3 Days in Budapest

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Day 1

MORNING Spend your first day in Pest and enjoy the flat terrain as you wander it most impressive sites. Start with a hearty breakfast of apple strudel and strong coffee at Első Pesti Rétesház just steps from the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace and St. Stephen’s Basilica— two destinations at the top of your itinerary today.

MID-MORNING Wander towards the Gothic Revival style Hungarian Parliament Building near the edge of the Danuble. The red star of communism was removed from the central steeple in 1990 and today the building is a symbol of Hungary’s solidarity. It’s worth a short side trip to cross over to the edge of the Danube from the Parliament Building and locate the Shoes on the Danube Promenade.

NOON A tour of the Dohány Street Great Synagogue is a moving and sobering experience. Professional guides provide historic context and point out the area’s most moving monuments.

AFTERNOON Next, hop a street car and exit at the Great Market Hall. Surely, you’re hungry by now? Order a cold beer and sausage with sauerkraut before taking in the souvenirs on display.

EVENING Stroll along picturesque Andrássy útca en route to dinner and an opera. Café Callas neighbours the Hungarian State Opera House so you’ll have time to eat and make the 7:00 pm curtain.

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Day 2

MORNING Have an early breakfast at your hotel before heading to the Ecseri Flea Market. Hunt for vintage Herend porcelain and fine art oil paintings among rustic outdoor stands.

Dabble Savvy: Bring cash and expect to bargain.

LUNCH Ask the cab to drop you at Buda Castle and you’re steps from Alabárdos Étterem and a truly memorable meal. Authentic home cooking tastes even better served on fine Herend china.

AFTERNOON Buda Castle’s majestic Hungarian National Gallery is the premier place to appreciate Hungary’s artistic achievements. The paintings rival Europe’s finest and a knowledgeable guide brings the experience to life.

MID-AFTERNOON For culture of a different varietal, the cellars of Királyi Borok are steps from Buda Castle.

EVENING Dinner at Café Kör is simply a must.

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Day 3

MORNING Spend the morning shopping in the folksy village of Szentendre, a mere 30 minutes from the city centre. Stay for lunch and then grab a cab back into town.

AFTERNOON What trip to Budapest would be complete without a visit to the Gellért Baths? Don’t forget your bathing suit and bring a towel from your hotel.

EVENING It’s hard to resist the romantic pull of a Danube River cruise. There are dozens of boats leaving at various times, so ask your concierge for a recommendation. For those who prefer dry land, a meal at Gundel is memorable.

Budapest Experiences: Pest

Travellers keen to save some steps on the way up to Buda Castle can ride the funicular for 840 HUF (US $3.75) each way. On busy days, wait times can be up to half an hour, but it may be worthwhile if a 30-minute climb through parkland doesn’t appeal to you.

Dabble Savvy: Sit in the lowest car to enjoy the best views of Pest as you head down the hill.

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1. Spend a cultural evening at the Hungarian State Opera where the music and skill of the performers will charm even reluctant opera goers. The magnificent Neo-Renaissance style building, completed in 1884 and modeled after the Vienna Opera House, is one of the city’s most beautiful.

Dabble Savvy: Hungarians dress up to attend the opera. A simple black dress or an elegant pantsuit is a good choice. Folk Dancing is a popular Hungarian pastime and concerts are available throughout the city and even on boats which cruise the Danube. Ask your concierge for a recommendation as locations change frequently.

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2. Széchenyi Bath and Spa is one of the largest medicial baths in Budapest with18 pools in total, 3 outdoor and 15 indoor. Rain or shine, locals and visitors take to the water, enjoying the healing benefits of the thermal water and some of the city’s best people watching.

3. The lyrical Moorish Revival style architecture makes Dohány Street Synagogue one of Budapest’s most recognizable buildings. Its history makes it one of the most memorable. Built between 1854 and 1859, the fanciful decoration derived from Islamic influences. A guided tour includes the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Memorial Temple, the graveyard, the Holocaust Memorial and the Jewish Museum.

Dabble Savvy: Unless you wish to worship, avoid visiting on the Sabbath (Saturday) and holy days.

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ABOVE: There are no words to accurately describe the impact of the empty bronzed shoes. Echoes of the men, women and children forced to stand at the river’s edge to be shot, falling into the Danube, following World War II. Their stillness speaks volumes.

