Cited as one of the most beautiful cities and also ranked as one of the most idyllic cities to live in Europe, Budapest is a must visit. The grandeur and the architecture of the city is majestic. It boasts to have the second oldest metro line in the world, around 80 geothermal springs with the largest thermal water cave system, the second largest synagogue and the third largest Parliament building in the world.
Budapest is an outstanding example of urban development in Central Europe, characterised by periods of devastation and revitalization. It is divided into 2 parts, Buda being the hilly side and Pest being the flat city side, River Danube running between them. Both of them are connected by the famous 19th century chain bridge. The central area of the city has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site and has many beautiful monuments. River Danube, which is the second longest river in Europe, flows all through Budapest and passes through 10 countries before emptying into the Black Sea. (Like I always do - here's a bollywood trivia: Shockingly, the whole of the second half of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was shot in Budapest and not Italy!!).
This city also has some of the finest hotels with over-the-top architectural designs. To name a few - The Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Buddha Bar and lots more.
Best time to visit Budapest is between March to May and September to November. June to August is a great time to visit as well, but is usually overcrowded with tourists.
One thing which I really loved about the city is the different types of modes of transport it has to explore the place. Walking around, renting cycles, trams and hop on hop off buses are the regulars, but they also have segways, Budapest Tuktuk, electric bike and electric scooters. Most of them are guided tours and you can drive around the whole city in a day. The prices vary depending on what you chose, but are quite reasonable.
The official currency used there is Hungarian Forint (HUF). It is quite low in valuation, hence don't be fooled by its denominations. A meal for two would easily cost a minimum of 7,000 HUF. Most of the places accept Euros as well. So carry money with you accordingly. The money exchange centres there accept only cash for exchange, hence if you are planning to draw currency from there, be sure to carry your local currency, else you can use the ATMs for withdrawal. However, the exchange rates with the ATMs are quite bad.
We flew Wizz Air on Friday night and were put up at Novum Hotels. The hotel claims to be a 4 star, but somehow didn’t live up to our expectations. The staff was quite rude and disinterested. Also, there was continuous noise of machines running overnight near our room. The only advantage of the hotel was that, it was located opposite to one of the main railway stations (Keleti Palyaudvar - one of the spots for sightseeing), which made it easy for us to get to the city centre.
Unfortunately, we weren't aware of the different sight seeing options that were available, and had already booked ourselves on the hop on and hop off bus. Whenever we are limited on time, my husband and I usually take the tour bus to see the complete city with its historical guidance. Then in the remaining time, we usually explore the places we liked or find some new places. Call it our travel strategy, it has really worked for us. But in Budapest, I would recommend trying the segway or electric bike tours.
After filling our tummies with breakfast, we took M2 metro to Deak Ferenc ter station, which was nearest to our first stop St. Stephen’s Basilica. (700 metres from the station). We had taken a pack of 10 tickets, which could be used in buses, trams and metros. (Turns out to be cheaper).
Dedicated to the first king of Hungary, St. Stephen's Basilica is a Roman Catholic basilica and it's reliquary houses a mummified right hand of the King. It is a magnificent basalica, constructed in a Neo-Classical architectural style. Many organ concerts are also held here. The interiors are painted with gold and have got intricate carvings and paintings across its walls and dome. The dome of the basilica can be accessed by a lift, to get a 360 degree view of Budapest.
When we got out of the Basilica, we noticed a fairly huge queue on the corner. We noticed a tiny little ice cream parlour named Gelarto Rosa, serving authentic Italian gelato. We chose to have a nutella cone (they fill the cone with nutella and top it up with gelato - It is heavenly) with Oreo, Chocolate and Hazelnut flavours. The end result was an elegant looking rose ice cream which tasted out of the world. Definitely give this place a try.
