. You can pre-book a guided tour here with GetYourGuide. Prebooking allows you to skip the line and simply pick up your tickets at the Visitor Center before your designated tour time.

The tour of the inside of Budapest Parliament lasts 45 minutes and includes seeing the great vaulted hall and the ornate central staircase, drooling over the Hungarian Crown Jewels, and checking out the Hungarian Holy Crown.

If you don’t have the money to spend on a tour, though, the building itself is gorgeous to visit, and Kossuth Lajos Square is a great place to relax and enjoy some beautiful views, and you’ll have plenty more opportunities to see the Budapest Parliament building in all its glory on other places on this 2 day itinerary.

Location: Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 8 AM – 6 PM Monday-Friday, 8 AM – 4 PM Saturday & Sunday (must go with a tour)

Cost: Free from outside, check tour prices here.

Pay respects at the Shoes on the Danube memorial

This touching memorial to the victims of anti-Semitism is located a short walk from the Budapest Parliament and is definitely worth a stop on any Budapest itinerary.

During World War II, the Arrow Cross Party – a fascist, far-right party influenced by Nazis – murdered 20,000 innocent Jews in the span of two months. Their Jewish victims were ordered to take off their shoes before they were shot by the side of the river, so their bodies would fall in the river and get carried away by the tide. The shoes sculptures on the bank represent the shoes left behind by the dead.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but apparently, I do: please be respectful when you visit this monument. I saw a clueless tourist posing as if she was putting her feet into the shoes, throwing up peace sign hands. As someone whose uncle’s parents survived the Holocaust (and whose siblings did not), I found this deeply upsetting. Many Jewish tourists who visit Budapest as a part of discovering their heritage would find this upsetting too. So, please, be a good person and don’t take foolish selfies here. Thanks!

Location: Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 24/7

Cost: Free

Have a traditional Hungarian meal

With only two days in Budapest, make sure you choose your meals wisely so that you can appreciate how simple and satisfying Hungarian food is. One of the classics you must eat when in Budapest is goulash. I first fell in love with this dish while eating the Czech version when I lived in Prague in 2009 and was delighted to find that Hungary’s version is different but equally delicious. Chicken paprikash is also another classic.

Oh, and if you see sour cherry soup on any menu, ever — get it. You won’t be disappointed.

A few recommendations for lunch near the Parliament include Budapest Bistro, Grey Goose, and Farger.

Check out the views from Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest – and one of its worst-kept secrets. You have no idea how much strategy and angle-finagling this took in order to get a (relatively) people-free photo.

Still, even with the crowds, it’s one of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen. While it looks like a castle, it’s actually just an insanely ornate terrace in the neo-Romanesque style. Built in the late 19th/early 20th century, it was created to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian State. Thus, the architectural style is a throwback to the early medieval years, during the first Hungarian’s king’s rule.

It was purposely built right near Matthias Church, which was restored by the architect simultaneously with the construction of the Fisherman’s Bastion, meaning it’s extremely easy to visit both sites in tandem.

Location: Szentháromság tér, 1014 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 24/7

Cost: Free

See the gorgeous Matthias Church

Pretty much part of Fisherman’s Bastion, you can’t miss the beautiful Matthias Church, a Roman Catholic church with a beautifully tiled roof. It was built in the 14th century in the late Gothic architectural but was restored extensively in the late 1800s and updated in the Austro-Hungarian style.

One of my travel must-haves is a scarf that can help when transitioning from day to night, indoor to outdoor, street to church. This fashionable scarf has a hidden pocket which helps protect you from pickpockets! Stash your cash, phone, and passport in here and stroll around Europe worry-free.

Location: Szentháromság tér 2, 1014 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM Monday-Friday, 9 AM – 1 PM on Saturday, 1 PM – 5 PM on Sunday (may change based on ceremonies)

Cost: Free

Eat some cream cake at Ruszwurm

Ruszwurm Confectionary may be right next to one of Budapest’s biggest tourist attractions, but it’s anything but a tourist trap. This bakery has been churning out delicious cakes for 200 years and much of the interior is intact, despite the building being severely damaged in World War II.

Don’t miss the cream cake, Ruszwurm’s most famous pastry – it is insanely delicious, like a beautiful fluffy cloud of cream with just the tiniest hint of crunch from the pastry. The sour cherry strudel and the Dobos tort are also delicious.

Location: Szentháromság u. 7, 1014 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM Saturday-Monday, 10 AM – 7 PM Tuesday-Friday

Cost: Around 500 forints apiece, about $2 USD.

Walk to Buda Castle

Buda Castle is now no longer a castle but has been converted into two different museums, the Hungarian National Gallery or Budapest History Museum. If you’re a big fan of art you definitely shouldn’t miss the Hungarian National Gallery, which features both Hungarian and foreign artists.

