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Weekend in Budapest: Top 10 Best Things to Do

Hungarian Parliament

I wound up spending a weekend in Budapest by complete accident. We were originally scheduled to fly to Alghero, Sardinia for three days of sun, sea and sightseeing. Unfortunately, our train to London Stansted from Liverpool Station was canceled, leaving us stranded at the station with little hope of reaching the airport in time.

With precious minutes ticking away, we hailed a cab, drove 1.5 hours north through London traffic and hurriedly navigated check-in and security. Only once we arrived at the gate did we realize our plane had left and we had missed the only outbound flight to Sardinia all week.

Now stuck at Stansted, we turned to the departure board. “Why not?” We had already gone to the trouble of hiring a pet sitter, cleaning the house and rearranging schedules for the Sardinia trip. Our travel insurance would reimburse us for the cost of our missed flights and hotel.

We rushed off to the Ryanair desk and booked the next flight out to the Pearl of the Danube—Budapest.

Spending the weekend in Budapest? Here’s all the destinations you should add to your travel itinerary:

Michelle Altenberg in Budapest
View from the rooftop at St. Stephen’s Basilica.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

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St. Stephen’s Basilica is my top recommendation for a weekend in Budapest. Centrally located, this impressive Roman Catholic church boasts outstanding architecture and a dome with 360-degree views of the city. Not to worry if stairs aren’t your thing—the basilica has an elevator that will whisk you to the rooftop in no time.

St Stephen's Basilica Budapest - Weekend Holiday in Budapest

Admission rates start at 2,000 HUF (Hungarian forint) for access inside the church. However, I would strongly suggest booking the all-inclusive ticket with access to the dome. Trust me—it’s worth it. The all-inclusive tickets cost 4,500 HUF or about £11 with current exchange rates.

Purchase tickets in advance on the basilica’s website to ensure entry, or be like me and grab tickets last-minute at the visitors’ office on-site. The bird’s eye view offers an unparalleled perspective of this vibrant city.

Hungarian State Opera - Budapest Travel Itinerary

Hungarian State Opera Tour During a Weekend in Budapest

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One of the best things about the Hungarian State Opera is that it’s so close to St. Stephen’s Basilica. You can walk from one to the other in about five minutes!

The opera house has played host to the country’s finest singers, artists and musicians since 1884, and it’s still the only opera house in the entire country. The gold-embellished ceilings and posh velvet interiors will transport you to a bygone era of luxury.

Hour-long tours are available in English every day at 1:30, 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. Purchase tickets online in advance for 7,000 HUF or about £17. Alternatively, if you have the free time, consider attending an evening show. Tickets are incredibly affordable and start at just 1,800 HUF or about £4.

Even if you don’t purchase a tour or ticket to a show, the Hungarian State Opera is still worth a visit during your weekend in Budapest. The ornate lobby is free to access and the external architecture is definitely not to be missed.

Rudas Thermal Bath
The main pool at Rudas Thermal Bath. Image credit: Paristick

Rudas Thermal Bath

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Soaking in the baths at Rudas is one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. This traditional bathhouse at the foot of Gellert Hill dates all the way back to 1550, when the Ottomans ruled Budapest. The central pool at the heart of the spa features ancient columns and a domed ceiling, with four pools of varying temperatures along the sides. Pro tip: If you stand in the center of the main pool, you can hear even a whisper echo off the ceiling above down to where you’re standing below.

Rudas even has a rooftop hot tub with breathtaking views of the Danube River and Central Budapest. Our skin was glowing and our complexion more even-toned after an afternoon in these healing waters.

I’d allow at least two, ideally three hours to visit Rudas, leisurely wandering from pool to pool at your own pace. There is so much to explore—even two cafes and a bar to quench your appetite and thirst. Bring your own swim attire, towel and flip-flops. Hair dryers are provided inside the locker rooms.

I recommend purchasing a day pass to all soaking zones for 8,600 HUF on weekdays or 12,200 HUF on weekends (£20 and £29 respectively). The baths can only be visited by men and women on certain days, so please check their schedule for the latest information.

