Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Looking for somewhere BUDA-ful to go? Check out Budapest...seriously! Budapest was not even on my radar. I didn't even know what country it was located in or where it was on the map, geographically. I did not know anyone personally who had been there. If you are curious, here is where it is located.
However, one cannot resist a travel deal when it is truly too good! When I saw Gate 1 offering a tour package for $700 with flight and hotel for 2 cities and 2 countries (Prague & Budapest) for about a week, a friend and I hopped on that! It even included a bus in between the two cities. However, weather complications led to a flight cancellation until the next day. Fortunately, this hiccup did not interrupt our time in #Budapest. Budapest, nicknamed the “Paris of the East,” is a European gem where we had the pest time! (*peeped what I did there*) What irony considering I made it to Paris on this trip as well! Three days allowed us to truly see a lot.
Things to know about Hungary:
Hungary has one of the highest rankings, per capita, of Nobel laureates. There are 13 winners, the first being in 1905 for physics and the most recent being 2004 for chemistry.
Several inventions have been created by Hungarians, such as the biro ballpoint pen and the Rubik’s cube!
Hungarian cuisine is big on paprika!
Budapest is actually two cities: Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Buda takes up ⅕ of Budapest and Pest takes up ⅘.
Many of the Baroque buildings are yellow as it was Queen Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg’s dynasty favorite color.
The Metro line here is one of the first metros on the continent after London.
Day 1: Arrived in Budapest
Our journey to Budapest began with an 8 hour bus ride from Prague. After we settled in, we had a great evening:
1. Night Cruise:
This truly the most scenic way to see Budapest as many of the buildings known in Budapest are along the Danube River, like the Parliament. You even get a cocktail of choice: beer, wine, or mulled wine. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the Parliament up close and personal. However, I discovered later on that this is the largest building in #Hungary and the second largest parliament building in Europe!
TIP: It is definitely a bit nippy in late November from the water so make sure to dress warmly, take your flicks and enjoy the cruise from indoors.
TIP: A night cruise is the best way to see Budapest. Budapest’s old landmarks looks so much better when they are illuminated.
Day 2: The “Touristy” Side of Budapest
This is when we got to see and experience the must-see items. I highly recommend taking at least one day to experience more of the “touristy” side of the city. As you experience the city, you begin to realize how far back Budapest’s history can be traced.
1. City tour:
Our first stop for the day was a city tour. This included a bus tour where we made several stops to explore the main aspects of Budapest.
Heroes Square: This was created in 1896 to mark the 1,000th anniversary of Budapest. The largest and most impressive square of the city, the square’s Millennium Monument in the square was built as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The tall column of the monument is topped with Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian Crown. Behind are two curved colonnades with statues of significant people in Hungarian history. On the left side of #HeroesSquare, there were five spaces left for members of the Habsburg dynasty. However, the Habsburg emperors ended up being replaced with Hungarian freedom fighters when the monument was rebuilt after World War II.
TIP: Heroes Square is literally a few minutes away from the Szechenyi Baths. You might as well check out both at the same time!
TIP: You can also check out the Museum of Fine Arts, Palace of the Arts, and Vajdahunyad Castle. I did not get a chance to go, but saw it nearby.
Gellért Hill and Statue of Freedom: On top of Gellért Hill (771 ft high!), there is a Liberty Statue that was built in 1947 to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the independence and prosperity of Hungary from the Nazi forces of the Soviet Union. The hill itself is named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill.
TIP: If you are looking for some of the most picturesque cities, come up here! Things always look better from Budapest, including panoramic views of it!
TIP: If you want to avoid walking up the hill, you can take a funicular or have a taxi drop you off. Our tour bus was able to drop us off as well.
Matthias Church: I was in awe of the façade of this church and you would be too! This Roman Catholic church was founded by King Bela IV after the Mongol invaders left Hungary in 1242 in complete ruins. Before that, a church called the Church of Mary stood on the site founded by the first king of Hungary in 1015, Saint Stephen.
Fisherman’s Bastion: This is a signature landmark of Hungary. Built between 1895 and 1902 as part of the series of developments that were to celebrate the 1,000th birthday of the Hungarian state, this castle gives medieval vibes to the max. There are seven towers, which represents the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895 AD.
TIP: Come to #FishermansBastion if you want epic city views or you just want to wander around. It is so massive and there are so many nooks and crannies.
2. Great Market Hall:
Also known as Central Market Hall, this historical market has been around since 1897. It is the largest of all the Budapest market halls and is very centrally located. If you are looking for a spot to buy cheap traditional food for lunch or souvenirs at a cheap price, this is the place to come! The bottom floor is filled with a lot of local produce and raw meats while the top floor is filled souvenirs and cooked food.
TIP: The best way to shop in #GreatMarketHall is with cash. Compared to markets in other countries, sellers are not willing to bargain as much. However, if you use local currency, they are more willing to do so.
TIP: Make sure to do a thorough walk through the market before you purchase souvenirs. There are lots of items being sold. Sometimes the same item is sold for different prices. You want to make sure you get the most for your money!
TIP: Check out Liberty Bridge, the shortest bridge in Budapest’s center. Built as part of the Millennium World Exhibition in 1896, it connects Buda and Pest across the Danube River. It is worth a picture at least!