I’m not a huge art museum fan so I opted to skip it, but it’s still definitely worth walking around the area around Buda Castle.

Location: Szent György tér 2., 1014 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10 AM – 6 PM daily, closed on Mondays

Cost: 1,800 forints, around $6 USD.

Cross the Szechenyi Chain Bridge

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge is the most famous bridge in Budapest, iconic especially at night when it is all lit up and spanning the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest.

After you’ve explored the Castle District in Buda to your liking, head back to Pest by crossing the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, stopping to take photos along the way.

Location: Széchenyi Lánchíd, 1051 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 24/7

Cost: Free

Go on a dinner walk and learn about Hungarian wine

For your first night in Budapest, get acquainted with the city’s incredible food and wine culture. The best thing I did in Budapest on my recent trip to the city was an evening dinner walk with wine tasting with Taste Hungary.

I can’t emphasize enough what a good deal this tour is. We had a plate of Hungarian cheeses and sausages paired with two local wines, an appetizer and soup course (paired with more wine), a drink of pálinka at a ruin bar, shared several plates of food so we could get a spread of five different Hungarian main courses (oh, and more wine) and capped it all off with traditional Hungarian cake and a coffee or tea.

If you have only two days in Budapest it’s hard to get a handle on the country’s food and wine scene, and that’s exactly why you should do a food tour like this. You get to try more food than any reasonable human would ever get to taste, perfect for FOMO-havers like myself. It’s also great if you’re traveling solo and have no travel companion’s plates to mooch off of!

This is the exact tour that I went on with Taste Hungary, but I also enjoyed their wine tasting class that I did on another night of my trip, which is more affordable (but doesn’t include dinner).

Day 2 in Budapest: Baths & Beyond

Your second day of Budapest is all about finishing up the best sights – the mineral baths, Budapest’s most famous avenue, the lively Jewish quarter, and the best view over Budapest. Get your walking shoes on – this is a long one.

Psst – bookmark this page on your phone to use this mobile-responsive map when you travel!

Start your day at the Széchenyi Baths

2 days in Budapest itinerary - the thermal baths

You’ve undoubtedly already seen photos of the exquisite Széchenyi Baths, one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest located in the heart of City Park. It is the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe, with 15 indoor baths and 3 outdoor ones, including a massive one.

The baths are fed by two hot springs, with temperatures of 74 °C (165 °F) and 77 °C (171 °F) respectively. Of course, the hot springs have been cooled down considerably, to tolerable temperatures that won’t boil you alive – 27 °C (81 °F) to 38 °C (100 °F). But more than just being hot, the thermal waters actually have curative properties, chock full of helpful minerals like fluoride, sulphate, calcium, and magnesium that help reduce inflammation and improve joint conditions.

Most importantly, they’re insanely fun to spend some time in – and a great way to rest your feet after all the pavement pounding this Budapest itinerary had you doing yesterday.

They can be quite crowded, so I recommend going in the morning to avoid the crowds. You can also pre-book your ticket to avoid waiting in line, so if you sleep in in the morning and don’t get here very early, I recommend pre-booking so you can avoid the line.

Pro tip: If changing in privacy is a big deal for you, then I recommend picking a cabin; if you don’t mind changing in front of people of your same gender, then you can just pick a locker. That is pretty much the only difference between cabins and lockers.

Location: Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Budapest, Hungary (inside City Park)

Hours: 6 AM to 10 PM

Cost: Varies depending on options selected; check prices for skip-the-line entry here.

Visit the interesting Vajdahunyad Castle

This castle inside City Park is well worth a quick visit if you are near Szechenyi Baths.

While the castle looks old, it was actually built in 1896 as part of the celebrations for the 1,000 years of Hungary’s existence – the same celebrations which brought Budapest Fisherman’s Bastion. In fact, it was never intended to be a permanent castle. Atlas Obscura reports:

“Vajdahunyad Castle was originally intended to be a temporary exhibition, and was constructed out of wood and cardboard.  However, the attraction proved such a hit with locals and visitors alike that a more permanent structure was built in 1904.”

Since it’s free to enter and right next to the Szechenyi baths, I think it’s definitely worth a visit.

Location: Vajdahunyad vár, 1146 Budapest, Hungary (inside City Park)

Hours: 10 AM to 5 PM Daily

Cost: Free

Go to Heroes Square

After enjoying the mineral baths and Vajdahunyad Castle, head over to Heroes Square at the foot of City Park, connecting it with Budapest’s most famous walking street, Andrassy Avenue.

