I wanted to visit Budapest for one reason, to see the Hungarian Parliament Building after having seen it in so many pictures. Then the night before our arrival I had a little cram session creating a basic itinerary to give us a little something to follow. It sure looked like a lot to do…so let’s see how it went.
We arrived mid-afternoon walked to our Airbnb (about 30 minutes from the train station), and settled into our room. It was a very inexpensive place with a loft style bed over the desk and weirdly a single shower in the room. Our host gave us a quick rundown of the area and even left us a letter pointing out things to see and do in the city. Through reading her letter, I began to see the harmless rivalry between Buda and Pest. Her letter concluded with “Remember that Buda sucks, Pest rocks!” Laughing as I finished skimming the letter, I knew we wanted to get to the grocery store before they closed that Sunday evening. Over some less than mediocre pasta, I finally shared my itinerary with Whitney. (I went with the 20cent sauce and I guess I got what I paid for…never again!)
Taking our time to get going the next morning, we ended up running to our Free Walking Tour. We arrived with a few minutes to spare and then set off with our guide. The tour took us through the Pest side of town, first walking through old town and later to the riverside. Along the way our guide pointed out the most interesting parts of the city, and explained a bit of the city’s history. Interestingly, she pointed out a variety of statues that the local Hungarians find very important through superstitions that are built on legends. I myself maintain a handful of superstitions that have likely been passed down especially from my grandmother, so I couldn’t help but join in the act.
Continuing on, we passed over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side and made our way up Castle Hill. Lately, we have noticed the “castles” are less and less like the medieval castles we know and love, and are actually more of a collection of large buildings surrounding a central courtyard with much less obvious defenses. As with many others, Buda Castle has been turned into a few different museums. We heard a little about each one and then walked along the ridge to Matthias church, eventually ending our walking tour at the Fisherman’s Bastion. It wasn’t so clear at the time, but I think it is called the Fisherman’s Bastion because historically there was a fish market held here daily. I could definitely be wrong though; however, it makes sense to me right now. After having such amazing walking tours in Krakow, we have definitely been spoiled, but it was still worth the small glimpse of the city.
Afterward, we wanted to check out a restaurant on an old river boat called A38. Arriving at the restaurant fighting off the hunger pains, we were unfortunately turned away as they were booked for an office party that afternoon. We shared the frustration after making such an effort, an hour, to get to the place but had no other choice but to take the hour trip back. Along the way, we dodged a rainstorm while hiding under a bridge and eventually settled on a nice little falafel place which made up for it.
After lunch we wanted to take a walk around Castle Hill by ourselves and take in the impressive views in all directions (we skipped the museums). Wandering aimlessly, I think we even ended up on a closed path because security was ushering people back off the path just as we were leaving.
We were finished with all walking by the end of our second trip to the top of Castle Hill and headed home. This was another 30,000 step day according to our iPhones, so eating out fit the bill. We found a place called Vapiano a self-service restaurant with lines for fresh salads, pizzas, pastas as well as a full bar where you order at each station and pay on the way out. Just make sure to be clear when you order so that you don’t accidentally order TWO pasta dishes like Whitney.
Our second day started a little earlier as we made our way to the Hungarian Parliament Building for our tour at 9:45am. We excitedly lined up to await the start of the tour and finally see the inside…the reason we came to Budapest. Our tour group was huge with about 50 people, meandering through the handful of hallways we were allowed to see. Since this is an active parliament building the tour only takes visitors through a couple rooms as the government offices take up most of the place. We did get to see the grand staircase, the Hungarian crown being guarded in the main room, and even one of the older parliament meeting rooms not actively being used. It was a little pricey for the 30minute walk through, but I was content as I checked it off my bucket list.
Since this took much less time than expected we stopped at a coffee shop to “renegotiate” our itinerary. The coffee shop was so cute and took us back to memories of the little places we would stop in New York, Paris, or most of Italy to enjoy a couple cappuccinos.
Energized from the caffeine, we boarded the tram to the Great Market to find lunch. This market fills a warehouse with numerous shops for produce, meats, and knickknacks, along with our desired strip of food stalls on the second level. We pushed through the crowds at the food stalls and decided split some huge wrap called the “All In” which was a pretzel bread cone packed with different types of sausage, nacho cheese, and fried onions (I’m salivating writing this). After wandering through the market a little more and getting some extra cash we circled back to the food stalls to get a Langos, their “communist pizza” (fried dough with sparse vegetables and melted cheese)…Definitely not bad for a few bucks.
To work off what we had just consumed we crossed the river to climb to the top of Gellert Hill. With the Liberation Monument over us, we looked out over the entire city and even toward the nearby Castle Hill. There were incredible views from the top and possibly better than Castle Hill, as we could even look over at the palaces from this vantage point.
