If you are looking for an easy day trip from Budapest, then the quaint colorful town of Szentendre should be at the top of your list. Szentendre sits directly on the banks of the Danube River and offers interesting old world architecture, side streets that beg exploring, and a skyline dominated by church towers. The town is also a haven for artists, so you’ll find many small galleries and museums scattered about. And all of this is only 40 minutes by train from central Budapest. We love day trips, and spent an afternoon exploring beautiful Szentendre. Here’s everything we were able to see and experience during our time there.
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First, Some Really Quick History
Before visiting Szentendre, you should understand that the town is not quintessentially Hungarian. In fact, it was settled by Serbs, Croats, and Greeks fleeing Ottoman rule in the late 1600s The Hungarian King at the time offered religious freedom to these refugees, and with time, their new home became a bustling riverside town.
Once the Ottoman Empire was overthrown in the early 20th century, the Balkan residents returned to their homelands of origin. In the decades that followed, artists began moving into the town instead. Consequently, modern Szentendre is known for its artsy vibe juxtaposed with its old world charms.
Getting to Szentendre From Budapest
A big reason that Szentendre is such an easy day trip from Budapest is that the two are directly linked by train. And it only takes 40 minutes. The connecting HEV 5 suburban train leaves Budapest’s Batthyány station (directly across the river from the iconic Hungarian Parliament building) every 20 minutes throughout the day. And it’s a cheap trip – costing only a little more than 2 USD each way.
The trains used on this route are certainly not the most modern (especially when compared to the slick Railjet train we rode getting from Vienna to Budapest), but they get the job done.
Two Tickets Required
The ticketing process is a little tricky though. You need two tickets on this route. The first gets you only to the edge of Budapest’s town limits. The second gets you from the “border suburb” of Békásmegyer to Szentendre. You don’t change trains. But you do need two tickets in hand for the single train journey.
Both tickets are easily purchased via an automated ticket machine (with an English language option) in the stations.
If you are using a multi-day transportation pass for getting around Budapest (like we did), this pass will cover the within-Budapest portion of your trip. Or you can purchase a single ride ticket from the machine.
The second ticket is called a Békásmegyer Szentendre extension. I noticed on the ticket machine menu in the Batthyány station that this extension ticket was conveniently displayed in a section called Local Favorites. You can also find it in its usual section called Suburban Railway Extension Tickets.
If you get confused trying to navigate through the double ticket situation using the machine, you’ll find a manned ticket booth at the station as well.
(Useful Tip: We were in Budapest for 7 days and used the city’s great public transportation system many times daily. Consequently, transportation passes made more sense for us than single ride tickets. These various multi-day passes can also be purchased via the automated machines. For more tips on Budapest, be sure to check out my post on 10 Essential Budapest Travel Tips)
Remember To Validate
Once on the train, you need to validate both tickets (multi-day passes don’t need validation). Otherwise you risk a hefty fine if asked to show your tickets by train staff.
You’ll find yellow validation boxes inside the train carriage…
You insert each of your single ride tickets for the journey and pull the box’s front section toward you. This physically punches a hole in the ticket, validating it for your journey.
(No train official ever entered our carriage on either of our journeys back and forth from Szentendre, so we never had to show our tickets. But, we were required to show our transportation passes many times when riding the subway in Budapest).
A River Option
Train isn’t the only option for getting between the Budapest and Szentendre. You can also get there via the Danube River on a boat. Though I initially thought that sounded like an attractive and scenic option, I chose not to go via this route. The schedule is limited – only a few departures per day. It takes longer. And it costs more. Plus, I read that once out of central Budapest, the scenery isn’t all that interesting.
But if you want to give it a shot, here’s the website for the boating company.
Organized Tour Option
And finally, even though this is an easy day trip from Budapest for do-it-yourself travelers, you might want a little more help or a little more insight that you can get on your own. If so, then you can find several organized Szentendre tours that include transportation, like these on Viator:
We began our easy day trip from Budapest to Szentendre mid morning. This put us in Szentendre shortly after 11 am. We do prefer an early lunch, and so before seeking out the main Szentendre’s sites, we simply wandered a bit while waiting for our chosen restaurant to open.
The Szentendre train station is located just outside of the old town, and it’s not hard to figure out where to go. You’ll see plenty of directional signs everywhere. But at the north side of the station, you’ll see an underpass. That’s the correct direction, and it’s about a 1/ 2 mile walk to the center of old town.
You’ll also find maps scattered about, highlighting the town’s various sites.
Szentendre obviously caters to tourists, and this does help make an easy day trip from Budapest even easier.
It doesn’t take a lot of wandering in Szentendre to quickly see what all the fuss is about. It truly is a picturesque place….
A Balkan Lunch
You’ll find plenty of Hungarian food options in Szentendre, and lots of touristy restaurants surrounding the main square. But I opted to take us to a Balkan restaurant with great reviews on Google Maps (this has become my preferred way for finding great places to eat on day trips). I figured that given the town’s history, this seemed the most appropriate choice anyway.
