Budapest, the modern day city of the two ancient cities of Buda and Pest that are eternally separated by the swift-moving Danube River. Its ancient roots and history of occupations, turmoil, and war have shaped it into one of the most interesting and diverse cities in Europe. In a way, it has remained one of the more authentic cities to visit on the continent, as well. Not that tourists aren’t aimlessly wandering the streets; they are, but there seems to be a smaller population of tour bus-crowds and more of the independent backpackers. Perhaps because it isn’t the best place to take a selfie for your new profile picture, but it certainly is not for any lack of attractions or culture.
What started as a Celtic settlement was eventually inhabited/pillaged/ruled by Romans, Monguls, Ottomans before finally becoming the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during its most prosperous time before the First World War. It was subsequently the site of two revolutions in the last 170 years and an important 50-day siege during the Second World War that greatly aided the allied march to Berlin, at the cost of tens of thousands of civilians and many beautiful parts of the city. Today, its is one of the largest cities in Europe, boasting countless world heritage sites (including the metro, itself- the second oldest in the world), 80 geothermal springs, the world’s largest thermal cave system, the second largest synagogue as well as massive Parliament building, a former Royal Palace, stunning bridges, and Soviet-era bunkers. Not to mention the unique and endless nightlife and extraordinary cuisine (seriously, go to Budapest with an empty stomach).
Little bit of something for everyone, eh?
We chose to start our trip by first visiting Buda -home to the more ancient sites that can comprise of a full day of full touring or an afternoon for the casual strolling visitor, like us. Starting here I think was a good way to get our bearings of the city. Pest can be done in bits and pieces throughout your stay. Here is a little overview:
After a morning at the Parliament building (detailed later) we took a long walk down the river to Margaret Island- basically Budapest’s Central Park, but on an inland in the river, and connected to both sides with an amazingly beautiful bridge. If the weather had been a touch nicer, I am sure we would have stopped for a while. However, it did appear to still be a popular cycling destination, even this early in the spring.
We continued wandering through Buda, following a trail of spires as we went, eventually up to….
Fisherman’s Bastion & Mathias Church
Even if you arrive in Budapest with no plans, you will inevitably find yourself drawn to this Neo-Gothic fortress-like overlook. Though only constructed in the early 1900s, it feels as if it has always graced the river banks, offering panoramic views from above and picturesque medieval aura from below- particularly when fully lit up at night. Come for the charming turrets and the beautiful church; stay for a drink and a beautiful view of Parliament across the river.
We did, however snag a lovely open table for a view. A sure way to get away from student crowds is to go where you have to pay for something.
Formerly the Hungarian Royal Palace, the massive and imposing structure now hosts a series of museums and the national library. It has been both the literal and figurative site of many battles and revolutions throughout the country’s history. While we just did a casual walk through with a stop for a hot drink as the sun was dropping, you could easily spend the better part of the day visiting the museums.
Given a bit more time, I think we certainly would have made it to the top of Gellert Hill. It is a hike up an impressive hill that leads passed old bunkers and ends in a beautiful liberty statue at the top. If you are heading to Buda, maybe do this for your morning exercise.
Best Dinner in Buda!
Recommended by our hotel, we had dinner at The BIGinning after our first full day in the city. We then spent the rest of the trip digesting it. On the far side of Buda-well away from the tourist corridor- this obscure little place in what seemed like a random intersection was neither fancy nor a dive. The food was excellent, came in massive portions, and was all 100% Hungarian. As the concierge assured us, it was “real” Hungarian and that “when you see the menu, you will see it is something special.”
We shared a starter of various pates of goose and pork on toasted bread while trying a Hungarian white wine. For dinner, I had a veal goulash -which was basically paprika veal on dumpling mac n cheese and completely delicious, as you can imagine. Jimmy’s dish was what can only be described as death-by-everything-amazing: A steak. Stuffed with goose liver pâté. Wrapped in bacon. Wrapped in fried cheese. With a side of goose fat fried potatoes. It was so Hungarian it was almost American. Jimmy rarely leaves food on his plate, but even he quit 3/4 of the way in.
They called us a cab at the end of the meal- though perhaps a semi truck would have been better- and opted for a digestive walk before throwing in our towel.
Despite the fact that we didn’t eat for most of the next day, I highly recommend this place to any traveler. Jimmy and I love a fancy meal as much as a crappy local dive. Plus, I basically live and travel to eat. This place is a gem. Considering both quantity and quality of the food, it is a screaming deal. Not to mention the friendly staff, unique location and local products. It was fun, delicious, and unique. Maybe the best time we had in the city! But obviously, Jimmy and I have fun anywhere we go!
Our only negative review was the obnoxiously loud American group also in the small restaurant-also from our hotel as we had heard them in the lobby bar earlier, being equally as obnoxious. Our waitress said “They must be from Texas” though it was really more like LA. The head of the table was boasting about his early real-estate days when he was out-earning Donald Trump at a younger age blah blah blah. I could tell you intimate details about the rest of the groups’ lives, so loud was their conversation. Seriously, please don’t be these travelers. Ever. Maybe living in Finland- where silence is golden, and I really appreciate it- I have come to notice it more. But help the rest of the world see that Americans are not this guy. Or his entire pretentious group.
Jimmy all but spoiled me rotten this week with stays in actual hotels, while I had been researching funky hostels (of which there is no shortage). We landed at the newly renovated (literally opened 2 days before) Ritz-Carlton, no less. Everything was sparkling and new, the furnishings a really lovely modern/mid-century collection, and there was a surplus of staff on hand as the first guests started trickling in. Lucky us, our stay was free by utilizing points from one of our credit cards. So we certainly did our very best to get our precious points-worth by utilizing the excellent concierge service, luxurious bath tub, and a chocolate cake upon arrival (I mean, our anniversary was only a month ago…) among other things.
Look in the future for posts on traveling with points and tips for trip planning, after this barrage of Easter-travel posts.
And next up, Pest.