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I went to Budapest on a whim. I was studying in London and had wanderlust. I needed to get out and go somewhere in Europe. Somewhere I hadn’t been before. I literally just opened a map and pointed, Hungary it was. I didn’t know much about it save that it was the home of goulash and paprika. This was on a Sunday. I left for Budapest on Wednesday. Little did I know it would be one of the most wonderful random trips of my life.
There’s something to be said for traveling alone. I never thought I’d want to do it, and this was my first trip alone actually. I was nervous, sure, but I was determined to go and have an adventure. I was going to meet people and have fun and go out of my comfort zone. And I was right.
Budapest is separated into two major areas: Buda and Pest. Buda is the historical side of the city while Pest is the more modern city. Each have great aspects about them, but as I’m a history nut, I spent the most of my time in Buda. Budapest’s transit system is great and the metro isn’t too difficult to handle. I didn’t use it though as I walked everywhere. It’s a walkable enough city, though there were some long wanderings. Budapest is a great place to go because it’s not an immediate place you think of, but it has amazing things to offer. And here’s just a taste!
What To See
Castle Hill (Várhegy) is the old medieval settlement of Buda that overlooks the Danube. It’s a gorgeous part of the city where you’ll not only get stellar views, but can wander around archaeological sites, the Royal Palace (Királyi palota) and the stunning Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya). It has the largest concentration of things to see in the city and is worth a full day on its own if you can spare it. There’s a grand host of museums there including the Szabo Marzipan Museum (http://www.szamosmarcipan.hu/hu/). Yes, a marzipan museum.
Fisherman’s Bastion is made to look medieval, but it’s actually Victorian and built near the site of the old fisherman’s market and is named for the old guild of Fishermen. It’s a fantastic piece of architecture and I kind of felt a little like Harry Potter wondering around.
The Pest side of Budapest has a few monumental places you cannot miss. The gorgeous Gothic architecture of the Parliament Building is a stunner. I actually never made it over there as I got the view from Castle Hill, but get up close, for me.
There was, and still is, a very large Jewish population in Budapest and the Jewish Quarter is a particularly pretty part of the city. It’s also home to the Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga).
The museum is small, but it’s just… really worth your while. Budapest had one of the largest population of Jews in Europe before WWII and the memorials for them are intense. The Tree of Life in the courtyard has the name of every Jewish person in Budapest who died under the Nazi regime. It’s something to be seen and to remember what happened.
Bathing is a huge thing in Budapest. Yes, bathing. There’s public baths all over the city as well as swimming pools. There’s thermal baths as well that are more spa like and most of them are open air, which is really nice on a lovely day. Gellért Baths in Buda are the most popular, surrounded by exquisite Art Nouveau architecture. Széchenyi Spa (Széchenyi Fürdő) is the largest spa in Europe. That’s reason enough to check it out.
Also, don’t leave Budapest without visiting the Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) at Fővám tér. These old markets are from a bygone era and are always a sight to behold.