In some itineraries, “Day on Own” can be three dreaded words. As travelers, sometimes we just prefer to have our days all planned out. Fear not! From bathhouses to opera houses, Budapest is brimming with activities, all of which give you insight into this beautiful gem on the Danube.
Take the time to explore both sides of the city: Buda is quieter, hillier, and greener; Pest is vibrant, bustling, and energetic. Pest has more landmarks, so you may want more time there. But, you can easily cross from one side of the blonde Danube to the other by foot, bicycle, tram, or metro, so it doesn’t matter too much on which side of the river you stay.
Exploring European cities is most effective on foot, so throw on your most comfortable (yet stylish!) shoes and head to the Chain Bridge. On the Pest side, stroll along the Danube and watch both local and long-haul river boats cruise by. On the pedestrian pathway, but be mindful of bicycles and watch where you are walking when the path turns to cobblestones.
On the Buda side, couple your walk with a cable car ride up to the Buda Castle District or Fisherman’s Bastion. Meander the upper town with beautiful views and quaint, tiny streets to explore. Batthány Square is just off the river with an unobstructed view of the Parliament Building.
The view south from Margit Bridge is an excellent place to capture a shot of both Buda and Pest, with all the bridges and landmarks, too. For the ultimate photo of everything, take a ride up to the Citadel, where a bird’s eye view of Budapest can awe even the most well-traveled photographer.
For an afternoon of shopping, head to Pest. Vaci Utca, the most popular and pedestrian-only drag in the city, is littered with both brand name stores and mom-and-pop souvenir shops. At the western end is the Central Market Hall, a two-story market that sells everything from onions or fish to magnets or embroidered tablecloths. Andrássy Avenue is the city’s Champs-Élysées, where window shopping is the most pocket friendly option. Behind the Parliament is a tiny district dedicated to antique hounds.
Hungarian cuisine can be heavy, but there’s no denying it hits the spot. Once you work up an appetite walking all over, treat yourself to hearty goulash soup with thick bread or meat in gravy with dumplings. If you just need a “treat,” try deep fried bread with cheese or cinnamon on top.
Typical Hungarian restaurants can be found up and down Vaci Utca, or around Vörösmarty tér a square at the north end of the boulevard. For a typical Hungarian pastry and coffee, spend some time in the Gerbeaud Cafe. If you want to have lunch before touring, say, the Opera House, dine at one of the many establishments found in Litz Fér off Andrássy Avenue.
If you’d rather take in more art and history, consider a tour of the Parliament Building or the Opera House. You also have your choice of specialties, including the Terror Museum, Fine Arts Museum, or the Military Museum (located in Buda Castle).
Essential sites like St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hero’s Square, the Great Synagogue, and the Holocaust memorial, Shoes on the Danube, outside the Parliament should not be missed. The Four Seasons hotel, at the entrance to the Chain Bridge, is also worth a visit for its award-winning design.
One Last Thing
A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a visit to its famous bathhouses. First developed by the Romans and revived in the last century, bathhouses are a staple of Hungarian life. The Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool is located in the heart of Pest, and the Géllert Baths and Spa is on the Southern end of Buda. Either option is easily accessible by public transportation or taxi.
If you aren’t traveling through the area by boat, dedicate one hour of your evening to a nighttime river cruise. As a tour manager I say without reservation that seeing Budapest’s majestic landmarks light up the sky as you sail along the peaceful Danube is an unforgettable experience.