After our time in Vienna, we caught a train to Budapest, and arrived at Keleti Palvadvar station – a beautiful grand railway station in the east of the city. It was easy to navigate from here to the metro – and even easier to find our apartment which was just a few steps from the Astoria metro stop.
Our home for 6 nights was a Junior Suite in the Loft Astoria complex, located at the edge of the Jewish quarter of Budapest. On our first night we had a delicious meal at the Muzeum Cafe, starting with a Hungarian sampler plate of goose liver parfait, garlicky roasted porcini mushrooms, and beef carpaccio with rose peppercorns. It was all delicious and was accompanied by a variety of classic and modern tunes from the pianist.
On our first full day, like in Vienna, we sought out a walking tour and can recommend this company who operate the tours on a ‘pay what you you like’ system. Like the tour we did in Vienna, there was plenty of history, stories and tips in the three hours we walked with the guide.
For mid March, we had pretty good weather being in the high teens and even stretching into the low twenties, which was a treat to us who live in the Highlands of Scotland!
The city of Budapest is actually two cities, Buda on the western side of the Danube, and Pest on the east. Buda is the home of the hilly and mostly pedestrianised Castle district, and Pest has the Hungarian Parliament on the river bank.
On one of the warmer days, we walked across the Liberty Bridge and up to the top of Gellert Hill which gives stunning panoramic views for miles.
Bridges are important to Budapesters – the Elizabeth Bridge (below) is especially loved as this was the first newly designed bridge to reopen after German bombing destroyed all the bridges in Budapest during World War 2. Look out also for the Chain Bridge which was designed by an Englishman and built by a Scot!
The Castle Hill area is known as the jewel in Budapest’s sightseeing crown.
As well as medieval monuments and museums, the Fisherman’s bastion viewing platform and the Royal Palace, there is a plethora of small streets to explore. It’s definitely full of instagrammable houses and buildings.
Some of the parts of St Matthias Church date back over 500 years but I was loving the tiled roof contrasting against the clean white spire of the building.
We found Baltazar – a great place for dinner in the Buda district. Compared to other dining options in Budapest it’s probably at the higher end of the cost spectrum, but we feasted like kings on our beef cheeks and mushroom dumplings, and Hungarian specialty – chicken paprikash!
I’ll take a moment here to say that Hungarians love their meat, and paprika features heavily in their national dishes. We are paprika fans, so we were happy!
We mostly had a very leisurely time in Budapest, the one exception was the morning when I set an early alarm for us to go to Szechenyi thermal baths. Budapest has over 500 thermal and mineral springs underneath the city, so is a major spa city, with many thermal pools dotted around the city. Going to Szechenyi, one of the biggest spa baths has been on my bucket list for years and I wasn’t disappointed! As well as the outdoor pools there are a collection of saunas, steam rooms and pools indoors too, as well as a thermal beer spa (additional ticket needed)!
My tips are to:
- Check the timetable as some spas have single sex sessions/sections, although Szechenyi, Gellert and Kiraly baths are mixed sex during all opening hours.
- Go early – the baths fill up during evenings and weekends so if you want a relaxing soak and swim, go as early as you can. We went on a Tuesday morning and by the time we left at 11am, it was starting to fill up!
- take a swimming cap if you want to swim in the outdoor pool at Szechenyi – you’ll get a stern telling off from the attendants if you don’t!
- For a bit more privacy, hire a lockable cabin which means you can get changed and leave all your belongings there without hiring a locker. The cabins are also on the same level as the outdoor pools, so easily reached if you need to pop back.
- Take a waterproof phone case if you want to capture the baths in action, no-one wants to see their fancy camera getting wet!
The rest of Budapest is beautiful. Buildings are in beautiful pastel blues, pinks and greens, at some points during our wandering we felt like we had walked straight into a Wes Anderson film!
One of our favourite places to explore was the Jewish Quarter and Erzsebetvaros (Elizabeth Town).
Alongside the Great Synagogue which has Turkish influences in its design are cafes, bars, huge murals and museums. We visited the House of Terror which was the main headquarters of the secret police. The museum has a permanent exhibition called ‘Double Occupation’ which recounts the fascist and Stalinist regimes, and also features reconstructed prison cells. It’s worth a visit, but don’t go expecting a lighthearted look at a gruesome part of history. Also, avoid our mistake and pay extra for an audio guide, otherwise there is an awful lot of reading to do!
Hungarians are proud of their inventors, scientists and educators, and one of the best known is Erno Rubik who invented the Rubiks Cube. You can find this mural to celebrate his invention on Dob St 10. Just around the corner is this eye-catching scuplture.
For authentic soups, head to Spinoza, a traditional Jewish cafe. There’s also live music here on Fridays.
I can’t talk about Budapest without mentioning the Ruin bars of which there are many dotted about the city, with new ones opening up all the time. If there’s an abandoned building, chances are that some entrepreneurial types will take it over and open one up! The most famous ruin pub of all is Szimpla.
I recommend doing a first visit to Szimpla when it’s really quiet, to explore all of the areas before they liven up in the evenings.
Think mismatched furniture, street art -anything goes in a ruin bar! We enjoyed visits to Szimpla and Csendes.
Those are my potted highlights of Budapest – there’s so much to see and in a future post I will write more about the food and drink scenes across Vienna and Budapest!