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Written by Kieran Proctor

48 Hours In Budapest Hungary

We decided to stop over in Budapest while driving back to Bonn Germany from a week at Lake Balaton. Spending ...

We decided to stop over in Budapest while driving back to Bonn Germany from a week at Lake Balaton. Spending 48 hours (or less) in Budapest simply wasn’t enough.

Here’s some of the sites I visited while in Budapest and what I’d recommend to those visiting Budapest on a short stopover. With my favorite thing to do in Budapest being a (free) walk up Gellért-hegy on sunset.

48 hours in Budapest Hungary

Getting to Budapest Hungary

Train, Danube River Cruises and the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport are the three main points of entry into Budapest. From within Europe it’s relatively cheap to take the train to Budapest and most budget minded travelers will select this option.

For the older (and more refined) generations that opt for cruising through Budapest, all the Danube river cruises will often begin or end in Budapest. Guests will either fly into Budapest and board their cruise or depart their cruise and fly out of Budapest back to their home countries. As such the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport is modern and well equipped.

Cruise Ship Dock Budapest Hungary
Cruise Ships docked along the Danube River

The much less common method of reaching Budapest is to drive across Europe. And this was the option we took. We drove from Lake Balaton to Budapest. It’s approximately 120km and took us about 2 hours with traffic. We were coming from a week spent exploring Lake Balaton.

Yet, to get to Lake Balaton from Bonn Germany by car, was an 1170km journey. And it took us about 13 hours to drive to Lake Balaton from Bonn.

Apart from mowing down at least one deer and needing to contend with drivers who likely got their driving licenses from boxes of cereal, the trip was long and uneventful. And if Budapest was our only destination in Hungary, I’d likely opt for the train next trip.

Getting Around Budapest Hungary

The tram system in Budapest reaches virtually every destination we wanted to visit. When there wasn’t an available tram we found routes were supplemented by buses. Yet we avoided the busses.

I opted to walk virtually everywhere and took a tram when available. When trams weren’t available and where the distance looked a little too far to walk I used the Bolt app. It worked well in Hungary and wasn’t too expensive around town.

Uber doesn’t work in Hungary so it’s really just Bolt (formerly Taxify) if you want a ‘ride-sharing’ style app. Bolt looks and feels like Uber with a different name. And in Hungarian Forint, it’s cheaper than Uber.

Trabi Versus Tram Budapest Hungary
Transport options in Budapest

Is Budapest Walkable?

Budapest is a very walkable city. Most of Budapest is flat and there are large pedestrian thoroughfares criss-crossing all the parts of the city frequented by tourists. With the exception of Gellért-hegy a tourist is unlikely to encounter a hill or steps.

With that said, Gellért-hegy has the type of staircase that nightmares are made of for unfit people. There isn’t an alternative option to get up Gellért-hegy and you will need to do it on foot. Allow yourself plenty of time to get up the large staircases and to the top of Gellért-hegy.

Stairs up Gellért-hegy in Budapest Hungary
Stairs up to the top of Gellért-hegy on dusk

Is Budapest Safe?

Around central Budapest and the areas frequented by tourists Budapest is very safe. Hungarians on the whole are a very laid back peoples. And the main touristic areas of the city are affluent, well maintained, busy and well lit even late into the evening.

The outer suburbs of Budapest can get a little sketchy. And if you rely on mobile map applications you may end up in undesirable parts of town. When we were navigating some of the less popular (and less affluent) parts of Budapest I noticed my friends Apple Maps application was constantly telling him to walk down blind alleys alongside train tracks that were covered in graffiti and unlit at night. Yeah, that was no bueno.

Needless to say I vetoed his use of maps and made sure we stayed in lit, populated areas above ground and away from train tracks. Walking around deserted graffiti covered train lines with a glowing iPhone at night is the equivalent of wearing a big sign that says ‘please rob me’. So don’t do that.

At one point on our short stop I found myself about 15 to 20 blocks outside of the centre in the early hours of the morning. It was mostly unlit and had many crumbling and derelict buildings. The area smelt like an open sewer. It’s not the type of place you’d want to find yourself if you’re the timid type or are visibly carrying expensive items.

