The capital of Hungary is up there with Europe’s most charming cities.
From your first sighting of Buda Castle standing stately on Castle Hill, you’ll appreciate the beauty in the bridges, churches, synagogues and city buildings.
There are many reasons to visit Budapest. Here are just 5 to help you plan your Budapest adventure.
Whether you’re a student of architecture or simply an appreciator, Budapest’s many architectural styles will have you filling your Instagram feed.
The magnificent Parliament Building’s Gothic Revival or Neo-Gothic intricate detail is evident even from a distance. A year-round maintenance schedule keeps these features pristine.
On the opposite side of the Danube, Buda Castle District highlights Gothic architecture in Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.
Brought to Budapest from ancient Rome, the Classicist style of Chain Bridge connects Buda and Pest.
The Jewish Quarter’s Great Synagogue (District 7) shows off the Romantic style. Seating 3,000 people, it’s the largest synagogue in Europe.
The Renaissance’s symmetry, proportion and geometry are best experienced at the imposing St Stephen's Basilica in District 5 and for Baroque magnificence, visit Széchenyi Baths.
2. Thermal Baths
Budapest and Reykjavik (Iceland) are the only two capital cities in the world with an underground network of natural thermal hot springs. Seventy million litres of water are produced under Budapest daily.
Spend a day at the relaxing Széchenyi Baths. The natural spring water’s healing power has not been scientifically proven, but surely there’s healing power in lazing in a massive bath all day.
Széchenyi Baths see a whopping 1.6 million visitors a year in the three outdoor and fifteen indoor pools. With temperatures reaching up to 58 Celsius, Széchenyi Thermal Baths can be enjoyed all year round. Purchase entrance tickets and book spa treatments online to avoid the queue.
Gellért Baths are said to be the most photographed baths in Hungary. Built between 1912 and 1918 in Art Nouveau style, the hot springs healing waters from under Gellért Hill have been referenced since as early as the 15th century.
While part of the Gellért Hotel complex, the baths are open to the public.
Built in the middle of the 16th century at the beginning of Turkish occupation, Király Baths retain much of the original design. Smaller and favoured by locals over the larger and grander thermal baths, Király Baths are now completely co-ed so bathing suits are mandatory.
3. The Danube
Flowing southeast from Germany through nine countries, the Danube eventually empties into the Black Sea. A favourite on European River Cruise itineraries, Budapest is an overnight or sometimes a multi-night stop.
Popular Danube day cruises leave Budapest to small river towns and regular 2-hour cruises to Margaret Island and back are offered by a range of companies.
Cruising the Danube is a relaxing way to enjoy the changing landscape. Finding a tour operator is easy, in fact, they’ll find you.
Through the summer months (May to October) Mahart Passnave ferry line provides a service to the artist town of Szentendre.
During the late 1600s when the Turks were driven from Hungary, Szentendre became home to Serbian, Dalmatian and Greek refugees. Later, Germans and Slovakian immigrants arrived.
This cultural mix produced architectural styles reminiscent of the settlers’ homelands. The ethnic diversity in this riverside town attracted artists to reproduce the scenery.
The Szentendre Artist Colony today includes painters, sculptors, poets, musicians and actors living and working in this pretty setting right on the Danube.
Departing at 09:00 and 10:30, returning at 14:00 and 19:00, the Mahrat Passnave Ferry service takes a little over an hour.
Szentendre is 20 kilometres from Budapest. Cycling tracks along the Danube make for a picturesque ride. Cycling there and taking a train back is a popular transport route.
One of the best ways to indulge in a city’s local produce and traditional dishes is to hit the market, and Budapest is no exception.
At Fővám square, Budapest’s Central Market Hall has ten thousand square metres of potential products to sink your teeth into.
Stalls selling typical Hungarian smoked paprika, house made salami, caviar, cheese, fresh fruit, veg, and wine take up the entire ground floor. On the top floor, this fresh produce is turned into traditional dishes.
