A few years ago I was a frequent visitor to Budapest. My husband was sent to the Hungarian capital for a year’s work, just after our daughter had started secondary school. Rather than relocate the whole family, we decided that he should go there alone, and that the kids and I would join him during the school holidays. And so we were able to experience this beautiful city in all of its seasons, and to learn something about its history and culture.
Fast forward nine years, and my daughter and I returned to Budapest for a short summer break. I loved rediscovering the city and seeing how it had changed since we were last there. As we’d already visited most of the main sights in the city, we didn’t feel the need to rush around seeing everything. We took our time and thought about what we’d like to see and do there together. Here’s our itinerary, including vegan food stops.
Day one: arrival in Budapest
We flew to Budapest on an evening flight from London Gatwick with Wizz Air. From Budapest airport we took an official yellow taxi to the hotel where we staying in the city centre: Danubius Hotel Gellért. The taxi fare was HUF 7,000 (around £19.00). It was very hot when we arrived – during our July stay the temperatures were between 27 and 33 degrees.
The Gellért is an historic hotel in a prime city centre location, next to the Danube, on the Buda side (the capital was once two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the river). I was looking forward to staying there, as I’d passed the art nouveau building by Liberty Bridge many times on previous visits, and the Gellért thermal baths on the same site are one of the top things to experience in the city. However, when we arrived in our room, we discovered that there was no air-conditioning. I’d been so excited about booking the trip that I hadn’t thought to check about the air-con – I’d just assumed that the hotel (it’s a four-star) would have it. Unfortunately there’s only air-con in certain rooms – not including ours (number 235, with a view of Gellért Hill). We were too tired to resolve this when we arrived, so we just went to bed.
Day two: Gellért Hill, Fishermen’s Bastion, Váci Utca, Vörösmarty Square
The next morning I looked into changing to a room with air-con, but in the end we decided to just stick with the room that we had, as we planned to be mostly out and about anyway. After a decent buffet breakfast at the hotel (included in our room rate), we crossed the road to the side of the hotel and set off to climb Gellért Hill to the Citadel.
It was a steep trek on a hot day, and we were glad of our bottles of water and sunscreen. The views of the city from the top of the hill are worth the climb if you can manage it, and take you to the foot of the 1947 Liberation Monument, which commemorates the city’s liberation by Soviet forces, and which can be seen from across the city. The Citadel building is a nineteenth century fortress, and is closed to the public. From here we walked down the other side of the hill and along the river towards Castle Hill. We stopped for a drink along the way at Felix Kitchen & Bar, where we cooled down at a shaded table.
Our waiter kindly refilled our water bottles with chilled water for us, then we set off to walk up Castle Hill to the neo-Gothic turrets of Fishermen’s Bastion. This area is free to enter and offers excellent views of the city below – although it does get busy with visitors, so go there early in the day if you want to avoid the crowds.
By this point it was early afternoon, and we were hungry. It wasn’t easy to find somewhere for lunch though, as my daughter is vegan and Hungarian food includes a lot of meat and dairy products. We eventually found a good vegan burger place, Vegan Love*, quite close to our hotel, and we ate there.
After a rest at the hotel we headed back out, across Liberty Bridge to the livelier Pest side of the river. We strolled along buzzy Váci Utca, window-shopping and people- watching as we went, aiming to reach Vörösmarty Square for an ice-cream at historic Café Gerbeaud, sitting at one of its outside tables. Unfortunately the square was being renovated when we visited and it wasn’t possible to sit outside, so we turned around and meandered back to our hotel for an early night.
Day three: Central Market Hall, Gellért Thermal Baths, Jewish Quarter, Mazel Tov
After breakfast we headed back across the bridge to Fövám Square and its Central Market Hall.
Central Market Hall
This marvellous place is where we used to go food shopping when my husband was working in Budapest. It’s a vast building with three levels: on the ground floor are food stalls, on the first floor are craft and souvenir stalls, in the basement is a supermarket. My daughter and I stocked up on fresh fruit and soft drinks for our stay, and I couldn’t resist buying a handmade angel Christmas decoration for our tree.
Gellért Thermal Baths
Back at the hotel we changed into our swimming costumes and headed to the Gellért Thermal Baths for the rest of the day. The baths are separate from the hotel, but hotel guests can access them via the spa on the first floor, and receive a 30% discount on the entry fee. Budapest is a city of thermal springs, and there are spas all over the place. The waters here have been used for their healing and relaxing properties for hundreds of years. Today the Gellért baths are housed in a cathedral-like art nouveau building. We enjoyed relaxing in the various indoor thermal pools before finding sun loungers outside by the wave pool for an afternoon of sunbathing and reading. If you go, be sure to take a bank or credit card with you, as that’s the only way that you can pay for food and drinks at the cafes. There are lockers that you can use at the baths, and once inside you can stay as long as you like for that day, but you can’t come back in after leaving.
Jewish Quarter & Mazel Tov
That evening we crossed the river to Pest again and walked to the vibrant Jewish Quarter. We wanted to eat at Mazel Tov*, an excellent Israeli restaurant which my daughter knew from a previous trip. They only accept bookings in person, so we went there at 6pm to ask for a table. We were given a slot at 7.15, and while we waited we went for delicious cocktails at Karaván Bar, a few minutes’ walk away. If you’re in this area, the Great Synagogue is definitely worth a visit, although we didn’t go there on this trip. The 19th-century building is Europe’s largest synagogue, and has an interesting Jewish History Museum. There’s also a beautiful sculpture of a weeping willow, which is a moving memorial to the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during WWII holocaust.
