It was during our return travel from Greece (n.a. in May 2017), that we ended up with a short layover in Budapest. And we made the best of it! Surely, we’ve been to Budapest many times before and we’ve also had layovers before, but this time, the sunny weather and light luggage made us explore quite a bit.
Layover in Budapest: Why?
On our return travel from Greece, we were flying Ryanair from Athens to Budapest and then needed to catch a train back home to Romania. Even in theory, the time between us landing and the train departing didn’t really convince me that we’d made that train (at 3 pm) so I made sure to just buy the tickets and not the seats.
Layover in Budapest: Events That Led Us to Stay Longer in Hungary’s Capital
We left Athens in the morning, after waking up at 6-ish am. It was raining and we had to walk to Syntagma Metro Station (a good 20 min walk). I was grateful for my waterproof jacket, all terrains, backpack, and daypack! I knew that traveling in May could possibly mean rain, so I was ready.
We made it to the airport after quite a bit longer than expected only to find out the low-cost terminal was a good…45 min walk from the main building. I thanked my intuition to leave earlier. Having passed the security check, we settled down for a quick bite. We’ve only had coffee at our AirBnb because that’s how I do things in the mornings. So remember this, we ate at around 9ish am, give or take (I took a photo in the cafeteria at 9:40 am). Outside, it was still raining cats and dogs.
Surprisingly, our flight left almost on time. And we landed on time in a sunny Budapest.
Hmmm, we may actually make that train, right? Not so fast! Upon landing, our funny pilot tells us that we have to wait for another plane to leave so that we can disembark. We looked at each other and decided: whatever, we can make the next train (7 pm).
So we went with the flow and didn’t rush. Then followed a long line for the lavatory, another similar one to exchange money – we used up the Forints on the way out of Hungary, just 10 days earlier – , an even longer line to get transport tickets. We decided on a 24 hours ticket as, by now, it was almost certain we’d have a layover in Budapest and the plan was that, if we don’t catch the early train, just go to the Danube Embankment and enjoy.
Right when we got to the bus, the one in the station, closed the door in front of us. Swearing in several languages, we waited for the next one. A bus and two metro rides later, we made it to Keleti train station, 5 minutes before our train was due to leave. It was almost 3 pm by now and we haven’t eaten in the 6 hours. No food, no water, and no restaurant car in the train, we shrug our shoulders and decided to just take the next train out.
Layover in Budapest: Getting Seats for the Next Train Out
As our train was leaving the station, we were at the ticket counter to get seats for the next one. Here’s a tip for you: in Romania, when you get a train ticket, you can choose to not buy the seat at the same time. And they even insist you won’t need one, as the ticket is enough. In Hungary, they will fine you 10 euros for not having a seat (which , by the way, costs 3 euros). So, we got our seats for the evening train (7pm ish)
Layover in Budapest: Getting Some Food and Notifying My Parents of our Delay
Second order of business? Go to our favorite café near Keleti train station, grab some food, and call my parents. It was slightly after 3pm by now, and while Alex went into the café to grab us food, I called home and explain we’d arrive after midnight. Technically, around 1am but we’d be crossing the border out of Schengen area.
Layover in Budapest: Where to Go and What to Do
Tummies satisfied, we decided on the next move.
While we only traveled with a backpack and personal item (a day pack for me and camera back for Alex), if you happen to not be light travelers, apparently there is still luggage storage available at Keleti Train Station (according to this Tripadvisor thread from 2016). I am unable to confirm (or not) as we have never even looked for luggage storage here or anywhere else.
We went back to the metro station at Keleti, hoped on M2 to Deak Square and, from there, onwards to the Danube Embankment. At a bit past 4 pm I was taking photos by the Danube.
The Danube Embankment is dotted with restaurants and cafes, but your budget will hate you for staying here. Yes, everything is overpriced and aimed at tourists. So, just stroll by the Danube only to stop for some amazing photos of Buda, with the Buda Castle being the star. Stop and turn to the left, for views of Citadela and Liberty Bridge.
Many photos (and selfies) later, we make our way to Chain Bridge. And then we were looking for a café where we planted our behinds for some snacks. And to charge my wearable (as my photo taken at 4:50 pm proves).
Rested and with more fuel for the road, we made our way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral . It’s on the pedestrian street to the right of Chain Bridge. It also one of my favorite churches in the capital.
You probably won’t have time to go up in the tower – we did that on a longer trip to Budapest – but you can certainly spend time in the square and even check out its interior. We walked slowly on the pedestrian street, stopped to take some photos and feel the vibe of the city and then made our way to the Parliament.
Time permitting, after you are done with the gasping at how gorgeous it looks on the outside, make your way to the Danube and search for the Shoes on the bank of the river. It’s a memorial that packs a really sad story.
Having taken the obligatory selfie, we decide to go to the metro station to take M2 (Red) to Keleti train station. Our departure time was approaching and we really needed to make it this time.
As per my hunch, we got delayed about an hour at the border crossing thanks to some passengers who didn’t have the proper documents (or rights) to travel freely in Europe.
Layover in Budapest: What if the Weather is Frightful
Guess what? Winters are cold in Budapest and it may rain anytime. So what to do if the weather is crappy? Well, it depends. We had a 6 hours layover in December and it was very windy and cold but we wanted to go on Vaci utca for the Christmas Market. The mulled wine was just perfect.
On other occasions, we’d just plant our behinds in the mall. There are plenty of cafes where you can order something to drink or eat, plus there’s free wi-fi. Surely, it gets boring after some hours.
>>read more about what to do in Budapest when it rains