Budapest has a long and rich history. Its name actually derives from the unification of three cities, which were originally named Buda, Óbuda and Pest. Buda and Óbuda to the west of the River Danube and Pest to the east. The cities were unified in 1873, Óbuda represents ‘Old Buda’ so the city is really separated into two distinct parts on either side of the River.
Buda – Is the more hilly region, home to several famous landmarks including, Gellert thermal baths, Gellert Hill, and Sziklatemplom (Gellert Caves). There is also Buda Castle Hill, Buda Castle, Fishermans Bastion, and Matthias Church.
Pest – Is as flat as a pancake, and in contrast to the grandeur of Buda with lots of panoramic views, there aren’t as many famous landmarks aside from the Parliament Building overlooking the River Danube, St Stephen’s Basilica, Széchenyi Baths, and Budapest’s Central Market.
We found that we spent most of our day-time exploring the hilly region of Buda, and then returning to Pest, over the Liberty Bridge or Chain Bridge, checking out the restaurants and Ruin bars. I’m going to give you the highlights of how we spent our 3 days in this beautiful city, and hopefully inspire you to visit too!
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- Visa – Most visitors are entitled to visit Hungary for up to 90 days without a visa, however there are some countries which will require a visa. For detailed up to date information visit the official website for the Hungarian Consular Site.
- Immunisations – some are required – check out my go-to website for up to date information: www.nathnac.net
- Safety – always keep up to date with your local foreign travel advice service for relevant news and information. I felt completely safe in Budapest, although adopted usual common sense when in any major city, being mindful of my belongings and whereabouts.
- Currency – Hungarian Forints
- Language – Hungarian
We travelled using a budget airline from London and used Sky Scanner to check for prices. Following a quick check with Sky Scanner, you can pick up a return flight, London to Budapest for a long weekend in May for around £60! Once we arrived at Budapest International Airport we hopped in a taxi which took us straight to our accommodation. You should expect to pay around 8,000 forints (£20) for a taxi from the airport to downtown Budapest, although we paid a little more as we needed a 7-seater taxi so we could fit in with our luggage too.
Where to stay
As there were four of us travelling together we decided to rent an apartment so we could all stay in one place, rather than separate hotel rooms. The apartment options were so reasonably priced! We chose to go with ‘Mentha Apartments’, in the ‘Pest’ part of the city, just a stone’s throw from the Budapest Central Market. As you can see from the below photo it’s situated in a quaint rustic building with a courtyard in the middle. The interior of the apartment was decorated in a modern way and all the facilities were great! For a 3 night stay between 4 adults, you can book Mentha Apartments for around £250, which works out at just £62.50 per person at about £20 a night. Bargain! Budapest was an extremely affordable European city break, in comparison to Paris or Berlin .
Aside from jumping in a taxi from the airport, Budapest is a lovely city to discover on foot. We did, of course, do a lot of walking over the 3 days we were there, but it wasn’t really necessary to use public transport. if you did want to hop on to one of the bright yellow trams in the city though, expect to pay around 350 forints (about £1) for a single ticket.
First up on our itinerary was Castle Hill. The 13th Century was a busy period for the development of Budapest, as well as the excavation of the caves (caused by the various springs throughout the city) the first Royal Castle was also built. The area really experienced wealth and entered into a golden age in the 15th Century with the union of King Matthias and Beatrix of Naples in marriage. Castle Hill has faced some disrepair and destruction during World War II, however, following repair and restoration the area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
You can easily take a stroll along one of the many paths leading to castle hill, however, if you’d like an easier journey and save your energy for hitting the ruin bars and clubs in the evening then you can enjoy the Funicular. It was first opened in 1870 and takes just 3 minutes to climb the hill to the top. The Funicular has two stations, the lower station is at the Buda end of the Chain Bridge and the upper station is on Castle Hill. A Single Ticket is 1,000 Forint and return is 1700 Forint.
You can easily spend an entire day or more exploring all that Castle Hill has to offer, as once you make the climb you will find, Buda Castle, Alexander Palace, Matthias Church, Fishermans Bastion, The Hungarian National Gallery, “Brother-in-Arms” statues commemorating the heroes of the First World War and Labirintus (Dracula Panoptikum).
As I mentioned earlier the original castle was built in the 13th Century, however, it is not the building we see there today. The original medieval structure was sadly destroyed during the Great Siege, in the 17th Century between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. During the 18th-century further construction took place to create the magnificent Baroque Palace we see occupying most of the site today. The Buda Castle is home to the Budapest National Gallery and the Budapest National History Museum. There are separate ticket fees for both locations so it may be worth considering the Budapest Card if you plan on visiting both. For more visitor information, opening times and ticket prices, please visit the official website here.
Hungarian National Gallery
The Hungarian National Gallery, is situated in part of Buda Castle. You will not only get to see some fantastic Hungarian fine art, but you will also get to marvel at the beautiful architecture and interiors of the Castle itself. There is also a selection of international art on display. The Hungarian National Gallery was established in 1957, with the mission to represent Hungarian art from the settlement of the Magyars in the 10th century, through the medieval ages, until the present day. The exhibitions house a huge collection including 6000 paintings, 2100 sculptures, 3100 medals, 11,000 drawings, and 5000 prints.
Located nearby the funicular on Castle Hill is The Palace which is called Sandor Palota (Alexander Palace). The changing of the guards takes place: Mon – Sun: 8:30 am – 5 pm, every hour by the hour (e.g. 10 am, 11 am, … 2 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm). There are also Special Saturdays: once a month on the last Saturday of the given month, the changing of the guards is accompanied by music. The Special Saturday Changing of the Guards is at midday only (12 pm).
The Hungarian hunters of the army, and Brother-in-Arms statues
As you can see below the Hungarian hunters of the army (left) depicts a First World War veteran taking a step down the pedestal giving place to a younger, World War II soldier, who is looking up at him with respect. Then we can see (right) two statues, which depict a First World War private holding his fellow-soldier killed in action. All of the statues were designed by Kisfaludi Strobl Zsigmond, and they can be found in the Buda Castle Hill area.
Matthias Church: The Church of Our Lady
The Matthias Church is a Catholic Church located in front of Fisherman’s Bastion, at the heart of Buda Castle Hill District. The building is constructed in a late Gothic style and was built in the second half of the 14th Century. There was a church based on the grounds prior to this which was built in 1015 however it was later destroyed by the Mongols in 1241. The current building has a rich history, it actually operated as a Mosque for over 150 years when the Turks occupied Buda between 1526 and 1686. In the present day, the church is a functioning lively religious focal point for Budapest, regularly hosting weddings, concerts and festivals. If you do visit during a religious holiday do check the opening times, as often visitors may be restricted to worshippers only.
Labirintus (Dracula Panoptikum)
The Labirintus is situated in the depths of Castle Hill. Over the years it’s had lots of different uses, from a safe shelter to a terrifying prison and torture chamber. The cave system is over half a million years old and was created by the running waters of the hot spring system eroding the cave walls. Evidence suggests that inhabitants lived in the caves hundreds of years ago, up until the Middle Ages. From the 13th century occupants of the surrounding area started to excavate and connect the different isolated caves to create an entire system.
In the 15th century, the cave gained it’s most notorious prisoner Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula, and Vlad the Impaler. Vlad’s role was to protect Christian Europe from the Ottoman invasion. He conspired to make deals with the Turks, and the Hungarian King, Matthias, who was his former ally, then imprisoned him within the depths of the Castle Hill. It’s unclear how long he was imprisoned for but it most definitely took its toll on his mental health when he was released. Vlad then earned the name Vlad the impaler due to his heinous torturous act, and impaling of others. This was a great attraction to visit, the cave system is well laid out with various exhibits and interesting facts. For more information visit the website here.
There’s no entrance fee to visit Fisherman’s Bastion, and you can wander freely amongst the area, which I highly recommend. It has spectacular viewing towers, balconies and platforms, providing panoramic views over Budapest, where you’ll be able to see the River Danube, Hungarian Parliament building and many other landmarks. The Fishermans Bastion was built between 1895 to 1902 and has been kept in pristine condition. It really is a beautiful area that looks magical and a lot like the Disney castle buildings with the pretty turrets and towers, definitely something not to miss on your visit to Budapest.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Is a pretty spectacular building! You can’t miss it sitting pride of place along the River Danube, opposite Buda Castle Hill, and it is also the largest building in Hungary! Construction began in 1885 and was completed in 1902. Approximately 100,000 people were involved in construction, during which 40 million bricks, half a million precious stones and 40 kilograms of gold were used. We didn’t actually visit inside the Parliament Building on our trip, but did appreciate its beauty from across the Danube, and up-close as we wandered through Pest. If you would like to visit the inside though, there is a visitor centre where you can purchase tickets for guided tours. For further information, please visit their website here.
As well as the beautiful panoramic views from Buda Castle hill and Fishermans Bastion another beautiful spot in Buda is Gellert Hill. It was named Gellert Hill after bishop Gellért (Gerard), who was thrown to his death from the hill by pagans in the fight against Christianity in 1046. There is a monument to Bishop Gellert atop the hill surrounded by a colonnade. As well as the monument to Bishop Gellert, there is also a beautiful statue of Stephen I (as pictured below). You can take Bus 27 to the top of the hill but the hike which takes around 20-30 minutes is well worth the views.
Sziklatemplom (Gellert Cave Church)
The cave church was only actually built around 100 years ago, it was named after a person who lived there and healed people using the nearby thermal springs – Saint Ivan. A group of monks travelled to the cave after a pilgrimage and started to build a congregation in 1926. The church was later converted to a hospital during World War II. Sadly in 1951, the communist government at the time arrested the monks for treason, who were then either sentenced to death or to labour camps. The cave church was then sealed with thick concrete until the communist government fell in 1989, it was later reopened in 1991 to the public following some repair and restoration. Today it still operates as a functional church and service is held there three times a day.
Thermal Spa Baths (Gellert)
There are actually round a 1000 hot natural springs in Hungary, and Budapest itself also has the very apt nickname of ‘The City of Spas’. The Hot springs have been around for centuries and have been enjoyed by the likes of the Romans, the Celts and the Turks throughout history. There are lots of different Thermal Spa Baths to visit across Budapest so it can be really hard deciding which one to visit on your trip!
During our trip, we decided to visit the indoor baths at the Gellert. The weather was a little chilly when we visited Budapest and even though the springs are warm, we preferred to enjoy the thermal spa baths indoors. We marvelled at the beautiful interiors of the Gellert which is now over a hundred years old, opening in 1918, it has been a place of rest and relaxation where its visitors can escape the stress of life and unwind in its medicinal waters. You can also arrange to have a massage or other spa treatments there, we were satisfied just chilling and floating around in the baths, but if you’d like to know more, then visit their website here.
Budapest Central Market
Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this large indoor market, but we did pop inside for a quick wander, as it was down the road from our apartment and just opposite from the Liberty Bridge. It is the largest and oldest market hall in Budapest and inside you’ll find three floors, which have a range of goods on offer including: fruits, vegetables, dairy products, salami, pickles, fresh fish, Hungarian paprika, Tokaj wines. As well as edible goods you’ll also find a range of various souvenirs, bags, clothes, and other household items. So worth stopping by if you’d like to pick up some souvenirs or try some authentic Hungarian food.
Liberty Bridge and Chain Bridge
There are actually a total of 8 bridges which connect Buda and Pest in this glorious city. The two main bridges which are particularly popular due to their location are the Liberty Bridge and Chain bridge. The Liberty Bridge is situated between Gellert Hill in Buda and just nearby the Budapest Central Market in Pest. It was originally constructed in 1896, unfortunately, it was damaged heavily during World War II as were all the bridges but was rebuilt and reopened in 1946. The Chain Bridge serves the other attractions further towards Fishermans Bastion. The Chain Bridge was the first stone bridge built in Budapest, on the Buda side it connects directly to the funicular which climbs to the top of Buda Castle hill, and on the Pest side, Roosevelt Square.
Peter Falk Statue
I am not ashamed to admit that I love Peter Falk and the renowned Television Programme Colombo. If you haven’t seen it – you need to now. Sadly Peter Falk passed away in 2011, his magnificent acting carrier as the infamous character Colombo spanned from 1968 to 2003! An amazing 35 years, in which Peter Falk received numerous award s for his outstanding acting. I’m going to say it again if you haven’t seen Colombo you must watch it now, particularly the earlier programs from the seventies, the set and costume design of burnt orange and mustard is enough to draw you in alone.
So why is there a statue of Peter Falk in Budapest of all places? Well, apparently there is a tenuous link between him and 19th-century Hungarian writer and political figure Miksa Falk. The Columbo statue was installed on Falk Miksa Street in 2014, and depicts Peter Falk is the Los Angeles detective Colombo with his beloved Basset Hound.
For nightlife in Budapest you’ve got to check out the Ruin Bars (at least for one night of your trip anyway). The most famous Ruin Bar is Szimpla Kert. The magnificent converted factory was opened in 2002 and offers a range of activities aside from the bar, including an open-air cinema, concerts and shows. There is also a farmers market held every Sunday! For more information visit their website here.
If you fancy yourself a bit of a bar crawl there are several more Ruin bars located within. close proximity to the infamous Szimpla Kert, Anker’t, Instan & Fogas Ha, Ellato Kert, Mazel Tov Budapest, and lastly Csendes Vintage bar and Cafe. Oh, and if you want to treat yourself to a little pre-drink sash or just try a Hungarian Liqueur then head to your local supermarket and pick up a bottle of Unicum Hungarian Liqueur 70cl. The Liqueur is distilled from over forty different herbs and spices, is dark in colour and 80 proof (40% alcohol). It sort of reminds me of Jaeger but with a more medicinal taste (I guess from all the herbs).
For more detailed information and advice why not check out these useful guides and books – Lonely Planet Budapest, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide Budapest, The Rough Guide to Budapest or Berlitz Pocket Guide Budapest.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my experience in Budapest. I’d love to go back and spend longer in Hungary, maybe in the summer months when it’s a little warmer. I’d like to visit Széchenyi Thermal Bath in particular. It has a Beer Spa located inside the Széchenyi Bath, and then the large iconic outdoor thermal bath just outside! I’d also love to visit the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, and catch an Opera at the Grand Hungarian State Opera House.
What have been your experiences so far? What’s the best things you’ve seen and done in this beautiful part of the world, share your experiences in the comments section below I’d love to hear about them!
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