Well, our Vuelta a Europa – meaning crossing Europe, or at least some part of the continent with our little bianco gelato Fiat 500 – was a very ambitious plan. Starting from Budapest, Hungary and ending up in Barcelona, Spain meant 2000 km to drive. And of course, we didn’t want to go on the most obvious routes, so finally it became a bit longer, as we decided to visit rather smaller villages on the road, instead of well-known, super-spoiled touristy places – well finally we have done some of them too. Luckily, there are several options, many different routes that you can take if you want to drive from Hungary to Spain. Our chosen plan at that time was via Slovenia, Italy & France. But you can do it via Austria, Germany, Switzerland & France too. Or even the combination of these two routes, including potentially Croatia or Slovakia. Whichever route you choose, the distance is more or less the same, the duration of the trip as well, the only thing that can really differ is the toll that you need to pay for the highways or the tunnels.
We have dedicated 1 week for the trip, of course, if you don’t stop you can make it within 24 hours, but we simply wanted to enjoy the ride and stopped in different places every late afternoon, spent there the evening with exploring around, relaxed a bit and with fresh energy continued the trip the next day.
The starting point was Budapest, and we had only one night booked there, therefore the plan needed to be simple. Since Dani landed only in the afternoon in Budapest airport and the next day we already had to move to Balaton direction, I was thinking to show him only some highlights of the Hungarian capital, that he hasn’t seen before, and saving the rest for our next visit into my home country.
Highlights of Budapest, hahaha! 😂 I mean even a week wouldn’t have been enough to visit everything, because the city is huge and super-rich in terms of history, culture, fun, art, and architecture and there are plenty of sightseeing points. And even if we list only the most obvious ones:
- catching the funicular up to Buda Castle
- wandering around the narrow streets in the hillside of Buda
- visiting the castle district and the Matthias Church
- admiring one of the best views of the city from the Fisherman’s Bastion
- walking along the recently renovated Castle Garden Bazaar
- then walking down to the riverbank, and through the spooky tunnels and maze underneath Buda Castle
- crossing the Danube on the Chain Bridge
- the Parliament
- seeing the famous installation of the Shoes on the riverbank and remembering the thousands that were pushed into the Danube and lost through nazi occupation
- walking to St. Stephen’s Basilica and climbing up to the cupola for the spectacular views
- then taking the Millenium underground line till the Opera House and walking towards the Terror House, where you can learn more about Hungarian modern history
- after heading all the way along Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square and spinning 360 degrees to take it all in
- from there walking down to Vajdahunyad Castle and depending on the weather conditions either ice-skating or rowing on the Boating Lake of the City Park
- then not to mention the views from Gellért Hill and Citadella
- and of course not to forget the party district and the vivid life of Gozsdu courtyard
- and a visit to at least one of the famous ruin bars, Szimpla & Szimpla-kert, Instant-Fogas, etc.
- and even if it’s all done, we still haven’t gone to take a bath in any of the famous thermal spas: Gellért, Rudas, Széchenyi…
- neither cruise along the Danube at night
- step inside the Szabo Ervin Library
- visit Gul Baba’s Tomb
- bike around Margaret Island or have a picnic at Kopaszi gát
- step inside Dohány Street Synagogue
- watch the sunset on the Liberty Bridge
- shop sonka, kolbász & szalonna at the Great Market Hall
- have cake at the New York Cafe or Zserbó
- walk around the Vörösmarty squares and sit for a coffee at Anna Café
- experience a bit of magic at The House of Houdini, a museum dedicated to Hungarian-born Harry Houdini
- check out the Soviet statues at Memento Park
- and didn’t ride along Tram No. 2., this is perhaps the most scenic way to get around Budapest for those who are visiting the top attractions and don’t wish to walk all the way.
Plus not to mention, that in-between it’s mandatory to stop and taste some Hungarian specialties, as a visit in Hungary – without eating a good Lángos with real Hungarian tejföl (sour cream), a Kürtőskalács (chimney cake) or a Rétes (strudel), or sit down for a Gulyás soup or for a Halászlé, with as much spicy Paprika as possible, drink a Fröccs or even a shot of Pálinka or Unicum – is not a real visit.
Challenge accepted, I thought, and I went to pick Dani up at the airport and kept thinking how and what to show to him from the above list during this short visit.
It was not my first time in Budapest and I have gone afterward as well a couple of times, so I am able to understand very well that to visit all the things you would like to in a short time is a challenge. But if you don’t have much time and you want to visit some of the highlights, here you can find a nice plan to spend only one night in the city, speaking from our experience.
Anna picked me up by car and we made it to the city in a bit less than an hour. You need to count on the huge traffic, like in every big European capital.
