Highlights of Budapest

Ciao! Since we can’t even leave our homes let alone travel, I am inviting you to take a virtual tour of Eastern Europe with me. At the beginning of the month, (before all of the Corona craziness) I went on a ten day trip to Budapest, Vienna, and Prague with the tour company EF Ultimate Break. I was a little nervous when I started this trip, but ultimately it was a great experience. Our first stop was Budapest and here are my favorite highlights from the trip.

Hungarian Parliament Building

This is a must see if you are in Budapest. The Parliament building was built in the late 19th century, has a gorgeous interior that includes a golden staircase, a pink marble color scheme, and a look at the famous crown jewels (with a changing of the guard ceremony every hour). This building was made for me. I mean it’s mostly pink! I am considering moving to Budapest just so that I can work in this pretty building everyday.

Shoes on the Danube Bank

This is right by the Parliament building. The shoes on the bank of the Danube is a tribute to the Holocaust. It consist of 60 pairs of 1940s style shoes sculpted out of iron in accurate size and detail. It is an artistic and memorable tribute to those who lost their lives in this horrific time in history.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of Budapest’s most sacred treasures. The church and its interior are beautiful. You can even climb up to the top in the towers to get a 360 degree view of the entire city. You have to buy a separate ticket for this and I have to tell you it’s a hike. My friend and I walked all the way up the stairs and then realized there was an elevator. But the breathtaking views from the top were worth it. Needless to say we definitely took the elevator down.

Castle District

Budapest used to be two different cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube river in the middle. Now they are one city with the two sides connected by bridges. The Buda side is where the Castle District is located. There is only one palace but the Castle District is where a lot of must see spots are located.

Buda Castle

You know I love a good palace. Buda Castle was once the residence of the Hungarian Royal families including the famous Habsburgs. This castle is a fabulous photo opportunity although the interior does not emulate the exterior. The palace was heavily bombed during WWII and unfortunately the interior was not rebuilt as beautiful as it once was. The inside now houses the National Gallery and Library and if you have limited time, it’s not worth it to go inside.

Hospital on the Rock

This museum is definitely a hidden gem in Budapest. Hospital on the Rock was a hospital used in war time from WWII up until the end of the communist era. It was built into a natural cave system underneath Buda Castle. This location was used as a hospital and shelter because it was safe from bombings. Now a museum, it is a must see complete with wax figures that emulate how the hospital was run. Although have to say the wax figures were a little creepy. It was like their eyes followed you… Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside so all I have is a photo from the outside. But I have attached the link to the website so you can check it out for yourself.

Fisherman’s Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion was another monument built in the late 19th century. In the 1890s Budapest was celebrating it’s 1000 year anniversary and is considered the golden age of Hungary. Apparently no one really did much until this time. But Fisherman’s Bastion (named in tribute to fisherman I’m assuming) included beautiful architecture, seven towers and a gorgeous panoramic view of the city. Perfect for photo ops.

Matthias Church

This Church is convenient because it’s right next to Fisherman’s Bastion. Built and named after the first king of Hungary, this is not just another European church. It has beautiful architecture, with intricate mosaic tiles and an interesting story. I recommend taking a guided tour of this church so you get the full experience.

Citadella

The Citadella (Hungarian for Citadel and the one Hungarian word I can actually pronounce) is a fortress and monument atop the Gellert Hill. It’s very close to the Chain bridge although quite a walk from the city center (so maybe take a cab.) The view from the top is worth it. You can see the entire city from the top and take some amazing Instagram worthy photos. Because that’s why we travel after all…

Jewish Quarter

The Jewish quarter used to be the sight of the old Jewish Ghetto and is also where there are cool antique shops, thrift stores, and the hub of Budapest’s eclectic nightlife scene.

Dohány Street Synagogue

Dohany street Synagogue also known as the Great Synagogue is the second largest in the world and one of the most beautiful. The Synagogue also has a powerful Holocaust memorial and an insight to what Jewish life was like pre-WWII and during the Holocaust.

Ruin Bars

Ruin bars are about the coolest and one of my favorite spots in Budapest. Basically, when the communist era ended people took all of the ruins after the Soviet Union fell and stuck them into old buildings, turned them into bars and it became a thing. Seeing all of the random art, objects, and junk in the bars is kind of cool. The most famous ones are Doboz which is a dance club with multiple rooms that play different music and an open air bar. Another bar, Szimpla Kert has a bar, hookah bar, and an upstairs. I went to one every night and if you are in Budapest you should go every night too. Just if you use the bathroom, ladies make sure to hover.

