hungary

Three Days In Fairytale Budapest, One Of My Favourite Cities

A few months ago, I finally returned to Budapest, eight years after my first visit.

Budapest very quickly became one of my favourite cities in Europe, and I was curious to see how I would find it a second time around, and whether the magic would capture me just as instantaneously as it did the first time. In fact, this visit probably catapulted Budapest from being one of my favourite cities in Europe, to being one of my favourite cities in the world!

View of Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

I’ve said many times that Budapest is the perfect European city break. It has everything – agonisingly beautiful architecture, a fantastic and very unique nightlife, incredible food, and best of all, it’s so cheap that you can really make the most of it without breaking the bank. It’s also, in my experience, very safe, making it perfect for a solo trip too.

And then it has the bonus of having excellent spa baths dotted around the city, giving it another edge over other European cities. And if you want some excitement before your relaxation, you can even go caving underneath the city! (I did this last time – it was a lot of fun! Scary in places, but fun.)

Szechenyi baths, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is truly a destination that I could keep visiting over and over, because there’s so much to do – and it’s all so incredible that doing it all over again is a joy.

I flew to Budapest to meet my friend who was visiting the UK from Australia for a few months. Towards the end of her trip, she wanted to spend some time in Europe, and we’d agreed to meet somewhere – as soon as Budapest was mentioned, I pounced.

Here’s what we got up to over the three days – after my exceptionally late arrival at about 1am, thanks in part to someone at customs who the officers literally rang the police about…! I didn’t stick around to see what happened when I eventually got past them.

View of Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

Day 1 – Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion, ruin bars

On day one, we went to what are probably my top three highlights of Budapest.

Before that, the very first thing we did was find somewhere for breakfast – which landed us in a Portuguese bakery, of all places. I have to say, this croissant was absolute top tier! (And obviously I had to get a pastel de nata. The café is called Lisboa Bakery, FYI.)

Cafe Lisboa, Budapest, Hungary
Clearly didn’t notice that the teabag label had fallen into my tea. Rookie error.

In fact, day 1 started off completely unexpected, with this café leading us to an alleyway of bars and market stalls that we would find ourselves exploring a couple of times over the course of the next few days, before being spat out in the main cross section of roads that brought us to the waterfront.

Looking towards Buda Castle with a tram in the foreground. Budapest, Hungary

We were headed in one direction – towards the Parliament building.

Hungarian Parliament Building

I’m gonna go ahead and say this might just be the most stunning piece of architecture in Europe. That’s a bold claim, I realise. But it is just magnificent.

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary
Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

Shoes On The Danube

We stopped nearby to pay tribute to the moving memorial of shoes along the Danube river, symbolising thousands of Jews who had been forced to take off their shoes before being shot into the river. It’s an emotional place, and a shocking reminder of what happened all over Europe – not just the places you read about in the history books.

Shoes On The Danube Jewish memorial, Budapest, Hungary
Shoes On The Danube memorial, Budapest, Hungary

We spent some time around the Parliament building while deciding what to do. You see, Chain Bridge was completely under construction. You couldn’t even walk across it, let alone take the bus or tram. I have to be honest, I wasn’t that impressed by the bridge itself when I saw it in 2014, but it did pose an inconvenience being unable to cross it.

We ended up deciding to take a tram up and around the next bridge, which left us with a walk up the Buda side of the city towards the castle and what I like to call the fairytale area of Budapest.

While making our decision, I was busy taking photos of the Parliament building from the back, which is just as stunning as the front. Not only that, but there were so many other stunning buildings around that I started to realise Budapest was a city full of surprises around every corner.

Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

This continued with our journey to the other side of the river. In true Budapest style, it turned out to be a delightful walk discovering a part of the city I hadn’t seen before, taking us up some charming streets towards Fisherman’s Bastion.

While that was our destination, we kept stopping on the way for even more pretty buildings – this is the Hungarian archive building, dominating this irresistibly charming street.

National Archives Of Hungary, Budapest, Hungary
National Archives Of Hungary, Budapest, Hungary

Fisherman’s Bastion

Eventually we did reach the Bastion – and it’s as remarkable as I remember it. With turrets and terraces overlooking the entire city, this is probably my favourite place to spend some time in Budapest.

It was also, unsurprisingly, very busy, so we resolved to come here early the next morning before the day’s activities. However, I definitely wasn’t going to complain about coming up here twice!

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary
Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary
I like this photo of the moody skies with the bright fairytale turrets!

