“My house in Budapest
My hidden treasure chest
Golden grand piano
My beautiful castillo”
Whenever I think about this city this George Ezra song instantly pops into my mind and will be on repeat for many hours to come.
Budapest, the city that has it all, including a history and life story that could be the plot to a movie. This capital is the result of two cities that were once separate (Buda and Pest believe it or not) with the River Danube straight down the middle then uniting to form the super city that we have today. If you ask my opinion, the only disappointing factor is they weren’t very creative with the name, just saying.
Buda, traditional home of royalty, castles and fortresses sits on the hilly side of the river while Pest lays on the opposite side and fits more into the 21st century by consisting of Hotels, shops and Hipster Ruin Bars. The two together have formed a beautiful, fairytale setting and is now one of the most trendy, ‘must-visit’ destinations particularly for younger people especially because of the low cost and there is more than enough to keep you busy for days.
I was never aware of the story behind the city’s name until I had arrived and once I was there I realised the difference in the two parts; one being so old fashioned and ‘European’ and the other being so modern and totally suitable for the younger generation. It was easy to see the appeal and why it has recently seen an increase in younger tourism. It’s like you’re walking between two different worlds when you cross the bridge over the river but this certainly gives you a mixture of experiences and I was keen to see all that it had to offer.
As we started on the Pest side of the city I didn’t exactly see anything special, it just felt like any other modern day urban area, just with a different kind of vibe about it which I can’t really explain… kind of like a teenager trying out a new look to disguise who they really are or express a different personality. It wasn’t until we had a driving tour that we crossed over to Buda where it suddenly dawned on me the difference in culture and it was hard to believe just how different two places can be even though they neighbour each other. But, with this being the case, as you can imagine there is plenty to do to fill your time nicely.
My first true experience of Budapest (after setting up camp and having showered in the most unusual campsite bathroom), was at a ruin bar in the city centre. Yes, ruin bars are actually a thing and truthfully they are pretty awesome (although the elder generation may not share this opinion). These bars are what gives Budapest it’s unique appearance and have taken it by storm. They are basically drinking joints (most of which also serving food/meals) that are inside dilapidated, run down, pre-war buildings and have all been decorated in their own way to make them stand out from the rest in such a way that you can’t help but be intrigued. If you are looking to see more of the local way of life and the residents, I would head to local bars as the ruin ones are big attractions for foreign students and tourists.
Being all the rage, they obviously have a tale behind them; that being the Old District (Jewish Quarter) neighbourhood that they are located in was left to decay after World War Two which made the abandoned buildings perfect for creating an underground bar scene. What makes them so great and yet so deceiving is that from the outside they look just like normal homes; there’s no big, overwhelming signs, no loud noises blurting out, no drunkards stumbling about and no ridiculous queue to get in, it is such a different kind of setting and vibe to a normal bar. Surprisingly, this is mostly to do with their location; the signs around the exits encourage good behaviour and quietness so as not to disturb any of the locals living in the area. They are a sensitive and caring bunch the Hungarians. They all have their own personality due to each of them containing old thrift shop furniture that makes it look like they’d robbed a retirement home, graffiti writing and pictures being the decor where artists and visitors have left their mark, props hanging from the ceiling and of course as they have not been renovated there are still pipes on show and many, many holes in the walls (well, I mean they have survived a lot of wear and tear wouldn’t you say).
All of the rooms have a different theme which makes it great to explore once you’ve had a few drinks and the main courtyards are the ideal place to get to meet fellow travellers. I would say this is definitely one of the must do, less common things to add to your itinerary, even if you are not into the bar scene and drinking like me.
Because of my personality (and of course my intrigue and desire to try the best of the local food), I dragged myself and a couple of others along to what I can only describe as one of the most heavenly dessert stands to exist. Yes, I’m talking about one of the best creations to come out of Hungry, the Chimney Cake (a.k.a Kurtoskalacs). Like the sound of a deep fried, doughy cake cone cooked on a barbecue filled with cream and goodness…? It was top of my Budapest to do list so I did not waste any time hunting down a stand and sinking my teeth into the cause of a taste bud explosion.
My first full day begun with experiencing public transport. It was pretty average and consisted of more or less everything you would expect in a large city; buses, Metro, tram/trolleybus and suburban railways but there was always more than one option to easily reach where you wanted to be. The bonus being that it is all so cheap and time efficient. To truly kick start and get myself going, I took a walk from one half of the city over the bridge to the other and dragged myself up a muddy trail along the side of the hills on Gellert Hill to get to Buda Castle where I spent a long amount of time admiring the view, snapping some good pics and soaking up the sun in the blistering heat.
