Love at first sight. It was like when Prince Charming first laid eyes on the princess whose beauty he had only heard of through rumors. Honestly, I don’t believe in love at first sight when it comes to people but I started to think it was possible for a place like Budapest. I admit, instantly, I was mesmerized by the beauty of this city.
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Unlike other popular cities in Europe, Budapest does not really have many iconic tourist attractions, but the city itself has an alluring atmosphere that you have to experience for yourself. Jon and I stayed in Budapest for five days and that was enough time to explore most of the city at a leisurely pace. The recommended tourist sights are situated close to each other and it is easy to go around the city by foot, tram, bus or train so it’s no worry if you get lost wandering around.
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Here are some things to do when you’re in Budapest:
Admire the Bridges of Budapest: Liberty Bridge and Chain Bridge
Although I am simply fascinated with bridges (I’m an engineer), I am not being biased when I say that the bridges add a unique charm to this place. These bridges cross over the Danube River and connect “Buda” and “Pest”, the east and west parts of the city, which were formerly separate cities.
The Liberty Bridge is my personal favourite since the old tram crosses over this bridge, and when you are at the west part of the city, you get a scenic view of the Liberty Statue across the river.
The Chain Bridge, on the other hand, is the bridge to take when you go from the Fisherman’s Bastion side to the Parliament House. Most of the free walking tours include this bridge in their routes.
Stroll Around Castle Hill: Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church
It took a few minutes for us to realize we were already at Buda Castle. It was hard to tell that it was a castle because the place is also the location of the city’s museums. The place was a mix of all sorts of styles of architecture and it’s quite hard to tell the age of the place in one look.
Although the royal palace, or Buda castle was nothing extraordinary, there are other the attractions on Castle Hill that are unforgettable. The Fisherman’s Bastion was like a huge white sand castle overlooking the city of Budapest. I was so impressed by this place we had to go and see it twice. The Fisherman’s Bastion is like a series of terraces over the side of Castle Hill. It can be crowded at times, but it’s not hard to find a good spot for a photograph overlooking the city. There is also a bar on one watch tower in case you are looking for a romantic date in Budapest. We didn’t stay there for long but we went up the bar area to take some photos. The view was really impressive.
The Matthias Church is a medieval church located on Castle hill. It’s close to the Fisherman’s Bastion and surely not hard to miss because of its intricate roofing and walls. I’m not so sure about the next door hotel, but I think the church would do better with a bit more space for itself.
Climb Up the Gellert Hill: Cave Church, Citadel and Liberty Statue
Gellert Hill is easily accessible by foot through a concrete staircase which leads all the way up to the Liberty Statue. We went up via the staircase and came across a few good viewing points along the way. There are a few attractions on Gellert Hill, and the first of which is the Cave Church. It looked more like a chapel than a church in terms of size but it was pretty impressive to see a sacred place in such a location. Further up the hill is the most prominent feature on this hill, the Liberty Statue which commemorates the people who sacrificed their lives for the country’s freedom. The statue is not that big but because of its location atop Gellert Hill, it is easily seen from most parts of the city. There is also a citadel a few minutes’ walk from the statue. Unfortunately it was closed when we were there so we didn’t get the chance to see it. There is a road that leads up to the citadel, if you’re not up for a climb, you can take a bus from the city to that part of the hill.
Get Lost in the Cave Labyrinth
If you are up for some adventure, you should definitely go to this one. Who isn’t fascinated by the word Labyrinth? Apparently, the whole Castle Hill has a lot of caves and labyrinths, but only certain areas have been explored and only some parts are open to the public.
The Labyrinth entrance is only a few minutes’ walk from the Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s a bit hard to spot but you can rely on the map to point you in the right direction, which you’ll find in most parts of Castle Hill. There is an entrance fee of 2000 Ft/person, cheaper if you are a student or teacher. Make sure to bring some identification.
The labyrinth has different areas, which walk you along the history of Budapest and how the place has been used throughout the ages. Even Vlad, the Impaler had his fair share of imprisonment in the labyrinth. I won’t spoil the story for you, you have to go there and read his love story yourself.
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One particular area in the labyrinth was kept in total darkness. It is secluded from the other parts and has been said to be haunted (I didn’t read the full manuscript in front so I only knew about the haunted part, and got really scared after). Jon and I took the challenge and walked along the really dark labyrinth. I was scared. I am pretty sure I am not claustrophobic but walking along a labyrinth in total darkness made me uneasy. We walked using our hands to guide us at first but after a few minutes of not knowing where we were, we took out our torch and quickly looked for the exit. It was still a long way to go. We hardly made half of the way without the torch. It was scary but still glad we did it (although we cheated with the torch). Let us know how your experience went when you visit the labyrinth.
See the Hungarian Parliament Building at Night
It was like Christmas. I have never seen a building draped in so much light. The best place to admire this building is at the Buda side of the Chain Bridge. The building looks good in daytime too but one must see how the Parliament Building shines beautifully at night.
Soak Up at the Turkish Baths: Kiraly Baths
Budapest is home to many Turkish Baths which are still in use today. Jon and I spent an afternoon at Kiraly baths before our night train to Prague. It was the perfect place to get some relaxation during the cold winter days. There are four thermal baths with varying water temperature. There is also a jacuzzi. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit. The Entrance fee is 2,600 Ft for the whole day.
Indulge in Hungarian Food
Hungarian sausage was the only Hungarian food I had tried until I sat foot in Budapest. Who would have thought that the food there was so good? Jon and I were strolling around the Jewish district when we came across this quiet little restaurant, called Drum Café. They serve really good Hungarian food – goulash, langosh and savoury crepes. We were instantly hooked. We went out of our way to the Jewish district every day to get our meals there. Make sure to try the food there when you’re in Budapest.
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Chill Out at Ruin Pubs
What’s a better way to unwind than grab a few drinks after exploring the city? Budapest has one of the more interesting bar scenes we’ve been in Europe. Have you ever heard of those chop shops which were turned into clubs? Well, it’s something similar. These unique bars were previously used as tenement houses or factories. The place is decorated with old interesting stuff. Imagine all the stuff you can find at flea markets in one room. It’s a beautiful mess. It’s really interesting. Jon and I went to the Szimpla Kert, one of the Ruins Pubs, dubbed by Lonely Planet as the third best bar in the world in 2012. It’s by far the coolest bar I’ve been to (but I haven’t really been to many, so you decide).
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Undoubtedly, Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Have you been to Budapest? What did you think of it? Let us know.