Grab a table and tuck into Hungary’s famous cabbage rolls - minced pork, rice and secret ingredients wrapped in cabbage leaves and swimming in paprika rich sauce.
Grilled sausages smeared with mustard, sprinkled with paprika and served with a side of cabbage lend themselves perfectly to an ice cold beer.
Heaped ladles of simmering goulash come poured over fluffy rice.
Then there are Langos. Brace yourselves. Langos are deep-fried flatbread covered in sour cream, crispy bacon and heaped with shredded cheese. The sweet version is piled with cottage cheese and icing sugar. Not exactly low carb.
For a window into Budapest’s contemporary dining scene, look no further than Mák.
On the menu, Hungary’s finest seasonal produce is treated with respect and innovation to present diners with a modern take on Hungarian cuisine.
At the helm, Chef Janos Mizsei, 2014’s Young Chef of the Year, combines and extracts flavours from traditional ingredients reinventing their everyday purpose.
Enhancing the experience, Hungary’s 2018 Sommelier of the Year, Máté Horváth leads you down the wine road less travelled to small producers focused on Hungary’s wine future.
An equally enjoyable culinary experience can be found at KönyvBár & Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter.
Again, Hungary’s seasonal produce is lovingly prepared with an individual, contemporary twist but at KönyvBár you have the added bonus of a menu based on a book.
Hungarians are quite fond of an adult beverage. Case in point, Pálinka. This clear, fiery liquor is the result of distilled mashed fruit pulp. Traditionally stone fruits - apricot & plums - are used for this fruit brandy, although apples, pears and cherries are also common. Be very careful, Pálinka’s effects sneak up on you.
Craft beer is as popular in Hungary as the rest of the world and brewpubs can be found throughout Districts 5, 6, 7 & 8. To really join in the celebration of beer, check out the annual Beer Festival.
June or August, at the height of summer, has been the timing for the Beer Festival, perfect weather to sink a few cold ones. The Beer Festival is held in Buda Castle grounds and includes concerts, exhibitions and shows.
Also held in the palace grounds is the Hungarian Wine Festival. Bringing together winemakers from all over Hungary, the festival includes a guest country to showcase their best wines. This year’s 4-day Wine Festival begins September 5th, concluding on September 8th.
Budapest offers so much in the way of entertainment but one thing not to be missed is a couple of drinks in a Ruin Bar.
Tiring of the hiking beer prices in regular bars, a bunch of mates bought a keg, threw some mismatched furniture together and set themselves up in an abandoned building.
Inviting all and sundry, the keg didn’t last long and in the weeks and months that followed the bar had a wider range of drinks, DJs brought their music and food stalls were set up.
Szimpla Ker’t was the first and, after a few varying locations, they’ve settled in a permanent spot in District 7. Live music is a draw at Szimpla Ker’t with management promoting and encouraging local talent. Sundays see an organic food market along with bric-a-brac and young designers.
Anker’t is likely the largest ruin bar you’ll find in Budapest. Complete with party hall, burger & pizza trucks, an ice cream stand, and four bars. Entrance to Anker’t is through scaffolding from the street into the courtyard bar.
There are literally dozens of ruin bars in Budapest now so, while you’re taking a wander, be sure to have a good look in courtyards of abandoned buildings, they may be hiding a ruin bar.
Budapest is one of those European cities you’ll feel immediately comfortable. It’s an easy walking city, there are a plethora of ride-sharing options from bicycles to scooters to cars and the public transport works well too.
Start planning your trip today. Budapest: it’s a place we love….
Shona’s award winning travel blog shares tips and tricks on where to eat, drink, explore & shop in any given destination. At home ordering street food or perusing a fine dining menu, she seeks out venues with a conscience who promote local produce and sustainability. Find her in markets, museums, art galleries and on walking tours as well as wineries, breweries, distilleries and restaurants. Wherever she is, she’s always looking for something a little different to share with her readers. Follow her travels at www.paraphernalia.co or subscribe to her Shenanigans Report http://paraphernalia.co/subscribe-form/so as not to miss a post. firstname.lastname@example.org.