3. Relax at Szechenyi Baths
Did you know that Budapest is known as the “City of Baths?” It sits on a fault line, causing 120 hot springs to form across the country which feed into the thermal baths. As a result, Budapest has 9 thermal spas you can check out. Checking out a bath is an absolute must! Szechenyi Baths is the biggest and most popular of all the thermal baths in Budapest (and actually the largest in Europe!) It is also one of the oldest, as it has been around since 1913. We purchased our tickets ahead of time online since we purchased it with a massage. When you get there, you will receive a waterproof silicone wristband which grants you entry into 18 pools (3 large outside pools and 15 smaller indoor pools) and also opens your locker or cabin.
TIPS for visiting Szechenyi Baths:
Get a cabin. It is large enough to serve as a changing room as well as to securely store your belongings.
Make sure to bring a bathing suit, flip flops and a towel. You will have to pay to borrow a towel and flip flops. Considering that we went in November, the floor was very cold to walk in. Therefore, I ended up using my sneakers to walk. If you do not bring flip flops, you can purchase them for sale for $10 (2900 HUF)
If you want a good photo, it is probably best to go in the morning. When we went at night, we found it was very difficult to get a clear picture because of the steam and the lights shining all around.
I would recommend skipping out on the massage. Although it was relaxing, it was not the best massage we received.
It is a good idea to have a mini waterproof bag to carry your phone. There are no lockers outside. If you want to take pictures outside by the pool, you may end up having to run back and forth to put your camera/phone down before getting into the pool.
If you are looking for a good time, #SzechenyiBaths apparently have SPArties on most Saturdays from 10:30PM-3AM. The baths turn into an epic pool party with music, lights, drinks and dancing!
Day 3: Visiting lesser known parts of Hungary - it's wine country!
A wine country excursion we did perhaps my most memorable experience of the trip. A van came to pick us up from our hotel and picked up a few more couples from other hotels in the downtown area.
The history of wine dates back to the 14th century, when a Hungarian king married an Italian princess, resulting in many Italians to migrate there. In the 16th-17th centuries, the Turkish Ottomans came and stayed for about 150 years. During this time, wine production stopped because they do not drink alcohol. The Germans then extended the #winecountry, turning Hungary to take third place in wine production. Wine tourism has truly started in the last 8-10 years. The limestone in soil makes the soil more acidic, which is helpful to produce white wines. Today, there are 22 wine regions with almost 1,000 wine cellars in Hungary.
We were driven from Budapest to the wine region, which is about 30-45 min away from Budapest. It is known specifically for white and sparkling wine. We got the opportunity to learn the history of the wine country from our driver/guide (who was an older female) as well as visit 3 family run wine cellars. At each place, they explained the history of their production while we sampled wine and ate snacks. There is a morning tour where you can visit 2 cellars. The evening ended with a traditional 3 course Hungarian meal that left us quite full! I also left making great acquaintances. The owner of the winery (who is also the chef who cooked for us) proclaimed, “I promise to do only what I love.” That is a way to live!
FOOD: Where should I eat in Budapest? What are the national dishes to try?
Let me start off with national dishes to try out:
Goulash: In other countries, this is made as a stew. However, in Hungary it is a soup with meat, vegetables, and potatoes usually seasoned with paprika and other spices. Originating in medieval Hungary, you must try this out. Otherwise, did you really go to Hungary?
Paprikash: Also originating from Hungary, this dish is called “Paprikás Csirke”, which literally means “Paprika Chicken.” It involves chicken in a creamy sauce often served with Nokedli (also called Spaetzle, a thick, soft noodle) or boiled potatoes or bread. It makes for a great meal on a cold day!
Pogača: Hungarian for “biscuit,” this is a is a type of bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace, and later on in the oven. It can be made sweet or savory. I got the opportunity to try it as a cheese biscuit and it was delicious. I don’t remember how many I had!
Anything with paprika: Paprika is added to almost any dish in Hungary, whether it is soups, stews, or sauces. In some parts of the country it's used as a filling in a sweet pastry. That is because Hungarian paprika comes from peppers that are sweeter than many other places because of the country’s cool growing season. As a result, it retains sugar in the paprika.
OTHER: What should I keep in mind when planning a trip to Budapest?
Budapest is super cheap in terms of food, souvenirs, everything! Your money will go a long way.
Make sure you load up on the Hungarian Krona, which is their currency. Although Prague is in Europe, they do not really use the Euro as much. It is also better for your pockets to use Hungary’s currency.
It is better to pull money out of the ATM as there are not as many exchange places as in Prague.
They do not have Uber, but they do have an app called Taxify which operates like Uber. However, service is much slower so make sure to call it 10-15 minutes ahead of time than what you need.
If you are taking a taxi, make sure to take one with a logo as there are many fake taxis out there.
One of the cheapest times to travel is later fall. We traveled in mid-late November and the streets were not crowded at all. It was definitely more chilly in Budapest than Prague. It was also more rainy as well, which means you would want to have more indoor activities planned.
Budapest is less touristy and has a more authentic vibe than Prague. As a result, there are less people who speak English. It would be a huge help to have Google translate and use the Taxify app so you don’t have to speak to a driver who does not really speak English to communicate where you are going.
Get Your Prague-Budapest Itinerary
Looking to go to Prague & Budapest? Check out my 15 page itinerary that contains:
Transportation: to get to location + while there
Links and contacts to all excursions & guides
Main attractions + hidden gems
Distance one location to next, organized to maximize time
Travel planner organizer for you to take your own notes