I’ve visited Budapest three times. Twice in wintertime and once for a couple of hours on a hot September day on my way to Bratislava. So basically my experience of Budapest is a Budapest decorated with Christmas lights and smelling of mulled wine and sweets. I loved exploring the Christmas markets in Budapest and eating cake in one of the city’s oldest cake shop Gerbeaud. On my first visit back in 2004 (for New Year’s ) I travelled with a boyfriend and we did most of the usual tourist attractions. We admired the grandiose Heroes’ square and the nearby castle and felt romantic at Fishermen’s Bastion and crossed many bridges. I compared Hungary’s parliament with the Houses of Parliament in London and we used the oldest underground in the continental Europe. We also took a night boat ride on the Danube river and ate in a traditional but very touristic restaurant. However, my most precious memory of that Budapest visit was winding down in the famous Gellért Baths. It was indeed a special experience!
In 2011 I visited Budapest again during Advent time and of course I bought a lot of Hungarian gingerbread biscuits (and some ginger ale). I pretty much re-visited all the major sights and admired the view of Budapest from the Gellért Hill. My last visit was in September 2012 but then I just spent a few hours in Budapest on my way to Slovakia’s capital Bratislava. I saw a different Budapest but I must say I prefer it in wintertime 🙂 During this last visit I had drinks at one of the infamous ruin bars.
My personal and very subjective recommendation is to visit Budapest during Christmas season and to enjoy the wonderful Christmas markets. Beware though, Budapest can be very, very cold in winter so pack warm clothes. How long should you stay in Budapest? Three days is the ideal length of visit but if you want to stay longer than you might want to take a day trip to beautiful Lake Balaton for example or to Vienna.
So, what do you HAVE to DO in Budapest?
Visit Castle Hill where you’ll find the Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the romantic Fishermen’s Bastion