During our summer break we decided to visit Budapest, the capital of Hungary. We really didn’t know what to expect at first. We’ve visited most of the Baltics and the Balkans and thought Hungary would kind of be similar in some ways. But Budapest is something else… It literally blew us away and went straight up to the top of our list as the most beautiful city in Eastern Europe. No wonder it’s often named “the Paris of the East”. Budapest seems to have it all; stunning architecture, lovely locals and surprisingly good food!
A few facts about Hungary
- Unlike the surrounding Slavic nations, the Magyars arrived from the Ural Mountain some 1100 years ago along with their unique language
- Population size: 10 million
- Religion: Roman Catholic
- Invaded by the Mongols and later by the Ottoman Turks
- Hungary is rich in geothermal water and boasts around 1500 spas
- Hungarians are avid inventors and can be thanked for the ballpoint pen, the Rubik’s cube, the helicopter, holography and vitamin C
- Hungarians are also pretty good at sports, only second to Finland when it comes to Olympic gold medals per capita
- Buda and Pest used to separate cities divided by the Danube River until they merged 150 years ago. The name Pestbuda even lingered for a while
Magyar – The unique language
The Hungarian language (belonging to the Finno-Ugric family) is one of the few languages in Europe that’s not part of the Indo-European family.
We did our best to learn a few words, like köszönöm (thank you very much), sör (beer) and so forth…the letter “ö” seems to be quite popular in the language and sounds the same as our ö in Iceland.
Now enough of facts, let us show in more detail why Budapest is simply a must visit for travellers:
Hungarians and Hospitality
We noticed from the beginning a lot of positive energy from locals toward tourists. They serve you with a smile and good intentions, and always make you feel welcome as a guest.
Most people have probably heard of the famous goulash soup or guylásleves, a savory beef soup with onions, paprika and potatoes. It’s a must try when in Hungary and easily found in all restaurant menus. However Hungarian cuisine is so much more than just goulash and remains one of the most sophisticated styles of cooking in Europe. Try some of the national dishes, like the Fisherman’s soup or Halászle (again made with a lot of paprika) or get the much loved lángous from one of the street vendors, a deep-fried flat bread typically eaten with sour cream, garlic dipping and cheese. In Budapest you also have a lot of International fusion cooking where new exciting restaurant are sprouting up on every corner in the downtown area.
The prices – 1 Euro 1 Beer
What makes Budapest so tourist friendly are the prices. To compare we usually look at the price of a beer at a pub which comes down to about 1-1.5 euros, nearly 4-5x lower than in Western Europe. For a cappuccino you’ll pay no more than 2 euros in most cafés. Despite low prices the standards are excellent and easily compete with the very best in Europe. Tipping is a part of Hungarian culture, so a 10-15% tip is expected for adequate service. Entrance fees, taxis and public transport in the city are all very affordable.
Named in the honour of the first king of Hungary, St. Stephen, the cathedral is the largest church in Hungary and one of biggest attractions in Budapest. We rarely go inside churches during our travels but visiting the interiors of the St. Stephen’s Basilica is definitely a must. You can also go up the cupola for a small fee (500HUF) and enjoy the views from above.
Historically Hungary is a wine country and has a long tradition of fine winemaking dating back to 5th century AD. They are one of the three European nations that have their own word for wine that’s not of Latin origin (along with Greece and Turkey). Despite being set back in the Communist Era (where quantity was the main goal, not quality), fine winemaking is returning to its former glory. The best wines rarely find their way onto the export market, mostly since Hungary is pretty small area wise and the quantity produced isn’t able to meet the demands for the International market. The best wines are thus mostly enjoyed by locals and foreign visitors. Today there are 22 distinct wine regions in Hungary, Tokaj (sweet white wines) and Eger (full bodied, spicy red wines) being the most famous. To experience some of the best wines we recommend a newly opened wine bar on Király street called Etap Deli & Night with a trendy modern interior. During the wine tasting experience you get to try some of the best products from small/not so well known producers. Highly recommended!
There seems to something going on in Budapest every night…the city never seems to sleep! There is so much to choose from in terms of nightlife so pub-crawling is a great idea. Veronika and Dora at Underguide Budapest showed us some of the best pubs and clubs in the city, but also gave us so many tips and witty facts about Budapest making for an unforgettable experience.
At summer you can start for drinks by the bank of the Danube or the Deák Ferenc square where you’ll see so many locals sitting around sipping wine and beer in a buzzing atmosphere. After a few drinks visit some of the many ruin bars situated around the Kazinczy street in the old Jewish district. These bars are all built in abandoned buildings that were left for decay in the WWII. Definitely one of the coolest underground bar scene we’ve experienced so far!