The Castle District - Budapest Weekend Itinerary

The Castle District Budapest

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Catch the 210 bus from the city center and ride across the Danube, up the hill and into the Buda Castle District. This area almost feels like Disney World or another theme park, but instead of rollercoasters and train rides, it’s comprised of museums and art galleries housed inside a sprawling royal palace.

Castle District Budapest - Fishermans Bastion

It would be easy to spend an entire day and an entire budget trudging from building to building paying admission after admission. Instead, focus your time, energy and money on seeing these:

  • Hungarian National Gallery: Expansive and beautiful, with a stunning collection of art, as well as an incredible dome featuring 360-degree views of the city.
  • Matthias Fountain: Known as the Trevi Fountain of Budapest.
  • Matthias Church: Its vivid terracotta and turquoise roof tiles are unmistakable and not to be missed.
  • Fishermen’s Bastion: This ornate elevated structure offers a great photo opportunity.

Much of experiencing the Castle District involves simply being there, walking around and taking it all in. Budapest has invested heavily in restoring old monuments to their original splendor, so the architecture is now in tip-top shape.

Hungarian Parliament building
The Hungarian Parliament Building situated on the Danube River.

Hungarian Parliament – Best Things to Do on a Weekend in Budapest

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The Hungarian Parliament building is perched along the Danube with a striking symmetrical façade. Tours of this resplendent structure last 45 minutes and are available in most languages. Purchase tickets in advance due to high demand and the possibility of selling out. The tour will take you through the gold-plated City Side Staircase, the Grand Stairway, the Dome Hall and the Chamber of Peers. Definitely a must-see for any weekend in Budapest.

Weekend in Budapest Itinerary - Szechenyi Thermal Baths

Széchenyi Thermal Baths & Heroes Square (both inside City Park)

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The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are synonymous with Budapest and represent the city’s most visited attraction. Built in 1913, the grandiose architecture invites you to relax, unwind and let the thermal waters, rich in sulfate, calcium, and magnesium, work their magic. Due to its popularity, the pools can become crowded with a rather boisterous (and amorous) crowd. You’re less likely to find locals here than at my favorite thermal spa—Rudas Baths. Entry prices for Széchenyi start at 9,400 Ft, or about £22. Tickets are available for purchase on-site at the baths, but lines can become extremely long so I’d recommend booking ahead.

Holiday in Budapest - Szechenyi Thermal Baths

After you’re finished at the baths, why not pop over to Heroes’ Square? They’re both located in City Park and just a 5-minute walk apart. Win-win!

Things to do in Budapest - Central Market
Central Market Hall in Budapest. Image credit: Thaler Tamas (Wikipedia)

Central Market Hall Budapest

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Visit Central Market Hall for a lunch full of Hungarian classics: goulash, paprika sausage, perfectly seasoned potatoes and stuffed cabbage with sour cream. While the ground floor is great for fresh meat, vegetables or perhaps a souvenir, venture upstairs for the hot food options.

Additionally, if pickled vegetables are more your thing, head to the basement for all the sour okra, cucumbers and carrots you can handle.

Anker Palace Anker Palota - Things to do Budapest

Anker Palace (Anker Palota in Hungarian)

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This is an easy one to check off your weekend in Budapest sightseeing list. You don’t even need to go inside! Anker Palace has the most imposing, memorable façade of any building we encountered in Budapest. Sure the exterior is crumbling a bit and it needs a fresh coat of paint. But hey, the building was constructed in 1908—that doesn’t detract from the absolute “wow” factor of this structure. Anker Palace will take your breath away the first time you see it. It’s also conveniently located very close to the next “must-see” item on my list…

Best Things to do in Budapest - Elizabeth Square
Summer in Budapest’s Elizabeth Square. Image credit: Ari Gunad

Elizabeth Square: Weekend in Budapest

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Next, we have Elizabeth Square. This is a great little park where you can kick your feet up and unwind for a bit. This lovely green space in central Budapest has a playground for small children, plenty of grass and shade and even offers the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel for an elevated look at the city.

