After a lot of pacing the streets in Day 1 and Day 2, here we start with a coffee at one of Budapest’s most luxurious coffee houses, followed by a spot of shopping, taking in everything from designer boutiques, folk art shops, and food markets. This tour also gives you the option of ending the day with a swim and a thermal bathe to soothe the joints after scaling the dizzy heights of Gellért Hill.
START: M1 to Vörösmarty tér or Tram 2 to Vigadó tér and walk for two minutes in the opposite direction of the river.
Try morning coffee and cake at one of the plushest of the city’s illustrious coffee houses. Your biggest decision here will be to work out where to sit to take it all in.
This is not the place we would choose to start the day every day - the ornate interior can be a bit over the top - but we find it tasteful enough in small doses to be an ideal treat. Coffee culture is about not only reading papers and devouring Gerbaud’s renowned Esterházy and Dobos cakes, but legend has it that young men indicated their availability to well-heeled ladies of pleasure by tipping an excessive amount of sugar into their coffee.
In summer, if the wealth of chandeliers, marble tables, fine wood paneling, and stucco ceilings gets a bit much, take to the terrace and sit out on Vörösmarty tér.
Time: 45 minutes. Opening hours: 9am–9pm.
Location: Budapest, Vörösmarty tér 7. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér.
Even those who are not shopaholics can easily take in this relatively short shopping street and surrounding area. Starting from Vörösmarty tér, which often has something going on and hosts a Christmas market, you’ll find most big international fashion brands from Zara and Mango to Jackpot and H&M.
However, most of them offer a somewhat modest selection in comparison to other international cities. Keep an eye out on the side streets for high-end designers.
Souvenir shops also abound, though with steep price tags, but if you are into embroidered tablecloths and folk art, then you have come to the right place.
The shopping street continues on the other side of Szabadsajtó út, where the vibe is less frenetic.
Time: 60 minutes.
Location: Walk through the pedestrian crossing that connects the two sides of Váci utca from Vörösmarty tér to Vámház körút. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér (starting point).
Great Market Hall
You may feel like you’re walking through an Impressionist painting when the sunlight shines into this beautifully restored king of neighborhood markets. However, it’s far from a museum piece; many locals come here to shop for fresh food and it’s bustling with life and color. The array of meat on sale shows just how thrifty Hungarians are, as they consider every part of the animal fair game for the pot. The carp and catfish crammed in tanks on fish "death row" downstairs are an uncomfortable sight for some, but hey, at least they’re fresh.
There are plenty of foodstuffs like paprika, salami, and goose liver to take home in the Great Market Hall, and upstairs look out for folklore and handicrafts hidden among the mountains of tourist goods.
There are plenty of nibbles to be eaten upstairs.
Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour.
Location: Budapest, Vámház körút 1–3. Opening hours: Mon 6am–5pm, Tues–Fri 6am–6pm, Sat 6am–3pm. Metro: M3 to Kálvin tér. Tram: 2/47/49 to Fővám tér.
Walk across Liberty (Szabadság) Bridge
Buda and Pest are seamlessly connected by this bright green piece of intricate ironwork that joins the Pest’s Great Market Hall and its neighbor the Budapest University of Economics (formerly the Karl Marx University) with the Gellért Hotel and the dramatic Gellért Hill of Buda.
The Liberty Bridge was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1896, who actually knocked the last rivet into it.
Time: 10 minutes.
Location: Starts where Pest’s Vámház körút meets the Danube. Tram: 47/49 to Kálvin tér.
The imposing Gellért hill, that towers over the Pest waterfront of the Danube has been used to good effect to suppress forces for change. Italian missionary Szent Gellért was reportedly rolled down the hill in 1046 to his death by revolting pagans. The Austrians then built a Citadel from which to lord it over the Magyars.
To find the Gellért Statue upstream towards the Erzsébet Bridge where you will see the steps leading up. Gellért, who participated in spreading the gospel in 11th century Hungary on King Stephen’s request, met his end being tumbled down the hill (that was subsequently named after him) in a barrel filled with nails.
Ultimately, Christianity won through with Gellért canonized in 1083. The Gellért Statue captures the saint preaching defiantly but precariously on the edge of the hill. It dates back to 1904 and is the work of Hungarian sculptor Gyula Jankovits (1865–1920).
Follow the path up and you reach the Citadel that the Austrians, smarting from the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, built, replete with cannons galore, atop the hill pointing at the Hungarians below. There wasn’t much use for it after they patched up their differences in 1867, although German occupying forces utilized it in World War II.
The three-level bunker inside the Citadel has waxworks and photos chronicling the Siege of Budapest. Close by and at the peak of the hill, Budapest’s very own statue of liberty, the Freedom Statue M, ironically went up in 1947 as a tribute to the Soviet forces that liberated the city from the Nazis. Featuring a woman proffering the palm branch of triumph and not overtly Soviet-looking, it survived the cull of Communist statues from the capital.
Time: 1–2 hours.
On the way down, just before reaching the Gellért- Hotel and Baths, check out this spooky church whose eerie passages dig deep into the hill.
Don’t be alarmed if a priest appears from nowhere in the Cave Church!
Time: 15 minutes.
After another hard day of pounding the streets, the Art Nouveau architecture of the Gellért thermal baths allows you to relax in style but also to see something special. Inside, the central pool is surrounded by Romanesque columns and lions spitting out water, and just for a moment you might expect Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra to dive in alongside you.
At the end of the pool, the male and female thermal facilities are to the right and left respectively. This is where things start to get really colorful and heated, and we are not just talking about the design or decoration, nor the saunas and steam rooms. You can keep your bathing costume on, though many locals like to let it all hang out and dispense with their modesty cloths, although the authorities are said to be cracking down on that sort of thing.
The plunge pool is so icy you feel the chill right through your bones, but the thaw of the warm pools is always close at hand. While the waters are supposed to sort out arthritis, blood circulation, and the spine, we say just enjoy them and come out feeling squeaky clean and purified. In summer, be sure to check out the outdoor pools and garden, which is a bit more suited to kids who can enjoy the artificial waves in the main outdoor pool.
For more information, please see this post about Best Thermal Baths in Budapest.
Time: 2 hours. Opening hours: 6am–7pm.
Location: Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4. Tram: 47/49/18/19 to Szent Gellért tér.