Composed of one central major pillar and two rounded colonnades, Heroes Square commemorates the 7 chieftains of the Magyars (the leaders who founded modern-day Hungary (which, incidentally, is called Magyarország by Hungarians, and Hungarians call themselves Magyars when speaking in Hungarian).

Nearby, you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts as well as the Palace of Art on each side of Heroes Square. You could stop in either of these buildings if you are an art fan, but I think there is another, more interesting museum just a little further down Andrassy Avenue.

Location: Hősök tere, 1146 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 24/7

Cost: Free

Stroll down Andrassy Avenue

Budapest’s most famous avenue, Andrassy Avenue is so steeped with history that it is a literal UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s home to the Hungarian Opera House, Liszt Ferenc Square, and the Terror House Museum. It’s also home to a ton of shopping, but be prepared to max out that credit card, if so – it’s full of expensive designer shops wayyyy outside of my budget.

Check out the aptly-named House of Terror

Photo credit: Stephanie Craig

The House of Terror on Andrassy Avenue is a bit under the radar of most tourists’ Budapest itineraries, but I think that’s foolish. It’s an extremely interesting museum both in design and in execution. It’s very immersive, with sound design that brings you a sense of dread befitting the museum’s context.

The House of Terror is located in the building in which Hungary’s Secret Police used to operate, their equivalent of Nazi Germany’s Stasi or the Soviet’s Union’s KGB. Hundreds of people were tortured and imprisoned and even killed in the basement level cells. Meanwhile, here is where the orders were carried out to execute the city’s Jews (as memorialized by the Shoes on the Danube), as well as countless other acts of state-sponsored terror the likes of which are hard to comprehend even when you are faced firsthand with them.

I recommend getting the audio guide; otherwise, you have to read a lot of informational sheets and it’s hard to feel immersed in the museum. It’s a little expensive, but well worth it.

Location: Andrássy út 60, 1062 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10 AM to 6 PM, closed on Mondays

Cost: 3000 forints for an adult ticket (around $11 USD) plus, optionally, another 1500 forints for the audio guide (~$5 USD)

Lunch at Mazel Tov

Mazel Tov is a ruin bar and restaurant located in the heart of Budapest’s trendy Jewish Quarter and it’s one of my favorite places I ate at in my entire two weeks in Budapest. Plus, it’s in a great location making it a convenient lunch pit stop that won’t take much time out of your day.

True to its Jewish District roots, Mazel Tov offers delicious Middle Eastern/Israeli-inspired food. The smoky eggplant salad is absolutely phenomenal, as is the hummus.

Location: Akácfa u. 47, 1072 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 10 AM to 2 AM Thursday to Sunday, 12 PM to 1 AM Monday & Tuesday, 12 PM to 1 AM Wednesday

Cost: Around 3000 forints for a main (~$11 USD) and 1000-1500 for a starter (~$3-5 USD)

Have an expensive dessert at the beautiful New York Café

If you’re on a budget you may not want to sit down at New York Café but just peep your head in. However, if you don’t mind splashing out a bit of cash to include this on your Budapest itinerary, I think it’s well worth the splurge.

The New York Café is probably the most beautiful coffee house in a city full of beautiful coffee houses, and it’s so architecturally ornate that I spent my entire 30 or so minutes in the café looking up in open-jawed wonder.

Sure, my teeny tiny cake cost me about $10 USD, but it was worth it for getting to sit in one of the most beautiful rooms I’ve ever sat in, and the service was great.

Location: Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: 8 AM to 12 AM

Cost: I don’t remember exactly but I must had paid around 3000 forints for a tiny cake. Basically, it’s ‘spensive.

Wander about the Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter is one of the most famous neighborhoods in Budapest for its ruin bars, trendy restaurants, and street art. After the Holocaust, the Jewish Quarter was pretty much decimated, as most of Hungary’s Jews had either been executed by the party or sent to concentration camps abroad or, if they were lucky, were able to flee. This lead to the neighborhood being abandoned and falling into ruin and disuse.

Around the turn of the 21st century, the neighborhood started to be revitalized with the emergence of ruin bars, old abandoned buildings that were bought for a cheap price and re-done to make quirky watering holes. This set off a flurry of entrepreneurial spirit, and in time, design shops, street art, and used bookstores began to flourish in the neighborhood.

Now, it’s a popular spot buzzing all day long and of course, well into the night too.

See Dohány Street Synagogue

One of the largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue has the ability to seat a whopping 3,000 people inside.

The architecture is in the Moorish Revival style and was completed in 1859. It formed the border of the Budapest Ghetto during the early 20th century and was heavily bombed during World War II, leading to a lot of damage. However, it was renovated beautifully during the 1990s and is now back to its former glory.