You can pay to go up onto the upper terraces, but to be honest, there’s no need to – there are plenty of photo opportunities on ground level that are just as stunning. The views over to the Parliament building and the rest of the city are excellent regardless of where you are.

Fisherman's Bastion from below, Budapest, Hungary
I really liked this view back up towards the Fisherman’s Bastion too – quite a unique perspective!

Matthias Church is also well worth a few photos – its gorgeous roof is the focal point for me.

Matthias Church, Budapest, Hungary
Matthias church, Budapest, Hungary

We wandered down the road to find somewhere for – by this point – a late lunch, and popped into Ruszwurm café which hit the spot.

Instead of taking the funicular, as we hadn’t taken it up, we walked down the hill which actually isn’t far at all, so if you’re not bothered about taking the funicular but you’re not sure if it’ll be too far to walk otherwise, it’s actually alright!

We stumbled across a couple more churches which you can generally see along Budapest’s skyline, but I hadn’t been up close to them before. They’re really pretty – as per everything in Budapest, it seems!

In the evening, I had one thing on my list: Szimpla Kert.

Szimpla Kert & Budapest’s nightlife

Szimpla Kert bar, Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is renowned for its ruin bars – bars in old warehouses, decorated with rubbish in a true reminder that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and somehow now a total hit with every nightlife-goer. The most famous of them is Szimpla Kert, and it is so freaking cool. It’s two floors of decorative chaos where you might even be able to sit in a bathtub with your drink.

Before heading to the bar, we popped into Karavan, the outdoor food court next door. I made a beeline for a stall serving langos, and went for the classic sour cream and cheese. Langos are DELICIOUS, and you have to try one in Budapest! The food court is fantastic and caters to all requirements, with vegan stalls and all sorts of food.

Langos, Budapest, Hungary

We also took a wander through the Jewish Quarter, the nightlife area of Budapest, and ended up being drawn into Neverland bar by its illusionary entrance.

This ended up being a really cool place as well, and I maintain that Budapest has so many great bars! It’s one of my favourite cities for nightlife. We passed funky tiki bars, American sports bars, traditional pubs, quirky cocktail bars and a French-themed event going on, all within a couple of streets.

Cat The Club, Budapest, Hungary

Just off that passageway with the markets and bars is this mad-looking club. There are just so many options.

I’d definitely go back to Budapest just for a great night out with some friends. However, tonight wasn’t a late one for us because after a busy day, we were planning to be up early the next day.

Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

Day 2 – Fisherman’s Bastion (without the crowds!), Gellert bath spa, exploring the main centre

We were up bright and early to get some shots of Fisherman’s Bastion without having to fight through crowds or find creative angles to cut hordes of people out.

I recommend getting there before 9am. I don’t think I will ever be one of those up-at-6am-to-get-the-shot type of people, but I was really surprised by how quiet it was even up to 10am, virtually on the dot. This is when all the walking tours start arriving, so the crowds increase considerably all at once. If you can get there before them, you’ll probably be alright!

Parliament from Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest, Hungary

This time, we did take the funicular up just to save time and get there earlier, and we were the only ones on it on the way up.

We also took a walk by the castle before taking the funicular back down. (You don’t HAVE to take the funicular, as the walk up the hill is doable, but the funicular is a fun way to get up the hill.) If you walk down a little way from the castle, you can get to the small bridges that cross the funicular, which makes for some great photos of the funiculars themselves!

Funicular up to Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary

From there, we headed out to Gellert, where we grabbed some lunch before our first bath spa of the trip.

I’d been eyeing up a couple of cafés over that way, and we popped into Spatula café where I had a damn good bagel and a fruity tea, as they didn’t have any English tea. I asked if I could mix up two bagels on the menu, and they were more than happy to do that.

Spatula cafe, Budapest, Hungary

Gellert Thermal Baths

Budapest is famous for its bath spas, and there are loads to choose from. Gellert is set inside a historic art nouveau hotel, and looks pretty posh compared to other baths in the city. When we turned up, we weren’t too sure whether it was going to live up to expectations, as it doesn’t look like it would be that fancy from the outside.

However, we stepped inside the door, and…

Gellert spa baths entrance, Budapest, Hungary

The foyer area is AMAZING. This was almost as big an attraction for us as the actual baths themselves!

Inside, the centre point of the baths is a big swimming pool underneath a Victorian style roof. It is gorgeous!

