Have you ever reached a point where life has become so hectic, you’ve started operating on auto-pilot? I surely had by the time the husband and I boarded our flight bound for Budapest.
We were in serious need of this break, life had become a bit off-balance. A focused opportunity was needed to get everything re-charged and aligned again. This was a break minus the kids. A real chance to just…be.
Usually we’ve planned everything far in advance. What are we going to do? Where are we going to eat? But other than where we were resting our heads for night, this time, we planned nothing.
Granted, this is a potential recipe for disaster, especially when you only have 48 hours in Budapest and want to get the most out of your visit. However, we soon discovered – when it comes to Budapest – you don’t have to plan overly hard to discover something amazing.
Recognised as having one of the most outstanding urban landscapes in the world, the Hungarian capital is the perfect no-pressure escape for burnt out people wanting to recharge, rebalance and just have a pretty great time.
Here’s how we used our 48 hours in Budapest to go from stressed-out to chilled-out:
– Peaceful retreat –
There are two sides to Budapest… Buda and Pest, separated by the river Danube and connected by a series of bridges.
Although we usually like to be right in the heart of things, we opted to stay in the quieter location of the Castle District in Buda. Yes, you do have to make your way into Pest for a lot of the tourist attractions, but it’s all easily accessible and this time we needed peace over party.
Home for our 48 hours in Budapest was the Pest Buda design boutique hotel. Set on a quiet street in the historic castle district, it proudly proclaims to be the oldest hotel in the country. This small hotel features 10 individually designed rooms all complete with local handcrafted limestone bathrooms.
The team behind the Pest Buda have beautifully mixed the historical charm of the building with a modern, urban – and in places – quirky style. Here you’ll step back in time whilst still benefiting from all the longed-for comfort and luxury of modern day living. I was personally very excited to discover the L’Occitane in-room toiletries – it’s always a win when I don’t have to unpack my toiletries bag!
The staff at the Pest Buda were friendly, welcoming and very good at pointing us in the right direction of things – especially helpful when you show up with next-to-no clue what to do.
Why should you stay in the Castle District?
History is everywhere in the Castle District. Full of beautiful buildings to explore, such as Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church and Buda Castle to name but a few.
If historical buildings aren’t your thing – there are some wonderful eateries/cafes, (more on that below!) independent stores and even a magic show at the House of Houdini!
This side of the river is very hilly, so you’ll benefit from the most breath-taking views of the Pest side of Budapest too. Be ready to capture some great holiday snaps here!
If your break is as much about unwinding as it is about getting out and doing things, this is the location for you!
Find out more about what to do in Buda, Read: 5 Things to do in Buda, Budapest.
– Exploring –
Budapest is a goldmine of exploration. Turn a corner and discover another impressive building, an enticing coffee shop, a store to browse (and spend your hard-earned Hugarian Forints in). There are museums, river boats, ruin bars, street-food vendors, markets – just walk and you’ll undoubtedly find something to peak your interest.
If in doubt, take a bus tour and find out!…
Sometimes the easiest way to discover what to do is join a tour – taking in the edited highlights, before choosing what to go back and explore more of.
We opted for a deluxe ticket* with Big Bus Budapest.
There are multiple bus stops throughout the city (on both sides) for you to hop-on and hop-off to your heart’s content.
For every ticket purchased, a free audio guide (in multiple languages) is included. I’ll be honest… I think we giggled more listening to this than we learned from it. It included a lot of un-tour related information (such as where to go if you lose your passport). Maybe useful for some, but not necessarily helpful to hear when we’re passing interesting looking landmarks with little clue of their significance. Google stepped in to help perfectly here (and free wi-fi on the tour buses is a bonus!)
The buses operate tours up to the Castle District, which is especially helpful if mobility-wise hills aren’t your strong point.
For us, sitting on the bus provided a much needed rest. We had opportunity to enjoy each other’s company, cover a large distance of the city in a shorter space of time and gain a good appreciation of everything Budapest had to offer.
*Good to know: The deluxe ticket package includes 3 days hop-on hop-off, a free walking tour of Pest, a river cruise, a night tour and a Buda Castle return shuttle. Don’t forget to download their app which helps you easily locate the bus stops and keep track of the buses.
