Based on my own experience in Budapest, this itinerary is designed to highlight the city’s enchanting architecture and lasting marks of history. In visiting these places and spaces, you’ll confront a broader picture of this renowned city. From elevated pastry to lavish spas, Budapest will also provide an environment to slow down and recharge.
Begin your Budapest adventure at the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle Hill area. From its terrace and seven turrets, which represent the seven Hungarian tribes, the Bastion offers some of the most impressive panoramic views of the Danube River in town. Historians believe the bastion served as a vantage point protected by neighboring fishermen, hence its name.
A stone’s throw away from the bastion, Ruszwurm is the oldest bakery in the city (established since 1827). Not much has changed about it since then — the interior of the confectionery is just as rustic, the cabinets housing the pastries look exactly like it was in the 19th century, and the cakes are still as luscious. Their two award-winning sweet treats, the Cream Cake (a Mille Feuille sandwich with the lightest, most airy cream filling and a smouldering hint of vanilla) and Dobos Torta (a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream, crowned with a shiny caramel glazed crust) are a mandatory piece of a Budapest itinerary.
The palatial New York Café is deemed “the most beautiful cafe in the world,” and still manages to exceed all expectations. Budapest is renowned for its grand café culture, and this stunning place once played an important role as a sanctuary for Budapest’s literati community. Today, it remains as one of the most striking spots in town to get a caffeine fix with its gilded ceilings, ornate columns, glass chandeliers, and oxblood velvet-upholstered chairs–an instant teleportation to a bygone era the second any person steps in.
The city of Budapest is made up of two sides (Buda and Pest), spanning across the Danube River and connected by eight suspension bridges. The oldest and most photographed is the Chain Bridge (Lánc Híd), which was opened for public traffic in 1849. It is a sight to behold come nightfall when the whole bridge is illuminated and sparkles with thousands of tiny lights.
Known as the world’s Spa Capital since 1934, Budapest boasts 118 natural thermal springs and bath houses that deliver 70 million litres of curative waters each day. Our favourite is the astonishing Gellért Baths on account of its embellished columns and massive indoor pool. Marvel at the painted domed ceilings, mosaic floors, and acres of stained-glass windows, but stay on for their hot and cold baths, steam rooms and saunas, as well as a range of massages and mud treatments.
St. Stephen’s Basilica reigns as the biggest church in Budapest after taking a grand 50 years to complete. Its fine details will tempt you to stay longer than expected. A fellow traveler who had just returned from a pilgrimage trip to Italy told me the reason for the opulence is found in the church’s attempt to depict “a little glimpse of heaven on earth.”
One of my greatest joys during my travels is soaking up time in exquisite libraries. Previously a 19th century aristocrat’s mansion, the Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library was converted into a public library, hidden within the facade of a modern library.
Gozsdu Udvar has a thriving night scene with sensational bars and terrific vibes, ideal for grabbing a bite (or two) before a night of partying. From there, simply walk over to Szimpla Kert (a mere five minutes away), Budapest’s most famous ruins bar. Mismatched furniture and garish lighting have never looked more interesting.
Taking 17 years to build and completed in 1902, the Hungarian Parliament is the archetype of Hungarian architectural beauty and elegance. British politician-turned-broadcaster Michael Portillo memorably described it as “one of the most beautiful legislatures in the world, a cathedral of democracy.” Head to Kossuth Lajos Square (in front of the building), or stand across the Danube river (Parliament is right on the Pest embankment) for the best view of the gorgeous building.
Are you a Budapest native? A frequent visitor? Where are your favorite places to linger in this dazzling city? Leave your recommendations in the comments below!