Walking the streets of Budapest, you soon get a sense of that you are in a former Communist country. Hungary may still be Central Europe, but it has a much grittier vibe than you’ll find in Vienna. You’ll find lots of teens and 20-somethings smoking on the street corner, congregating in parks, or slipping in and out of the city’s famous bars. There will also be those plain Soviet-style buildings tucked in between beautiful examples of classical architecture featuring colorful Hungarian tilework. However, if you dig deeper, you will get a sense for the deep Hungarian pride — from the symbolism on St. Stephen’s Cathedral to modern displays of nationalism.
Budapest is a city of many stories, of an empire that fought its way out of occupation again and again. Uncovering this rich history takes some time. But if you only have 48 hours in Budapest, let this be your guide on what to see and do during your weekend in Budapest.
Where to Stay in Budapest
The first step is figuring out where to stay in Budapest and we could not have landed in a better spot that the Aria Hotel Budapest (affiliate link.) Conveniently located on the Pest side of the city, the Aria is half a block away from St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is easy to walk to many of Budapest’s top attractions, including Parliament, the Chain Bridge and the Synagogue.
The Aria Hotel Budapest is entirely music themed, from the piano keyboard adorning the walkway through the lobby, to the live music during the free wine and cheese happy hour that is offered to guests daily. Each wing of the hotel aligns with a musical genre — opera, classical, jazz, and contemporary. And each room or suite features a specific composer or artist. You can even borrow music CDs or DVDs from the hotel’s musical director to play in your room during your stay.
Even if you aren’t a music buff, the service and style of the Aria is bound to impress.What made an impression on me was also how many suite and adjoining room options there are for families. Even if it is hard to leave the comfort of your room, you should build in time to relax in the spa. The spa is open for all guests and features a sauna, steam room, whirlpool, swimming pool, and fitness center.
All that relaxing gets you ready to head up to the High Note Sky Bar. This rooftop lounge and 360 degree terrace offers stunning views of the dome of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and across the city to the Buda side. It is a happening
night spot but hotel guests do get seating priority.
We loved our stay at the Aria Hotel Budapest and highly recommend it if you are visiting Budapest.
Where to Eat in Budapest
For me, food is also a priority. We spent a lot of time researching where to eat and came up with three winners that you should add to your itinerary.
Located on the Buda side, this is a great place for lunch when you are visiting Buda Castle. It is just down the hill but tucked away enough that it is hard to find and completely off the tourist track (we had the place practically to ourselves.) There is an outdoor terrace and very hip, spacious interior as well. I started with the smoke flavored pressed pork belly spring rolls and for our mains we had the chicken paprika and confited lamb with mini eggplant and tzatziki. Everything was delicious. Highly recommend this hidden gem!
Our best dinner in Budapest was at Tama — hands down! The presentation was beautiful and the food delicious. But our favorite part was the wine pairing. For each course, our attentive server presented two wine options that paired well with each dish so that we could choose our favorite. I have never seen that level of accommodation.
We started with the shrimp carpaccio with mango — so fresh and flavorful — and trio with foie gras — also so succulent. For main courses, we went with the Mangalitsa (pork) cheek and porcini risotto, the Angus beef tenderloin, and the home-made tagliatelle with pine nuts and goat cheese. Everything was superb, not a bad bite (or wine) to be had!
At the Spinoza Cafe, the food is authentic and good, but you really want to go for the atmosphere. Especially on Friday evenings, when a live klezmer band takes the stage. It is located in the Jewish quarter and is a perfect lunch stop after visiting the Synagogue. The goose matzoh ball soup will warm you up on a chilly day and we finally got to try some authentic Hungarian goulash (not the soup, but the main dish) with spätzle.
What to do with 48 Hours in Budapest
There is a lot to fit in with 48 hours in Budapest, so here is what I would suggest:
Morning Walking Tour – Kick off your time in Budapest with a walking tour of the city to get the lay of the land. We started with the Intro to Pest tour from Context Travel. It was a great introduction to the city, its architecture, and its very interesting history. Plus, with a Context guide, you know you are getting a highly educated scholar that can lead to such interesting discussions about politics and history. Make sure you pop into St. Stephen’s Cathedral while you are on the tour and have the guide point out some of its unique features.
Lunch at Central Market – Have the guide leave you at Budapest’s Central Market. This huge food market has a little bit of everything, including handicrafts and local foods like lángos (just bring cash.)
Afternoon visit to Parliament – After the Market, take the tram along the Danube to Parliament. I just couldn’t get enough pictures of this stunning structure from every angle. But if you want to go inside, you need to book a tour in advance. The English tour books up quickly so plan ahead (at least a few weeks.)
Dinner with Locals – Want a traditional Hungarian meal? Why not arrange an authentic meal in someone’s home through Withlocals.com?
Night Danube Cruise – Seeing the Parliament building and Buda Castle lit up at night is a must to when visiting Budapest. Be sure to book a night cruise with an open air upper deck for the best pictures.
Morning in the Jewish Quarter — If you have an interest in Jewish history, I’d highly recommend a Jewish Heritage walking tour with Kata Nadas. As the granddaughter of four Holocaust survivors, she is an amazing and passionate resources that keeps the information flowing in an engaging way. Even if you don’t take a tour, be sure to the stop by the Dohány Street Great Synagogue. The largest in Europe, it is unlike any synagogue we have seen before and the Memorial Tree out back is a beautiful tribute to Holocaust victims. Another must-visit site is the emotionally impactive Shoes on the Danube Memorial. This memorial, which features 60 pairs of bronzed shoes, pays tribute to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust and the 10,000 Jews marched from their homes in the city, told to strip, chained together, shot and then thrown into the Danube. Give yourself time and space to take in the full impact of this powerful memorial.
Lunch in the Jewish Quarter — end your tour in the Jewish Quarter for lunch at Spinoza or one of the other many fun restaurants in that area. Or, head across the river to Manna.
Afternoon in Buda — After lunch and a rest for your feet, head across the famous Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the city. You can either take the funicular to the top, or head to the left to the market and then make your way up the hill through a series of stairs and ramps. Buda Castle is home to an art museum, but locals said it is ok to skip it and spend the time just enjoying the architecture and the views. Afterwards, walk over to Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion for more views of the bridges, Parliament, and Pest.
Dinner at Tama followed by drinks at the High Note Sky Bar at the Aria Hotel Budapest, or check out some of Budapest’s ruins bars.
Budapest Travel Tips
- If you are traveling with kids, you may want to visit on Monday-Wednesday, as many young Europeans come to Budapest to party on the weekends so mid-week is a bit calmer
- Make sure you convert your currency. They do not take Euro (although some vendors may), so you will need Hungarian Forint.
- We were told by multiple locals not to trust the cab drivers, just take public transportation instead, it is very easy.
- There is not Uber in Budapest but if you really need a taxi, there is an called Fötaxi for ordering a standard taxi.
- If you are going to be using the trams, you may want to download the BKK Futar app for maps and schedules.
- Check rates and availability at the Aria Hotel Budapest
- If you are looking for budget accommodations ,get up to $40 off your first stay on Airbnb with my referral link
- Get ideas for what to do with 3 days in Budapest
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Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click a link and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission to support this blog. I received a complimentary stay at the Aria Hotel Budapest. All opinions are my own.