Good to know though, that there are alternative options as well to get into the city center. You can download the Bolt application, this is like Uber (but they, unfortunately, already left the country), and order a car, or go out from the airport, and immediately you will see a taxi stand, where you can easily order and jump into a yellow cab. Of course, these are not the most cost-effective solutions, for that, you can catch the airport shuttle bus, 100E for less than 3 euros, and get into the city center easily – depending on the traffic conditions. The tickets you can purchase from a machine at the bus stop, which is located approx. 50 meters from the exit.
We have booked an apartment in the famous Kazinczy street, in the middle of the so-called party district, a strategic location to reach many spots in the center. It’s really worth to rent an apartment here because you’ll have the chance to taste how the local daily life is in Budapest downtown.
Not to mention the nightlife, if you would like to go out and enjoy the vivid vibe, with many international people, foreign students, as well as with locals, your place is the Gozsdu courtyard or any of the neighboring streets around. Basically the entire 7th district is definitely the best area for nightlife and has the most bars and nightclubs. The inner part of the district between Karoly krt. (Charles Boulevard) and Erzsebet krt. (Elizabeth Boulevard) running east-west, and between Kiraly street and Rakoczi road running north-south is considered the Budapest bar area.
The architecture there is very particular, specific, and iconic. The old working-class flat buildings look old and a bit decadent but they offer an authentic atmosphere due to their very local characters.
The appearance is homogeneous among them and the inner distribution is very social, with spacious patios as common areas where neighbors can join and chat. You can take the opportunity to observe here the average Hungarian social behavior, and notice that it is much more interactive than some of their neighboring countries.
Once we have done the check-in with the flat’s owner, we ran down to the street. We thought to start the visit going to Pest riverfront for the Buda views on the other side. From there you could arrive to the Parliament, which is probably the most emblematic building all around Hungary, besides my mother-in-law’s summer house in Becehegy. 😊
Once we have checked if the most picturesque view from Pest was still there we decided to go to Szent István Basilica. This is a must.
The temple is really nice but what is really awesome are the views from the top. The admission fee to the cupola is affordable: 600 HUF in 2020 or 400 HUF for students and retirees.
From there potentially you could go to Hősök Tere (Heroes´ Square) which is an impressive huge square with imposing statues, representing the most famous characters of Hungarian history.
Yes, I neither am a big fan of statues but this spot is another story, with full of history.
Believe me, it’s worth because of the monumental construction but also for the surroundings and it´s very close to Vajdahunyad Castle, as well as to the Boating Lake in the City Park. You could arrive there by catching the Millennium Underground line.
If you are rushing hard you could go directly to Buda, which is located on the other side of the Danube River, by crossing the famous Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge), which is my favorite among those many Budapest has. Once in Buda, you should look for the funicular to get the best experience.
That funicular started to work in 1870 and was the second to be built in Europe. And even it was partially destroyed during the Second World War, they managed to fix it and currently now it looks like if the time had never passed over it.
Up in Buda, you can’t miss walking a bit around and go to Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion). The funicular is operational from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and its price per way is 1200 HUF with a discount if you buy the round trip ticket, but honestly, I would recommend only to get the way up ticket and enjoy the stroll down back to the downtown.
Next to the lower funicular station, at Clark Ádám square, Hungarian Kilometer 0 is located, which is used to measure distances in Hungary. That point could be the first stopover before arriving to the center to enjoy Budapest nightlife. Maybe you would be tired at this moment but, I am sorry, to be out a bit during the night there is a must.
To have dinner, there are plenty of excellent restaurants around and they would deserve a separate post in which we could recommend our favorites, but since your time will be running out could be wise to enjoy one of the city’s great assets: the street food. The Hungarian style fast food is one of the best in the world to me, thanks to Lángos and their awesome local soups, available in different versions and in many places. You can even find street versions of the most famous Hungarian traditional dishes, even being certainly true that they cannot compete in terms of quality with the homemade versions or quality restaurant dishes, they do a fair job.
We ended up in the Lángos bar on Király street, and thanks to Anna I was aware that locals won’t ever eat the stew or sweet versions of Lángos. A tip: don’t do like me and stay always on the traditional side and order a Lángos just with tejföl (sour cream), garlic, and cheese.
With a full belly, you would be able to discover one of the most amazing Hungarian concepts: the romkocsma one (ruin bars). They have created a concept and an icon for Budapest’s contemporary culture and its nightlife. They started offering dirty-cheap drinks inside the open-air courtyards of dilapidated pre-war buildings, especially within the historic Jewish Quarter very deteriorated after the Nazi occupation.
The owners began to bring outdated furniture found all around, sometimes for free, and they started up bit by bit a new very singular eclectic concept. Those bars have become that popular that the most famous ones are mainly only frequented by tourists and foreign students. Locals of course – like in Barcelona, or whichever overcrowded place by tourists – have their more unknown and less spoiled cool places.
Stay tuned, as I can’t wait to be able to go to Budapest again and write more about it! 😊