If bus tours aren’t for you, free guided walking tours are available. You’ll also be offered plenty of opportunities to rent a Segway too!
If you prefer to explore on foot (without a guide), I recommend the Four Seasons hotel as a good starting point. From here, walk towards the river and stroll along the riverbank or walk in the opposite direction and find yourself at the steps of St Stephen’s Basilica. To the right of the Four Seasons, you’ll discover shopping areas and multiple restaurants & cafes. However, if you want to spend time at Heroes Square or Budapest Zoo, travelling by bus, bike or taxi are probably your best options.
Budapest is such a lovely city to just walk around without any prior agenda. We were never left feeling we were missing something. The lack of pressure on us to be somewhere by a certain time was definitely a welcome break from the norm. I highly recommend you leave a good portion of your 48 hours in Budapest free for some open exploration – who knows what you’ll discover!
– Feeding the belly (as well as the soul) –
Anyone who has read one of my travel posts before will know I like to eat and drink ‘local’ when abroad. Budapest was no exception and I’m so pleased to report – didn’t disappoint.
Regardless of whether you have 48 hours in Budapest or 48 minutes – you need to book a table at the family-run Chef Cafe Budapest! If you want to eat delicious Hungarian cuisine, drink excellent Hungarian wine and receive incredible Hungarian service – this is the place for you!
Our host was the most welcoming and knowledgable man. He explained all of the dishes and wines on offer to us. It may not be a surprise to find out I ordered the goulash – so flavoursome and warming on a cold autumn evening. We rounded off our 3 course meal with traditional Hungarian shots of Palinka and Unicum (sure to put hair on your chest and yes that really is what it’s called!).
The Chef Cafe is a bit off the beaten path, but it’s worth the detour. I don’t think I could have been more happy sitting in that restaurant spending quality time, indulging my culinary senses and unwinding with the Mr.
Good to know: Pre-booking is highly advised. This can easily be done by visiting their Facebook page
During our exploration of Pest we became in need of a pause, a light lunch and well why not – a glass of wine (or two). We were fortunate to stumble across the entrance to the rooftop 360° bar – if you like your food and drink with a view, then look no further. A table on the rooftop terrace allows you 360° views over Budapest. I imagine this bar can get quite lively at night, but during the day it was a trendy, laid back spot, serving decent wine, draft beers, cocktails and local spirits. If you’re up there for a light lunch, the cheese board and olives are a great option.
Good to know: In colder months the 360° bar transforms into the 360° Igloo Garden. 8 giant heated igloos are available to keep you warm, whilst still allowing you panoramic views over Budapest. To secure an igloo booking is recommended.
Room for dessert?
One of my all-time favourite food indulgences is cake! Hungary is famous for it’s Strudel, so I felt it would be rude not to try it! And where better to try it then from the cafe the locals buy theirs from? Ruszwurm is a quirky little tearoom straight out of a period drama film set serving the nicest strudel I’ve ever tasted. Schedule in a coffee and cake stop here and become a strudel convert.
Even if Strudel isn’t for you, all is not lost on the cake front! In steps the Hungarian street snack lovingly referred to as Chimney cake (Kürtőskalác). We bought ours from the vendor at Fisherman’s Bastion and merrily savoured the warm caramelised sugar dough (flavoured with cinnamon) whilst we explored the area. They are the perfect accompaniment to a steaming hot coffee. It definitely lifted the soul on a chilly but clear and peaceful morning.
Budapest was high up there on the indulgent comfort food scale – but I can’t help but feel a few days of allowing yourself to indulge does wonders for your well-being!
– Reflection & Perspective –
Two things we came away from Budapest with in spades were reflection and perspective.
Budapest has a particularly harrowing history having survived two terror regimes. Whilst I’m aware of our human need to feel happy and upbeat on a mini-break, I’m also aware of the importance of not shying away from the past. During our 48 hours in Budapest, we paid visits to three very historically important, humbling and thought provoking places:
Shoes on the Danube is a memorial on the east bank of the Danube river. It was created to honour the Jewish people killed by the facist Arrow Cross Militiamen during WW2. The iron shoe sculptures represent the shoes of the men, women and children who were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot and falling into the Danube. Tributes of candles and flowers have been left amongst the sculptures, which add a sense of connection. This is a place to reflect.