Gellert spa baths, Budapest, Hungary

Either side of the pool, you can explore different rooms with baths of different temperatures. We spent a lot of the afternoon relaxing in the baths, mosaics covering the walls of each room with different patterns. Obviously I didn’t take my camera in, but my friend had her phone which we hid in my towel bag (not because we weren’t allowed to have it, just for security while we were in the pools).

I’ll be writing a separate post about the spa baths, comparing the two that we went to on our trip, so there will be a few more photos to come.

From the baths, I said we should head over the bridge to check out the market hall – I remember it being amazing last time! It’s a great place to pick up some local food to cook and save on a meal out. We’d done this last time and got some really good local meat and cheese.

Central Market Hall, Budapest, Hungary

Naturally, it was shut – it closes early on Saturdays, believe it or not!

This meant we had a long walk back to our hostel, as we’d used our 24 hour public transport pass. Not that it would have been expensive to jump on a bus or a tram, but it gave us an excuse to explore the city centre, up the main strip of shops that we would have missed otherwise. We stumbled across an interesting assortment of shops, from Christmas shops to Russian shops (???) and a few weird and wonderful places.

Chimney cake, Budapest, Hungary

It also meant we could grab some chimney cake – a must in Budapest!

Back in the Jewish Quarter, there’s a plethora of restaurants to choose from, so we picked one on the street we were staying on, and we’d bought a few… unique drinks to enjoy back at our hostel.

Unicum, Budapest, Hungary

Unicum, anyone? Who could resist?

(We also had these really weird bottles with wizards on them! Still no clue what they really were, except fruity.)

Szechenyi baths, Budapest, Hungary

Day 3 – New York Cafe, St Stephen’s Basilica, Szechenyi bath spa

The New York Cafe was a discovery by my friend, so we decided to brunch it up on our final day.

This is probably not somewhere I would have found on my own, owing to the fact it is posh AF. In fact, we only had tea and cake, because we couldn’t bring ourselves to stump up the cash for a meal. Fair warning – it’s the most expensive pot of tea I’ve ever had in my life at a whopping 8.50€. Not bad for a famously cheap city.

The New York Cafe, Budapest, Hungary

It was a great place to experience though – it’s so beautiful inside, and we wandered around afterwards taking photos. This is definitely one of those places where you have to “do it for the ‘gram” (ugh).

They also had live music, including a string version of Tale As Old As Time! Honestly, fairytale trip complete.

St Stephen’s Basilica

After brunch, we headed into the centre of town to check out St Stephen’s Basilica up close. We debated whether to go in, but in true Clazz style we settled for some nice photos of the outside – which is no bad thing when it looks like this!

St Stephen's Church, Budapest, Hungary

It’s nice to wander down the avenue to get photos of it looking back, too. The photo on the left is from our first day when we were walking to Parliament – zoomed in down the avenue. The second is much closer!

Szechenyi baths

In the afternoon, we were off for our second baths experience – Szechenyi. I came here on my first trip and loved it, so I was looking forward to coming back. I remembered getting lost last time, and guess what – we got lost again! The changing rooms are confusing as hell, but we even managed to get lost around the indoor baths too.

Szechenyi was approximately five million times busier than Gellert. Partly because it was a weekend, and partly because I think it is more popular generally. There were also stag groups washing off their hangovers and being a general annoyance. The indoor baths were so packed that we only managed to get a spot in two or three, and it just wasn’t as relaxing as Gellert had been.

Then we headed outside – when we eventually found our way out – and I still love the outdoor baths. Where Gellert has much better indoor baths, Szechenyi does the outdoor ones on another level.

Szechenyi baths, Budapest, Hungary

I watched people playing chess (yes, in the baths), soaked up some steaming hot water for as long as possible, and then we headed to the slightly cooler bath where we found ourselves whirling round and round the whirlpool. It was so much fun!

I’m going to do a full write-up comparing Gellert and Szechenyi, because we couldn’t decide which one to do, which is why we ended up doing both! They’re not the only spa baths in Budapest either – there are plenty of others, but these are definitely the two most popular.

After drying off, it started to rain, which had been on and off all day.

We’d actually had a mental proposition, which would have made a really cool story. Billy Idol was in town, and my friend knew someone working the tour – he put us on the guestlist so we could get in for free! The only problem – it was an outdoor show. And now it was absolutely pissing it down. And I only know about three Billy Idol songs. Was it worth going for a couple of tunes I know, or would we end up miserable and wishing we’d spent our limited time in Budapest doing something else?

