We had the opportunity to take a wonderful two weeks in Europe in the winter and decided to visit Vienna, Prague and Budapest. We had read some blogs that made us nervous about the potential cold and snow we could expect at that time of year but it was actually quite wonderful. And trust me, this Minnesotan turned cold-hater, really did have a great time. And there was something quite lovely about visiting these cities when you’re bundled up, drinking warm drinks and indulging and very heavy food (better to do that in the winter)!
We spent three days in Budapest which was a perfect amount of time to explore the city. We hit the major sites, ate some great food and caught up with our good friends, Dennis and Sylvia who came in from Germany to explore with us.
If you can only do one thing in Budapest…
If you only have limited time, the single best thing to do in Budapest is to visit the famous Széchenyi Thermal Bath. You can take the train there and get a day pass to go to all of the different baths.
There are indoor and outdoor pools of all different temperatures. It was so fun dipping into each of them. These are thermal baths so you feel like you’re doing great things to your body when you’re in them, despite the hundreds of other bodies you’re sharing water with. You’re also surrounded by beautiful tile and architecture built in 1913.
When you get a ticket, you receive a bracelet that gets you into the baths but also a small little changing cabana in a coed locker room where you can store your clothes and belongings.
We got there in the afternoon and spent several hours going between pools. When we got outside to the large pool, which we ran to very quickly given it was so freezing, we realized we wanted our camera. There was quite a bit running back and forth in the cold in order to capture a few shots. Very cold but very worth it.
We also treated ourselves to massages together at the end of the night. This was a separate section of the facility and you get a different ticket for this. The spa was upstairs and looked like a rainforest oasis. The massages were quite good!
What to visit in Budapest
There are some incredible sites in Budapest and it is such a walkable city so tie up your shoes and get exploring.
We went up and spent a day on Castle Hill. We walked across the Szechenyi Chain Bridge to get the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular or Budavári Sikló up the hill. A single ticket is about $4. We got that and walked down later.
At the top of the hill we meandered around, taking in many beautiful sites and views. We walked over to Fisherman’s Bastion for great views of the city (and bathrooms).
And short doorways.
The views of the Hungarian Parliament Building were particularly spectacular from here.
We then bought tickets to go into Matthias Church which was worth the stop.
Also at the top of the hill next to Fisherman’s Bastion is Buda Castle, which is definitely worth a walk around — it’s pretty huge and majestic.
Where to eat
Hungarian food is HEAVY and so indulgent. Just get over it and enjoy it while you’re there. With that, check out our culinary adventures.
Best Desserts: Ruszwurm Confectionery. Our good friend recommended this stop for some of the best pastries we’ve had. It’s right behind Matthias Church so stop by when you’re up on Buda Hill. Fortunately we were with our friends so we could order a ton!
Our before and after pics:
Best nice meal: Fricska Gastropub. This was an incredible find. It’s downstairs in a cellar and the food is as delicious as it looks. It was a total treat and a brief departure from traditional Hungarian food. Definitely make a reservation in advance.
Best local food: We at lunch one day at Hungarikum Bisztro when we set out to find a very traditional Hungarian restaurant. The reviews were amazing and it was a darling, very warm and cozy spot for one of our last Hungarian lunches. But buyer beware, the food — as is traditional — is so heavy. We got goulash soup, langos (fried dough covered with sour cream and cheese…so light), palacsinta (crepes), and nokedli (small dumplings) with meat. It was a full feast. Perfect for a lazy afternoon.
Best street snack: Chimney cakes! These baked dough towers come piping hot and are rolled in cinnamon sugar. You can even get them with chocolate sauce or ice cream, but plain cinnamon sugar was perfect and plenty indulgent for us. We tried several in Budapest and Prague and this one at the base of Budavári Sikló was one of our favorites (our Prague post talks about the best ones there). Stop and grab a hot chocolate or hot wine while you’re there.
Best stop for tons of food options: You’ll definitely want to go and check out Central Market Hall, Budapest’s largest indoor market. There are tons of grocery and craft stalls throughout the hall and upstairs is an expansive and very (very) compact “food court” with tons of stalls selling fresh food. We got some fantastic Hungarian snacks here after we figured out which lines were queuing up for which stalls.
Best cheap, easy chain: After all the heavy carbs, we were excited to stumble across Hummus Bar, a chain of fast casual restaurants around the city with spot on Middle Eastern food. Yum!
What to tour
Walking around the city is beautiful and interesting. There is so much history and architecture, coupled with beautiful graffiti and modern shops.
We even found a phone booth. What’s that?
There are so many beautiful churches, basilicas and synagogues. It is worth going in to tour them. After a few attempts, we finally made it to the Dohany Street Synagogue (Great Synagogue).
You can go inside and also climb up to the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is quite gorgeous and offers wonderful views of the city. We did this on a rainy day but it was still worth it.
And just for fun, because we love to, we continued to impersonate inanimate objects and signage.
Where to stay
We were on a Marriott kick on this trip through Budapest, Prague and Vienna — and loved going to the free lounge we had access to as rewards members. So we chose the Budapest Marriott Hotel by the river right across from Buda Castle. The views from the rom were stunning — looking across to Buda Castle. There are also great views from the gym so you can run off all of those langos while taking in great scenery.
This was a wonderful stop and we can’t wait to come back — mostly for the food!