When thinking about juggling classes, extracurriculars, budgeting, and wellness activities into a week’s schedule, a weekend trip to Hungary might seem a bit overwhelming to tack on - especially early on in the program. In reality, a three-day trip to Budapest from Prague is more accessible than you might think and so worth your while.
Whether you decide to take the Flixbus, the train (your ISIC card gets you a great student discount!), or to fly, getting to Budapest will take you anywhere between 2-9 hours. This is the perfect amount of time to nap, get some work done for classes, or watch the scenic greenery of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary go by.
Once you arrive, your choice of accommodation might dictate the rest of your trip. I was only traveling with one other student from NYU, so a hostel was our best option. We stayed at Vitae Hostel, one of the stereotypical “party hostels” that are infamous among Budapest’s nightlife crowd. The most beneficial part of staying in the hostel was being able to talk to the staff and other travelers about their trips, their time in Hungary, and all of their recommendations. This really shaped our activities during our time there and allowed us to make the most of the city in just a few days.
During the day, the best way to get an idea of what the city has to offer is to take a walking tour. There are free ones offered within the central part of the city, or you can devise your own personal tour and see most - if not all - of the big tourist sights in about a day. It’s a fair amount of walking, I think we did about 11 miles, but this gets you a good introduction to the city and what’s around you.
Among the most popular tourist locations, I highly recommend Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Andrassy Avenue, and a walk along the Danube River, where you can see stunning views of Parliament, the Buda Castle, and the Danube Shoes, a memorial to the Jews killed by Arrow Cross militia in Budapest during World War II.
Even if you are not a typical museum-goer, the House of Terror Museum is worth a few hours of your time in Budapest. This museum chronicles the sad history of Hungary’s past under socialist and communist rule and brings to light many of the secrets that were kept during those times. The building itself tells some of the story as the former State Security Authority or AVH headquarters where many of the human rights abuses narrated inside took place. The museum is incredible and horrible, interesting and difficult, and takes you on a journey through a monumental part of Hungary’s history.
Another must-see gateway into Budapest’s culture and history lies in the charming, occasionally crowded, but very relaxing thermal baths. My recommendation would be to visit one of the most popular ones, such as Széchenyi or Gellért, during one of your days there and visit the Rudas Baths rooftop bath in the evening for a stunning view of the city lights. To save some money, you can bring your own shower shoes, towels, and other toiletries so that all you pay for at the entry is your ticket and a complimentary locker. In case you’re craving another view of the city, at night or in the daytime, the views from the Citadel are absolutely breathtaking as well.
At night, the infamous ruin bars that scattered throughout the central district of Budapest are worth the trip. These abandoned communist-era factories have been converted into some of the coolest bars you’ll find in Europe, strewn with knick-knacks, colorful lights, and a great atmosphere.
Budapest’s nightlife is active every night of the week and has something for everyone. From ruin bar crawls to nighttime boat or bus tours of the city, you can easily mix in learning more about Hungary with your outings in the evening.
Budapest is the perfect combination of history, old European charm, and active nightlife. Whether you’re looking for a weekend to relax and unwind or one to explore and adventure, you’re sure to fall in love with this city - and still make it back with enough time to make it to class on Monday morning.