By Warwick Hattingh
We were extremely excited to visit the Hungarian capital, Budapest, for several reasons but the main one being we had no idea what to expect. It was the furthest east we had travelled and we were eager to see what Eastern Europe and what one of the places that used to be behind the Iron Curtain had to offer! Either way it had us intrigued and keen on the adventure. The sun was setting as we walked out of the airport. As we wondered out of the airport, onto a bus, then into and out of the metro towards to our accommodation we noticed the tall, beautiful aged buildings high above us. Our accommodation for the first night was situated right in the middle of an extremely busy and vibrant ally way that was coloured with busy bars and restaurants, karaoke machines and singers and even escape rooms! We were immersed in the happy scene. With an introduction like that, we were besotted with Budapest and wasted no time in getting out and about to see what else the trip had in store for us.
- The Ruin Bars
- The Szechenyi Baths
- St Stephans Basilica
- Heros Square
- Buda Castle
- Gallert Hill
- Fishermans Bastion
- Chain Bridge
- Hungarian Parliament Building
- The Shoes on the Danube
The Ruin Bars
Scattered around the Pest side of the city, the ruin bars offer and incredible and unique nightlife experience. We felt that our first drink in this amazing atmosphere had to be somewhere upbeat and popular (first impressions count). Szimpla Kert came highly recommended and was our chosen destination for the night. It is a massive pub with various bars serving cocktails, beers and other drinks. Each area seemed to have a different vibe and theme. The mismatching environment, music, market, food, garden and lights all come together and guide you towards an eventful evening of partying and entertainment. The food market no less than 20 metres from the entrance also provided some incredible street food and music that, for us, was definitely needed and in the end well worth it! Even if you are not a (big) drinker, these ruin bars are well worth visiting.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The city offers a couple sets of thermal baths, we chose to visit the Szechenyi Baths. Situated in Pest, the Szechenyi Baths are one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe and the medicinal bath IS the biggest medicinal bath in Europe. The water for the baths is supplied by two thermal springs and the different baths within the complex offer a variety of temperatures to fit your requirements. Steam rooms and saunas are also available within the complex as well as the opportunity to bath in barrels of beer, while you enjoy 45 minutes of all you can drink local beer! There is an entry fee and you may need to rent a towel if you don’t bring your own. A short walk from the baths is the Hero’s square, however during our visit the area was occupied by a show and unfortunately we were unable to get inside for a proper look.
St Stephans Basilica
Arriving here early, we managed to beat the crowds and get going up to the dome at the top. The 300+ stairs do offer a bit of a climb but there is a lift available for those that prefer not to take the stairs. The small fee is certainly worth it as the view from the top and inside of the building itself is amazing! Offering a 360 degree view of the city, you get to see both sides of the Danube. The entrance to the church is free and this too is truly remarkable. The basilica is Roman Catholic and is named after Stephen who was the first King of Hungary.
After we went on a small hike up to the view point on Gellert Hill, which is a stunning view of the city from the highest point, the walk to the Buda castle is about 15 minutes along the Buda side of the river. The castle is an impressive historical sight with a palace complex that was home to the Hungarian Kings in Budapest. There is no fee to walk around the outside of the castle and the view from the front shows the Danube and Pest side of the city from yet another outstanding angle. The surrounding grounds and gardens offer a wonderful and scenic walk around, however, we found no way into the castle itself. We were not worried as we were on our way down to the Fishermans Bastion which is just a short 5-10 minute walk away.
The Fishermans Bastion is also known as Halászbástya, and is a Neo-gothic style terrace on the banks of the Danube. It is incredibly touristy, especially between the late afternoon and early evening as the view of the parliament building, Danube and Chain bridge at sunset and at night is simply spectacular! The city radiates with light and the reflections fall onto the Danube painting the water red, blue, purple and yellow. The building itself is like that out of a fairytale with arch ways and view points offering beautiful photos, if you can fight the crowds that is. Definitely a place we would visit again on returning to Budapest.
Hungarian Parliament Building
The parliament building of Budapest is situated on the banks of the Danube on the Pest side of the river. A highly notable landmark, this impressive building’s enormous size and stunning architecture make it one of the most popular buildings in Budapest. The grand building is a blend of roman and gothic style architecture and can be seen from all over the city, especially at night when it is all lit up (sorry Louis Litt we stole your line)! As the parliament is located in Pest the best views can be seen from the Buda side of the river. Its impressive size does make it the biggest building in the country and one of the biggest parliament buildings in the world. Tours are offered of the interior which we could imagine would, if anything like the exterior, be incredible. The Shoes on the Danube are also close by however due to the Red bull air races we were unable to get any closer to them.
Getting Around: You can pay for bus tickets as and when you need them which are about €2 per trip. We walked almost everywhere as it was never really too far away from the next.
What to eat: TRY THE LANGOS! It is dough fried in hot oil with whatever toppings you like and it is so delicious!
Best Value for Money: Most of the tourist sites are free but we appreciated the view from St Stephans Basilica so we recommend paying for that which was only €4 for us as students!