We continued on our tour bus from outside the basilica. The bus took us through the main street areas, often repeating a lot of places. Our next stop was the monumental Parliament Building. This architectural wonder was inspired by the Parliament of United Kingdom. It was built in Neo-Gothic style. If you want to see this pompous building from the inside, it is advisable to buy tickets online before your trip (There is a discounted fee for EU citizens). The interiors are very classy and leave you awestruck. The main stairway and the assembly hall are magnificent and gorgeous. Also, do not miss the change of guards which happens at 12.30pm daily. Behind the Parliament, you have the views of the Danube River, the Chain Bridge and the whole of Buda city.
We halted for lunch near our next stop, which was the Royal Opera of Budapest. We had delicious pasta at Pizza Eataliano. Definitely try the dough balls and house lemonade here.
Along with our Hop and hop off bus, we also bought tickets for the night cruise tour of Budapest. They have various options like, Dinner and cruise (where you have local dance performances and music on board), Pizza-Beer and Cruise or only cruise. Since we had other plans for dinner, we opted for the cruise only option.
After our lunch, we proceeded towards Millennium Monument Heroes' Square. One of the most major and beautiful squares in Budapest, it is noted for its iconic statue complex which features Hungarian national leaders. It was designed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin. The metro station of Heroes' Square is one of the oldest metro line and is also a World Heritage Site (as I mentioned above). On either sides of the square, you have the Museum of Fine Arts (which houses an exquisite collection of European Art and contains works from old masters including Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Goya, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Dürer and Rubens.) and Palace of Art (An exhibition hall, mainly used to host temporary exhibitions). The Heroes' Square is also an entry to the Andrassy Avenue, which hosts a city park, Vajdahunyad Castle and lots of lakeside cafes.
The Vajdahunyad Castle has a very eerie type of a feel. It's entrance gates, the castle and the cathedral give a feel of a witch's castle from a fairytale movie. The castle can be visited from the inside if you wish, but it is not one of the must sees. You can chill at one of the cafes or just laze in the park or even do boating in the lake.
Our next stop was Buda Castle in the Buda side after crossing the famous Chain Bridge. A Royal Palace or Royal Castle in the oldern times, now Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. The castle sits on the tip of Castle Hill, which is a large limestone plateau. It is bound by the Castle District, Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church. A Funicular runs to the Buda Castle, you could either take that and walk around or take the Budapest Tuk Tuk which runs only for the castle area. We chose the latter as there was a long queue for the funicular.
Here, there are remains of monuments such as the Roman city of Aquincum and the Gothic castle of Buda, which have had a considerable influence on the architecture of various periods. It is one of the world's outstanding urban landscapes and illustrates the great periods in the history of the Hungarian capital. There are various points on the hill which give you panoramic views of the other side. You can take guided tours in various languages to understand the history and architecture of the Castle.
After walking around the castle and getting a few scenic shots, our next stop on the bus was the Citadel. It is a fortification built on the top of Gellert Hill and offers the best views of Budapest (especially at night, when the whole city is lit). It is a symbol of freedom and we can also find the Statue of Liberty atop the hill, depicting a proud lady who has been protecting Budapest since 1947.
We came back to the Buda Castle and continued walking towards Castle District. It has beautiful winding cobblestone streets, leafy promenades, baroque houses, Habsburg monuments and old style cafes. A very pleasant and a calming walk through these streets leads you to the Fisherman's Bastion and Matthias Church.
One of the most finest and unique churches in Europe, Matthias Church is full of surprises, mysteries and treasures. The church has gorgeous interiors with colours inspired by orientalism and romantic historicism. The church has delicate turrets with coloured tile roofs which makes it different from the others.
Next to the church is the Fisherman's Bastion. It served as a lookout tower offering the best views in Budapest. It has fairy tale towers and 7 turrets which represent 7 Hungarian tribes who founded the present day country. It was protected by the guild of fishermen and that's how it gets the name. It's architecture is neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style. There is a local cafe situated within the Bastion, which serves delicious Kürtoskalács.
