I had heard so many great things about Budapest before I arrived at their beautiful central station after sitting on several trains for around 12 hours. I normally get a strong vibe from a city as soon as I get there, and while I liked Budapest, we didn’t seem to click. Don’t get me wrong; there are so many amazing parts of this city, and some of the architecture is among the most striking I have ever seen. And yet, I didn’t quite fall in love.
Maybe it was the heat. Like most Brits, I am highly adapted to a diet of rain, cloud and wind. Stifling 30 degree heat and walking around all day leaves me exhausted. Or maybe it had something to do with the bizarre taxi driver who told Beth he was going to sell her passport to the mafia and charged us a small fortune for the journey to our hotel from the station.
There is one part of Budapest that I am irrevocably in love with, though. To have a parliament building as incredibly opulent as Hungary’s is a bit of a privilege. It is by far the most striking government building I have ever seen. I could literally stand and stare at it all day, taking in the gorgeous colour of the domes and Gothic revival spires. At night, it glows across the river, full of majestic mystery. If you need one reason to visit Budapest, make it to see this building. I think I’m a little bit in love.
My favourite spot in Budapest is the Erzsébet Square. It has a great paddling pool with a glass floor that looks down into a restaurant below. You can wade around in it, but the park caretakers might come and tell you to stop after a while. I found it so refreshing to dip my feet in and enjoy the sun in the late morning. Towards the evening, it is the place to be and be seen. Every inch of space is being used by people drinking, chatting and relaxing. The atmosphere is rather special.
Probably more popular than the square are the Budapest thermal baths. They’re widely renowned, but I can honestly say I strongly disliked our visit. The baths were far too hot to be enjoyable, in my opinion, and it all felt so dirty. Rather than feeling refreshed after the visit, I felt a lot less clean than when I entered.
Close to one of the most popular baths is Heroes Square, the largest in the city. Standing as a tiny figure in the middle of the grand square definitely makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It was built to 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, but it feels a lot more ancient than that.
Trek up to the castle, preferably in the morning before the sun gets unbearable in summer. You will be out of breath (don’t even think about taking the vernacular railway; that’s cheating), but the view is beyond worth the climb. Even though tourists of every nationality will be up their taking photos alongside you, this tourist attraction is worth the visit.
The option is also open to climb the hundreds of steps to the top of the nearby Gellert Hill up to the statue on top. The walk looks exhausting, but I’ve been reliably informed that it isn’t as tough as it looks. The vantage point is higher, so it could provide better views, though I admire anyone who can take better photos than those we captured on the ramparts of the castle.
- Most of my favourite main sights, shops and bars are on the Pest side of the city, so I recommend staying in that area. If you don’t which side is which, the city is split into two parts seperated by the Danube river; Buda and Pest. I could never seem to remember which side was which, but Buda Castle is a good landmark to help you figure out which side you’re on.
- Discover some cool ruin bars. These are incredibly popular, and can get horribly hot and sticky in the early hours of the morning. The setting, atmosphere and decoration in these bars is really stunning and definitely worth a visit.
- The exchange rate for pounds into Hungarian Forint is very good. 100 forint is worth 25p, so you’ll feel rather rich when you can draw 20,000 from a cash machine. Use your sudden wealth to pick up bargain clothes and eat in the fanciest restaurants in iconic locations.
Do you love Budapest? Share your favourite parts of the city and top tips in the comments!