I decided we should go and check out the Parliament building at night while we mulled it over.

Hungarian Parliament at night, Budapest, Hungary

In case you didn’t know, the Hungarian Parliament building at night is one of the most spectacular sights of any city in the world.

There were also all these… things, floating or flying around it. I couldn’t tell if they were real – instead, they seemed ethereal and other-worldly. I did google it afterwards and they are indeed birds, but how cool do they look?! They were like giant fireflies.

Hungarian Parliament at night, Budapest, Hungary

By the time we’d finished watching this piece of magic, it felt like it was too late to get to the show. I still don’t know if we regret not going, but it would have been a fun night if the rain hadn’t dashed our plans! My friend got a message the next day apologising because he forgot to put us on the MEET AND GREET.

I guess I’ll have to settle for… *lowers sunglasses* dancing with myself.

Where we stayed – Maverick City Lodge Hostel

Budapest is the perfect place for a hostel stay, and this was a fantastic hostel. I hate to admit it, but I started to wonder if I was getting too old for dorms, and I think it depends on the hostel, but this one was a great place to stay with lots of privacy. We were in our own little nook upstairs with two other people, with curtains to cut ourselves off from each other.

The bathroom was also a great size, airy and clean, and right off our room rather than having to go down a corridor to find the nearest one. The kitchen also has great facilities, perfect if you want a night in with some food from the market hall.

You also get 10% off the adjoining restaurant, and we ate there on our last night (as much as I wanted to go to the outdoor place again, the rain had put me off!). It was excellent food, although not all that traditional, and they had live music which was a nice addition.

Overall, it was a really welcoming and friendly hostel and I’d happily stay there again. It was actually my friend that booked it, so not one of my findings!

Book Maverick City Lodge Hostel here! (affiliate link)

It’s also in the perfect location, just a two minute walk from Szimpla Kert and loads of other places in the heart of the Jewish Quarter – yet it’s tucked away enough that we didn’t feel disturbed by any of the nightlife surrounding us.

Hungarian Parliament building, Budapest, Hungary

The great thing about Budapest, though, is how easy it is to explore. Despite being a large city with no discernible “old town” like many European cities which makes them feel more compact, everywhere is close to somewhere else. Public transport is a breeze, but equally it’s easy to walk almost everywhere.

And so it is, that Budapest remains one of my favourite cities.

In fact, I love it so much that I’m hoping to go back AGAIN – apart from anything else, Ash hasn’t been yet. But I also think it would be a fabulous place to go with a group of friends (it’s not a stag do magnet for nothing…), so I’m hoping a few of us can get together and have a fun weekend in Budapest some time!

Is there somewhere you keep being drawn back to?

Want to read more adventures in Europe? How about these:
Sofia: A City Of Colour And Contrast
I Didn’t Expect Bratislava To Be So Pretty
A Day Wandering Beautiful Vienna
Loving Lisbon: A Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
A Romantic Mother/Daughter Break To… Venice?!

9 thoughts on “Three Days In Fairytale Budapest, One Of My Favourite Cities

  1. I didn’t realize until just now that I knew very little about Budapest. What a beautiful city! The parliament building is stunning and I can see by you enjoyed your visit so much.

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  2. This is such a wonderful post about one of the most beautiful cities in Europe I’d always wanted to visit but somehow never got around to doing it. I hope I get to see the spectacular views from Fisherman’s Bastion and the stunning River Danube one day in person. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

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  3. I’m sold on Budapest, I need to make this year the one where I actually get there. Everytime I read or watch something about it, I’m intrigued. Will look forward to the baths write ups, that would be a big part of the trip for me! As for a city I keep being drawn back to, I’d say it’s an even split between Berlin and Prague. But everywhere is worth a visit, I think, even if just the once!

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  4. I loved Budapest and definitely want to go back again – we were a bit unsure about the bath etiquette so looking forward to reading your comparison post! Szimpla Kert is the only place I’ve ever been accosted by someone selling carrots… not quite the bar snack we were looking for!

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  5. Hoping to visit in May with my daughter for my birthday 🥳 it looks a beautiful place snd definately trying the spas!! Great write up 🙌

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  6. We really enjoyed Budapest, too, and we adored Szechenyi. I had looked into some others, but they were sex segregated by day. Fortunately, it was busy but not heaving when we were there. I can see where it would minimize the fun being so crowded. Looking forward to seeing your spa write-up, because we hope to make it back there one day, too!

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