Hot on the heels of our visit to Prague, we eagerly returned to Eastern Europe to check out the popular city of Budapest. We were taken up by the beautiful surroundings and vibrancy of the city. The river acts as a divide between the quiet, hilly Buda, and the flat, bustling Pest. Together they provide an excellent selection of entertainment for visitors!
We arrived in the evening and had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. The restaurant wasn’t very full and it felt as though everyone in it was a tourist. The food was delicious and delivered with superb service. Just like Prague, the food in Budapest is cheap and delicious! (Although not so great for vegetarians.)
After dinner we took a late night walk along the river and saw the city beautifully lit up. The main attractions have enormous spotlights surrounding them so they really glow at night. We were not the only people out with a camera and tripod to take advantage of that! We crossed the romantic Chain Bridge with its iron lamps, and took a hot walk up to the palace. At the top was a quaint castle town and the unforgettable Matthias Church. We’ve seen a lot of churches and cathedrals over the course of our travels, but this one still had something unique to offer. Not being particularly wide or tall, the standout feature was actually the colourful roof tiles. They added a joyful burst of colour that I haven’t seen on any other church before. During the day it was even better under a blazing sun and against perfect blue skies. Completing the gorgeous space was the Fisherman’s Bastion in front of the church. There is no agreed reason why it’s called the Fisherman’s Bastion although I wish there was a cool story to share about that. Name aside, it is in fact a group of seven towers, with a vaguely gothic and vaguely romantic vibe, representing the seven Magyar tribes that initially settled the area. The view from the fairytale-like circular towers was fantastic.
Another city, another walking tour! The free walking tour in Budapest does not take advance bookings – they simply deal with whoever shows up. We were in a relatively large group but our guide was able to engage us all and keep us going despite having one person in a wheelchair and another with a knee injury. Our tour started mid morning and covered St Stephen’s Basilica, the Chain Bridge, the Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church – which is when we were able to take day time pictures of the colourful roof! We learnt that a great deal of restoration work was made possible following Hungary’s acceptance into the EU which provided a substantial injection of funding. After the tour , we had a delicious lunch near the church. Despite the hot weather, we feasted on duck, and local cabbage rolls filled with pork and served with a liberal amount of sauerkraut (‘cabbage rolls’ don’t necessarily sound appetising, but they’re a lot nicer than they sound…or look).
The Terror Museum or Terror House in Budapest is a highly rated tourist attraction but unfortunately we found the whole place to be rather boring and not well executed. We were told there would be explanations to read in English so we opted out of the audio guide. What was available turned out to be printed A4 sheets of paper with mini essays (some double sided!) to read in each dimly lit room. The content on the pages didn’t always align with what was on display in each room either. Near the end, we were simply looking to exit but found ourselves stuck in a big queue to get into the slowest lift of all time that takes you down one floor to the prison area. During the excruciating lift ride, a video played in the darkness but the placement of the screen at waist height with subtitles at the bottom meant we couldn’t catch any of the content behind taller people. The lower floor was the most interesting part of the museum, and a little eerie because prisoners were held and executed there. We were both disappointed by the experience and I don’t feel I learnt anything even though I left with a small tree’s worth of paper.
Following our failed attempt at educating ourselves, we went to what turned into one of the best parts of our trip – the Pinball Museum. For 2500HUF each (about £7) you enter into a cavern of more than 130 pinball machines and arcade games from the end of the 19th century right up to today. You can play on virtually all of them as much as you like and we needed no further encouragement. We had so much fun and could probably have spent even more time there!
Dinner was yet another delicious meaty meal and we followed up by visiting the famous ruins bars. Stepping inside is like falling into some kind of psychedelic trip. There is graffiti all over the walls, random items strung up and dangling haphazardly from above, more random items attached to the walls and the most mismatched furniture situation I’ve ever seen. There were disco balls and colourful lights, numerous nooks and crannies to perch, and bars scattered around serving beer, wine and cocktails. We picked up a couple of cocktails and sat in a corner to admire our surroundings. The cocktails were expensive and weak – beer may have been a better and less touristy choice. We climbed a rickety metal winding staircase to get a nice view of the place. The mayhem of the decor does not make any more sense from above!
On our final day in Budapest we walked along the river to see Cipők a Duna-parton which is a memorial of shoes along the riverbank. It honours Jewish people killed and thrown into the icy river during WWII. Many of the shoes were tiny, a poignant reminder that many of the victims were children.
For the final few hours of our trip, we went to Széchenyi Thermal Bath. The city has many thermal baths but Széchenyi is the biggest and most popular. It was built in 1913 and is composed of a large outdoor pool area with a slew of smaller indoor pools too numerous to count. We kept walking from one room to another to find yet more pools to lounge in. They also had several saunas and steam rooms. One particular sauna is 100 degrees (celsius)! We did not try it… Our time there was incredibly relaxing and it would definitely be worth spending the day there time allows.
Our time in Budapest felt too short. With blistering hot days and warm evenings, it was an ideal place to embrace summer. If I could, I would be more than happy to return and spend an entire day at the baths, and then another day at another bath house – you get my drift! There is a clear reliance on tourism in the city with virtually everyone we saw eating out being foreign. I think there are many fascinating things to learn about the history and culture of the city which we really didn’t get an opportunity to experience. Regardless, just like anyone who has been to Budapest, we would highly recommend going because you’ll love it.