A weekend in Budapest: travel guide, things to do, food and drink

Everything you need to know for a city break in Hungary's popular capital

Budapest is one of Europe's 'most underrated' cities
Budapest is one of Europe's 'most underrated' cities
(Image credit: ZGPhotography/Shutterstock)

Why you should visit Budapest

A "beautiful" city with a "unique vibe", said Let's Roam, Hungary's capital Budapest is "rising in popularity by the day". Located on the "mighty" Danube River, the "mysterious" and "ancient city of the Magyars" is one of the "most underrated" on the continent. A place where the "east of Europe meets the west", Budapest is a "feast on the eyes" for architecture lovers and boasts a fairytale cliffside castle and an "ornate" neo-Gothic parliament building. 

Split by the Danube and composed of "three main regions" – Pest, Buda and Óbuda – Budapest "meshes" modern conveniences with ancient architecture and grassy parks, said US News. From "modern, momentous" Buda on the west bank to "historic, higgledy-piggledy" Pest facing east, said Mike MacEacheran in The Times, this is a city of "two clear-cut halves". Visitors should "revel in both". 

This "vibrant" capital is "a study in contrasts", said Katie Matthews in National Geographic, and offers ruin pubs, street food, Unesco-listed sites, Michelin-starred restaurants, and "gorgeous" thermal baths. To "put it simply", said US News, if you haven't been here, then "it's time you make plans to do so". 

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Szechenyi Baths is one of Budapest's most popular attractions

Szechenyi Baths is one of Budapest's most popular attractions 

(Image credit: Izabela23/Shutterstock)

Top attractions and things to do

Commonly known as the "city of spas", said Esme Benjamin on Culture Trip, Budapest's historic thermal baths "set the scene" for a thoroughly relaxing break. Today, there are 15 public thermal baths in Budapest, not counting the private thermal spas established in some luxury hotels. Szechenyi Baths is the city's "single best attraction", said American travel expert Rick Steves. This neo-Baroque bath complex, the largest of its kind in Europe, offers sumptuous architecture, an extensive spa and gorgeous outdoor pools. It's an absolute must-see.

The best attractions in Budapest are a "greatest hits of sorts", said Time Out, which showcase the capital's "fascinating history, architectural majesty and fiery creative side". Your "Budapest bucket list" should include the likes of Buda Castle, Dohány Street Synagogue, St Stephen's Basilica, the Hungarian Parliament Building and Central Market Hall. 

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace by the landmark Chain Bridge

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace by the landmark Chain Bridge 

(Image credit: ecstk22/Shutterstock)

Best hotels and places to stay

The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace "set and continues to maintain the gold standard" for the restoration and conversion of historical Budapest buildings into opulent hotels, said Jonathan Wiggin on Condé Nast Traveller. It's considered one of the "finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture worldwide" and occupies an "enviable position" by the landmark Chain Bridge. Rooms have views of the Danube and the Buda hills, old town, and castle beyond. On a "leafy square" just outside of the Palace District, said Wiggin, Kozmo Hotel Suites & Spa is "a hit for lovers of contemporary design".

Music-themed Aria Hotel has four wings "dedicated to different genres of music", said The Telegraph, each with "large, fabulously equipped rooms named after different artists". With a "superb" location, Matild Palace "marries" the "yesteryear elegance" of a turn-of-the-century palace with "cutting-edge in-room facilities".

Szimpla Kert was one of Budapest's first ruin bars

Szimpla Kert was one of Budapest's first ruin bars 

(Image credit: Arcady/Shutterstock)

Eating and drinking

An "essential" and "unique" feature of Budapest's nightlife, the city's "ruin bars" are a "phenomenon", said The Times. Set in the "shells of neglected buildings", they have been "transformed" into spaces for drinking, eating, parties and cultural events. Top options include Szimpla Kert, one of the first ruin bars, and Fogas Haz, a "party complex" that tries, "quite successfully", to be "all things to all people". 

There are seven restaurants in Budapest which have been awarded stars by the Michelin Guide. Six have a single star and the "eye-catching" modern Stand restaurant has two. The chef-owners at Stand "skilfully" reinvent and modernise classic Hungarian dishes using a "wide range of techniques", said the Guide. And when it comes to wine, "look to the Hungarian options – there are some great sweet Tokajis on the list".

The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in the country

The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in the country  

(Image credit: Gyorgy Keszthelyi/Shutterstock )

How to get to Budapest

Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport is located about 15 miles southeast of the city centre. On arrival at Budapest airport, passengers can take a bus, taxi or hire a car. The nearest railway station to the airport is Ferihegy, which has trains operating to and from Nyugati station in the city. Budapest's main international and inter-city railway station is Keleti, which has services to many major European destinations including Vienna, Bratislava, Krakow and Munich. 

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