Budapest. A city which isn’t as popular with travellers as Barcelona or Amsterdam, perhaps because it’s in eastern Europe, and I think quite a few people still have a reservation or two about what to expect from eastern European countries (I’m not a historian so don’t quote me on that).
I was looking for somewhere me and Dom could go for a long weekend to celebrate our two year anniversary. First I was thinking about Venice but y’know cash is still a little tight at the moment so we decided on somewhere considerably cheaper, but by no means less beautiful. And it was then that Budapest came to mind.
After researching online, Budapest seemed rich in culture and history with some amazing architecture – and I realised there was A LOT to see. I made a quick list of some of the things I wanted to visit, and when we arrived, we couldn’t wait to get out and explore the city (so much so, that we didn’t even look at a map first and walked in the complete wrong direction lol. Eager beavers).
If you’re off to Budapest soon, or are planning a trip and feel a little overwhelmed by all of the information online, here are my honest opinions of where to go, what to see, and what’s, well, a bit rubbish.
After about 20 minutes of puffing and panting our way up the hill with a pit stop to catch our breath every 30 seconds, we finally got to Castle Hill (we did get the funicular one time but decided against it the next because a) the queue was always really long and b) it turned out to be quite expensive for what it was, so I’d rather just run up the hill thanks). It was a right little treasure trove of tourist-y fun, and there seemed to be something new to see around every corner.
The Fisherman’s Bastion was built in 1845, and, like Buda Castle offers beautiful views of Pest and the city’s landmarks and the river below. There’s a café restaurant too where you can admire the views over a nice cuppa or a beer. The bastion itself is impressive to look at, well maintained, and kinda looks like something from a fairy tale tbh. It wasn’t too busy as we went in October, but I imagine this would be different in summer. Again, a must-see in Budapest.
Matthius Church sits just behind the bastion, and you can’t miss it really because of its brightly coloured tile roof. I’ve been to quite a few European churches and cathedrals now, and this one is defo my favourite. Everything about it, inside and out, is so ornate and beautifully decorated – and the inside is absolutely huge (although the pictures didn’t turn out too great as it was so dark). We were lucky enough to catch the choir practicing while we were there too. I could have listened to them all afternoon.
First things first, Buda castle doesn’t look like a typical castle with turrets and that. In fact is doesn’t really look like a castle at all in my opinion, which led to much confusion. Despite this, the walk around the castle walls and grounds was enjoyable (and free), and as the castle had so many different areas to explore, photograph opportunities were endless. The views were amazing, particularly over the Danube river and onto the Pest side of the city, and I think it’s defo a must when you’re in Budapest. If that wasn’t historic and cultural enough for you, there was even a lil archery bit where you could try and hit some targets. All I’m gonna say is Katniss Everdeen I am not.
Inside the castle, however, yeah different story. Inside Buda castle was the Budapest History Museum and the National Gallery. Now, I’m not normally adverse to a museum or too, I always like to learn a little bit of history about the country I’m visiting, and I generally find them very user friendly and informative. But, I can’t really say the same about the BHM. We went on a Saturday afternoon to get out of the rain for a bit, and I’d be lying if I said it was fun or informative. We only stayed for about 20 minutes and even that was a push (compared to the National History Museum in Zagreb, where we stayed for a couple of hours). Overall, I wouldn’t recommend – especially if you’re strapped for time in Budapest.
THE CHAIN BRIDGE
The Chain Bridge (or Szechenyi Bridge as it’s actually called) is Budapest’s most famous bridge, connecting the Buda and Pest parts of the city over the Danube river. The suspension bridge, which has two huge stone lions sitting at each end, is so picturesque and is a prominent feature in Budapest’s history – being the first permanent crossing across the Danube. I can’t really recommend or not, as you’ll almost definitely use it to get from one side of the city to the other.
The Hungarian Parliament building
Now, I’m not gonna lie I’m really not into politics and the thought of spending an afternoon of my trip walking round the Parliament building didn’t exactly have me weak at the knees. But Dom wanted to do it and while the thought of English politics (let alone Hungarian) bored me stiff, we all have to compromise in love n life so, being the great gf that I am, I quietly plodded along behind him.
The tour took about 40 minutes and I’m actually so glad we went! Not only was it informative and engaging, but the building was amazing too (everything seemed to be plated in gold lol). Our tour guide was great and told us some really interesting facts about some of Hungary’s history, the design and architecture of the building, and the Hungarian crown jewels that were held in the dome of the building and guarded by two big scary men with swords.
