Earlier this month I managed to add yet another city and country to my travel map, bringing my country total to 24 (some of you might remember my ’40 before 40’ post, where I calculated the number of countries I had visited up until then. Since then I have managed to add 3 more countries to the list: Poland, Israel and now Hungary).
After it had been on the radar for a long time, I finally got to visit Budapest.
Only for one night over during a business trip, but I tried to make the most of the few hours I had and see it ALL (or at least tried, after around 25.000 steps, I eventually gave up). But – SPOILER ALERT – I did like it a lot and I definitively will be back for more (hopefully for a full weekend at some point).
So let me tell you how much sightseeing I managed to do in just one afternoon in Budapest.
Arriving at Budapest airport, I was fairly surprised just how crowded and chaotic the airport was. People everywhere and the arrival hall felt quite claustrophobic. But since I was already a little late (my flight landed half an hour delayed) I wasn’t going to hang around for long, so I made my way straight over to the taxi stand.
Budapest airport is served by a single cab company, so you just go straight to their info desk, tell them where you’d like to go and they will call you a cab (and give you a piece of paper stating your cab’s registration number and approx. quote for your journey). This was easy and the actually cab fare turned out to be cheaper than the estimated price, so can’t complain.
To allow for some sightseeing in the evening, I had picked a hotel that seemed fairly central. And it actually was. Just a few steps to the Danube on the Pest side of town.
As so often during business trips, I arrived in Budapest with hardly any preparation at all. I did already own a city guide (which I bought last year, when I thought I was going to Budapest for a weekend with my mum), but the first time I actually opened and skimmed through it was in the last 15 minutes of my flight that morning, just before touching down in Budapest. Plus reading about 3 blog posts the evening before. Hardly well prepared, but it had to suffice. So off I went.
Heading for the river and walking along the bank (getting a first view of the castle on the other side of the river), my first stop were the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’, a selection of 60 pairs of iron shoes as a memorial to those shot along the Danube bank during WWII.
From there I headed back towards the Parliament building. Due to time I only had a look at it from the outside. You seem to also be able to actually get into Parliament and see the building, however you will need to book ahead, so this wasn’t an option this time (but I might try and check it out for next time).
Parliament is an impressive building, one of the largest buildings in Budapest, built in Gothic Revival style, with a symmetrical façade.
For once my timing was just right, as I stumbled across the ‘Changing of the Guards’ by sheer accident. Unlike the Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace which drags on for quite a while (and which I recently witnessed again for the first time in years during my goddaughter’s visit to London), this was a fairly low key procedure over and done with in less than 10 minutes. However if you happen to be in the area, you might as well take a minute and watch it.
From here I continued back along the bank to the chain bridge, past the Hungarian Academy of Science and eventually over the bridge to Buda.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is a suspension bridge over the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest. Opened in the mid 19th century it was the first ever bridge across the Danube in Hungary. With its two stone towers and the cast iron decorations it reminded me a lot of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York (although at a much smaller scale obviously).
To get a better view of the Parliament building, I continued along the river bank until I was opposite Parliament. I must say it really is a rather impressive building and I like it a lot. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to actually see it at dusk / in the dark, so again, this might be one for the bucket list next time.
Back towards the Chain Bridge and up towards Buda Castle. You have two choices. You can either walk up to the castle or you can take a ride with the funicular. With the queue rather short, I decided to have a go.
A one way ticket for adults is 1200 HUF (around 3.30 GBP), a return ticket 1800 HUF (5 GBP). At this price I happily opted for the return ticket.
Budavári Sikló (the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular) was originally opened in 1870, but was unfortunately destroyed during WWII and re-built / re-opened again in the 1980s to the original designs: 2 rather pretty wooden cabins and 2 Art Deco buildings top and bottom.
The actual journey is only a few minutes. Try and get into the bottom cart and you will have an uninterrupted view down onto the Danube and the Chain Bridge as you move up the hill.
I think next time I would probably go for a one way ticket up and actually walk down, as there are two foot bridges crossing the tracks along the way, providing nice photo opps / close ups as the two carts meet each other half way.
As time was very limited that evening, I only did a brief tour around Buda Castle, enjoying the views over the city and the river. Obviously you could spend a lot more time up there, actually visit the castle itself and the maze of little roads that span around it.
Back down I continued walking along the river, towards Liberty Bridge, another stunning bridge spanning the Danube.
With the river to my left, I could see the ‘Liberty Statue’ on top of the Gellért Hill to my right (yes you heard right… turns out New York isn’t the only city to have Lady Liberty watching over it).
Crossing Liberty Bridge I found myself back in Pest. My first stop was the Great Market Hall, which I originally mistook for the train station (as it is a rather long building with a big rather grand entrance hall, a combination often found at main stations), but which was unfortunately closed already, so I wasn’t able to go in and see if the interior matched the pretty exterior (I have a feeling it might, so might add this to my list next time).
By now dusk was setting in and I was a little tired and in desperate need of food and water. So whilst still aah-ing and ooh-ing at all the stunning buildings around me, I also glanced eyes on the menus outside the various restaurants. As always, I would totally ignore all restaurants where staff were actively trying to convince me to come in and were all over me the minute I glanced at the menus. I so hate it when they do this, so chances are I will just walk past.
I eventually settled for a Hungarian burger bar, not quite as ‘traditionally Hungarian’ as some of the other places, but it also didn’t look too much like a tourist trap. I opted for Hungarian sausages with horseradish and mustard, rather than a burger. Whilst the food was rather tasty, the service was a bit crap, so don’t think I would go back there again.
Dinner over it was time to head back towards the hotel.
So here you have it. A very condensed sightseeing tour through Budapest, barely scratching the surface. I will be back for sure. There is still loads left to see. And also I really want to come back and visit at least one of the old bath houses, Budapest is so famous for.
Anything I have forgotten? What are your recommendations, must-sees and favourite places in Budapest?