Whirlwind Travel – Budapest in a Day

Budapest is quickly becoming a popular destination for European-bound travelers. It has just the right combination of history, culture, and modern conveniences to appeal to almost anyone. The city is really divided into two halves: Buda, the “older,” historical district, and Pest, which is often referred to as the modern side. They are separated by the Danube, which offers some of the best views of both sides (examples: Castle Hill and Buda Castle on the Buda side, Parliament on the Pest side).

I used to travel to Romania for business. The flights in and out of Cluj-Napoca, from the major hubs, were often at weird times and required some real creativity to get them just right. Fortunately for me, because of this it was cheaper for the company if I had long layovers in the hub cities so I could match up the flights. So, on one of the trips to Romania I took a long layover in Budapest, and another in Vienna.

I arrived in Budapest early in the morning. I stayed at the Hotel Stacio, which was listed as an airport hotel but was actually several miles from the airport. It was located in a rural area that had the look and feel of some of the villages in the region, and I was pleasantly surprised.. I considered staying in Budapest, but my flight the next morning was very early and I didn’t want to get up any earlier than I had to.  Budapest is about 30 minutes from the airport in good traffic, and an hour in rush hour. There are no simple ways to get into the city, and I opted for a cab.  It was moderately priced (I recall it being around $25 USD each way), and I was able to use the same cab driver for both journeys. He was an incredibly friendly guy, and, coincidentally his best friend had been a bodyguard for Michael Jackson for years. Needless to say, we had plenty to talk about on the long rides.

With only one day in the city, I went with my usual choice for short trips: the hop on, hop off tour bus. Overall I spent about 8 hours in Budapest. My bus tour included a cruise on the Danube, which turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. Realistically, I think Budapest would be great for a 2-3 day trip (if checking out the sights), or longer if you’re there for the good (and inexpensive) food and company.

Best Moments:

Views from the Danube

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History & Architecture in Budapest

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City views from the Citadella

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Travel Learnings:

  • The Danube river cruise is completely worth it. Not only the best views of the city, but relaxing.
  • Try to arrive to the river cruise early; often there is a line and even if you don’t miss the boat, you might get a seat that obstructs the great view.
  • The other best views of the city are up near the Citadella, on Gellért Hill.
  • Budapest is a great example of a city where the hop on/off bus is a good value. There are only a few areas where you would want to tour, and the rest is great just to see.
  • My cab driver was one of the unexpected positive surprises from the trip. I really enjoyed hearing about the history of the city (at no extra charge!)
  • Budapest is a short flight from a lot of great cities in Europe, so would easily be combined with other trips if you’re just wanting to stop in for a day or two.
  • The roads were not built with the future in mind in Budapest (as is true of a lot of cities) so the city has quickly outgrown them. During rush hour, avoid main streets. Side streets are a parking lot too, but seems to be quicker (according to locals).
  • In my opinion, the real charm of Budapest lies in its cafes. It strikes me as a city where you could tour in a day and then spend the rest of your week eating and socializing.
  • If I could have picked one place to spend more time, it would have been Castle Hill.
  • My expenses for the day included the tour bus and boat, cab fare to and from the city, a light lunch, and a few souvenirs. Overall, my day in Vienna cost around $75 USD.
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