Kürtoskalács are a popular Hungarian pastry made from a sweet, yeast dough which is cut into long strips, then wrapped around a cylinder and rolled in sugar. It is then baked over hot coal while being slathered with butter, so that the surface gets golden brown and the sugar caramelizes to forms a shiny, crispy crust. They have cocoa, cocoa and nuts and plain flavours that you could choose from. We chose cocoa and nuts. Definitely do try this. Its a delicious blend of a cake and a biscuit.
We then walked our way through the Chain Bridge towards our restaurant for the night. Being vegetarians, we did find it a little difficult to find good food. So we stuck to our Italian and Indian cuisine. We went to Indigo Indian restaurant. Loved the Achari Aloo, Dal Makhani and Lemon Mint Soda here. However, the service here is quite slow.
We then made our way through the main shopping street and reached our dock area to get on to our cruise. With a guide in English narrating the history of Budapest and all the famous locations, we were taken around through River Danube for 90 minutes. It was an enchanting view to see Budapest lit in the night, especially the Parliament Building, Buda Castle and Chain Bridge.
After walking around 21kms throughout the day and being super exhausted, we finally hit our bed.
After having breakfast at our hotel, we started our day by visiting Royal Opera. The Royal Opera is a richly decorated building and is considered as one of the architect's masterpieces. It was built in neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque. Ornamentation includes paintings and sculptures by leading figures of Hungarian art. Although in size and capacity it is not among the greatest, but in beauty and the quality of acoustics, the Budapest Opera House is considered to be amongst the finest opera houses in the world. The foyer area has marble columns and the ceilings are covered with murals. They depict the nine muses. The main wide stone staircase is illuminated by wrought-iron lamps and a bronze chandelier. The interiors of the concert hall are predominantly gold and red. Currently, the Opera house is under renovation, hence plan your trip accordingly, as this one is not to be missed at all.
After the gorgeous Opera, we continued towards the Dohany Street Synagogue. Also known as the Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue, it is one of the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. The architecture is Moorish style and it can house up to 3000 people at a time. It is the temple of the Neolog Jewry. It was built in Budapest’s former Jewish quarter where many people of the Jewish faith still reside today. The synagogue also has a burial place which has nearly 2600 Jewish people who died during the Holocaust. It also has a museum which depicts the history of Judaism. The synagogue has guided tours in various languages at regular intervals which explain the history and architecture of the synagogue.
We had lunch at the same pizzeria and walked towards the shopping area. After splurging on some clothes and accessories, we were craving for some caffeine. We stopped by a cafe called Coffea Arabica and tried some of the local Poppy seed cake along with our coffees. The crispy and tingly taste of poppy seed blended well with butter cream icing on a cake is definitely worth a try.
After completing all the touristy things, it was time to finally relax. We headed towards what Budapest is most famous for - it's thermal baths. We went to Szechenyi Spa & Baths, which is known to be the largest medicinal bath in Europe. The thermal water includes sulphate, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and a significant amount of metaboric acid and fluoride. It has 21 pools both outdoor and indoor (heated and normal), plenty of steam and sauna rooms, private thermal buckets for couples and lots more. But most importantly, it is very famous for its summer night spa parties or also known as sparties which happens mostly on Saturdays. It is advisable to pre book for them. As we visited during autumn, we didn't have much scope for the sparties.
They have various packages which can be selected based on your preferences. You can also rent towels, slippers and their lockers for a separate charge. We had carried our towels and slippers and hence only rented a locker. We went around trying almost all the pools, steams and saunas. It was a very relaxing and soothing experience.
We then walked towards our hotel and got dinner delivered to our room from the same Indian restaurant and hit our bed early as we had an early start the next day to catch our flight!!
I really enjoyed my visit to this beautiful city. If you can cover it in our style then definitely a weekend is more than enough. However, if you plan to go slow, then you may need 3-4 days. So I sign off here, leaving it to you to plan your memorable trip to this majestic city!!
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