Szechenyi Thermal Bath and Spa

I missed this experience the first time I was in Budapest and so glad I was able to experience it this trip. Budapest has so many natural springs that it makes it one of the top spa destinations in the world. The Szechenyi thermal baths sit on one of these natural hot springs. It has multiple thermal baths indoor and outdoor so you can go anytime of the year. People wear swimsuits so don’t worry no one walks around naked! I was also able to get a really nice massage and there’s beer! These baths have one of the few beer spas in the world. Now you don’t actually sit in a barrel full of beer. The spa fills a tub with water and then adds active ingredients in beer and it’s supposed to moisturize your skin. Also there’s unlimited beer.

Central Market Hall

The Central Market hall was built in the 1890s as a food traders hall and the interior mimics a train station. It can be quite touristy but locals shop there too. The first floor includes row upon row of food stalls. Some to check out are ‘the Cheese Place” “the Lavender Stand” and “the Truffle Shop.” If you want to buy paprika this is the place to get it. The second floor also has souvenir shops. Some are clearly targeted towards tourist so here are some tips on how to shop. For example, don’t go to any stalls selling “communist souvenirs” and make sure to ask or look to see where the items are made. I found an italian leather pink bag and some hand embroidered accessories. The third floor has a restaurant and food stalls where you can try some local delicacies. This is also right across from the Vaci shopping street. This is also a great place to shop for souvenirs, there is also a Christmas shop and a lot of cooler antique stores. If you walk farther to the Budapest Eye (my next attraction) you will see more global fashion stores as well as some native to Budapest.

Budapest Eye

Again, this is a pretty touristy attraction. It’s a ferris wheel like the London Eye just smaller and not as crowded. I recommend going at night (when I went) since there will be less of a line and its a great way to get an aerial view of the city.

River Cruise

If you want beautiful views of both sides of the city I would recommend taking a river cruise along the Danube River. You can find most cruises on tour websites like viator. Just don’t take one from people offering them to you on the street because you will get ripped off. Many are at night and I would strongly recommend taking an evening cruise. You get beautiful views of the city and it’s architecture all lit up.

Food to try:

Paprika: We all know what paprika is but Budapest is where it was created. You can find some at any souvenir shop but to get authentic paprika go to the Central Market hall.

Goulash: Goulash is a meat and vegetable stew seasoned with paprika. It’s a must try if you are in Budapest and you can pretty much find it at any restaurant. There is also a restaurant on the third floor of the Central Market hall that offers goulash tastings.

Lagos: Lagos is basically their form of Pizza. It is a sweet zeppole kind of dough with either cheese and meat on top or a sweet version with sugar and chocolate.

Chimney cakes

Kurtoscalaks (chimney cakes ): Chimney cakes are almost like churros, round cinnamon pastries with sugar on the outside. You can purchase cakes with different flavored sugars and ice cream and caramel inside. Need I say more. The place I visited (that was recommended to me by my tour guide) was Molnar’s. It is the place to get chimney cakes.

Dobos torte: Dobos torte is the most famous cake in Budapest. It is layered vanilla cake, pastry and chocolate mousse. Its amazing and best accompanied by hot chocolate or coffee, or both! I went to a centuries old cafe called Ruszwurm Confectionery in the castle district, that had this cake and a hot chocolate coffee. Coffee with hot chocolate! I also went to an amazing upscale dessert place called Gerbaud near the Budapest Eye that specialized in Hungarian desserts.

Alcohol: The specialty wine in Budapest is Tokaji wine. Tokaji is a sweet white wine that I first tried on the river cruise. It was so good I decided to buy some to take home. You can find it at most restaurants if you ask and on any river cruise that includes drinks. I also tried a liquor called Palinka. I first tried it at a ruin bar. I didn’t know what it was and wanted to try a local liquor so I asked the bartender for some. It ended up being a shot so some of my tour friends decided to try it. I was definitely not prepared for the really strong shot that it was. After that I decided no more. It’s like 40% alcohol and will mess you up. Not that I would know….

I believe that Budapest is one of the most underrated cities and tourist destinations. If you are planning your next vacation I recommend Budapest. The first time I went with my family, I went during the summer at the height of tourist season. This time on my own I went in the early spring. It was a little cold but I think I prefer traveling before tourist season so the destinations aren’t overcrowded. Budapest is a magical city and I was sad to leave. I hope you enjoyed this journey. Next stop, Vienna! See you soon!

Szia! (Ciao in Hungarian!)

-Cristina

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