Despite my initial reservations, I would definitely recommend.
ST. STEPHEN’S BASILICA
The basilica is one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks, and is named after the first king of Hungary. The outside and inside are beautiful and ornate, and we were lucky enough to see a wedding taking place at the alter inside. The basilica also had a bell tower that you could go up for a small price, which we chose to forgo because we were hungover lol. As the basilica is quite central, I image it has some impressive views of Budapest from the top. Would recommend.
I read somewhere online that a trip to Budapest without a trip to one of the many thermal baths would be a trip wasted. I also read that Szechenyi were the best of the lot. Decision made. Szechenyi baths on the Sunday afternoon it was then. When we arrived, we were actually a little bit nervous (lol) and after buying our tickets from the shouty Hungarian lady at the kiosk, which worked out to be about £13 each (!!!), we found our way to the changing room area, which was, let’s say, an experience in itself.
Made up of 15 indoor pools and three outdoor pools in a traditional royal Pavilion, the place was huge. Most of the indoor pools did look a little questionable though, with old overweight Hungarian men lingering around in them. No thanks. We found our way out to the big thermal pool outside, as this was the main bit we had come for anyway. The outside area was more like what I was expecting, with sun loungers (although it was too cold to make use of them), a bar, and the steamy thermal pool full of people.
The thermal pool was fun and relaxing, and proved a great place to unwind after a day of exploring. It was especially beautiful when it started to get dark and the building was all lit up, and you could see the steam rising from the hot water into the cold night air. After spending a few hours in the thermal baths cringing at people who had decided to bring their iPhones INTO the baths just to take selfies, lazing around on the steps, or me being piggybacked across the bath by Dom, we decided to call it a night, although the baths were open until 10pm.
The baths were an interesting experience to say the least, and I would recommend doing a little research into opening times and what’s on before you go.
Heroes square is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is only 10 minutes on the metro from the city centre. This was on my list as I’d seen a few pictures and the monument there looked like it could have a really interesting story behind it. So we got there, and the monument was just kinda there, in the middle of a huge empty square. As we approached it, we were expecting an information board of some sort, telling you about the monument and what it stands for. But no. So, although the monument was impressive to look at, I was none the wiser about what it was for, or why it was built. For that reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend. On to the next…
This was a bit of a last minute thing as we had a couple of hours to kill before our cab to the airport. It was cheap (about a fiver each as Dom bluffed his way in with his out of date student card), and so we weren’t really expecting much tbh. As far as zoos go, it was actually quite good. There were loads of animals there, and loads of bits where you could actually walk among the animals but that bit kinda freaked me out to be honest. Don’t fancy being all up in a wallaby’s personal space thnx. I walked in one bit only to discover I was walking into the VULTURE BIT. No joke I had to step over the half eaten rodents on the floor. Vom. I’d recommend a visit though if you have a couple of hours to spare.
GREAT MARKET HALL
I’d read a bit about the Great Market Hall online, and our cab driver on the way to our apartment told us we should go too. But to be honest, it was a bit of a non-event really. It’s basically a big market full of traditional Hungarian foods, and while I was expecting ready-made food that you could eat while walking round, the reality was the smell of raw meat reeeeeally not doing any favours to my hangover. 99% (if not all) of the stalls were fresh produce as opposed to food stalls, so it was a bit hit and miss really, for what we were after, anyway. If you’re looking for fresh, Hungarian produce it’s definitely worth a visit. But if, like us, you were hoping for food stalls to try out some Hungarain food, don’t bother.
HOSPITAL IN THE ROCK
The Hospital in the Rock was a museum located well, in a rock, on the Buda side of the city. A series of underground tunnels and bunkers which were used as a makeshift hospital during the war, the museum gave an insight into the city of Budapest during WWII. You can’t just walk around yourself, you have to go on a guided tour, so it’s definitely worth checking the times beforehand to save waiting around. Our tour guide was really good, and actual original pieces were on display as opposed to replicas. A very informative museum, and I would definitely recommend to anybody who likes to learn a little history about the places they visit.
That’s pretty much everything we saw during our four days in Budapest. There were a few places that were on my list that we didn’t get round to seeing, including Margaret Island. If anybody has been, drop me a tweet – I’d love to hear about it.
Twitter // insta: christielouize