Before arriving in Budapest, I didn’t know very much about it! I had my list of things to do and see in Budapest, but knew little to nothing of the history of the city. Between the prices, spas, and nightlife, this city quickly won me over. I spent nearly 5 full days in Budapest and was still upset to leave!
Usually I try to go on walking tours with Sandemans when that company is available; however, they don’t have tours in Budapest. After peeking around online, I saw some great reviews for Free Budapest Tours. They offer both general tours and specialized tours if you’d like to focus on communism or seeing the Jewish Quarter. I started off my trip with their general walking tour to get acquainted with the city.
Immediately, one of the guides informed us that Budapest is pronounced with a soft s, sounding more like Budapesht. Oops! I’ve only been mispronouncing that for the past two months that I’d planned for this trip! Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is split down the middle by the Danube River. It actually used to be two separate towns before Chain Bridge was built to connect the two sides – Buda and Pest. Each area is still referred to as the Buda side or the Pest side, Buda being set atop a hill while Pest is a much more flat area.
In our walking tour, we weaved around the historic Pest side, then crossed Chain Bridge to climb up Castle Hill on the Buda side. There is a funicular that goes up the hill, and a path for walking. The best part about Budapest is that everything is cheap/affordable. The funicular, on the other hand, costs the same amount as a beer! Considering the walk to the top only takes 7 minutes, I think it’s worth saving the few bucks. Buda, in general, is more expensive than the Pest side. It’s a tad more touristy. Tourists aside, Castle Hill has some of my personal favorite attractions!
Castle Hill is comprised of Buda Castle, which has been declared a World Heritage Site, and the surrounding neighborhood. A bit north of the castle, Matthias Church sticks out prominently with its beautifully tiled roof. This church charges an entrance fee, so I never made it in. However, the outside was stunning! Next to Matthias Church is the Fisherman’s Bastion. The name is rather deceiving, as this is really just an intricate terrace with towers overlooking the city. I ended up at the Fisherman’s Bastion both during the daytime and at sundown. Truly a beautiful spot!
Not too far from Matthias church, there are multiple caves that can be toured beneath Castle Hill. There are natural caves as well as a labyrinth of caves around man-made cellars. The natural caves require a formal tour and advanced planning. The Labyrinth of Buda Castle, however, can be accessed during regular business hours simply by buying a ticket at the entrance. I went into the labyrinth and it was a really interesting, albeit frightening, experience. I’m going to save this story for another post so I can go into full detail. 🙂
Pest takes up a larger portion of Budapest than the Buda hill. This side comprises of the beautiful Parliament Building, the Jewish Quarter, Andrássy út, and Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere). Andrássy út stretches from the Inner City all the way to Heroes’ Square. It’s compared to Paris due to the high end boutiques and beautiful embassy buildings. The Parliament can be seen from Buda Hill, but is just as magnificent up close.
Just in front of the Parliament, a few yards off to the left on the Danube, sits the humbling memorial of Shoes on the Danube Bank. This memorial was constructed to honor those who were killed in Budapest at the end of WWII. The victims were ordered to strip on the Danube bank and then shot into the river. The memorial is comprised of 60 iron shoes scattered along the bank, just a fraction of the 3,500 victims. Right in the center of the mix of kitten heels and male boots, is a tiny pair of children’s shoes.
Another really humbling attraction was the House of Terror. Despite the name sounding like a cheesy ghost-house, this is a museum dedicated to the communist and fascist regimes during times of occupation in Hungary. The museum entrance is a monument to all the victims from those periods, as the building was used by the Arrow Cross Party (the Hungarian fascist organization). As you walk into the museum there is a huge T-54 Tank in front of a wall of images of victims during Hungarian Communism. Though the audio in the rooms is provided in Hungarian, there are information sheets in English. The video testimony of old women and men recounting what they experienced as children was really somber.
Around the Jewish Quarter, there are several beautiful synogogues to visit. Some have really interesting architectural influence, ressembling churches of other affinities.
Within the Jewish Quarter, there are numerous “Ruin Pubs.” These are bars that are located inside old run-down buildings. These bars are decorated with n’importe quoi. It’s almost like the bar owners went rummaging through trash dumps and garage sales to decorate the bars – and yet each one has a different atmosphere! I’ve never seen anything like it. These bars are unique, to say the least. Budapest nightlife is definitely not to be missed!
Lastly, this was my first visit to Hungary! So I had lots of food to try out! I tried some of the typical hungarian dishes. My only regret is not having tried Langos before I left!
Gulyás: Goulash! Yummy yummy stew with beef and vegetables, along with Paprika – Hungary’s beloved spice.
Hurka & Kolbász: Hungarian sausage! I had this with Barley and some onions and peppers cooked in a Paprika sauce.
Hortobágyi Palacsinta: Savory Hungarian pancakes with minced meat! The sauce has a mix of sour cream and spices.
Flódni: This is a Jewish-Hungarian layered pastry. I had one with just crushed walnuts.
Strudel: I found some locals selling home-made strudel near Chain Bridge!
Budapest was such an amazing place for me to start off my winter break! It was almost too perfect! Every day I learned and discovered so much, but yet have more I’d like to see. Considering what a great destination it is, I was surprised at how quiet the city is. I truly would love to return to Budapest!