Good to know: To have opportunity for more quiet reflection it’s best to visit early morning, the crowds can get quite big here. However, (on the whole) even when busy, there is a sense of quiet respectfulness amongst the crowd.
A 12 minute ride away on Andrássy út 60, you’ll find the House of Terror Museum. Opened as a memorial to the victims who were held captive, tortured and executed within it’s walls, this is a truly sobering place. A full history is given of life at the time and how easily innocent people could be brought here. The museum is not set up to satisfy morbid curiosity, more raise awareness to the senseless atrocities of war. A chilling slow lift ride down to the torture and execution cells is the only hint of drama provided.
Good to know: An audio guide is highly recommended for your tour. The majority of signs are in Hungarian and you may struggle to fully appreciate the exhibits without explanation. There are information sheets in a variety of languages available at the entrance to each room if you would prefer not to pay for the guide.
We left the museum feeling moved and humbled. Whilst the museum exists to promote awareness, your tour ends with a more positive message explaining how the bravery of the victims and the Hungarian fight for freedom was not in vain.
Our final visit was to the Hospital in the rock, purpose built into a natural cave system under Castle Hill. Essentially a hospital created to withstand bombing throughout the war. Despite the difficult conditions it’s inhabitants were challenged with many heroes appeared. The hospital also provided safety for a number of Jewish Doctors. Later, it was re-purposed into a top secret Nuclear Bunker to survive against a potential nuclear holocaust. You are ultimately led to a very poignant exhibition reflecting on the devastating consequences of the Hiroshima-Nagosaki atomic bomb attack and the need to prevent nuclear war at all costs.
Good to know: Guided 1 hour tours in English start every hour on the hour. In my opinion the tour is essential. Whilst navigating a labryth of underground tunnels your guide will help enormously to bring understanding and life to the exhibitions.
I discuss more about The Hospital in the Rock museum in: 5 Things to do in Buda, Budapest.
Although exceptionally sobering, I do recommend taking the time to visit one or all of them. We personally felt it important to understand the lessons history has taught us and pay respect to the brave people who fought for freedom. We came away with a more rounded perspective and a heightened sense of gratitude for how blessed we are to live the life we do today.
– Wellness –
Is there really any better way to relax and rebalance than with some time spent at a spa? If you’re looking to work on your wellness, Budapest has a spa or rather thermal bath experience for you!
The Szechenhi baths is one of Europe’s largest spa baths – home to 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor heated pools. You can also make use of their saunas & steam rooms or book a treatment.
Even when it’s freezing outside – this is the place to go. Yes you need to make a strong run (or sensibly fast walk) into the medicinal natural hot spring water of the outdoor bath, but once in the relaxing warmth – witnessing the steam rising upwards against the backdrop of the Neo-baroque palace – you’ll know this is one of those experiences you’re glad to have made time for.
Thankfully we’d heard mention of these baths prior to arriving in Budapest so had packed swimwear just in case. However, if you find yourself in need, the baths have swimwear for hire. You can also hire (or buy) towels and flip flops, although I recommend taking your own if possible.
Good to know: we hired a small cabin which is effectively a mini changing and storage room which you operate with a wrist band to access as required. You will need somewhere to store your valuables. However, if you don’t want to pay for the cabin, lockers are available.
The baths are open from 6am daily and stay open until after dark. The baths are relaxing and fun at any time of day. I recommend arriving early to beat the crowds. However, don’t worry if you have to visit at ‘peak’ times, the outdoor baths are spacious and so you’re unlikely to feel overcrowded.
Living.Pretty.Happy in Budapest…
As I’m sure you can imagine it was a much more balanced person boarding the plane home following our 48 hours in Budapest! Our experiences were fun, reflective, relaxing, awe-inspiring and indulgently delicious.
Whatever your reason for visiting, you can rest assure Budapest will deliver.
Looking to spend 48 hours somewhere further afield? Read: 48 hours in Abu Dhabi
So yes, I admit I didn’t plan before we visited in Budapest! Are you a planner or do you prefer to go with the flow? Or are you somewhere in between? Have you ever been to Budapest? What was your experience? If you have any questions or thoughts, get in touch by leaving me a comment in the box below – I’m happy to help and I always love to hear from you.