Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been too and has so much to see and do that we could have spent another week there. It’s great value for money, very easy to get around on foot, and has fantastic food and drink. For your next city break, choose Budapest! Here’s why…

After arriving slightly later than planned on a Saturday afternoon, our first stop was food! We asked the man at our hotel reception where to eat and he recommended a restaurant called Paprika, which was about a minute’s walk from our hotel. It turned out to be traditional Hungarian and we had a yummy (but expensive for Budapest as it turned out) lunch.

We had wanted to do the free walking tour in the afternoon but unfortunately we missed it as our flight had been delayed. Instead, we walked about 10 minutes from our hotel to the Great Synagogue, which is the largest synagogue outside New York, and can hold 3000 people. As it was a Saturday the synagogue was closed but we got to admire it from the outside and also saw the the cemetery in the backyard, where over 2,000 people were buried who died in the Jewish ghetto during the winter of 1944-45.

We then strolled around more of the Jewish Quarter and down Andrassy Avenue, which is a boulevard lined with beautiful buildings, including the Opera House and the Hungarian University of Fine Arts. It’s also one of Budapest’s main shopping streets, with cafes, restaurants, and luxury boutiques. We walked about half way up to the House of Terror, a monument to those held captive, tortured and killed in this building by both the Nazis and the Soviets. The museum has some really innovative displays, however a lot of it is not in English. There’s no obvious timeline and is quite hard to follow so I wasn’t sure what I was looking at some of the time. Simon got the audio guide but still wasn’t any the wiser as he said it was more focused on people’s stories from the time rather than talking about the displays in front of you. I think it’s a shame because if there was more information I think it could be a very interesting museum.

We then made our way back down Andrassy Avenue towards the Chain Bridge for an evening cruise with Legenda on the Danube. As you approach the side of the river, you get the most amazing view of the Buda side of the city, including Buda Castle, the Gellert hotel, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. The cruise was an hour (including a glass of bubbly) and was fantastic. Budapest is probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen at night with all the wonderful, imposing buildings lit up. A river cruise is great because all the most famous and historic buildings lie along it. I’ve mentioned some of the buildings on the Buda side, and on the Pest side you have the amazing Parliament building (the most imposing of them all!), the ‘Glass Whale’ as it’s called, and the Concert Hall. You also go under each of the unique bridges that link Buda and Pest, including the Elisabeth bridge, Liberty bridge, Margaret bridge (three way), and the Chain bridge There’s some interesting audio along the way.

After the cruise we made our way to a Vietnamese restaurant called Absolute Pho, which was very tasty and good value. After dinner we visited Szimpla Kert, which is the most famous ruin pub in Budapest. Ruin pubs are located in formerly abandoned buildings and are a mix of indoors (that feels like outdoors) and actual outdoors. It was a strange experience! Szimpla was packed with tourists (lots of stag dos) and locals. It has a few bars, including a wine bar, a shisha area, a restaurant, and different DJs. One room had two spin bikes that people could race each other on, with their score coming up on the screen. On first appearances it was a complete dive, with lots of random objects everywhere e.g. baths for sofas, but it was very fun and we had a great time drinking Hungarian wine and beer.

The next morning our first stop was the Basilica of St. Stephens, named in honour of Hungary’s first king. It’s the same height as the Hungarian Parliament Building, which together are the highest buildings in the city with no other building allowed to be built any taller. We read in the guide book that it took over 50 years to complete as the original dome collapsed. We then walked through Liberty Square, which has a monument for Soviet liberation of Hungary in World War II from Nazi German occupation.

We arrived just in time for our 10am Hungarian Parliament tour (book this in advance). The Hungarian Parliament is a beautiful building, and looks different from every angle. From the front it is symmetrical but from the back you really get a sense of how high the dome is. The tour was ok but we felt quite rushed as we were going through and didn’t learn very much. We saw the Holy Crown of Hungary, which is guarded by soldiers who rotate every 15 minutes in a very theatrical style. Considering how large the building appears from the outside, we only saw a tiny part of it on the tour, including the Assembly Hall.

