Budapest – a surprisingly breathtakingly beautiful city. Before we ventured three hours across Europe, we had no idea what to expect. Right down to the last minute we had convinced ourselves that we would be doing a joint Vienna/Bratislava journey. Whilst I’m sure these two cities are equally beautiful, we are grateful we’d changed our minds. Informing friends and colleagues of the trip we were due to take was a little different to the excitement we were experiencing – “Why are you going there?” “There are so many nicer places to visit in Europe”. Gladly, it ended up being one of my favourite places in Europe to date, falling shortly behind Krakow, Poland. From the grand architecture, to relaxing thermal spas, it’s difficult not to fall in love with Budapest.
Snuggled in Central Europe on the River Danube, Budapest offers a mixture of cheap and cheerful, all the way to luxurious five star hotels with top restaurants and cafes. There’s so much to do for everybody. Whether you want a relaxing time, a break full of culture, or to scratch another country off your travel map, Budapest can cater for all.
Where we stayed
Usually my boyfriend likes to drag us to hotels. He’s snobby and ridiculous when it comes to booking anything less than what he deems a standard price (usually this is something like a Hilton or Marriott) – don’t worry, I’m slowly trying to change this. We like to take it in turns for our trips away from home, and with Budapest being my chosen destination, I got to choose where we stayed. Whilst hotels are usually nice, stress-free and avoid the hassle of making breakfast yourself, we found the prices in Budapest to be a little steep during the time we visited, with the majority of reasonably priced hotels located miles out of the centre. I took this as the golden opportunity to try Airbnb. Countless friends have been on adventures across the globe using the site, so why can’t it work for us too? What a positive experience it was indeed. We managed to get a modern, clean studio apartment located right in the city centre. Located thirty seconds from Andrássy út, and only twenty minutes (walking this is) to the famous Chain Bridge, we really were in the prime spot. The hosts were lovely and willing to help with any of our questions, and we bagged all of this for £30 per night. Due to the fact we visited over the Easter holidays, this was around half the price of the cheapest hotel and miles closer to anywhere worth visiting.
What we did
Budapest is full of things to do. It offers not one insight, but two – Buda and Pest. Originally two cities located on either side of the vast Danube, they merged to form one entity in 1873. Buda offers immense culture, medieval streets, roman ruins and plenty of museums, whilst simultaneously offering alluring views over to Pest, where you can walk along the many promenades or grab a coffee in world-famous coffee houses.
Our adventure across the city began on a warm Monday morning. Fresh off the plane, and ready to conquer, we set off across Budapest, trying to navigate our way through the neo-renaissance buildings. With the forecast for the next four days expected to be rain, snow and more rain, we decided that despite waking up at 4am to travel to the airport that morning, we would tackle Castle Hill. Considering this was our first real view of Budapest, we were swept away and spent hours just staring across the river to the crowds passing by beneath us. Honestly, this would be my biggest recommendation. Walk Castle Hill the second you arrive, and see Budapest from a whole new perspective. Not to mention, it also helped with the bearings for the next four days. The only downside to this was that, upon climbing the hill, we found out museums are closed on Mondays, and to further top it off, we arrived on Easter Monday. Now we knew finding an open supermarket would be difficult, but not quite as difficult as it was. Every single supermarket across the city was closed, resulting in us raiding an off-license for cider, chocolate sauce stuffed croissants and pom-bear crisps to fill us up. Perhaps this’ll teach me to plan ahead properly next time…
I’m struggling to distinguish my favourite part of the trip, torn between monstrosity that is Gellert Hill and on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the relaxing Széchenyi thermal baths. My reasoning for Gellert Hill perhaps, is that many people decide not to walk it. Admittedly, it’s not for the faint-hearted. All in all, the walk up is only about twenty minutes, but as nice as this sounds, it’s also a 230 metre climb. In my opinion though, the views are the best in Budapest. Yes – better than Buda Castle, and better than Fisherman’s Bastion (this is still a must for the cliché tourist photo). Also if you make it to the top, not only is there the Citadella with the controversial Liberty Statue (Szabadság Szobor), but there is a lovely Hungarian woman selling a six flavours of slushie. Albeit, she speaks no English, so my poor boyfriend who originates from Hull (if you’ve ever heard the accent you’ll understand why she couldn’t understand), spent a good fifteen minutes trying to explain what a mixed slushie is.
Then came the rainy days. On Wednesday, I was hopeful at the start of the day. Peering out of the window at 8am, thick snow was falling. Knowing full well that Eastern Europe is prone to a lot of snow during winter months, and this being the first time I’d seen snow this year, I was ecstatic, ready to get out and snap some photos. Obviously, it didn’t last. By 10am, it was raining, not just some light rain, but torrential rain which continued through to the Thursday Afternoon. We took the time to visit many of the museums that Budapest has to offer, and completed a tour around the Parliament Building. Personally, I found the Hungarian National Museum was the best in Budapest. I left feeling well informed with a new bank of knowledge about the History of Hungary. On the other hand, my boyfriend thoroughly enjoyed the House of Terror. It was interesting and offered personal accounts of the traumatic events that have occurred previously, but if you become switched off by reading subtitles on videos upon videos, this museum is not for you, and honestly, I found I learnt more from the leaflet they handed you at the start, than what I learnt walking around the actual museum for two hours. One bonus though is the great location of the House of Terror in relation to coffee houses. Venturing a little further down Andrassy street, we found countless independent coffee shops at reasonable prices, so grab yourself one of these because soon you’ll be going back home and paying £3 for a watery Starbucks. We both agreed that the highlight of the rainy day, was the Parliament. The tour itself was fascinating, through rooms laced with pure gold, the change of guard surrounding the crown jewels and to the chamber itself. Certainly a must see for the small fee that it is (£6 each for EU citizens). If you get wound up by others in-capabilities to form a queue, please avoid. We stood there patiently, as British people do, whilst everybody else decided to push ahead and swarm the one barrier that was letting people through.
Our trip was rounded off by a walk down to Hereos’ Square, the Széchenyi baths, and ultimately a lovely little Italian, before heading to reclaim our luggage and make the final journey to the airport. If you’ve never experienced outdoor thermal baths before – please go to these. We arrived at the baths around 10am, and honestly I would certainly recommend you did too. By the time it got to midday, it was uncomfortably busy, and far from relaxing. The price is a little steep and sets you back 5000 HUF each, which at the time was around £15. For a couple of hours in some warm baths, this is extortionate, but for the novelty and one-time experience, we thought why not? Our final day of the trip was bright blue sunshine (typical) but only a mere 12 degrees, and these baths were perfect for warming you up on an otherwise frosty-feeling day. Although, do take flip flops. I think by the end of our time at the baths, we honestly thought we might get frostbite on our feet. If you don’t want to venture outdoors, there are plenty of indoor baths, all of the beautiful neo-baroque architecture.
By the end of the trip, we had walked an impressive 50 miles in four days. We were a little too stingy to pay for the public transport when our feet could carry us, despite the appalling weather. Perhaps the best outcome though, was that I had successfully managed to convert my boyfriend (who usually doesn’t travel outside of the UK) to a European city adventurer – not only this, he’s already talking about booking out next city break.
Until next time.