In November, during our trip to Slovakia, we also wanted to visit Hungary. We have written about our fascination with this country before. It turned out to be a short stop, but an effective one. In fact, we only had 6 hours in Budapest this time. Here’s our list of the top six things to do in the Hungarian capital if you only have a few hours to spare.
6 Hours In Budapest – Stop #1: the Great Market Hall
We arrived by train at the Budapest Keleti Railway station at around 11 am. From there we took line 4 (or the green line) of the metro to Fővám tér. The station is situated next to the Great Market Hall on the Pest side of the Danube and the Szabadság Bridge (or Liberty Bridge).
The Great Market Hall (in Hungarian Nagyvásárcsarnok) is a must place for anyone who loves food. It is the largest and oldest indoor market in the capital. Apart from all types of food there are also lots of stalls selling souvenirs. This is the perfect place to try something typically Hungarian.
6 Hours In Budapest – Stop #2: the Buda Castle Hill
After a short stroll in the Great Market Hall, our trip continued to the Buda Castle Hill on the other side of the river. The Castle Hill is actually a district of its own and it’s a lot bigger than one might think. There are plenty of attractions to explore, including the castle, Trinity Square, Matthias Church (Mátyás templom) and Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya). I personally enjoyed the eighteenth-century Baroque houses and cobblestone streets that can be found in the district.
The castle and its surroundings have a long and interesting history, stretching all the way back to the 13th century when the first settlers arrived.
6 Hours In Budapest – Stop #3: Any Restaurant
When in Hungary, you must try some local food. Goulash is one of our favorites, but there are plenty of other dishes to try. There are plenty of restaurants in Budapest, so you will definitely find something that tickles your fancy.
6 Hours In Budapest – Stop #4: St. Stephen’s Basilica
After a short stop at the Hungarian Parliament Building (yes, the one you will see on all the postcards), we made our way to St. Stephen’s Basilica. The funny thing is that we have been to Budapest I don’t know how many times, but it had never struck us before that there might be a viewing tower in the basilica. Of course there is one. Stephen (or István) was the first king of Hungary and this Roman Catholic basilica was completed in 1905. It has the biggest bell in Hungary. The Szent István-bell weighs 9250 kilograms and it normally rings twice a year: at 17 hours on the 20th of August (St. Stephen’s Day), and at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
And the viewing tower? If you don’t feel like walking the 364 (never-ending) steps, you can also take the elevator to the observation deck. Admission cost a couple of euros (500 forint per person, if we remember correctly). The view is – as you might expect – amazing. This is also where we realized that the Christmas market had already started…
Along the Way: the Bridges
Before writing a few words about the Christmas market in Budapest, I want to mention what else we saw while walking around Budapest. The city is famous for its bridges crossing the Danube. They are all impressive indeed. The first bridge we crossed was the Szabadság híd (or Liberty Bridge). This bridge was initially built between 1894 and 1896, it had to be re-constructed after the war in 1945. Large bronze statues of the Turul, a falcon-like bird, prominent in ancient Hungarian mythology, guard the bridge.
We just took some photos from Liberty Hill and decided to take the route over Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd) to get to Buda from Pest. Originally a suspension bridge stood on this spot but it was the only bridge in Budapest which could not be rebuilt in its original form after World War II. Hence the current Elisabeth Bridge is a more modern white cable bridge. The name of the bridge comes from Empress Elisabeth, a popular queen and empress of Austria-Hungary.
The third bridge we crossed during our 6 hours in Budapest was the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd). It is also known as the Chain Bridge. The bridge, opened in 1849, was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary. Also this bridge was blown up at the end of World War II, it was re-opened in 1949. In my opinion the most impressive aspect of the bridge is its lions. They are the work of sculptor János Marschalkó.
Széchenyi is a name that you come across a lot in Budapest. So, who was the guy? István Széchenyi also goes by the epithet “the Greatest Hungarian”. He was a politician, theorist, writer and reformer. Among other things he founded the Hungarian Academy of Science.
And Almost By Mistake: the Christmas Market
And now. The Christmas market we almost missed as we were trying to avoid the Vörösmarty Square. Actually there are two main Christmas markets in Budapest. There’s the one by the Basilica that had not yet opened during our visit. And then there’s the one at Vörösmarty Square. Here you can enjoy traditional food, shop handicrafts and listen to concerts. We noticed that it is quite pricey, at least compared to Bratislava. However, it is very cozy.
Here we jumped at the chance of having some Kürtőskalács (known as trdelník in Slovakia) or chimney cake with sugar and cinnamon. This was the perfect end to our 6 hours in Budapest before rushing back to the Keleti train station and our train back to Slovakia.
Going to Budapest From Bratislava
Traveling between Budapest and Bratislava is both inexpensive and convenient. There are regular EuroCity trains and buses (for instance Student Agency) connecting the two capitals and you can expect the trip to take 2,5 – 3 hours. Tickets can be bought at the train station or online. In the case of trains, return tickets are usually cheaper than one way tickets.
The train also comes with one more bonus. There is usually a restaurant on board the EuroCity trains. We took advantage of this both on our way to Budapest and on the way back to Bratislava. In the morning we enjoyed a small breakfast and in the evening a nice dinner. Eating on board was both convenient and time saving, not to mention that there is no need to try to find any seats on the train if the whole journey is spent in the restaurant.
Want to Know More?
- Buda Castle Hill >>
- St. Stephen’s Basilica >>
- Bridges of Budapest >>
- Count István Széchenyi >>
- Budapest Christmas markets >>
- Kürtőskalács >>