24 Hours in Budapest

Writer Véronique Lo | July 4, 2016

You can spend years in Budapest and still find new things to do, interesting food to try and mesmerising sites to visit. But if 24 hours is all the time you have to explore this ‘Pearl of Danube’, fret not! Here are a few ideas for discovering what the Hungarian capital has to offer in just a day – though remember, there’s no need to rush, for this is a city of spas and cafe culture after all.

9AM  A Relaxing Stroll

Set the tone for the morning with a leisurely walk along the Danube river, which separates Buda – the city’s hilly side – and Pest, where the old Inner City lies. From the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Hungarian Parliament, walk on the Pest side for a view of prominent historic structures such as the Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. You’ll also pass by the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a curious memorial to honour those killed by the Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II.

Alternatively, on a sunny summer day, pack a picnic basket and head to Margaret Island, the best place to reconnect with nature in the heart of the city – right in the middle of the river. It’s home to a small zoo, a musical fountain and a century-old Water Tower built in art nouveau style.

The iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge connects Buda and Pest

The iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge connects Buda and Pest

10AM Hungarian Parliament

The imposing Hungarian Parliament took nearly two decades, 40 million bricks and 40 kilograms of gold to complete and is one of the largest parliament buildings ever built. Take a guided tour, which is available in various languages, to explore the magnificent building and learn a bit of its history. The grandeur of its interiors impress and you can witness the changing of ceremonial guards in the Dome Hall, where the Holy Crown of Hungary is displayed.

12PM Dine Like Royalty

Hailed as the most beautiful coffee house in the world, the New York Café is housed in the Renaissance-style New York Palace, now the New York Palace Boscolo Hotel. On the menu is a range of classic and international dishes to satisfy every taste, although most people come here for the opulent decor – it’s like being transported back to the time of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

For those after a quieter spot for lunch, the Book Café – Lotz Terem is a lesser-known gem hidden inside the Alexandra Bookstore. Situated across from the Hungarian State Opera House, the modern bookstore may seem at first unlikely to house a breathtaking coffee shop such as the palace-like Book Café; but as you ascend the escalator into the Lotz Hall, you’ll find yourself surrounded by Károly Lotz’s awe-inspiring paintings, while the frescos and chandeliers above add to the aristocratic elegance of the place.

3PM Széchenyi Thermal Baths

A visit to the ‘Capital of Spas’ would be incomplete without visiting at least one thermal bath. The Széchenyi Thermal Baths date back over a century and are the largest of its kind in Budapest, comprising three outdoor geothermal pools, including a whirlpool and a lap pool, as well as 15 indoor baths and 10 sauna and steam cabins located inside the neo-baroque palace. Book a massage to complete the pampering experience.

Wile away the afternoon at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths

Wile away the afternoon at the Széchenyi Thermal Baths

6PM Local Flavours

Sample authentic Hungarian delights at the Hungarikum Bisztró, where dishes are created based on traditional ‘grandma’s recipes’. A must-try is the famous Hungarian goulash soup with mini noodles; for mains, crispy duck leg, and loin of pork with paprika sauce and bacon sour cabbage dumplings are rich in flavour. The friendly staff here are happy to make recommendations, and may even offer you a shot of Pálinka after dinner, a traditional fruity brandy loved by locals and tourists alike!

8PM Hungarian State Opera House

The Opera House is a key performance venue for operas, ballets and concerts. While guided tours are run daily at 3 and 4pm, shows here can be surprisingly inexpensive. So unless you are keen to learn more about the neo-Renaissance building’s history, architecture and trivia, seeing a world-class performance at the spectacular auditorium is sure to end the day on a high note.      

Concierge Insider

• Getting around is easy with the metro – get a 24-hour travel card for a hassle-free experience

• Budapest is one of Europe’s most-visited cities. During the summer months, if you can book something in advance – guided tours, spas, performances, etc. – do that!

• For those with a sweet tooth, Gelarto Rosa near the St. Stephen’s Basilica has arguably the best ice cream in the city

For those after a quieter spot for lunch, the Book Café – Lotz Terem is a lesser-known gem hidden inside the Alexandra Bookstore