When thinking of Eastern European countries, for many what comes to mind is the coldness of March, stories of Nazi occupation, and the Soviet Union. However, Eastern Europe is a region full of beauty, culture, and welcoming people. After traveling to continental Europe for many years, opening Google Maps to find new destinations to visit can be a challenge as one is always tempted to return to the loved places already explored. However, the curiosity for the unknown and the affordable prices to travel within Europe made the option of taking Budapest, Hungary, off the bucket list easier than expected during one of our visits to London.
Budapest is a city full of history. Even though this beautiful city has been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times, the magnificence of the Austro-Hungarian empire is still manifested in the union of the former cities of Buda and Pest. After the bombings of World War II, much of the city was rebuilt to resemble its old architecture.
During our visit, we stayed in the Pest (East) side of the city, in the historic Jewish Quarters. The area, with its somber past, has grown to become popular not only with those interested in learning about the history of the city but also with those looking to enjoy its lively nightlife, restaurants, and seeking to explore its community of artists.
Our first stop after we checked in at the Continental Hotel Budapest was at the Italian-owned restaurant Da Mario Budapest, on Vécsey street, a restaurant that takes pride in its authentic Italian gastronomy. The restaurant boasts quality, patented ingredients which are primarily sourced from Italy. A taste of their home-made pasta is an exquisite experience not to be missed.
After your meal, a walk through Budapest will immediately allow you to appreciate the beautiful architecture of the city. The Hungarian Parliament, one of the most alluring examples of the Gothic Revival style in the city, is strategically located on the banks of the Danube River and close to the St. Stephen’s Basilica, representing a balance between the State and the Church in Hungary. The parliament building is considered the largest building in Hungary, and one of the biggest parliamentary buildings in the world.
By continuing your walk along the banks of the Danube River, you will be able to visit the memorial ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank,’ conceived by film director Can Togay and by the sculptor Gyula Pauer. The memorial, composed of multiple shoe sculptures, honors the memory of the Jews killed during World War II.
The walk on the Danube Promenade is not complete without a walk across the bridges that connect Buda and Pest. From Erzsébet Bridge to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, these bridges are simply a work of art – the Chain Bridge being a favorite of many. Its construction dates to the 1840s, and it was the first permanent bridge across the river. Its lion sculptures represent “power,” and contribute to making Budapest one of the most photogenic cities in Europe.
Across the river from Pest, on the Buda side of the city, is the Buda Castle. The Castle can be reached by car, public transportation or the famous Castle Hill Funicular. The Castle was reconstructed after WWII and consists of museums, chapels, and historic ruins. The labyrinths of Buda Castle were home to a prison and it’s most famous prisoner was Vlad Tepes, better known as Count Dracula, who was held in captivity by the Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus. Along with the changing of the guards at the top of the Castle, another interesting attraction is the Fisherman’s Bastion, which represents the seven tribes that founded Budapest.
If hunger strikes after your visit to the Castle, Spoon The Boat, anchored on the Danube river at the foot of the Chain Bridge, offers the opportunity for an excellent meal. The view, the service, and the atmosphere provided by the 246-foot boat restaurant will take anyone’s breath away. Known for its world-famous cuisine and celebrity clientele, Spoon The Boat offers an exceptional and delicious menu, with the goose being one of our favorite dishes.
When in Budapest, brunch at the New York Cafe is a must. Located in the New York Palace Hotel, the historic café first opened in 1894 and was the preferred place for artists, writers, and great thinkers. Partially destroyed during WWII, and after many years of abandonment, the café was renovated to its grand glory in 2006.
Known for its traditional thermal baths, Budapest is unique for being the only large city in the world which abounds in fountains of healing water. Seventy million liters of 21-78 Celsius warm thermal water spring forth daily from its 118 natural thermal springs. The Széchenyi Baths is one of Budapest most popular attractions and is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. For a more private experience, visit the Danubius Hotel Gellért, a historic Art Nouveau hotel which first opened in 1918. Its prestigious thermal baths are world famous. The experience of its baths, saunas and steam rooms will surely leave you renovated.
After relaxing in the thermal baths, end the day with a beautiful view of the sunset from atop Gellért Hill, named after Saint Gerard. At the top of the hill is the Citadella (Citadel), from which the panoramic views down both directions of the Danube will blow your mind. This is our favorite spot in Budapest for a postcard photo.
Budapest counts with all types of transportation, including metro, tram, buses, and flat fare taxis. The city also counts with its own “Taxify” App, making it easy for tourists to get around. For a short weekend trip, the hop-on-hop-off tours around the city are also recommended. Some of the attractions included with these tours are the Hungarian Opera House, the Terror Museum, the Timewheel (Budapest Eye), the Heroes’ Square, and a boat ride on the Danube River. – GM