Budapest was one of those European destinations which had been on my wishlist for a while. And not for any strong reason in particular, apart from knowing that it was a picturesque city on the Danube river. But as I researched more into it, prior to our trip, I got more excited to explore the contrasting sides of the city, uncovering its past, the thermal baths, the intriguing ruin bars and of course the beautiful architecture.
There’s a lot to see in Budapest but it is one of those cities that can easily be explored in a weekend if you are short on time. We visited in early October when the weather was still pleasantly warm (high teens) but we were taken a bit aback by the number of tourists given it was the shoulder season.
From our lovely Airbnb, located near the Blaha Lujza tér metro station, we started our Saturday wandering through the Pest side to check out the Central Market Hall – a grand building with stalls selling tonnes fresh produce, meats and a lot of paprika! Hungarians love their paprika – something Andrew was pretty stoked about. Taking advantage of the beautiful day we walked along the Danube River crossed the Liberty Bridge to the Buda side and up to Gellért Hill. Gellért Hill offers amazing panoramic views across both sides of Budapest and well worth a couple hours exploring this hilly green space. Fun fact: Buda and Pest were originally separate cities, divided by the Danube, but united nearly 150 years ago to form the city we now know as Budapest.
Not too far from Gellért Hill we found ourselves at the entrance of the Buda Castle. As we entered from the roadside and wandered up through the courtyards we discovered the immense size of the palace complex. Entrance to the castle is free, but there are also several Museums, as well as the well-known sights of the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and even a Labyrinth, so you could easily spend a whole day here exploring – something we didn’t have the luxury of doing. The views from lookout towers of Fisherman’s Bastion are well worth navigating the selfie-taking tourists for and we got our first glimpse of the famous and impressive Parliament building. Tired and hungry we opted to take the bus back down to Pest to seek out some traditional comfort food at Börze restaurant where we got our first taste of some outrageously delicious paprika based dishes.
Full and happy we made our way to check out the aforementioned Parliament Building – and it really is an impressive example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Another well-known sight to see in Budapest is the moving memorial: Shoes on the Danube. 60 pairs of rusted period shoes cast out of iron sit on the edge of the Danube and honour the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. People pay their respect by filling the shoes with coins, flowers and sweets.
In the early evening we headed to the City Park which is fronted by Heroes Square. We were here to visit the Széchenyi Thermal Bath but first wandered through the park checking out the Chapel and Vajdahunyad Castle. The park is a really lovely spot and I can imagine in summer it would be buzzing with locals and tourists. The Széchenyi spa opened over 100 years ago and is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. It has numerous indoor and outdoor pools, so we spent a couple of hours here spa hopping trying to find the hottest waters.
After our relaxing spa the evening was still young so we headed out for dinner at the very popular Mazel Tov restaurant. The restaurant has high ceilings and the walls are covered in greenery which I loved, and the food, which is Israeli, was fresh and delicious. On a recommendation from Andrew’s sister we then headed across town to have a cocktail at the small and packed Boutiq Bar. The menu is extensive and the cocktails imaginative and expertly prepared, though not cheap. Before heading back to bed we finished off the night by traveling across the Danube to see the Parliament Building lit up from across the river. It was a magical, clear night and there were flocks of birds flying around it.
On our final day in Budapest we took it pretty easy. We started with a delicious breakfast at Stika and sat outside in the courtyard. I was furiously trying to get Glastonbury tickets at the same time so was actually a bit of a stressful morning! We took our time wandering down the tree-lined Andrássy Út to the Hungarian State Opera, which was unfortunately still closed for renovations, though we still checked out the reception area. Then it was down to the St. Stephen’s Basilica which was absolutely rammed with people inside. It made us a bit embarrassed to be a tourist, as it was a Sunday there was still a service and activities going on yet hundreds of tourists were crammed into the building taking endless photos and selfies! I preferred the Basilica from the outside, where it was less crowded, and I could appreciate the finer details. Our last stop, after a quick bite for lunch, was the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in Europe, seating over 3,000 people. We only got to appreciate it from the outside as again we were short on time, but nonetheless still interesting to see.
And that about wraps up our weekend in Budapest! Budapest is a perfect city break (if you’re not over them yet!) with an interesting mix of culture, history, food and has great nightlife – something for everyone.
I’ve been a bit slack on finishing my blogs in a timely matter lately and still would like to post my New York blogs before the year ends! Wish me luck!