Tickets are a bit on the expensive side for Budapest, which is generally a cheap destination, but it’s worth it. The synagogue is beautiful on the inside, not to mention, it’s an important and resilient piece of Jewish history. If you visit, I recommend prebooking your ticket to avoid lines!

Location: Dohány u. 2, 1074 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: Vary depending on time of year

Cost: Around $15 USD (pre-book your ticket here)

See the sunset at Citadella

Make your way over to Gellert Hill via the Liberty Bridge by the Great Market Hall, where you’ll climb up to Citadella for some of the most spectacular sunset views over Budapest.

It’s a bit crowded with people but it truly is one of the best views and if you stay past sunset until all the people leave and the city feels on fire with all of its beautiful lights, it is a truly magical place. There’s also a few benches where you can buy some cheap beer or wine and enjoy the sunset, which is my favorite way to end the day.

I mean, I don’t have to say much else: just look at those postcard-worthy views.

Take a night cruise on the Danube

Of all the things I did in Budapest, taking a night cruise along the Danube was easily the highlight. Touristy, yes, but for a reason. Budapest is absolutely beautiful from water level: the lights on each bank of the Danube sparkle brilliantly reflected in the waters of the Danube, and watching the city go past at night is pure magic.

This Portum Lines night cruise is affordable and includes one free drink. You can upgrade to an audio guide for an additional 4 euros, which I recommend as I loved getting a bit of historical context for the buildings I was seeing. Again, this is a popular thing to do in Budapest, so if you really want to make it part of your Budapest itinerary, I recommend booking in advance.

Check out this night cruise here

Location: Dock 42 port, Szent István park, 1138 Budapest, Hungary

Hours: Several departures daily

Cost: Varies; check prices here

Eat & celebrate your last night in Budapest

For your last night in Budapest make it count with a memorable dinner. Check out this guide to Budapest restaurants by my friends Darryl & Mindi who spent a month eating their way around Budapest and pick something that sounds unforgettable!

After your final dinner in Budapest, it’s time to enjoy the ruin bars that the city is so known for. The most iconic is Szimpla Kert, and it was one of my favorites even though there were, of course, a lot of tourists there. Some other ruin bars I enjoyed were Ellato Kert which had a Mexican theme and served passable tacos and Anker’t, which had a lot of lovely outdoor space. If you want to party, head to Instant (I’m not much of a partier and stayed home in my pajamas with Netflix and some local Hungarian wine instead).

There’s also a daily pub crawl of the ruin bars that starts at 9 PM daily so that may be a good idea if it works out with your schedule.

If You Have More Than 2 Days in Budapest

There are plenty of things to do in the area of Budapest if you have more time! Here are just a few ideas

  • Go wine tasting in Budapest’s Tokaj region
  • Embark on an adventure on one of these hikes near Budapest
  • Visit Lake Balaton for a summer blissful getaway

Where to Stay in Budapest

Personally, I recommend staying in the Pest side of town. While Buda has a lot of beautiful sights, I think that Pest is more convenient for walking since it is completely flat and more grid-like than the winding streets of Buda. Also, there are far better food and nightlife options in Pest than Buda. I spent 2 weeks in Pest and loved being based there.

Budget: There are a ton of grungy party hostels in Budapest which are decidedly not my scene. Maverick City Lodge is a beautiful boutique hostel with a lot of attention paid to design and functionality. I really like that each bed has its own privacy curtain, reading light, outlet, etc. – things that should be standard in a hostel but often are not. It’s located right in the heart of the Jewish Quarter so pretty much everything you would need is at your fingertips. It’s one of the highest rated options on Booking.com so book in advance to reserve a spot. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Mid-Range: I tend to book mid-range properties when I travel and I love when a hotel has a distinct personality with fun décor and isn’t just a bland place to crash at night – but doesn’t cost a fortune either. That’s why I really like the look of D8 Hotel. It reminds me a lot of one of my favorite hotel chains, citizenM – fun and funky, personality-driven, but not fussy. Their rooms are spacious, the design of the hotel lobby and common areas is just fantastic, and it has a great location near Szechenyi Chain Bridge. It’s brand new and has a 9.7 rating on Booking.com as of writing so check rates, availability, and reviews here.

Luxury: If your weekend trip to Budapest is on a luxury budget, then Aria Hotel Budapest is what I’d recommend. This music-themed hotel has beautiful design elements — I love the marble floor with piano detailing and purple accents. The rooms are massive and I love that it’s designed like a traditional Budapest apartment with an inner courtyard that the rooms all look out over. And those 5-star amenities like the sauna and indoor pool are swoon-worthy. This hotel would cost twice the price if it were in Paris or London, but it’s Budapest, so prices are reasonable even for the hottest hotel in town. Check rates, availability, and reviews here.

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