The wonderful thing about living in London is how connected it is to the rest of the world – flights are always readily available and cheap. And they seem to be even cheaper in winter when most of Europe is bitterly cold and less appealing to tourists. I took full advantage of this in January when planning a long weekend trip to Budapest for my birthday!
Budapest is called the ‘little Paris of the East’, but I’d like to think that Budapest can certainly stand on its own! The city is so underrated compared to other destinations in Europe – it’s incredibly beautiful, full of history, has vibrant nightlife, and is cheap (and I mean cheap!).
I didn’t now this before visiting, but Budapest is made up of two distinct sides of the Danube River – Buda and Pest. Where the hilly Buda side of the river offers sweeping panoramas and feels historic and grand, the flat Pest side of the river is buzzing with ruin pubs and restaurants, and feels dynamic and hip.
Here is my pick of the best of Hungary’s capital, Budapest:
1. Thermal Baths
Hungary is the land of thermal springs, and I am a big big fan! Budapest itself sits on some 125 springs and going to the baths has been a part of everyday life in this area since Roman times. As you can imagine, there are a lot of baths to choose from in Budapest – from the famous Szechenyi Baths in Pest to the Art Nouveau Gellert Baths to the lesser known Veli Bej Baths. Where you choose depends on what your looking for – I really enjoyed the outdoor pool at Széchenyi, and the Gellert Baths I found to be by far the most beautiful.
2. Chain Bridge
There are so many beautiful bridges in Budapest, but the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which connects the Buda and Pest sides of the city, is an iconic landmark in Budapest’s cityscape. The suspension bridge is the oldest on the Dunabe River, and looks extra beautiful when lit up at night! If you are traveling between different sites in the city, the chain bridge is an easy walk from Gellert Baths and hill, the Great Market Hall, Parliament and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
3. Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church
Both of these sites are on the Buda side of the river and right next to each other. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a great spot to get sweeping views of the city, including across the river to the famous Parliament building. It has seven towers representing the seven Magyar tribes that founded present-day Hungary. Entrance is free to the terrace – and there is even a nice spot to grab a hot chocolate from one of the towers. Or if you are feeling extra fancy, a restaurant that looks over the city.
Mattias church, in front of the Fisherman’s Bastion, was also once a mosque when the Turks captured Budapest in the 1500s. It’s a beautiful church, with a vibrant turquoise tiled roof and huge colorful stained glass windows.
4. Memento Park
Memento Park is on the outskirts of Budapest (easily accessible by bus), and is one of the stranger places I’ve visited – it’s like ‘Communist Disneyland’. Many of the statues, busts and monuments were erected in Budapest after Hungary came under Soviet rule. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the various monuments (of Lenin, Stalin and Marx) were moved to the park part in remembrance and part in celebration at the fall of communism. You can also see an old Trabant – the so-called “people’s car” – in the park!
5. Szimpla Kert
Budapest is well-known for its ruin pubs, and Szimpla Kert was my favorite! We stayed nearby and went here many times – for breakfast, a farmer’s market, and one night for (a whole lotta) drinks. The quirky building is filled with so many nooks and crannies and everywhere you look is some strange piece of art or old relic from who knows when and where.
6. Great Market Hall
This was probably my least favorite of all the things we visited in Budapest because it’s mostly filled with touristy souvenirs. BUT we did have some amazing food at the food stalls on the second floor, which definitely made it worth it!
And here is a little video of our trip – I took the wrong lens (!) and it wasn’t the best one for making videos, but I did it none the less.