“Paris of the Danube”, as Budapest is often referred to has become a popular tourist destination over the past decade. People from all over the world flock to this multidimensional city with its fantastic views, tasty cuisine and Downtown where every narrow street is permeated by the renewed sense of “joie de vivre”.
If you are a solo traveler or a group of able bodied adults you can take on the city and see a lot in one, excitement-packed day while also witnessing the dramatic sunset over the Danube River. I am here the give you the Best of Budapest, a roadmap of activities you can easily follow and discover the city in one full day- that is, if you are up for walking over 8 miles crisscrossing this spectacular city with probably the most thorough public transportation in Europe.
Take it from me- who has lived in Budapest many years back- renting a car will prove to be a futile idea given the hefty parking fees, lack of parking spaces and the city’s traffic jams. Take the metro or the original M1 line, the endearing, miniature subway and be transported back to the Golden Era of Budapest. So here it is The Best of Budapest- If all you have is a day in the city.
Best Gluten-Free Bakery
Start the day bright and early Downtown, in the heart of the Jewish corner at Dob Utca, a few steps from the Synagogue you can find Free Bakery- a Gluten- Free bakery, a small hideaway of the best gluten free pastries, pressed sandwiches and seeded breadsticks – my all time favorite. Get there early because their popular items sell out within hours after opening. Next, you can wonder around the narrow streets full of beautiful buildings rich in history.
A few steps from the bakery, you will come across the Gozsdu Udvar-wich is party central for those who love to drink. Bar after bar, you’ll get to also look at the crowd walking by as most of the establishments have glass walls overlooking the narrow passageway. A plus for the dilettantes is that the bars open super early.
After some browsing around Downtown you can head to the Castle District on the Buda side- from Deak Ter take the Metro 2 (M2) to Batthyanyi Ter and from there take one of the old staircases that lead up the the Castle District. You won’t be disappointed.
My favorite is the one by Kagylo Utca, but the Ilona Stairs or Linzi Lepcso are just as exciting and scenic he steps lead to the Becsi Kapu, the entrance to the Castle, where you can find the Matthias Church, Fisherman's Bastion or Halaszbastya and witness what probably is the most scenic view of the Danube and the Parliament. If you have time you can visit the Labyrinth, a former underground dungeon where according to historical records, Vlad the Impaler- commonly known as Dracula- was held captive for 10 years. Reserve your spot in advance because the line to get into the cavern can be quite long.
Still in the Castle District is a fantastic and popular coffee house with great prices, pastries baked on the spot, burgers, salads and sandwiches. Korona Kavehaz has an incredible view of the old ruins and the Sandor Palace, a Unesco Heritage Site. The atmosphere is reminiscent of Budapest’s old coffee houses crowded with the literati. Try their poppy-seed strudel and somloi galuska and enjoy the soothing views. The great flavors are matched with excellent service that so far has been the best I have encountered in the whole city.
Hosok Tere/Heroes Square
After the sights in the Castle District, you can take the staircase back down to Battyhanyi ter, then onto M2 to Deak Ter and from there switch to the M1 toward Hosok Tere.
The Metro is a fantastic opportunity to see everyday life and people going about their days and embrace the rhythm of the city. After a few stops, get off at Kodaly Korond and once you exit the subway you’ll come across Andrassy Ut, the Hungarian Champs Elysees that leads to Heroes Square- a popular sight. From there you can visit a replica of Dracula’s castle Vajdahunyad Castle and explore one of the most exquisite City Parks called Liget.
Best Lunch Spot
After Heroes Square head back to the Buda side for lunch at a popular local spot Nagyi Palacsintazoja, Nagyi’s Creperie. Get the chestnut or nutella crépe, or layered crépe and for those wanting something savory, try the cottage cheese dill or sheep’s milk cheese potato dumplings and get your taste buds blown away.
Enjoy the reasonable prices and mingling with the locals. Also, across from this very lunch spot is the Parliament and a great photo-op. Just head down to Bem Rakpart for your best shot.
Best Turkish Thermal Bath
The frequenting of thermal baths is deeply ingrained in Hungarian Culture and Budapest has no shortage of ancient baths. In the past, I have tried several, only to come to the decision that the intimacy and authenticity of the Rudas Themal Bath fits me the best.
Dimly lit, with a main pool in the middle, you can barely make out the other bathers and it gives the whole experience a certain mystique. Try drinking from the Juventus Fountain or try the “Holegkamra” an over 161 degree Fahrenheit dry sauna- to step away from the crowd. The sauna is a beautiful and invigorating challenge and it isn’t for the faint of hearts. You must be in top shape to withstand the almost boiling temperatures but it will be well worth the deep cleansing purgatory.
Best Vegan Restaurant
After a few hours at Rudas head to Pest. But do yourself a favor and take the Chain Bridge on foot and feel the wind emptying itself onto the Danube River. The city is as majestic at night as during the daylight hours. After crossing the bridge, a couple of blocks to your right is Veres Palne Street with the best vegan spot, Napfenyes Restaurant. You can find every authenthic Hungarian meal on the menu but of course with a vegan spin as well as some Middle Eastern specialties. Try their Falafel Platter, Cream of Parsnip Soup, Millet Cottage Cheese Dumplings- that is as divine as it’s non-vegan counterpart. The service is great-it’s almost like stepping into someone’s living room. If you are fond of bars- you are steps away from the Gozsdu Udvar in the Jewish Quarter or several, nearby cute wine bars.
It isn’t always easy to find your home away from home via Airbnb. But the little mid-century modern inspired flat that I stayed in was worth every penny and it happened to be at the base of one of the staircases at Kagylo Utca leading up to the Castle. Istvan, the host’s immaculate taste and meticulous attention can be seen and felt on every handle of every cabinet, tile and piece of furniture. This true mid-century modern gem in the quiet part of Buda with fantastic views and modern appliances utterly stole my heart.
Of course there are many other things to do in Budapest, but if all you have is one day, the above itinerary could make your life and planning a lot easier and will leave you with plenty of incredible photos.
Enjoy your trip.
Bellow are a few links where you can read more about the spots listed.
Korona Coffee House
Rudas Thermal Bath
Napfenyes Vegan Restaurant