Day four: Shoes by the Danube, Hungarian Parliament, Margaret Island picnic, boat tour
After breakfast at the hotel we walked across the bridge and along the river towards the magnificent Hungarian Parliament building.
Shoes by the Danube
On the way we stopped to contemplate the Shoes on the Danube sculpture, a monument to the Jewish people who were shot and thrown into the river by members of the fascist Arrow Cross Party from 1944-1945. The simple sculpture consists of cast-iron individual pairs of shoes, positioned as if abandoned by the wearers next to the river, and it’s one of those places where you just have to stop and think, quietly, about what happened there. The monument is very close to the Hungarian Parliament building.
Hungarian Parliament building
When it opened in 1902, the Hungarian Parliament building was the largest parliament building in the world. The beautiful neo-Gothic building apparently has 691 rooms. You can go on a tour inside it, but we were happy just to admire it from the outside, both close up on the ground and, later in the day, from a boat on the river.
Margaret Island picnic
From here we walked to Margaret Island for a picnic. Margaret Island is a leafy park in the middle of the Danube, which you can access on foot via a bridge. On our way there we made a detour to Iñez Bagel Shop* to buy fresh filled bagels, and then stopped at a supermarket to buy cold drinks. We’d brought fruit with us from the market, and our water bottles, and so our picnic was ready. When we arrived at Margaret Island we headed to the famous musical fountain and found a shaded spot to sit on the grass for our picnic. Every so often the fountain would splash into action, with jets and sprays of water dancing and gyrating in time to the music.
Later we walked along the island to the medieval ruins of a Dominican convent. This is where 9-year old Margit (or Margaret) was sent to live by her father, King Béla IV, who had vowed to give her to God if He ensured that the Mongols (who’d previously invaded and destroyed Budapest) never returned to the city. Poor Margit spent the rest of her life there, and you can see her grave in the ruins.
River boat tour
Rather than walk back from the island to our hotel, we opted to take a boat. The city’s public transport network includes some river boats, and we took a D12 boat from the island. The first boat that came along was going in the opposite direction to our hotel, but we decided to hop on board anyway and enjoy the ride. We travelled to the end of the line, where everyone had to disembark and wait for 15 minutes before getting back on board. We had seats on deck, with fantastic views of the city and especially the parliament building as the boat chugged past it. We got off at a stop just by our hotel. I’d definitely recommend this as an affordable sightseeing boat tour – our tickets were HUF 750 (about £2.00) each way.
In the evening we met a friend for dinner at Trattoria Toscana*, an excellent Italian restaurant by the river, close to Liberty Bridge.
Day five: House of Terror, Vegan Garden, departure from Budapest
We had an evening flight home from Budapest. We checked out of our room after breakfast and left our luggage in secure storage at the hotel. We decided to spend the morning at the House of Terror museum, as neither of us had been there before, and as it had been recommended to us as an important place to visit, and to learn about Hungary’s history.
House of Terror
The House of Terror was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis in 1944 and then from 1945 to 1956 it was occupied by the communist secret police. People were imprisoned, tortured and executed here. The grim grey building is on Andrássy Boulevard, one of the city’s most beautiful streets, but as soon as you step inside it feels oppressive and intimidating. No photos are allowed inside the building. The museum focuses on the crimes which were committed by the fascist and Stalinist regimes which ruled over Hungary between WWII and the 1956 uprising, and there’s a lot to take in. Each room has a printed information sheet to read (there are both Hungarian and English versions) and there’s also a self-guided audio tour available. We chose to just read the information, but it didn’t explain everything, so if I went again I’d try the audio tour. The museum’s basement contains reconstructed prison cells and it’s hard to think about the horrific conditions and treatment that people experienced here. The last room that we walked through was a corridor with individual photos, dates of birth and death of the ‘victimisers’ who worked in this building. I was shocked to see that many of them are still alive. I wonder what they’re doing now, and if they know that their details are displayed here.
We had lunch in the shade at Vegan Garden*, a few minutes’ walk from the museum. We then walked back to our hotel, collected our luggage and took a taxi to the airport for our flight home to London Gatwick.
More on Budapest
*I’ve written a separate post about where we ate in the city: Best places for vegan food in Budapest.
The guidebook that I used for the trip was the Top 10 Budapest DK Eyewitness Travel Guide, which I bought for £8.99 at Gatwick on my way out there, and which I recommend.
We stayed at the Danubius Hotel Gellért, a four-star hotel in an excellent location. I love the character and history of this hotel, and the fact that it’s on the same site as the Gellért Thermal Baths, but the building’s interior is somewhat dated. I would stay here again, but preferably in a room with air-con, or else during the cooler months.
We travelled with Wizz Air from London Gatwick to Budapest, and Easyjet, British Airways and several other airlines also fly to Budapest direct from London. I use Skyscanner to search for flights.
Over to you
Have you been to Budapest, or would you like to go there? Is there anything that you’d like to know about our trip?
Disclosure: I have nothing to disclose for this trip – this was a holiday, and we were not hosted anywhere. All words, opinions and images are my own, as ever. The post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you clicked through and bought something I would receive a small commission, at no cost to you.