We went to Budapest for my birthday and were hoping for a fun city break (we were there for three nights), with good food and cheap drinks and we were expecting it to be absolutely freezing. We found some really cool bars and ate some amazing food. Best of all, the weather was actually really nice – very mild for February. Here are 5 of our top things to do in Budapest.
We were staying in a great apartment just outside the Jewish Quarter – a really central spot – on the Pest side of the Danube. (Buda is the hilly side of the river, Pest is the flat, main part of the city, but you can dip in and out of both very easily by walking over the many bridges).
1. Fisherman’s Bastion (Buda side of Budapest)
On our first day, we decided to walk from Pest to Buda to visit the Fisherman’s Bastion. It looks a bit like a medieval castle but was actually built in the early 1900s as a viewing platform across the Danube.
The name comes from the Guild of Fisherman, who were in charge of defending the city walls during the Middle Ages.
It’s a steep climb to the top, with many, many steps, but the views up there are wonderful. You really do get a panoramic view of the city. The architecture gives it a very Game of Thrones vibe too, which is fun for any fans like us!
We had a wander round there, admired Matthias Church with its beautiful roof tiles that glinted in the afternoon sun and explored the shops and restaurants behind the Bastion.
Whilst you’re up there, if you circle round and head away from the Bastion, you will find a nice paved walkway that offers views of homes in the Buda hills a little further outside of the city.
There’s also a cute funicular that will take you up and down the hill in style!
2. Danube Promenade – Shoes Memorial (Pest side of Budapest)
Walking along the river between the Elizabeth bridge and the Chain Bridge (just up from the beautiful Parliament Building – also worth a walk past, especially at night). There’s lots to see on both sides and on a clear day, the views of the Buda hills are great.
There is also a memorial along this part of the river. Sets of bronze shoes line the river edge, many with tea lights and flowers placed alongside them by recent visitors. The shoes are a memorial to the many Jewish people who were killed by fascist militiaman during WWII. Victims were ordered to line up along the river bank, remove their shoes and were then shot into the icy river so their bodies would be carried away by the water.
This memorial is simple, but really moving and well worth a stop long the river to take a few minutes to reflect here.
3. Gellért baths (Buda side of Budapest)
We spent my birthday morning wallowing in the Gellért Baths, and what a great way to spend a birthday morning it was! We were a little fragile from a night in ruin bar Szimpla Kert, so thought this would be the best way to kick our hangovers!
The baths are actually located in the Gellért Hotel, and you enter via the hotel’s main entrance. For the two of us, we paid 11,000 HUF, which included a cabin to change in and keep our bags safe. This works out to be about £30 (£15 each), which we didn’t feel to be too bad for a relaxing spa experience. We stayed for about 2 and a half hours, so made the most of it. It was probably our one and only splurge of the weekend, as the food and drinks were so cheap!
Inside, Gellért Baths is very grand! You get a real feel for the grandeur of the time that the Baths were opened, around the beginning of the 20th century. You do feel like you have stepped back in time for a short while. There are numerous baths inside, some at 40 degrees (!) and an actual swimming pool for those feeling a bit more energetic. Remember, if you do want to do some lengths in the pool, swimming hats are mandatory.
Outside too there is a large deep pool with its own wave machine and large terrace areas that we imagined get very busy in the summer months. Also outside is a smaller pool, with a sauna and a deep ice plunge pool. Most people gave this a shot before or after a sauna – I managed to dip one full leg then chickened out.
If you fancy a treatment, there are your usual massages and other spa treatments available at Gellért Baths. We were intrigued by the red wine bath – yes you can bathe in pure red wine – so if you’re feeling adventurous, give that a shot!
There are several baths in Budapest of varying size. We chose Gellért because we had read good things about its grand interior and beautiful décor. It certainly didn’t disappoint!
4. House of Terror (Pest side of Budapest)
This museum/memorial holds exhibitions bout both the Fascist and Communist regimes that were in place in Hungary during the 20th Century.
The building itself was the former headquarters for the country’s one time Fascist Party – the Arrow Cross Party – and it was later used as a prison.
The exhibitions were very informative, if a little confusing at times, but there were plenty of first hand accounts of people who had been persecuted during these regimes which were moving to learn about.
Visitors have a chance to go to the basement to and see the torture cells and prisons where the regimes held and interrogate their prisoners. A really eerie experience.
We would definitely recommend the House of Terror, it gave us a glimpse in to Hungary’s troubled past and the suffering its people were subjected around 100 years ago.
5. Citadella and Liberty Statue (Buda side of Budapest)
We took a walk up to the top of Gellért Hill, one of Buda’s largest hills on our last morning in Budapest. It is a steep climb – higher than the Fisherman’s Bastion – and took us around 20 minutes. The views at the top though were well worth the cardio!
The climb starts at the Buda side of the Elizabeth Bridge, so just head for there if you’re feeling up to it. The paths and steps are well marked and there are actually a few different routes up so it doesn’t get to crowded. Pick a path and head up!
At the top is the Liberty Statue, which you can see from the banks of the river in Pest. The statue is one of the few Communist statues that remained after Hungary become a democracy. It was originally erected to commemorate Communist soldiers, but the engraving was later changed so that it commemorated all troops.
Stop for a seat and a drink underneath the statue as you admire the views over Pest and beyond.
Behind the Liberty Statue is the Citadel – inside of which is a museum, restaurant an hotel!
Citadella is the Hungarian word for Citadel, and is apparently exclusively used by other languages to refer to the Gellért Hill citadel.
We enjoyed strolling around the Citadel and seeing the 360 degree views behind the Liberty Statue too, not just those facing out on to the river.
You can get a Hop On Hop Off bus to the Citadel if you don’t fancy the walk, but we’d say give the walk a go. You can take your time and there are plenty of places to stop en route for a rest. In fact, we didn’t use public transport once in Budapest, we walked everywhere as we found everything in the city really accessible.
*6. Szimpla Kert
I know this is meant to be 5 point post, but ruin bar Szimpla Kert makes the top 5 things to do in Budapest list so easily it deserves it’s own post! Here’s a separate post on Szimpla Kert!