(First published on We Love Budapest, 2 February 2015)
If you have two days
To begin, on your first day, walk across the Chain Bridge to get your bearings of the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. You'll see a beautiful view of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed embankments. We wrote about all of Budapest's World Heritage Listed sites earlier. From the Chain Bridge you can see a great view of Budapest's main bridges, the Hungarian Parliament building, Gellért Hill and the Buda Castle. On the Pest end of the Chain Bride you'll see the Gresham Palace, but walk to the Buda end and take the Castle Hill Funicular up to the Castle District. Explore the Buda Palace, the cobblestone streets and the ancient castle walls. Visit the Hungarian National Gallery to see Hungarian artwork or one of its exciting temporary exhibitions or the Budapest History Museum. Alternatively take a tour of the Hospital in the Rock - an underground network of caves that formed an emergency clinic during World War II.
Take a break at the Ruszwurm patisserie and indulge in a delicious cake or two - after all Hungary is famous for its confectionery. This cafe is amazing because it's been operating since 1827! Afterwards, continue on to Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion for one of the best views in Budapest.
After spending the first part of the day walking and exploring, it’s time to unwind. Visit one of Budapest's many thermal baths such as the newly renovated Rudas Bath or theSzéchenyi Bath. At night head the Jewish District, you might want to grab a meal at one of the cosmopolitan restaurants in Gozsdu Udvar such as the Spíler “gastropub”. Then head to one of Budapest's famous ruin pubs like Szimpla Kert. There are plenty of other great bars to check out along Kazinczy Street also.
On day 2 explore VI district and visit St. Stephen’s Basilica. We recommend heading up to the dome because the view is breathtaking. Then walk down the exclusive World Heritage Listed Andrássy Avenue until you reach Heroes’ Square, here you'll find theMuseum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle modern-art hall. If you didn’t get a chance on day 1 you could walk around City Park and then visit the Széchenyi Baths. Alternatively, during winter there's the City Park Ice Rink, while at any time of year it's worth visiting the Vajdahunyad Castle here too.
In the late afternoon take the M1 yellow metro from City Park to Vörösmarty Square from there walk along Váci Street and indulge in some shopping. Here you could visit the Gerbeaud House, Jégbüfé or the Szamos Gourmet House patisseries. For dinner we recommend heading to Oktober 6th Street to see the St. Stephen's Basilica lit up at night and to try excellent Hungarian food at Kispiac or the Michelin-starred Borkonya. Alternatively you could enjoy a Danube dinner cruise and see the city lit up at night. You'll know what we mean when you see it - when the sun goes down Budapest really brings it!
If you have three days
Follow the suggestions for days 1 and 2, then on the 3rd day visit the Great Market Hall to try some traditional Hungarian food. After you have filled up on lángos or some other tasty Hungarian treat, you’ll want to walk it off. We recommend crossing Liberty Bridge and then climbing Gellért Hill to the Citadel. In the afternoon walk through the Jewish District (in VII District) soaking up both the history and the modern progress of the area. Don't miss Europe’s largest Jewish temple - the Great Synagogue on Dohány Street. For dinner try a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter such as Macesz Huszár or Spinoza. For a touch of tradition, visit the Hungarian Heritage House to see a Hungarian folk dancing show. If you’re in Budapest in the warmer months visit a rooftop bar such as 360 Bar and Gozsdu Sky Terrace for a drink or two.
If you have have five days
Follow the plan for days 1 – 3, but with the extra time on day 4 do a tour of theHungarian Parliament. These run in a number of languages numerous times a day and are about an hour long. Nearby take a walk along Margaret Bridge, which was recently renovated, to see the beautiful view of the city from its vantage point. From the bridge head on to Margaret Island. It’s about a 5km walk around the entire island and during the warmer months there are other things to enjoy such as the petting zoo, music fountain, Japanese Garden and plenty of green grass for picnics. In the afternoon take tram number 2 to explore the Danube banks, it goes all the way to the Whale Budapest building and the Palace of Arts. For a bite to eat, there are many restaurants to choose from along the Danube banks. If you’re in Budapest during opera season (September to June) we recommend seeing a show at the Hungarian State Opera or the Erkel Theatre, the Palace of Arts also has a variety of performances on most of the year.
On day 5 visit the Budapest Zoo, and if you have the extra budget take a step back in time to the old-world charm and service at the Gundel Restaurant, which is right next to the zoo. In the afternoon try to squeeze in anything you might have missed from the aforementioned suggestions or you could jump on the BKK public boat and head to the Kopaszi Dam or Római banks to relax by the Danube. Kopaszi Dam is more upmarket, with designed green spaces and a variety of lovely restaurants, while the Római Part is more homely with plenty of fried fish vendors and outdoor bars in the warmer months. Both are great to have a more unique Budapest experience as not everyone finds their way to these two locations. After dinner check out the live-music scene at Akvárium Klub at Elizabeth Square.
If you have more days
For those with more time to spare we recommend visiting János Hill. This is great activity all year round: in summer take a picnic or go for a walk, while when the snow falls it's popular for sledding. Getting there and back is half the fun! Take the Cog-wheel Railway and Children's Train up and return to downtown Budapest using the scenic Zugliget Chairlift. You might also like to explore other cities in Hungary if you have a few extra days. We wrote about some popular day trips and weekends-away here. To explore more of Budapest on foot we recommend the palace district in VIII District - read our article that reveals secrets of the palace district here. Alternatively take a walk down Pozsonyi Road and Hollán Ernő Street in XIII District or Bartók Béla Avenue - all three have a unique feel with many cafes, smaller galleries and unique shops. Finally if you need a guide we recommend joining one of these walking tours or these alternative tours.
Tips for those with children
For those with children there's no shortage of activities that the whole family can enjoy in Budapest. Here is an earlier article we did on 10 activities for children in Budapest. This includes the Center for Scientific Wonders, the Tropicarium andAquaworld. For those little ones interested in the city and beyond take them to Miniversum or the Transport Museum.