After leaving Bratislava we continued our trip eastwards down the Danube River and ended up in Budapest via train. The train ride was only a couple hours long and we arrived in the mid-afternoon. We were happy to be able to afford an entire apartment for out stay in Budapest. The bed was lofted in the living room which provided the apartment with a lot more space. After check in we had an early dinner at a restaurant that was conveniently located around the corner for the AirBnB. I had a tofu BBQ plate and Abbey had a “cheesy” pasta dish which hit the spot for both of us. Most importantly, I was able to have a bottle of kombucha at the restaurant. I hadn’t had koombucha since being in the United States, so I was happy to be able to satisfy my craving. It was much different than kombucha that I’ve had in the past, most notably it was flat and very sweet, but still satisfying. After dinner we simply returned to the apartment so we could plan out the rest of our time in Budapest.
If you have been reading our previous posts I’m sure you can guess what we had planned for the next day. Yep! A free walking tour of Budapest. Budapest is divided into two main parts by the Danube, appropriately named “Buda” and “Pest”. They actually used to be different cities entirely but merged together in the late 19th century. Our accommodation was located on the Pest side of the river which is flat and the more lively side of the city. The starting point of the tour was also located near the Danube also in Pest. We were further back from the river but located near a metro stop which would take us near the river. However, it was a nice day so we decided to walk the 30 minutes to the tour meeting point so we could take in the sights and sounds of Budapest. Along the way we stopped to get coffee at “My Little Melbourne Cafe” where we bought the smoothest and most flavorful espresso we had had yet.
Although the temperature was only about 4°C that day, the sun was shining bright which made being outside rather pleasant. As the tour started, I remember thinking that this was the nicest weather we had experienced on our trip thus-far. Our guide led us to the edge of the Danube where we could see the beautiful Buda side of the city from across the river. Buda was much more hilly and contained more historic historic and wealthy sites, such as the Buda Castle. After learning about some history from the Pest side of the river, we made our way across the historic chain bridge that connects the two sides of the city. Once on the Buda side we walked up the steep hill to the castle grounds where our tour eventually ended at Fisherman’s Bastion. This is a beautiful terrace that gave us a great view of Pest form a high vantage point.
Following the tour, Abbey and I made our way back across the chain bridge and enjoyed Indian food for lunch. We then headed down to the docks at the river to board a boat for a river cruise of the city. The cruise had English commentary over the speakers, but neither of us paid attention to it because it was mostly the same information we had just received on the walking tour. Regardless, the hour-long river cruise was still a great experience that was well worth the money. We got great views of the city that you couldn’t really get from just standing on the bank of the river. My favorite part was riding past the absolutely massive and imposing Hungarian parliament building. From the river we were able to see the entirety of the gorgeous building in great detail.
We wrapped up our sight seeing activities that day by heading over to St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest. This was a giant church that stuck out among all the other buildings in flat Pest due to its height. We arrived just before sunset and were able to climb the stairs to access the viewing platform at the top of the building. From here we took in the amazing views of Buda as the sun lit up the sky behind it. To end the day we headed over to a buffet for dinner and returned to the AirBnB via walking as night set in.
The next day we awoke to find out our good luck with pleasant weather had come to an end in Budapest. The temperatures had dropped below freezing and a wintery mix of snow and ice was pouring over the city. We decided that with weather so dreary it would be a perfect opportunity to take advantage of one of Budapest’s most popular activities, bathhouses! We decided to go to Gellert Bathhouse, which is arguably the city’s most popular and located on the Buda side of the river. Given the weather conditions, we decided to take the metro to get to the baths. We rode on the M1 line which is the oldest metro line in continental Europe. In all honesty, there is nothing very impressive about the ride, but it was still interesting to ride on one of the oldest underground tracks in the world.
Admission to Gellert was a little bit expensive compared to other attractions in the city, but still very affordable (22USD/person). We were able to save some money by bringing our own bathing suits, towels, and flip-flops, which were also available for rent for those that didn’t bring their own. This is something to keep in mind for people visiting Budapest who are interested in seeing the historic bathhouses. After getting changed into our swimwear we headed to the naturally-heated outdoor pool. Although it was a cold walk up the outdoor steps to get to the pool, it didn’t take us long to warm up. It was fantastic to be able to stay comfortable the outdoors waters as ice and snow fell all around us. After the first pool we went to some of the indoor pools which were surrounded by beautiful architecture and artwork. It really did feel like you were swimming in a cathedral. The heated waters in the indoor pools made us uncomfortably warm and we decided we had had enough of the bathhouse and changed back into our normal clothes.
The weather was still dreary when we left Gellert, so after lunch we decided to just return back to the apartment and relax. We decided to make dinner that evening in order to save some money. Our AirBnB was located very close to Budapest’s famous “ruin pubs”. So after dinner we ventured out to see what they were like. Ruin pubs are basically abandoned building that have been transformed into lively bars while still maintaining the “ruins” atmosphere. They were usually very large bars with multiple floors and many different rooms where you could get drinks. I thought they were very interesting places as each room in the pub would kind of have its own atmosphere. However, due to the weather we didn’t stay out long and returned to the AirBnB for the night.
The next morning we were again greeted with less than desirable weather. The temperature had warmed a little, so no ice this time, just rain. We decided to check out Hero’s Square, which was a large monument located near our AirBnB. It was a very intricate monument and we spent a while wandering around it and looking at Hungary’s “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. This monument might have been better to visit if weather conditions were better due to it being outdoors.
We had scheduled a visit to tour the inside of the parliament building that after noon, so we boarded the metro and headed towards the Danube. We arrived much earlier than our tour time, so we we got lunch and sipped on coffee at a cafe/restaurant located directly behind parliament. We eventually made our way into the massive building for our tour. The tour lasted less than an hour, but we got to see some of the more important and beautiful rooms in the building. However, for the price (25USD/person) this tour was absolutely not worth it. Hungary’s parliament building is a beautiful and amazing structure to admire from the outside for free, but it is not worth the money to just see a few extra rooms.
After the tour we headed over to “My Little Melbourne Cafe”. We had enjoyed the coffee from there so much that we decided to spend the rest of our time there until dinner. We ordered a pot of pour-over coffee for two that was some of the best coffee either of us had ever tasted. If you like coffee and are visiting Budapest, this is absolutely the place to go. It was also nice to have pour-over coffee for a change because almost all other coffee we could find in Europe had only been espresso drinks.
After the cafe we grabbed some dinner and headed back down to the docks to board a boat. We had enjoyed our previous river cruise so much that we decided it would be great to do a night-cruise of Budapest. Budapest is a beautiful city as it is, but at night the historic buildings light up and it is truly a sight to behold. This cruise did not have any commentary (which wasn’t a problem), but the views of the bright buildings from the river were fantastic and something I will never forget. Once again, I felt as though the river cruise was well worth what you pay, especially at night. After the cruise it was getting late into the night, so we headed back to the apartment to pack up and get ready for an early travel day the next morning.
I adored Budapest. It was another city I had heard so much about, so I was managing my expectations before we arrived. Looking back, I’m not sure I could honestly tell you what entirely sold me on the city. The people? The architecture? The overall atmosphere? Because it was all great. It wasn’t as condensed as Prague seemed, so it felt like there was more to explore and get lost in. It seemed like a good mix of modern and commercial, while still being able to turn a corner and be back in a more “local” feeling portion of the city.
The Liberty Statue was a fun little hike, though a little precarious due to the snow and the Gellert bath house was probably as relaxed as I have ever been this trip. We’ll be passing right by Budapest again on our second 90 days in the Schengen Area, so we’re already planning our return!