Budapest is a surprise to most first-time comers, it was to me also when I got there 10 years ago! Such an incredible mix of past 19th-20th-century splendor, tragic history, and hip trends. And in the middle, flows the majestic Danube (surrounded by incredible bridges) that literally embraces and splits Buda from Pest at the same time!
Budapest is compact, though too big to be entirely walked in a day or even 2. I really recommend using the public transportation network (with awesome panoramas like Tram 2 or 19) or biking: there are a bike sharing system and lots of rentals!
Day 1: 09:00 – 14:00
Let’s start off with some great shopping, around Astoria! (assuming you had coffee and breakfast already, if not, just check below!). So let’s go to Paloma! Set in a splendid yard, you’ll find about 50 designers in dozens of showrooms! Just 250 meters from there, I bet you won’t resist Hungarian communist sneakers called Tisza Cipő. Spotted by Locals’ co-founder, Bart, also has a pair!
So how about coffee now? Sip the local barista’s productions over some snack in another adorable courtyard at Fekete. If you skipped breakfast, go to the nearby Zoska. Then continue walking on the small ring (“ring” as a reminder of Budapest’s link to Vienna, its “sister” city for as long as they ruled the Austro-Hungarian empire!). You’ll soon pass the national museum with its huge columns (for history fans!). Hungarians like to seat on its huge steps or in its garden! Reach Kálvin tér. On the other side of the street, there are some cool remains of the old city wall tucked in a secret street!
From there your next stop is the Central market hall (Vámház krt 9). As well as being an architectural landmark, it’s the capital’s historical market place (warning: it’s not open on Sunday and closes at 3 pm on Saturday!). Touristy but I still like shopping here and at the back, you’ll get grannies selling their garden veggies (in the morning only). And then comes Liberty bridge! My favorite bridge of ALL! From now on till the end of August 2018 the bridge is closed to cars on some week-ends and loaded with performances! Keep walking or catch any tram from Szent Gellért tér to Gárdonyi tér. For soups and sandwiches, go to Anyu, for tapas, there is La Nube. For coffee, you HAVE to go to Kelet : (which also has great lunch deals).
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
Then go back in the direction of Szent Gellért tér. Check the hall of the Gellért spa, just a pale idea of how lavish those turn-of-the-century spas are inside! From there you have 2 options: climb to the Citadella to enjoy a stunning city panorama. It will take you the rest of the day! OR opt for visiting the Buda castle. In that case, either paddle along the Danube or take tram 19 to Clark Adam tér. From there climb up the stairs!
The castle district is swamped by the tourist crowds but people live there too! I’m always surprised to see how much of daily life you can observe on Tóth Árpád sétány and there is also a fascinating museum: the hospital in the rock! if you’re a book worm, I advise you to push the doors of Litea! On the way back (you can take Bus16), do check Várfok Gallery, one of the first art galleries in the city. Now you can jump off the castle to Millenáris Párk and its great Invisible exhibition in the dark (open till quite late).
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
From Széll Kálmán tér, if you’re not by bike, take metro 2 back to Astoria. And deep in Budapest’s vibrant dining and bar scene in the Jewish district! When she fancies a great -somewhat pricey dinner- spotter Michal goes for Macesz Bistro. But there are plenty of Budapest streetfood hotspots such as Bors GasztroBár or Zing Burgers.
The night is yours, and guess what, you’re in the right district! For a smooth introduction and a few goods and cheap pálinka (brandy) check out Wichmann, an authentic retro bar. For nice craft beers and excellent bar food, there is Fekete Kutya. Then just continue down Kazinczy utca with Ellátó kert and the über famous Szimpla kert, the mother of all ruin pubs (queue to be expected after 11 pm).
Day 2: 09:00 – 14:00
How about a little footing or just relaxing on Margitsziget! This huge car-free island is perfectly connected to the rest of the city. It offers great swimming pools, spa (Palatinus spa is now open all year long!), a musical fountain and some socialist Centenary Memorial Statue as spotter Kalman reminds us! Talking about spa, not too far, in Óbuda, Veli Bej Ottoman-Turkish spa is an awesome joker! From there, you can navigate on the Danube for the price of a metro ticket on the public city boat: at Jászai Mari tér or Batthyány tér. Get off at the Parliament and grab a delicious Hungarian lunch at Kispiac. The Downtown market is really cool too with lots of street food joints on the second floor and market stalls on the first floor. for those wishing to spend an alternative night check what’s up at Müszi – a community based cultural center.
Day 2: 14:00 – 19:00
If you didn’t earlier, have a look at the parliament square (worth booking a tour inside), in front stands the Ethnography Museum and its great temporary exhibits.
Have a caffeine shot at Espresso Embassy before heading to Capa Közpönt (a bit of a walk) a great spot for photography addicts. Stroll along Andrássy Avenue, to marvel at Budapest turn-of-the-century facades and courtyards.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
Have some delicious spring rolls and yummy Vietnamese soups at tiny Funky Pho. For a gourmet (relatively expansive diner) Fricska is the best. A highly cultural night awaits! Make sure you book your ticket at the Liszt Academy to discovery an Art Nouveau treasure while enjoying the best of classical/jazz music. If you want to rock the boat, hop on tram4-6 to be dropped at Buda next to A38!