Accommodation: My travel buddy has family friends who live in Budapest. They hosted us for four nights in their Castle District home, which is located in Buda. Buda and Pest were two independent towns before merging to one city in 1873.
Pretty cool: Similar to Bath, England, there are natural hot springs in Budapest. Spend half of a day at the Széchenyi Spa Baths [ in Pest ], which has several thermal baths, pools and saunas. Széchenyi is the largest and most affordable of the spas and baths, but there are many others [ in Buda ] with positive reviews.
Don’t miss it: You know the old saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas?” Well, the same is true for Budapest’s architecture. The buildings are grand, opulent and simply magnificent. The Hungarian Parliament Building, which sits along the Danube River in Pest, is a massive white building complex with dozens of burgundy spires and a towering dome.
From the parliament building, stroll along the river toward the Chain Bridge. You will pass the Shoes on the Danube Memorial, which memorializes 3,500 Hungarians who were executed in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to remove their shoes just prior to being shot on the edge of the river. The shoes were the only remaining traces of these men and women, whose bodies disappeared into the river.
Continue walking the river path until the Chain Bridge is on your right. The bridge offers an incredible view of iconic city structures, such as the Royal Palace [ now a museum ] and Matthias Church [ which has a vibrant, chevron-tiled roof ] in Buda and the Hungarian Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest. The bridge can be very crowded, so walk it early in the morning or early in the evening.
Once you cross into Buda from the Chain Bridge, take the Király lépcső [ royal steps ] to the top of Castle Hill, where the Royal Palace, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion are located. Enjoy the incredible views of Pest below!
Wish I had more time for: A visit to Memento Park. This park is home to dozens of statues that were located throughout the city during the post-WWII communist era. In 1989 [ when Hungary was liberated from the Soviet Union ], the statues were removed from the city. They were added to this park, which opened four years later and is located just outside the city center.
Must try food/drink: Hungary is known for paprika. Try paprikás csirke, a chicken dish with a creamy paprika sauce, for lunch or dinner. It’s a well-known dish, so it will likely be served at any Hungarian restaurant. For a late-night snack, munch on a lángos, which is essentially fried dough with sour cream and cheese. Our Hungarian tour guide nicknamed it “communist pizza” because it lacks meat and hardly has toppings.
Head to DiVino for drinks and appetizers. With two locations [ one near St. Stephen’s Basilica and the other in the former Jewish Quarter ], this wine bar only serves Hungarian wines. Because I knew little about the country’s wine, the friendly staff invited me to sample several kinds before selecting a glass of spicy red wine. For a more casual atmosphere, grab drinks at Szimpla Kert, one of the many “ruin bars” in Budapest. Most of these bizarrely decorated bars, which were constructed in abandoned buildings, are located in the former Jewish Quarter. Like the Jewish Quarter in Kraków, this area is very trendy for hopping bars and restaurants. A night out here is not to be missed!
Here’s a hint:
- Budapest is best seen at night. The Royal Palace is lit up on the Buda hills and reflects on the Danube River below. The Hungarian Parliament Building looks even grander sitting on the river bank. Walk along the Danube River and then over the Chain Bridge for the best views.
- Although Buda and Pest have been one city for nearly 145 years, there is still a rivalry among the citizens. Buda, which sits on the hills looking down at Pest, is viewed as a bit more aristocratic, while Pest is flat and has the hustle and bustle of the city. Buda offers spectacular views and ample opportunities for outdoor activities, while Pest has the trendy bars, restaurants and nightlife. There aren’t many “must-see” tourist sights in Budapest, so spend lots of time in both areas to determine which you prefer.
[ Next stop ]: Train to Vienna, Austria. It’s about a 2.5-hour direct train ride.
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