Budapest was simply beautiful, charming, delicious, and unique. Hungary itself has been through some interesting times – first being a Celtic country, then part of the Roman Empire, then the Austria-Hungarian empire, before finally getting their independence after WWI (and lost a lot of land with their freedom). The name also derives from the nomad people the Huns, who settled in Pannonia (present day Hungary). The capital city of Hungary has some amazing sites, museums, and monuments – which we enjoyed immensely.
How We Got There and Around
From Bratislava, we took a train to Budapest. The ride itself wasn’t long, and relatively easy.
In Budapest we bought a 3-day transportation pass which we thought would be perfect. We later discovered that Budapest has many things to do close together, but we still took advantage of riding public transport every chance we could. We ended up riding the Metro, the bus, and the tram.
We happily took the M1 Line, which was the second underground to use electric traction, behind London’s Underground. From the stations, to the cars and tracks, it feels historic.
Budapest uses a similar purchase system to places we have visited already, purchasing a one-way purchase, etc, all on the honor system (meaning, there are no automatic gates letting you in). However, it is the first place we have been where we have had our tickets checked, several times. The people checking are in “normal” clothes, and once the doors close to the tram/car, they put on a badge and a sleeve that indicates they have the authority to check your ticket. During this process we saw several people be taken off to presumably to get a ticket. In one case, the lady and the employee was arguing, and when the trams door opened she took off fast. The employee didn’t think it was worth his while to chase her down, simply got back on the tram and checked the rest of us. When he was done, he took off his sleeve and badge and sat back down. I found this process to be quite interesting.
Where We Stayed
Our apartment in Budapest was quite interesting, a studio with a loft. The neighborhood was around lots of bars and restaurants which was nice, until it wasn’t nice (at 1AM in the morning when people drunkenly walked back home singing). Another downside to our apartment was the construction next door, bright and early at 7AM it started! Our landlord was Pearl (which was funny… because of the infamous Pearl the Landlord video), and she gave us plenty of heads up, still… sleep was hard to get there.
Our Favorite Foods
During our time in Budapest, we went to American or Latin restaurants. We did sample some Hungarian food at the Central Market, which we tried Lángos, a Hungarian flatbread served with sour cream and cheese:
What We Did
Hungarian State Opera – This magnificent opera house opened in 1875, during the time when Franz Joseph ruled the Austria-Hungary empire. At the time, Vienna had quite a beautiful opera house, and at the encouragement of his wife, and the citizens of Budapest, he reluctantly agreed to partially fund the Hungarian opera house on one condition – it cannot be bigger than the Vienna opera house. Although not bigger, some speculate that it is much more grand and stunning than the Vienna one. We took a tour of the opera house and agree that is really beautiful, but can’t compare since we didn’t see the Vienna one. It was funny to be in Budapest and hear of Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) again, she was very fond of Hungary and spent a lot of time in Budapest. During our tour, we got to see where Sisi sat, and hear stories of her visits to the opera. At the end of the tour we got a mini concert which lasted no more than 5 minutes, but was nice.
St. Stephen’s Basilica – The cathedral opened in 1905, and dedicated to the first King of Hungary, Saint Stephen. It was built to be the same height as the Parliament Building – symbolizing they have equal importance. The church does regular concerts here, which is why we didn’t get to go in. They have concerts daily, even multiple times a day.
Hungarian Parliament Building – This is considered the largest building in Hungary, but besides how big it is, it is beautiful from all angles. The building opened in 1896, and due to its complicated handiwork is constantly under renovation (similar to the Golden Gate bridge). We didn’t realize they do tours here until it was too late. When we return, we plan on touring the Parliament building.
Shoes on the Danube Bank Monument – A wonderful and poignant tribute to those who lost their lives at the hands of Arrow Cross militant men during WWII. They would order the victim to line up the river, take of their shoes, and shoot them so the victim would fall into the river.
Széchenya Chain Bridge – This suspension bridge opened in 1849, and is often compared to the Brooklyn bridge in NYC. The bride was blown up in WWII by the Nazis but rebuilt in 1949. Today, the bridge is an iconic image of Budapest.
Hospital in the Rock – Steve and I love WWII museums, and made no exception to visit this bunker. We have visited similar sights in Singapore, and London but unlike making it into a strategic bomb bunker for the military, they made it into a hospital – to serve both military and civilians affected by the bombing. The hospital was built for 60, but received 10x that many patients during the siege of Budapest. The museum’s tour was about an hour and towards the end focused on the impact nuclear weapons have had on the world’s powers. I really enjoyed the tour and would recommend it.
Matthias Church – The church has been around for quite some time, but the latest rebuilt was in the 14th century in a Gothic style. The church is stunning and also houses a museum upstairs with artifacts from the church, as well as a section dedicate to the Empress Elizabeth (as this was her church she attended).
Fisherman’s Bastion – Built in 1902, and heavily restored after WWII, the Fisherman’s Bastion gives spectacular views of the Danube River and Parliament building. Walking around felt like I was in a Disney fantasyland.
Buda Castle – Originally built in 1265, and rebuilt to today’s version in 1769. The castle was home to monarchs of the Hungarian empire and Austria-Hungarian empire. Today, it is home to three museums and is still undergoing restoration. When we were visiting, they were prepping for a big conference or festival and we couldn’t get let in. Fun Fact: Katy Perry filmed her Fireworks music video here and is on the balcony when she shoots fireworks from her chest. You can see a lot of Budapest in her video including the chain bridge.
City Park – 302 acres of greens and home to the famous baths, zoo, botanical gardens and Vajdahunyad castle. Steve and I enjoyed our stroll through the park and a beer in the gardens, but didn’t feel as impressed as other parks we have visited in Eastern Europe.
Vajdahunyad Castle – One of the big disappointments of our visit was the fact that they were filming here, and we couldn’t see inside it, or really get anywhere near it. But, we did get up close to the castle church, even though that was also closed.
Central Market Hall – Normally we don’t visit markets when visiting towns, as there are usually a lot of people there and we don’t need to buy souvenirs with our limited budget and room for stuff. I am glad we went here. It was actually quite fun to check out their produce, their meat (buying chicken feet… gross!) and crafts. They had a Hungarian food area where we tried the Langos and I bought some honey cookies which were very tasty too. We spent a few hours here and managed only to buy food and not the cute stuff they sold there.
Liberty Bridge – Opened in 1896 as the Franz Joseph bridge, with the Emperor himself putting in the final bolt. The bridge today is highly used by not just cars, but also the trams.
Dohány Street Synagogue – This is the largest synagogue in Europe, and second largest in the world. We didn’t go in because it was very expensive and to be quite honest, we were pretty worn out. We admired it from the outside. Buying a ticket also got the traveler into the Jewish museum next door. I am sure it wouldn’t surprise you to know that it was heavily damaged during WWII and was renovated much later in 1991, reopening again in 1998.
We loved Budapest and can see us returning again one day. Some other places in Hungary on our list – Hortobagy National Park, Heviz, Lake Balaton, Aggtelek National Park, and Eger!