Budapest has the second oldest metro system in Europe (after London) and is both convenient and easy to use. The price for a single journey is 350 HUF (1.1 EUR), or you can buy a day card (1650 HUF) or 3-day card (4150 HUF). If you want to cross the Danube you can use line nr. 2
The mighty river, Danube
This is the central artery of Budapest and one of the best places to soak up the beautiful architecture the city has to offer. We recommend a boat ride on the river; you can choose from luxury motorboats with inclusive champagné or cheaper bigger boats with audio guided tours. The river splits the city into two sides, the Buda and the Pest, which used to be separate towns until 1873. The first bridge spanning the Danube, the Chain Bridge, wasn’t built until 1849. We recommend a boat ride down the Danube by night when you can see all the scenic buildings beautifully lid up. We also recommend walking by the bank and visiting the “shoes on the Danube memorial”, which show a pair of 60 shoes sculpted from iron on the river bank, dedicated to the Jews that were shot into the river but forced to take of there shoes first.
The Hungarian parliament
The Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Danube is one of the jaw-dropping sights in Budapest. Built in Neo-gothic style a little over 100 years ago, it is the third largest parliament building in the world and has been named the “Cathedral of Democracy”. For the best views take a boat ride on the Danube or take the metro line 2 over to the Buda side.
The Rose Gelato
Close to the St. Stephens Basilica you’ll probably see a long line of people waiting to be served by on of the trendiest gelaterias in the city. At Gelarto Rose you’ll get one of the best Italian gelatos, spread in a unique way…like a rose! It’s not only delicious to the eye but also tastes like heaven. The panna cotta – salty caramel is a must try!
The Matthias church and Fisherman’s Bastion
Located on Castle Hill, on the Buda side of the Danube, you’ll find this beautiful gothic-styled church named after king Matthias. It’s one of the oldest buildings in Budapest dating back to the medieval times. We recommend a walk around the church and to the close-by Fisherman’s Bastion for sweeping panoramic views of the Pest-side of the city.
New York Café
New York café used to be the most beloved café in Budapest and favored by many famous writers and poets at the turn of the 20th century. It was mostly destroyed in WWII but was restored to its original splendor ten years ago and is now a part of the Boscolo hotel. It is considered the most beautiful café in the world which is not difficult to believe when you see it. Although it is a bit expansive compared to other cafés in Budapest, you’re mostly going there for the stunning setting that takes you back to the past.
For some of the best views of the city we highly recommend a walk up to Gellért Hill on the Buda side of the Danube. It’s named after Hungary’s first missionary St. Gellért who was killed there during a rebellion. To get there you just cross the Elisabeth Bridge (if you’re staying on the Pest side), you’ll see stairs leading up the hill from there. It’s about 15 min walk up. On the way you can stop at the statue of St. Gellért and at the top is the Liberty Monument (dedicated to the liberation from the Nazi rule). Go there dawn or dusk for some of the best panoramic pictures of both sides of the river.
The thermal baths
As we live on a volcanic island in the Atlantic we surely love our thermal baths. So it came as a nice surprise that Hungary has the second largest thermal water reserve per capita after Iceland. Budapest is teeming with world-class thermal baths, many of them dating back to the Turkish occupation. One of the most famous is Gellért thermal bath is one of the oldest and most beautiful, but Széchenyi Spa is on of the biggest and hosts Spa Parties or “Sparties” where people can party to laser shows and dance the night away in natural hot water.
The Boscolo hotel
There are a number of accommodation options in Budapest ranging from budget friendly hostels and guesthouses to five star hotels. If you want to indulge in luxury for a few nights we can highly recommend the iconic Boscolo Hotel. We stayed for two nights and couldn’t have been happier. The hotel is situated on the Great Boulevard on the Pest side, close to all the main attraction in the center. The building itself is a historical marvel dating back to the 19th century with its baroque-styled interior and spectacular glass-roofed atrium. We were surprised by the size of the room; it is probably the most spacious hotel room we’ve stayed at so far. The all-around marble bathroom was equipped with a jacuzzi and separate rain head shower. The Nescafé coffee making station was a nice touch! After a reviving sleep we enjoyed the best breakfast buffet at the world famous New York Café, which is actually a part of the hotel. This is the first time we’ve seen free flow of sparkling wine during a breakfast buffet…loved it!
Easy to get there
Flying to Budapest has never been easier thanks to Wizzair that offers direct flights to most countries in Europe (even Iceland) at killer rates.
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