If you do find yourself in an undesirable part of town don’t wander around staring at your phone looking like a lost tourist who’s so focused on their phone they’re oblivious to everyone around them. Criminals are lazy and opportunistic. If you look like an easy opportunity, you’ll get robbed.

Cafe lined streets of central Budapest Hungary
Cafe lined streets in central Budapest

Weather in Budapest

June through to September are the best months to visit Budapest. During the days its perfect shorts and t-shirt weather. While being cooler at night but not ‘cold’. With the exception of one very light sprinkling of rain that lasted 15 minutes, we had clear sunny weather.

The summer temperature in Budapest will range between 16°c and 30°c. With average daytime temperatures in the high 20’s and nights around 20°c. Winters are cold and snowy. You can expect to freeze your ass off in winter and should dress appropriately.

Weather and climate in Budapest
Climate and weather in Budapest

Nightlife in Budapest Hungary

Nightlife is one of the main reasons people flock to Budapest. Heck it was why we decided to stop on our way back from Lake Balaton. Sure, there’s heaps of historical sites to visit but nightlife is one of Budapest’s main attractions for younger crowds.

If you’re looking for a good night out, start in the Jewish Quarter before making your way to one of Budapest’s nightclubs after 1am when they really start to get busy. But be sure not to let one of your friends try to order drinks in Hungarian.

The Hungarian language is hard. As one of our group found out when he tried to order 3 shots and ended up with 30. Three rows of ten shots emerged. Each time he thought he’d managed to deal with his mistake and drink them all, another row of shots turned up at the table.

Besides being mindful of what you order when trying to speak Hungarian, you’ll also want to be mindful of the sort of establishment you’re in. I took my friend to a 24 hour bar that had a great hangover curing breakfast after he mis-ordered drinks.

10 minutes into our breakfast I learnt by surprise that I’d mistakenly taken my friend to his first strip club. And there was no warning. One minute we’re eating bacon and eggs at the bar and the next minute I’m trying to save my meal from a stripper dancing on said bar.

The Jewish Quarter in Budapest is certainly a wild place at all hours. Even at breakfast.

I’ve now taken innocent little Jimmy to hist first metal bar (Ebrietas Bar in Zurich), second metal bar (Kater bar in Zurich) and his first strip club (Klik Bistrobar in Budapest).

Shots in Budapest
The aftermath of Jimmy’s attempt at speaking Hungarian in Budapest.

Where to Stay in Budapest Hungary?

We stayed at the B&B Hotel Budapest City. It was cheap, modern and conveniently located. It also had free parking which was a bonus.

I couldn’t fault B&B Hotel Budapest City and I spent the first 3 hours on arrival just sitting in the hot shower. After almost 8 days with nothing but a cold garden hose at Lake Balaton, I was in need of a hot shower.

B&B hotel Budapest also had laundry facilities but we chose to use the laundromat a block away as it was half the price. If we’d have to do it ourselves in the hotel we reasoned, why not walk a block and pay half as much.

But then we don’t speak Hungarian and trying to decipher the laundromat machines turned into a challenge in its own right. We’d probably have been better off doing it in the hotel, as the staff spoke English.

Short Stay in Budapest – Airbnb or Hotel?

This is a hard call in Budapest. So many of the good hotels are very cheap. The price to benefit ratio probably falls in favor of Hotels in Budapest and I would likely use a hotel as opposed to an Airbnb on my next trip to Budapest.

With that said, there are some fabulous Airbnb’s we saw in Budapest. But the hotels were just so cheap. Thus I’d likely choose a hotel again when trying to find somewhere to stay. And I’d likely choose the same hotel again, due to its location.

Budapest Tourist Attractions

Places To See On A Short Stop In Budapest Hungary

Budapest is awash with sites of interest to tourists. And with only a short stop in Budapest I didn’t want to be trying to run through the larger sites like Buda Castle & Castle Hill. Or the Hungarian Parliament Building & Crown Jewels among many other large sites that take half a day or more to see properly.

Saving the larger sites that take longer for another trip to Budapest, I decided to see smaller free sites I could reach on foot. Just walking around a new city is one of my favorite ways to explore. Rushing from site to site in a cab is my least preferred way to see a city.

Walking from the hotel on our first half day, I made my way along the waterfront past the Liberty Bridge before turning into the city and along the cafe lined streets past Central Market Hall to St. Stephens Basilica.