Elizabeth Square is a stone’s throw from Budapest’s main shopping district: Fashion Street. Head here for a pedestrianized area with stores by major brands like Lacoste, Zara, United Colors of Benetton, etc.

Gozsdu Udvar - Budapest Things to Do

Gozsdu Udvar – Weekend in Budapest

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We stumbled upon this rather long passageway featuring a plethora of restaurants, art vendors and antique dealers quite by accident. It’d be easy to spend an hour or two wandering from stall to stall, perusing various handmade jewelry and vintage mementos. There’s plenty of bars to pop into for a quick drink, as well.

The market passageway and tangential restaurants that comprise Gozsdu Udvar all felt very local and authentic—not at all touristy. I highly recommend this area for an afternoon aperitivo or happy hour stroll.

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Common Budapest Questions:

Is it free to enter St. Stephen’s Basilica?

Unfortunately, no. Tickets start at 2,000 Ft (about £5). I recommend booking the all-inclusive option which costs 4,500 Ft or about £11 and includes entry to the rooftop dome with 360-degree views of the city.

How long does St. Stephen’s Basilica take?

Allow at least an hour to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica during your weekend in Budapest. You want plenty of time to take in the church’s splendor and rooftop views.

What time is Mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica?

Holy Mass at St. Stephen’s Basilica is usually held daily at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. I would recommend visiting the basilica’s events calendar to confirm happenings on your desired date.

What is inside St. Stephen’s Basilica?

St. Stephen’s Basilica houses one of Hungary’s most sacred treasures: the mummified right hand of St. Stephen himself!

What do you wear to the Hungarian State Opera?

If attending a performance at the Hungarian State Opera, formal attire is required. Jeans are not recommended. If you’re just attending a daytime tour or stepping inside the lobby, casual outfits are permitted.

Can you go inside Opera House Budapest?

Yes, guided tours are available every day at 1:30, 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. Tickets should be purchased in advance through the Hungarian State Opera website. The interior lobby is accessible for free throughout the day even without a ticket.

How old do you have to be to go to Rudas Baths?

You must be at least 14-years-old to visit Rudas Thermal Baths.

What do you wear to Rudas Baths?

Swim attire is required at Rudas Baths. I’d also recommend bringing a towel and flip-flips with good grip for walking between pools.

Which is better–Rudas or Széchenyi Baths?

I prefer Rudas Thermal Bath to Széchenyi. Rudas struck me as a more authentic Hungarian experience. The facilities were cleaner, the pools better-maintained and the crowd generally more local with a calmer atmosphere. Széchenyi, on the other hand, seemed to attract more of a tourist and party crowd, prone to making out and getting handsy under the mineral waters. If you’re easily offended, I would not recommend visiting Széchenyi.

Does Buda Castle have free entry?

Buda Castle is occupied by the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, both of which charge a small admission fee.

Can you go into the Hungarian Parliament building?

Yes, tours of the Hungarian State Parliament building are available in most languages and last about 45 minutes. Tickets should be purchased in advance on their website.

What do you wear to Széchenyi?

Towels, robes and swimsuits are available for purchase at Széchenyi, however I’d suggest bringing your own. You should also remember to bring some sandals or flip-flops because the ground can be quite rough when walking between the different pools.

Is Heroes’ Square worth a visit?

Yes, Heroes’ Square in Budapest is worth checking out if you’re spending the weekend in Budapest. It is located inside City Park, just a 5-minute walk from the famous Széchenyi Baths.

Can you eat at Central Market Budapest?

Yes, the hot food stalls at Central Market Budapest are located upstairs. There’s plenty of authentic, affordable Hungarian classics to choose from.

What is the main shopping street in Budapest?

The main shopping area in Budapest is called Fashion Street. It has major brands such as Zara, Lacoste, Lush, Massimo Dutti, etc. The area is pedestrianized and closed to major traffic.

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