TRAVEL GUIDE: Budapest
Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe and was one of my favourite destinations on the Getaways journey.
Sometimes referred to as the Paris of eastern Europe, this city has become a cosmopolitan capital since the fall of Communism in 1989. With parks brimming with attractions, museums filled with treasures, pleasure boats sailing up and down the romantic Danube, the Hungarian capital is stunning by both day and night.
The River Danube divides the city in two parts — Buda and Pest. If you find yourself surrounded by green hills you’re in Buda and if you find yourself among shops, businesses and streets you’re in Pest. Daily flights from Dublin take approximately three hours. You’ll arrive at Ferihegy airport, which is around a 30-minute drive from the city centre. We visited in July when the average temperature was 28°C. The city has a very efficient public transport system — the best way to get a quick overview is to take the No 2 tram that travels along the Danube embankment in Pest. The Time Out Budapest guide said it was “the second most beautiful public transport ride in Europe” (first place went to Venice).
After departing from Jászai Mari tér, you'll pass the impressive Budapest Parliament, then the view of the Danube and Castle Hill towering in the background opens up to you. The Fishermen's Bastion and the tower of St Matthias Church are the two dominant sights of Budapest Castle District that you’ll see from the tram.
There are hundreds of historical buildings and museums to see and it’s difficult to choose which ones to visit. However, I would suggest you don’t miss the Hungarian State Opera House. Opera is very important to the Hungarians and has been performed in the country for over 300 years.
We’d also recommend a walking tour of Heroes’ Square — one of Budapest’s major landmarks. The statues represent important figures in Hungarian history and you’ll also find the Museum of Fine Arts here. Or if you want to take your own walking tour some sights you definitely shouldn’t miss are The Great Synagogue in the Jewish Quarter or Saint Stephen’s Basilica.
Budapest is famous for its health and thermal spas and whilst we there we visited the Széchenyi Baths — one of the largest spas in all of Europe. The Szechenyi Baths were built in 1913 and have 15 indoor pools as well as steam rooms, saunas and cold water tubs. Outside you'll find a lukewarm swimming pool, a whirlpool and our favourite, the main hot bathing pool. The thermal water is drawn from both natural springs and a 3,000-foot deep artesian well drilled in the 1870s. The baths are open between 6am and 10pm daily and it costs between £7 and £11 depending on what time of day you come and how long you stay.
Another trip we’d highly recommend is a day trip to Buda, starting with a ride on the 140-year-old funicular railway to the historic Castle District. This is definitely the place to come if you’re looking for a view. The city is packed full of history but to discover even more about Budapest’s Communist past take a 25-minute bus journey from the city centre out to Memento Park.
Memento Park is a unique museum, including Statue Park with monumental statues from Hungary's Communist period (1949-1989). The purpose of the symbolic statues was to constantly remind people of how great and powerful the Soviet system was. After the fall of the Communist regime in Hungary in 1989, all statues were moved to the outskirts of Budapest to establish this unique museum.
Budapest is spectacular, by day and especially by night. Take an evening cruise along the Danube and you’ll really see the city light up. The fantastic statues of Heroes' Square are bathed in light, the Parliament Buildings look magnificent and, in fact, from either side of the Danube, the twin city centres of Buda and Pest sparkle with life. After your cruise you could head to the cafes, bars and restaurants of Liszt Ferenc Ter, one of the city’s favourite evening hangouts. I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of food in Budapest, it was excellent and accompanied by a superb choice of wine.
In fact, the restaurants were fantastic and the bars were uber cool. In recent years Budapest has taken on the role of the region’s party town, especially in the warmer months, when outdoor entertainment areas called kertek (gardens) heave with party makers. Take note, the way you tip in restaurants here is unusual. You never leave the money on the table — this is considered rude — tell the waiter how much you're paying in total, 10 per cent is usually plenty.