Updated: Sep 3
Budapest – Living the Dream
Set on the banks of the Danube, Buda and Pest combine into 23 districts to make this city, probably, the most perfect destination in Europe. Within its walls the old city of Pest is a perfect example of a medieval town, while Buda, on the western side of the river, has become the new glass walled financial metropolis of modern day Hungary.
Budapest has everything. There’s a vibe about the place where you feel instantly at home in every area. From stag nights to opera buffs, from teenager to pensioner, everybody goes home happy. Its most famous son Frans Liszt, inspires the classical, but Frans is only one of the many draws to this cosmopolitan centre.
As the capital of Hungary and a medium sized hub of 1.76 million people, there’s just something about Budapest, that no matter where you go, there’s a neighborhood for everyone. It is the most densely populated city in Europe due to its small land area of 203 square miles but each area has its own charisma. It’s no wonder that it gets approximately 4.5 million visitors per year, and is on track to host millions more in the next decade.
Once capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but invaded by the Ottomans, the Nazis and then the Russians, the city was only developed after the fall of the communist occupation in 1991. Today as a part of the EU, Hungary continues to develop at a rate of knots with Budapest hosting dozens of cranes for new construction. It’s also home to over 80 thermal springs where you can soak the day away or play chess chest deep in the local baths with total strangers.
The one factor that puts this urban conurbation above many other capital cities is its combined transportation system. From its excellent Metro (one of the oldest in Europe), to trams to river boats to buses to taxis to bicycles to walking, there’s every which way to get around. If you buy the Buda card for three days, for about ten Euros per day, you can see everything. The Buda card gives you access to all transportation systems, including the river boats, for one price
Things to see, where to start? The Great Synagogue, second largest Synagogue in the world, with pristine gardens commemorating both deceased and survivors of the Nazi occupation. The art deco Parliament building hosting the Hungarian crown jewels, The Great Market Hall, the oldest market in Budapest, Keleti (Eastern) and Nyugati (Western) railway stations, Buda castle, the royal residence, Gresham Palace, Gellert baths and Szechenyi Spa, the two most famous thermal baths, St.Stephen’s Basilica, the numerous museums such as Aquincum and the Hungarian national Museum. Heroes Square’, Vaj Castle, the Zoo, the permanent Circus.
Worthy of its own section are the seven bridges crossing the Danube. One thing you have to do is take the municipal river boat up to the most northern part of the city, past Margarit island, and back down to at least the Gellert baths next to the Green bridge. The bridges act as focal points throughout the city and each has its own history. The chain bridge, Budapest’s most famous, the Green Bridge, Arpad Bridge, Margaret Bridge, Elisabeth Bridge, Liberty Bridge and the Petofi Bridge. Each unique in its own right and worth a walk over just to see the different carvings and statues, and the views to each sides of the river.
The best way to see the bridges though is from the water. Using the city’s municipal river boats that ferry people from one end to the other, a one way trip is only 250 HUF, or around one Pound. Another way is via the river cruises on offer which leave every hour from different docks. You can even take a river boat cruise all the way to Bratislava or Vienna from Budapest. These cruises take several days where you can enjoy five star dining and accommodation while sauntering down the Danube..
Entertainment wise the city has a café culture to rival Paris. Opera at the Hungarian State Opera house, festivals such as the Budapest Spring festival, Wine festival and the Fringe festival. There’s a Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. However, it’s main culture these days seem to be in their famous Ruin bars throughout the city.
All the rage today in Budapest, Ruin bars are so called because of their origins in dilapidated neighborhoods. Built over burned out and abandoned buildings some of the most famous ones are Fogashaz, Instant, Szimpla Kert, Doboz and Corvin Teto. Some of these places have bicycles on the ceiling and mismatched seating but they exude the type of atmosphere you wish you’d been able to partake in years ago. A bright nightlife to rival Berlin or Ibiza.
Food is on a par with any European city, and Budapest’s street food is some of the best. Three things you want to try are Goulash which comes in beef or chicken style and can be a stew or soup with lots of paprika. Wiener schnitzel, giant pork or veal breaded patties, normally served with fries, and Lagos, a deep fried doughy plate sized dish served with cheese on the top. There are little outlets which sell both donuts and Lagos. Both deep fried, but sweet for donuts and savoury for the lagos. It’s an instant on the run breakfast or meal anytime.
Another late night delicacy everyone raves about is the Gyro or kebab. Turkish born but in every European country it seems, the kebab is now universal. Meat on a standing rotisserie stuffed into flat bread or pita, and then topped with salad and sauces. All this for just two dollars or one pound fifty pence (500HUF)
Hungarian wine comes from the vineyards in the countryside but Budapest is its biggest buyer. Not yet able to rival the French or Italian, this vin ordinaire can still be a welcome beverage for dinner or anytime. The champagne versions are also getting better year after year.
For dessert there’s nothing like ice cream and Budapest has some of the best. Both regular and Gelato there are stalls everywhere to try different flavours as you walk and experience the city.
Try the numerous bakeries throughout the city with their tempting pastries and hot coffee, it will remind you that Vienna is not far away.
Climate wise, the summers in Budapest are hot and dry and ice cream is the perfect snack. Winters are cold and can get down to -10C, but when you’re indoors freezing is not an option with hot apple strudel and gluhwein or schnapps to warm the cockles.
Budapest is certainly a budget friendly city and its accommodation reflects this with various types of lodgings. From small apartments to hostels to hotels to bed and breakfast, the city has a wide range.
However, if you want to step it up another notch there is only one destination: The Corinthia Hotel on Erzsebet Korut. This five star luxury hotel has it all. A spa, indoor swimming pool, sauna, Hot tubs, Jacuzzis, five star dining, several first class bars, meeting rooms and service that is second to none. The film industry is always in Budapest these days, and it is no wonder the film stars of today choose the Corinthia as its home from home.
In fact, the Corinthia Hotel is famous in its own right. Once known as the Grand Palace Hotel, it was the inspiration for the best movie of 2014 “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Some of its stars have since stayed here and many have signed a guest book to prove it. It may look expensive but this is really an affordable luxury you cannot afford to miss.
All the European airlines, from Budget Easyjet and Ryanair, to the mainline carriers like British and Lufthansa all fly to Budapest. It cost next to nothing to get there and once there you’ll be booking your return trip as soon as you return home. All trains lead to Budapest from all over Europe, so it’s an easy destination from Vienna or Bratislava, Zagreb or Prague.