Budapest Architecture: Buda

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Architecture buffs may find Budapest’s range of styles somewhat head-spinning.

Roman amphitheatres, Gothic and Neo-Gothic styled cathedrals, Turkish baths and Secessionist (Art Nouveau) buildings give the city an architectural ambiguity that only underscores its many charms.

1. Though the original Royal Palace with its Gothic and Renaissance foundations was destroyed and rebuilt many times, the Habsburgs built a completely new, small Baroque palace in the beginning of the 18th century. Today, Buda Castle (Kiralyi Palota) houses the largest collection of Hungarian fine art at its Hungarian National Gallery. Explore the gardens and nearby restaurants and make a half day of the visit.

Dabble Savvy: Had history been different, we might know the names of Hungarian artists as well as we know Monet, VanGogh and Picasso. Hire a guide to enjoy the impressive collections.

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ABOVE: Ernst Galeria owner Eleni Koranis strikes a pose beside a 1920s iron rocking chair from Vienna. Her Pest gallery specializes in furniture, paintings and ceramics from the turn of the 20th century.

2. A visit to the lobby of the Hilton Budapest Hotel nets a surprising glimpse into antiquity, as it’s built on top of the ruins of a medieval monastery. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is in the heart of the Buda Castle district, beside Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. If it’s time for lunch, the Icon Restaurant offers spectacular views of the Danube River, Chain Bridge and Hungarian Parliament building.

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ABOVE: Zsolnay ceramic vase.

3. Like so much of Hungary’s finest architecture, Matthias Church (Mátyástemplom) is a victim of various invasions. Perhaps the most devastating, a century and a half of Turkish occupation, resulted in the whitewashing of ornate frescoes and confiscation of the church’s ecclesiastical treasures. One of the most striking features from the 19th century restoration is the church’s ornamental roof, covered in pyrogranite ceramic tiles developed by Zsolnay.

Dabble Savvy: Father and son, Hungarian natives Miklós and Vilmos Zsolnay, received worldwide recognition for their porcelain and ceramics. The iridescent, frost-resistant tiles were a popular building material during the city’s prolific Art Nouveau period.

 

Budapest Experiences: Buda

Known as the “City of Spas,” no trip to Budapest is complete without at least one visit to a thermal bath. Depending on which of the 15 public baths you choose, plan to spend at least several hours enjoying indoor and outdoor pools, steam baths, saunas and other amenities such as massage.

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Budapest is a city famous for its geothermal baths, vestiges of a Turkish occupation which lasted more than 140 years. Navigating a modern day visit to one of these bathing sanctuaries is not uncomplicated, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

Typically, a bather purchases a ticket and receives a plastic wristband, which acts as a key to enter and to a specific locker. Attendants are on site to guide the confused.

Dabble Savvy: Bring a bathing suit and towel. If you forget, there are some stodgy suits for sale and a towel rental service. The“towels” however are more like a corner of a thin bed sheet, neither luxurious nor absorbent.

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1. Built atop the city’s 70 million litres of warm thermal spring water, the Gellért Baths have been soothing souls and pruning toes since doors opened in 1918. Thermal baths, saunas, gender specific plunge pools and an open-air swimming pool with artificial waves provide hours of enjoyment. Design lovers will prefer the Gellért Baths to others, owing to the stained glass roof and Zsolnay tiles in the main hall.

Dabble Savvy: Head to the Gellért Hotel and Spa from the Great Hall Market. It’s a short walk across the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) and on approach you can admire the Art Nouveau beauty of this impressive hotel.

2. Kiscelli Múzeum consists of a collection of fine art from the 20th century to the present, housed in a mustard coloured Baroque mansion opposite Margit Island. Locals rent Kiscelli for private parties but visitors can tour the setting, complete with furniture and an eclectic art collection from the period. There are summer concerts as well, so ask your concierge for details.

Dabble Savvy: It’s a wee climb so wear comfortable shoes.

3. Fortunately, the wine cellars of Királyi Borok are steps from Buda Castle and the Funicular that can deliver a thirsty tourist back down to Pest after a visit…which is strictly for research purposes of course. Traditional Hungarian wines, known as Tokaji are pleasantly sweet and light tasting and there’s no lovelier setting to enjoy them.

Dabble Savvy: If you plan to purchase, make sure to pick up a bubble sleeve, which protects your bottle in transit.