Adria Cafe is located right along the main thoroughfare that connects the train station to the main town square. It offers outdoor dining in a scenic courtyard.
Adria Cafe serves Balkan and Greek classics in large portions at a very reasonable price. We loved eating in Greece, and the food at Adria Cafe was very reminiscent of the great Greek food we ate while there. Souvlaki, Tzatziki, Greek Salad covered by a huge square of Feta. All so good!
The Town Square
After lunch, we followed the main pedestrian-only thoroughfare directly into the center of town. As we approach the town’s small main square, we couldn’t help but notice the rows of colorful lamp shades strung from the centuries-old houses that line the streets in this part of town. One of the town’s Serbian Orthodox churches sits directly on the square, and its onion-domed spire is a prominent feature of the skyline in this part of town.
In the very center of the square sits a column, topped by a cross. This is the Plague Cross. It’s a monument erected by town merchants in 1764, and was placed here to show gratitude for Szentendre being spared from the Plague.
Viewpoint From Church Hill
After passing through the town square, we made our way along a couple of side streets to one of the higher points in Szentendre’s old town – Church Hill. Another of Szentendre’s several churches sits atop the hill – the town’s most important Roman Catholic Church (not pictured). In fact, a Roman Catholic Church has occupied this hill since the 1200s, though the current version is only a few hundred years old.
The church was closed at the time of our visit, but for me, the main attraction of Church Hill was the view. From this vantage point, we could see out across the rooftops of Szentendre and directly across to the town square Orthodox Church’s picturesque spire.
Adjacent to the Roman Catholic Church, and a bit further back on Church Hill, is another Orthodox Church. Yes, there are lots of churches packed into small Szentendre.
This church, completed in 1764, is called Belgrade Cathedral. It is the main administrative center of the Serbian Orthodox religion in Hungary. It is surrounded by chestnut trees, which offer a striking contrast to the red church, especially in the Fall when we visited.
We found that the Cathedral was open to visitors at the moment we visited (open hours are quite limited). It only cost us the equivalent of a few USD to enter, and we had the place to ourselves. Inside, we were able to admire the Cathedral’s large and intricate Iconostatis – a painted wall of icons (saints) that is always a central feature of Orthodox churches.
The World’s Smallest Synagogue
After visiting Szetendre’s biggest church, we walked just one street away to visit the self-declared (but very likely) world’s smallest synagogue – the Szántó Jewish Memorial House and Temple.
Jewish history in Hungary is sad. 75% of Hungarian Jewish population was murdered during the late stages of World War II. And in a previous post I showed Budapest’s Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial commemorating some of those lives lost.
The Szántó Jewish Memorial House and Temple is a tiny synagogue – just a small single room and a small courtyard. As we lingered in both, we read the historical displays and plaques commemorating the 250 Szentendre Jews who lost their lives during this dark time.
Admission is free, but you can’t help but want to leave a donation in the box near the front door.
A Neglected Cemetery
In preparing for this easy day trip from Budapest to Szentendre, I’d read that there was an old somewhat-neglected Serbian cemetery in town. We love exploring cemeteries wherever we travel (like this amazing cemetery in Buenos Aires). An old neglected cemetery sounded right up our alley.
So after we finished at the synagogue, we set off to find it. It’s not marked on Google Maps, but it does take up a big plot of land and once we were on the correct road, it was fairly easy to stumble across. (Click here to see its exact location on Google Maps.)
And it’s definitely worth seeking out. The entrance is gated, but it was unlocked. We were able to wander and explore the old headstones scattered throughout the overgrown greenery.
Down By The River
Since Szentendre is located on the banks of the Danube, I wanted to check out the river. So we headed there next. And honestly, it’s not all that scenic.
Just south of Szentendre, the Danube splits around a large island (called Szentendre island). The town sits on the much narrower branch. You’ll find a paved promenade running along the rocky river bank and a series of benches with patches of green space. But all this wasn’t nearly as interesting or scenic as the town itself.
We didn’t spend much time riverside, but if we had, we’d have probably hung out at this floating cafe…
As I mentioned earlier, lots of artists have made Szentendre their home. Consequently, as you wander the town on your easy day trip from Budapest, you’ll see lots of galleries and even a few small museums scattered about. We didn’t really have the time to visit any of the museums, but we did step inside a handful of galleries to experience some of the town’s art.
One more feature that I noticed as we wandered Szentendre was a town-wide tendency towards various overhead hanging objects. Earlier I showed you the hanging lamp shades near the town square. And as is now very common in many cities we visit, Szentendre also has an umbrella street…
But here’s a first. Hanging kitchen wares….
It should be clear now why a visit to Szentendre Hungary is such a great and easy day trip from Budapest. While they are close in distance, each is very different when it comes to sites and general vibe. A train connects the two cities several times an hour. The old town is within a short walking distance from the train station. And the colorful picturesque town center is compact and easy to explore.
You should definitely consider checking out Szentendre when traveling in this beautiful part of the world.
If you would like to read about some of our other day trips around the world, then check out these posts: