After two weeks with my aunt, we split up so I could finish the trip with my boyfriend. He was originally supposed to come with us to London, Amsterdam, and Paris; however, due to scheduling conflicts at his job, we were forced to push our time together back one week. On the grand scheme of things, it’s not the worst problem to have.
I first went to Budapest in April 2016, and I didn’t know what to expect. Most of my European travels were in the west; this time I wanted to go more east. From Vienna, where I began, Budapest is only three hours by bus, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite getting hives from my hostel in Vienna AND food poisoning from a bad batch of goulash in Budapest. From what I’ve read, the city has gotten more popular for tourists in the past few years, and I understand why. The prices for food and lodging are so much cheaper than in Western Europe, but you still get the culture and architecture that you’d find in the rest of the continent.
Budapest was originally two towns that grew across from each other on the banks of the Danube river—Buda and Pest (very fitting)—and the smaller town Old Buda.
On my first trip, I stayed on the Buda side, where it’s nice and quiet. This time, Burhan and I stayed in Pest, with all the nightlife. But I loved both sides, as you get different perspectives of life in the city.
Something I really appreciated about Budapest was the public transportation. There are buses, trams, and a metro system, so getting around was very easy. Also, a lot of people speak English, which I appreciated whenever I needed directions.
Where did we go?
- Margaret Island: For the last year or so, Burhan has been bugging me on every trip we’ve taken to go bike riding. I usually turned him down because we couldn’t figure out how to use the bike-share system or I wasn’t comfortable riding in traffic. After being asked to rent bikes for the hundredth time, I finally broke down, and we went to Margaret Island. There are multiple islands in the Danube river, but Margaret Island is one of the largest. People were out running, walking, playing sports, and just relaxing in the grass and by the water. This is probably one of my favorite places in Budapest.
- The Parliament Building: Without a doubt, this building is a masterpiece. Nearby along the river are “Shoes on the Danube”: a memorial to honor victims in Budapest during World War II. The building looks the most beautiful at night when it’s lit up. I got a nice view from across the river at the Fisherman’s Bastion.
- Fisherman’s Bastion: The best way I can describe this place is a pseudo-castle slash viewing deck, with a church in the middle. I love the style of it, but you don’t really need to spend too much time there.
- Hungarian National Museum: This is one of the best places to go in Budapest if you’re looking to really learn about the history and culture of Hungary. It covers art, artefacts, and furniture going back to pre-Magyar (the Hungarian-speaking tribes that settled into and eventually took over Hungary) times, even referencing the Roman empire. I’m a lover of history, and I loved my AP European History course in high school, but I never dove too deeply into Central Europe. This museum touches on what I never learned—basically what was going on before the Hapsburgs. On the other hand (but also interesting), Burhan just wanted to go and make sure that they mentioned the Ottomans, who ruled the region from 1541 to 1699. I never knew!
- Széchenyi Thermal Baths: A series of hot springs exist underneath Budapest. Shaped like an ellipse with indoor and outdoor pools, you can bathe in water of varying temperatures from freezing cold to super hot (I don’t see the appeal of either extreme). There’s also saunas. The Széchenyi baths are probably a main tourist spot—it was crowded both times I went—but I think it’s worth it, especially after having trekked around Europe for three weeks.
Other notable aspects of our time in Budapest:
- We watched the Champions League final. Thank God I was in Europe for this. It’s just not the same in the U.S.
- I made sure Burhan tried goulash. And neither of us got food poisoning this time!
- We ate so much gelato! My favorite place was Hiszteria Cremeria: their mango and lemon-basil flavors were divine.
- The nightlife was great! So many bars and clubs with music spilling out into the streets. And not just EDM–I heard hip hop, too!
- I got to eat more of this really delicious walnut cake. (Eszterházy torta—Give that pronunciation a go…)
- We tried a restaurant called “Soulfood.” (The Southerner in me was intrigued.) Everything was tasty, but a lot of it was Creole/Cajun-influenced, which is definitely not the same as soul food. Nice try!
- We happened to be in town for a music festival.
Two other places I recommend are St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Dohany Street Synagogue.
Budapest is a great city, and I recommend it for anyone who wants to see something outside of Western Europe. The people are friendly and helpful, the food is great, and there’s a lot to do. Has anyone else been to Budapest? If so, how was your experience and what would you recommend?