Afterward we decided to make our way to Margaret Island to relax in the park. Margaret Island is a small island and park located in the middle of the Danube River with an extended running track, multiple sporting areas and even a musical water fountain. We caught the tram up to the bridge, bought a couple beverages at a nearby supermarket and walked down into the park hoping to find a place to relax near the fountain. We ended up finding a couple chairs right next to the fountain and took it easy for a while. Before long, we began to hear the music and watched as the fountain danced to the tunes. A welcome break from the city streets. The afternoon was cut short by a stray downpour of rain that forced us to hide out under a large tree before going home.
Now it was time to prepare for a “night on the town.” Our goal was to see the city lit up and then find one of the famous ruin bars. We made our way into the old town and wandered down a few of the streets and along the side of the Danube. The historic buildings light up beautifully at night, making it quite a romantic stroll. We had dinner at one of the outdoor restaurants before walking on to Szimpla Kert. This is one of the most well-known ruin bars in Budapest. Through reading a couple blogs we learned that there have been many others that come and go, but this one has been here for a long time. Basically, someone found an abandoned building, opened it up, put beer and other booze behind a counter and started selling it. Just like that the ruin bar was created. This particular place had a few rooms and a few different bars that opened into a large courtyard at the back. It was a fun atmosphere filled with backpackers from around the world. Visiting one of these is a must if your travels take you to Budapest.
For our final day, Whitney managed to get us a couple’s massage at the well-known Szechenyi Bath to complete our time in this city. The appointment was for 4:30pm so we had most of the day to see the last few places before relaxing at the spa. Our first stop was the St. Stephen’s Basilica and as usual the first thing we did was climb to the top for one of the highest points and best views on the Pest side of the city. We didn’t actually make it inside though because we couldn’t get the man at the entrance to take our “donation” for entrance because he didn’t have any change. (At this point we’ve seen so many incredible cathedrals in the last few months, I think we were ok to skip this one.)
Leaving St. Stephen’s Basilica we took our time getting over to Andrassy Avenue which would eventually lead us to City Park where the spa awaited. Soon after passing by the Hungarian Opera House and reminiscing about our recent adventure in Prague, we decided to stop for lunch at an outdoor café. It was lovely, but I’m still baffled at the service that is provided at restaurants around the world. We are so used to servers catering to patrons in the USA, but similar to most of the restaurants in Europe, we have to flag down the server for everything.
After lunch we continued to City Park. We knew we had arrived when we were looking at Hero’s Square. Unfortunately the area was all barricaded off as some sort of event had or would be taking place there. Then we continued down a few of the paths until we could see Vajdahynyad Castle. This is a small but very unique castle built as an attraction for the Millenarian Festival in 1896, showcasing a variety of different architectural styles. Although it is much much larger and now houses an agricultural museum, it reminded me of the concept behind the Belvedere Castle in New York’s Central Park.
nally, we made it to the Szechenyi Baths, which was such a treat at this point in our travels. We have never been to this type of place, so it was quite an experience in itself. First we checked in to make sure our masseuse would be ready. We rested for a bit on a couple lounge chairs by the outdoor pools, then headed up for our massages. Getting a one hour full body massage after walking so many cities, carrying a small red backpack you may have seen in all my pictures and lugging around our larger backpacks every few days was more than overdue. The two of us were more than relaxed at the end of the massage and slowly pulled ourselves off the table to try out the rest of the spa.
First we wandered aimlessly through the different building and around the pools. All while reading the temperatures of the water in each area as well as glancing at the different saunas and steam rooms. Adventurously, we wanted to try it all. We tested out a couple pools, starting with some of the cooler ones at first. Then we visited our first sauna…a dangerous move. We entered that particular sauna and sat on the benches. Whitney and I had agreed on maybe 10-15minutes in this room before moving on, but didn’t even come close. Within 5 minutes we were out of there. I stumbled as I left the room, but maintained my footing grasping the door on the way out. Immediately I stepped into a cold shower to cool down as I was seeing spots. After a couple minutes we began to cool off and then we took a quick dip in an almost ice cold pool bringing me completely back to normal. Whitney and I looked at each other with confusion, then noticed the sign that said the temp in there was 80-100 Celsius…no wonder I felt like I was going to die. This was the hottest sauna offered by the spa.
Lesson learned, read the signs before entering. From there we dipped into the other pools, found “normal” temperature saunas, and spent the next couple hours letting go of all the stress that life on the road brings.
We managed to see nearly everything we had on our little itinerary and definitely got the most out of our time in Budapest. This budget friendly city has so much to offer and we barely even touched the nightlife that brings people (backpackers) from around the world to see. If we make it here again, I will definitely spend an entire day at the spa and then make more of our evenings in the city.
The next stop will be the outdoors of Slovenia as we set off to see the best of the Julian Alps.