Extremely cheap, friendly people, thermal baths, delicious food, amazing architecture and picturesque sights all in one place? Never before had I had a strong desire to go to Budapest, but after hearing from professors and friends alike rave about it being their favorite city, I knew I had to experience the magic for myself.
A few things to note before going to Budapest:
- It’s pronounced Boo-da-PESHT, not Boo-da-PEST
- They do not use the Euro, but rather the Hungarian Forint
- Buda and Pest were once two separate cities
- Public transportation is easy (including the Yellow Line, the oldest Metro in Europe)
- They do speak English
- There are eight different bridges so its good to know which one is which or which you are on
Might I add my own number 7. Don’t forget your passport! as it makes it quite a bit more difficult to travel abroad… or even to get on the plane. After a somewhat rocky and delayed start after forgetting the now essential number 7, once finally in Budapest I was eager and ready to explore the charming city around me.
The first night we strolled down the Danube River and took in beautiful views of the Buda Castle and the famous Chain Bridge, which connects the western and eastern sides of Budapest. Crossing the Chain Bridge, we jumped right into Hungarian culture by attending a traditional Hungarian folk show at the Hungarian Heritage House. This national institution was founded by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Cultural Heritage to preserve and promote Hungarian folk tradition. To be honest, I am not exactly sure what we saw or if it was even traditional Hungarian folklore, but I would recommend checking out their schedule and performances by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble to get a taste of Hungarian dance and culture. Dinner at Restaurant Budapesti Etterem made for a delicious meal and a stroll along the popular Vaci Street left us with great end to the first night.
The next morning, we headed to the Great Market Hall, a vast three-story structure filled with a variety of cultural and culinary delights highlighting the most vivid of colors, smells and sights in produce and products alike. Budapest is home to many traditional products, one of them being the essential, exquisitely delicate and delicious paprika. Here at the market, you can find many stalls filled with packages of paprika, much cheaper than you will find at any souvenir shop so stock up here.
For more sightseeing, our Airbnb was conveniently located two blocks from Parliament and was just a short walk to Margaret’s Island. Margaret’s Island, set in the middle of the Danube, is a beautiful island and central park complete with various sports establishments, a Japanese garden, an open-air theater and a Music Fountain among other enjoyable things for a fun, family-friendly afternoon.
Seeing as though Seattle missed me a little too much, our morning got rained out, but we didn’t let that stop us from seeing the city. One of the great services we came across was Free Walking Tours. Leaving from Vörösmarty Square daily at 10:30 and 2:30, this company puts on free walking tours of main sights around the city with extremely knowledgeable and friendly tour guides. A few of the sites we covered included, but were not limited to Elizabeth Park, St. Peter’s Basilica, Fisherman’s Bastion,
Matthias Church, and Castle Hill. The tours last about three hours, are highly informative and free of charge, so I highly recommend them for a fun and affordable way to see and learn more about the beautiful city.
Being the foodie I am, one can only imagine how overwhelmed I was that the weekend we arrived was not one, but two food festivals; the Street Food Festival and Sweet Days Chocolate Festival. Whether you have a hankering for a kürtőskalács or breath chocolate instead of oxygen, this sweets festival the third weekend in September is sure to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth.
For a fun Saturday night, we spend our time roaming the Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter, also known as District VII, consists of several blocks of an assortment of architecture, cafes and synagogues, such as the Great Synagogue, that hold an abudance of Jewish history within. Apart from the gorgeous architecture, when in the Jewish quarter you can’t miss the famous ruin pubs, with Szimpla Kert being the mecca of them all. These ruin pubs are scattered all throughout the old Jewish quarter in old, post-World War II abandoned buildings. Unassuming buildings from the outside, once you step in you enter into one of the coolest, hip, artsy, funky bars filled with locals drinking, dancing and enjoying the one-of-a-kind atmosphere. The perfect place to try a glass of local Hungarian Tokaji Aszu or socialize among locals with live music, Szimpla Kert is a lively, unique and memorable ruin pub not to be missed.
Early bird gets the worm and the warmest bath as we hopped on bus 72 which is a direct ride to the Szechenyi Bath. Over 100 years old, this bath is the biggest and most popular thermal bath in Budapest. Called the “City of Baths” for a reason, Hungary is home to thermal springs. Since the 16th century, these traditional Turkish geothermal baths have been the place to relax in and soak up all the mineral water’s natural healing properties. Open from 6-10 p.m. everyday, getting there earlier in the morning around 8 a.m. was the most relaxing start to the morning in addition to avoiding the crowds that tend to come later in the day.
Per recommendation from a good friend, we then attended service at Golgota Budapest Church. This church is actually an extension of the Calvary Chapel churches in America, so it was like a little piece of home for me. Without getting into too much detail, all I can say is that this experience was extremely moving. The service was both in English and Hungarian and the worship songs were also sung in both English and Hungarian. Being among individuals praising the one, same, true God, unrestricted by different countries, nationality, age and most obviously language, was really powerful and personally gave me chills. Even if you are not religious, I cannot recommend enough visiting this church for a truly amazing experience.
When both our local host and native tour guide recommended a traditional, Hungarian lunch at Paprika, we knew without a doubt we wanted to go there. Thankfully our host made us reservations the day before, which was greatly appreciated upon arrival to a fully reserved restaurant. I ordered the roast goose leg while my friend ordered a hearty bowl of goulash soup and steak medallions to follow. Come with an empty stomach and leave with a fully belly and kudos for having tried the best Hungarian food in Budapest.
For the perfect ending to our night, we decided to walk up the Gellert Hill for one of the best panaromic views of the entire city. About a 20-minute walk uphill or tram up, Gellert Hill includes the Statue of Liberty commemorating Hungary’s liberation from the Nazis, the Cave Church, and if visited at the right time, most beautiful sunset over the entire city.
With every city I visit and trip I go on, I am reminded how small the world is and that traveling away from each other can actually bring us closer together. Even being half way around the world, I was often and coincidentally reminded of home. From meeting the Golgota church worship band that is actually from where I live, to meeting new friends from the “other” Washington, this weekend was full of small interactions that left a big impact. Moments like these make me not only thankful for where I come from, but make me that much more excited for where I am going and the people I have yet to meet along the way.