On the morning of our second day and before leaving late that evening I walked out to the embassy district and visited Heroes Square and Vajdahunyad Castle. And I crossed the Liberty Bridge to climb up Gellért-hegy for the sunset view.

Had we have had an extra day on this particular trip I would have targeted Buda Castle & Castle Hill in the morning, Fisherman’s Bastion in the early afternoon and Széchenyi Thermal Bath in the early evening. And these will be my first three sites on my next trip to Budapest.

St. Stephens Basilica

Saint Stephens Basilica is famed for being the church that keeps Saint Stephens necrotic mummified right hand in a glass box. St. Stephen was Hungary’s first king and the founder of the Hungarian state (975 to 1038AD).

If St. Stephens right hand is what you’re looking for in the Basilica it’s to the left of the main alter in the glass box. But I’d suggest instead that everyone should look up. The domed roof of St. Stephens Basilica is spectacular.

The church and its dome were built between 1851 and 1905. Before being heavily damaged during the Second World War. With the mosaics falling from the walls. Now returned to its former glory and with its mosaics restored, the highly decorated interior of Saint Stephens Basilica is a sight to behold.

Liberty Statue

The Liberty Statue sits atop of Gellért-hegy. The big hill on the Buda side of Budapest just across the Liberty Bridge. If you do decide to cross the Liberty Bridge and climb Gellért-hegy for the sunset views you’ll also be able to get a closer look at the Liberty Statue.

The Liberty Statue was added to the top of Gellért-hegy in 1947 to commemorate the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi occupation. But it has since come to symbolize all those who’ve sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom and prosperity of Hungary.

The site was undergoing maintenance during 2021 and 2022. And it took a little wrangling and some gymnastic fence climbing to get to a good vantage point. So do try and see it while you’re visiting Gellért-hegy but don’t be surprised if the area still has some ongoing construction.

Liberty Statue Budapest
The Liberty Statue in Budapest.

Sunset from Gellért-hegy

You should check the opening hours of the Gellért Hill Cave and combine it with a walk up Gellért-hegy. The Gellért Hill Cave is at the bottom of Gellért-hegy and the statue out front of this church in a cave marks the start of the more scenic path up to the top of Gellért-hegy.

Statue in front of Gellért Hill Cave
Statue in front of the Cave Chapel marks the start of the path up Gellért-hegy

When climbing up the (at times very steep) staircase to the top of Gellért-hegy you will emerge onto many scenic vantage points. And in the evening each of these paved viewing areas will be filled with locals who’ve made their way up with a bottle of wine to sit and watch the city light up.

Gellért-hegy provides the best vantage point to take in Budapest. And the further you climb up Gellért-hegy the better the view becomes. From the higher sections I had nearly 360° views of the entire city. Watching the city slowly light up in a golden hue made climbing the stairs to the top worthwhile.

If you are going to climb Gellért-hegy to take in the sunset views be sure to take a torch or an iPhone with a good amount of battery. As there are no street lights and you will need to light the steps to find your way back down the mountain. Thankfully, getting back down the mountain is much easier than getting up the mountain.

You should also allow yourself plenty of time to get to the top slowly. I took some of the advice I found online that said its an easy 5 minute walk. And I found myself needing to jog up the big hill to get there before sunset. To climb up Gellért-hegy at a leisurely pace allow 1 hour before sunset to get to the top.

Bridges of Budapest

There are so many ‘famous’ bridges in Budapest there’s an entire wikipedia page dedicated to them. Pictured below is the Liberty Bridge. It’s the third oldest bridge in Budapest and was built in 1896.

The oldest bridge in Budapest is the ‘chain bridge’ (Széchenyi Lánchíd) which was built in 1849. Yet it was undergoing a multiyear renovation and was closed to pedestrians during our trip. The Liberty Bridge is next in line for renovation.

Be sure to look out for the Kolodko: Ferenc József miniszobor on the Liberty Bridge pictured below, as he’s very hard to find. But this little sculpture has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

Central Market Hall

Every online travel guide for Budapest makes a big deal about the Central Market Hall. I found it to be wholly uninteresting. The Starbucks across the street was more interesting.

