Budapest: Planning Tips
Anytime of year (we went in late October 2014)
Length of time:
Three days (it’s fine for two days and there is plenty to do if you wanted to extend your visit)
Apps used in planning:
Skyscanner; Airbnb; Tripadvisor; Moovit; Google maps; Viator; Twitter; Pinterest; Instagram
Transfer to the city centre
Arrival in Budapest is easy as once you have cleared security you can make a relatively quick and straightforward transfer into the city centre. Just follow the signs (or line along the floor) towards taxi and turn left once you have left the main airport buildings. You should see a sign labelled public bus or number 200E. Only 450 Ft which you do need correct change for (our driver gave us change but we were catching the bus late at night and I think he felt sorry for us). If you do not have change there is a shop just inside the airport terminal. You need to stay on the bus until it reaches the park & ride or Köbánya-Kispest interchange. Follow the signs to transfer on to the M3: Metro 3 (via a short walk). Make sure you validate your bus ticket in the small orange slot provided on entry to the Metro station.
Budapest: Day 1 in Buda
We were staying on Vaci Street – a boutique lined street on the Pest side of Budapest. We began our first day by getting our bearings and watching the street come alive for the day ahead with shop owners setting out their wares and restaurant owners putting out fresh table cloths and wiped down menus. We continued walking, as much of Budapest can be explored on foot, (however there is an excellent public transport system as well as bicycles for hire if you prefer) towards the Chain Bridge.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge as it is correctly known is one of many bridges that connect the Buda (western) and Pest (eastern) parts of the city and spans across the Danube river. The bridge is a sightseeing opportunity in itself and also gives excellent views – both day and night – of the river lit up and the banks of both Buda and Pest. Once across, you will have reached the Zero Milestone (not that we immediately realised this until we came across it later in our guide book). The Zero Milestone is the official centre of Budapest from which all distances are measured (a cool fact I thought). Next to the Zero Milestone, we stopped at a café where we had croissants and juice whilst doing a little people watching.
You can ascend to the top of the hill to visit Buda Castle and the associated sights via the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular or Budavári Sikló. However, it really isn’t that far or that steep so we didn’t bother with queuing or paying, opting for some fresh air and to stay on budget. The path can be reached by crossing the road to the right (as you look at the Funicular) and following the tree-lined path to the top. Once there you can use the map to find what you are looking for including the tourist information points if you need a little inspiration.
We headed straight for the Tourist Info point outside Matthias’s Church. Here we were not only able to pick up discounts for attractions we wanted to see that day (Budavári Labirintus – the Labyrinth of Buda Castle) but were also able to book attractions for later that evening (Danube Dinner Cruise with live music) and for later in the week (a visit to the Gellert Spa). We opted not to go inside Matthias’s Church and instead enjoyed the views from the outside (it was a lovely sunny day) and walked over the Fisherman’s Bastion – a terrace on the Buda bank of the Danube. From here you can get great views across the Danube river out towards Pest.
The first tourist attraction we visited was the Labyrinth of Buda Castle. The steep steps down into the dark looked a little foreboding but with a hint of intrigue so we entered. Arriving at the bottom was just as eerie as we were now inside the labyrinth and other than a security guard and a cashier there were no other tourists insight. We paid our fee and were left alone to wander through. Some of the highlighted attractions include medieval stonework, waxworks depicting the Hungarian Masked Ball and an exhibit on caves. However, not to be missed is the Maze of Darkness and the section on Dracula. Firstly the Maze of Darkness is literally as it sounds – a section of the labyrinth which you walk in the complete darkness. You follow a plastic cord that runs along the wall and that is it. Would I have done it alone? Most likely not. However, as scared as we were – I would do it again and definitely recommend it. There is something liberating about emerging from the darkness having completed it. Sometimes in life it is important to challenge yourself and do something out of your comfort zone. I would also recommend the Dracula section as it clearly outlines the difference between the facts and the legend. I, for one, never knew that Dracula had been held beneath Buda Castle.
Rising out of the depths of the labyrinth we headed in search of some food – a traditional Hungarian snack. What we found was called Kenyérlángos and the version we had can only be described as a combination of pizza and quiche. Very tasty and good if you are trying to budget. Following a period of people watching and a lizard moment (where we soaked up the rays of the autumnal sun) we headed in search of our initial reason for crossing into Buda – The Hospital in the Rock.
A few things to point out about this visitor attraction – you have to have a guided tour and the tours begin on the hour. We were lucky as we arrived 10 minutes before the next tour was due to go and so we didn’t have to wait around at all. You cannot take any pictures inside so don’t worry about whether you will waste your camera battery here. You begin with a video to summarise the main uses of the site and are then led round where waxworks portray how it would have looked and been used as a hospital. Following this section you are taken around the extended sections which were made into a nuclear bunker during the cold war. A must for any history enthusiast or anyone who has not visited a nuclear bunker before.
Whilst on Castle Hill there are numerous other attractions that you might find of interest including: Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Budapest History Museum (Castle Museum), Hungarian National Gallery and the Hungarian Military Museum to name but a few. We opted for heading back as our minds were reeling with new information and we also needed to get ready for our Dinner cruise that evening.
The Danube Dinner cruise, is a must if you are only in Budapest for a few days. Do not worry if you have not packed anything formal to wear as although we dressed up a little there were a range of individuals wearing everything from Jeans with a Hoodie, to dresses. Be prepared to walk a short distance from the meeting point to the boat – luckily we were wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. The dinner cruise will allow you to try a selection of Hungarian food such as Goulash, Stuffed Cabbage and Strudel (click here for a sample menu which is subject to change) whilst enjoying the views of both Buda and Pest lit up as well as the many bridges that span the Danube river. Furthermore, there is a string trio which plays a range of classical pieces including the obvious choice: The Blue Danube as well as some well known pieces from popular musicals. For the price you are also given three drinks including Champagne – so not a bad evening especially if you have something to celebrate or are looking for a little romance! A few tips – get to the front of the queue as you walk over to the boat as then you will have a great seat by the window (though all tables are in view of the windows). However, don’t count on being able to take photos as the lighting makes it very difficult to not receive a lot of reflection in your images. There is also no commentary so you may wish to take a map or your guidebook so that you know what you are looking at. You could combine with a day river cruise or a hop-on-hop-off bus tour if you wanted to learn more about what you were seeing. You will be dropped back to the dock where you boarded the boat and are expected to make your own way from there so well worth taking a map if you’re not great with directions. You can board the tram from beside the river if you are not staying in the centre.
A full day but then if you have only got a few days in Budapest you are going to want to see it all. Even though the itinerary is jam-packed it didn’t feel rushed and there are lots of opportunities to relax or pack even more in if you wish.