The tour took just under an hour and afterwards we walked out the front along the river back towards the city centre, where we passed the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial honor the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during WWII. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It’s a very moving memorial with men, women and children’s shoes.

After walking across Chain Bridge, we queued for the funicular railway, a 19th century nostalgia cable car, which takes you from the Chain Bridge up to the top of the Castle Hill. It was a bit of a disappointment as we queued for about 15 minutes for a 2 minute ride to the top and paid the equivalent of £7 for our tickets… it would have been quicker (and much cheaper) to walk the 10 minutes up the hill! Wondering around Castle Hill was great. It has a village feel and is very different to the Pest side of the city. We went briefly to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, which are a series of underground caves but we didn’t think it was for us and decided not to go inside the proper caves (you can go into the entrance and get a taster for what it’s like). Instead, we walked down the road to a cafe and had lunch outside.

Next we went to the lookout from the Fisherman’s Bastion, a series of fairy-tale towers directly opposite the Hungarian Parliament and overlooking the whole of the city. The panoramic views are incredible and Romantic architecture of the towers is beautiful. Just in front of Fisherman’s Bastion is Matthias Church, probably the most amazing church I’ve ever seen, mostly for the very unique diamond-patterned tiled roof.

We then walked back to Buda Castle or the Royal Palace, the historic complex of Hungarian Kings. It has some fascinating statues, including the Horse Wrangler that shows a horse tamer holding a restive horse, and the fountain that flanks one of the wings of the Buda Castle called the Matthias Fountain, that was designed in 1904 and depicts a scene from the legend of King Matthias and the beautiful peasant girl Ilonka. The building itself is great to see up close but was more impressive when it was lit up at night from the Pest side of the city.

It was a very long way down and then back up again to reach the Citadella at the top of Gellert Hill for more panoramic views of the city. The fortress was built in 1851 after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 to keep an eye on rebellious Hungarians. The Liberty Statue is a tall bronze statue holding a palm leaf that takes centre stage and commemorates those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and prosperity of Hungary. It was first erected in 1947 to remember what was then referred to as the Soviet liberation of Hungary during WWII, which ended occupation by Nazi Germany.

Our final stop of the day was to Gellert Baths, situated in the famous Hotel Gellert. Budapest is the only capital city in the world that is rich in thermal waters. Built between 1912 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style, the Gellert Baths are supposedly some of the most beautiful baths in Budapest (although we can’t really comment on this as we only went to these baths). It’s Roman-style swimming pool is the most photographed spa in Hungary. After quite a confusing start not knowing how the whole system worked (we got a locker rather than a cabin), we had an enjoyable hour and a half in the different baths, although we weren’t brave enough to venture outside in the cold. We had baths of different temperatures, steams and saunas. Definitely take flip flops and you’ll need a swimming cap for the main pool (we didn’t go in there).

After a shower and a rest, we started off at Divino Borbar wine bar, right outside St Stephen’s Basilica, for some more lovely Hungarian wine. We were seated outside under the heaters and were there for 7pm when the church bells were ringing and the evening congregation came pouring out of the church. Our next stop was Terminal restaurant, an old bus station, which had a great atmosphere, food, and more wine! We then met a friend of mine from primary school, who I hadn’t seen in ten years. We went and played table football at a local underground bar and then went to another ruin pub and bar. All in all it was a great night!

On Monday morning we were a little worse for wear so we started off the morning walking slowly towards Andrassy Avenue and stopped at a cafe for a coffee/ hot chocolate. We then went to a great underground vegan restaurant called Napfenyes Etterem for lunch. We walked down the rest of Andrassy Avenue to Heroes Square (Jewish quarter), which has the very impressive Millennium Monument in the middle, erected to commemorate the 1000-year-old history of the Magyars. Statues of kings and other important historical figures stand on either side of the center pillar.

Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to wander around the City Park, the largest park in Budapest, but it was a beautiful spring day (and also a bank holiday) so the park was packed with people. We got Metro 1 back to the city centre, the oldest line of the Budapest metro system and the second oldest underground railway in the world (1896). Sadly it was then time to leave this amazing city to return home. We walked 55,000 steps during our 48 hours here, and it was worth every step.


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