The Central Market Hall looks and feels like a cross between a central train station (Hauptbahnhof) and a supermarket. It was a good spot to try some local Hungarian food but as a tourist destination was uninteresting. If a tour guide is suggesting the Central Market Hall is a ‘must see’ destination in Budapest you should get yourself a new tour guide.

Heroes’ Square

Heroes’ Square pays tribute to the Seven chieftains of the Magyars and important national leaders. The square has hosted presentations from national and international leaders and has been the site of important political events.

Standing in the centre of the square is the Millennial Monument that was constructed in 1896 to commemorate the Hungarian conquest and the formation of the Hungarian state in 896 AD.

The square is flanked on two sides by the Kunsthalle contemporary art museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. And a visit to Heroes Square should be combined with a visit to these two galleries. Both are relatively small and take an hour each to see properly.

When visiting Heroes’ Square on or around a national holiday the square itself may be cordoned off. As it was when I visited just after State Foundation Day due to the scaffolding that had been erected in the square.

Vajdahunyad Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle is a 5 minute walk from Heroes’ Square. It’s located in the City Park of Budapest. And both Vajdahunyad Castle and the City Park of Budapest should be visited while you’re visiting Heroes’ Square and its surrounding museums.

Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition and like the Millennial Monument in Heroes’ Square, it too commemorates 1000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895.

The castle was interesting and there is a small cafe or restaurant at the back beside the pond. Yet I didn’t eat there as the pond is thermally fed and has a high sulphur content. Consequently the water does at times give off a strong smell of rotting eggs. So if there’s a funky smell when you visit, like there was when I toured the castle, it’s the pond next to the castle giving off the foul odor.

Budapest Hungary | Was 48 hours enough in Budapest?

48 hours was not enough to see Budapest. In 48 hours in Budapest we barely scratched the surface of the tourist attractions available. Just to see the many palaces and fortifications on the Buda side of Budapest would have taken more than 3 days.

Budapest is a maze of cafe lined streets and picturesque squares. And I found myself continuously wandering in to checkout local shops, cafes and hole in the wall type bars. Just stopping to explore each new street or alley I came across took up considerable time.

I’m looking at heading back to Budapest in the near future. And will likely aim for a week or more in this wonderful city. I won’t however make the mistake of traveling to Budapest in winter. From friends who’ve visited in both summer and winter I’ve been advised to avoid Budapest in winter due to the bone chilling cold.

The food and nightlife in Budapest was fantastic. And likely a rival to Berlin. But I’d need much longer in Budapest before I’d declare it a nightlife rival for Berlin. One thing is for certain though, Budapest is much easier on the wallet than Berlin. Everything is so cheap in Budapest!

Some in our group had brought with them no attire suitable for going out in a big city like Budapest. And they just went out and bought some for a fraction of the price they’d pay in Germany. Using the Forint as opposed to the Euro, makes everything so much cheaper. So much cheaper in fact, that Hungary might be the ultimate budget friendly summer holiday destination in Europe.

What would I do differently on my next trip to Budapest?

Apart from staying much longer, I’d make it my priority to see all the palaces and fortifications on the Buda side of Budapest. And I’d allow myself enough time to try out as many restaurants as I can find. As I’ve discovered I quite like Hungarian food.

I’ve found I particularly enjoy the hundreds of different types of Hungarian stews. Because they go so well with Hungarian beer which is also so damn good. I’m not normally a fan of rosé wines. But I’ve even found myself becoming fond of Hungarian rosé.

I’m no foodie by any stretch of the imagination. But I’d wager that the foodies would love Hungary. Hungary in general but in Budapest in particular, the food is fantastic.

Staying longer on my next trip to Budapest and thoroughly exploring the Buda side of the Danube River, I’d also make it a point to visit the many bathhouses fed by thermal springs. The bulk of these seemed to be on the Buda side. With the better accommodation and a greater array of restaurants located on the Pest side of Budapest.

Buda and Pest seemed to feel quite different despite being the same city. If time allowed on my next trip I might even allocated a week (or longer) to each side and explore them as if they were separate cities. Buda feels older and more laid back. Pest has more of a busy big city feel with historical landmarks scattered about.

So it would be an interesting experiment, I think, to treat Buda and Pest as separate cities and visit each side of the river as if it were. But that’s only if I could tear myself away from the Hungarian stews and cold Hungarian beer.

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