All of the architecture truly stands out and looks incredible in it’s setting overlooking the city with gorgeous river views. Something you can really look up at and admire from down below. It is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings and was first completed in 1265 although the massive Baroque Palace we see today wasn’t standing until 1769. This plays a big part in the city’s story and is rich with history as well as breathtaking walks and photo points. It’s a great way to spend a few hours and brush up on your Hungarian history knowledge whilst upping your instagram game.
While I was on top of the city, I walked along to the Fortress known as Fisherman’s Bastion which is without a doubt THE place to go if you want the ultimate view of Budapest. It was built in the 19th century to serve as a panoramic lookout terrace and takes it’s name from the site being by the guild of the fisherman during the Middle Ages. There is a chapel, a cafe and gift shop which makes it feel very touristy but what makes it really stand out and grab your attention is the fact that it looks like one of the settings/castles in a Disney film which gives it a magical feeling. It’s a real great historical monument for the millennial Hungary as the 7 towers of the Halaszbastya features the 7 Hungarian chieftains who lead their tribes to the present day’s country to settle, but that’s a whole other story. The views are ones you have to see first hand as they are just impossible to describe!
Sticking with the theme of the country’s rulers, I then headed down the hill towards the river where on the bank lies the Parliament building which is one of the largest and most iconic buildings in the city. Tours inside are available and offer an insight into Hungary’s political past whilst you’re guided through the stunning architecture which is the current seat of the National Assembly of Hungary and one of it’s most notable landmarks. Even if a political and historical tour isn’t up your street, I would definitely consider adding it to your to do list as just admiring it from right by the front entrance or even from across the river it just looks outstanding. With it being a UNESCO Heritage Site and a tribute to Hungary’s national identity, a visit to Heroes Square (a.k.a Hosok Tere) should also be an option. It’s a major square known for its iconic statue complex consisting of the 7 chieftains of the Magyars and other national leaders as well as the memorial stone of Heroes (sometimes referred to as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier).
If you’re still in a regal frame of mind, the short walk from here to St Stephen’s Basilica would be the tip of the iceberg so to speak. It continues to add great artwork to the city with it being the 6th largest church building in the country. This Roman Catholic Basilica was named in honour of St Stephen, the 1st king of Hungary whose actual right hand is housed in the reliquary. It’s perfect to finish off the story of the City’s history. While in the area, its also a great place to hit a few souvenir shops and grab a taste of the local cuisine in one of the family run cafes.
Moving on to one of the reasons why Budapest receives so many visitors, the Thermal Baths. Most of them are century old and even if you’re not a big fan of communal bathing or the water you should still go along to admire the buildings or maybe even treat yourself to a massage or other personal treatment such as Hydrotherapy. They are each slightly different and have their own personality so go nuts and hit more than one to compare! One of Budapest’s nicknames is the City of Spas and there is no guess as to why. There are so many natural warm spring waters under the city which makes it ideal for people to enjoy as baths, healing waters and even drinks. When thinking of Budapest it’s one of the first things that instantly pops into my mind and even though I didn’t go into the water (yes, of course there is an admission cost), my visit would not have been complete without seeing one of the city’s main traits. The spas are open all year round and there is something for everyone’s taste; Saturday night “Sparties”, Rooftop hot tubs, indoor pools ranging from warm to hot, steam rooms, saunas, ice plunge pools, massage rooms, outdoor pools with fountains, sprays and whirlpools and even pools for doing lengths, So, grab your swim gear, towel and flip flops and dive into a relaxing afternoon soaking your worries away.
Now, the highlight of my time here (besides the Chimney Cake), the Danube River Cruise. An experience that is worth every penny (even though it hardly dents your bank balance) especially when you’re with a group of friends and in the presence of good food and alcohol. We left the dock all glammed up in our frocks on a classy barge style boat where we sat at a table full of Hungarian cuisine and delved into a generous helping of a buffet style feast. We had everything from soup, meat, cheese and fruit to Goulash, Langos, egg noodle dumplings with Porkolt (stew), stuffed cabbage leaves and of course a variety of cakes and sponges for dessert. It was a feast fit for royalty and an experience to suit a VIP. To end on a high note as we were sailing down the river past all of the lit up architecture and the shining Parliament Building, we headed onto the top deck with a glass of champagne, posed for a group photo and toasted to a great trip.
Overall, my experience of Budapest was a special one and there were so many elements to the city that I wasn’t expecting so I was pleasantly surprised. From the young, hip scene of Ruin bars, high end stores, festivals and restaurants to the historical side of the monuments and tales of what makes the city what we know today, the food and the baths, there really is something for everyone and Budapest will definitely have the honour of having me again in the future.