Budapest was our final destination on our four-country-tour through Europe. And what a great spot to end our trip it was. It has something for everyone – architecture, history, nightlife, and even thermal springs! There’s lots of history around every corner and plenty of hidden treasures in this laid-back, friendly city.
Hungary’s capital city is actually two areas – Buda, the hilly side, and Pest, the flat side, bisected by the Danube River. You can also look at it as Pest is the urban, lively, fun side of the city, and Buda is the more relaxed, residential side of the city with nice views.
Our Airbnb was on the Pest side, but we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of noise from the busy streets and nightlife around us. We had a great little balcony that wrapped around two sides of the place, a perfect spot to watch the sun set. This was our first stop in Budapest, and already I loved this place.
On the Pest side of town, there are ruins everywhere from the years of bombing, and you can even see old bullet holes and shrapnel marks on buildings from WWII. Rather than restore these sites, many were turned into bars and pubs – AKA, ruin pubs. Each one is different, but all pretty good spots for a drink or few.
Sadly, my camera is pretty awful at taking pictures at night, so I failed to get any decent looking pictures of any of the many ruin bars we were in. So you’ll have to take my word for it – hanging out drinking in an abandoned building with ruined furniture and appliances, graffiti all over the partially destroyed walls is a pretty fun and unique, must-do experience in Budapest.
I thought all of the food in Budapest was really great. And from what we saw, mostly cheap too! But one of our favourite places to get food was a place called Karavan – a little area with various street food trucks serving cheap, but delicious food. You can also get some interesting drinks here… I had a cherry beer that was surprisingly tasty.
If you are looking for traditional Hungarian food, head to the Central Market Hall – where the locals do their grocery shopping. I grabbed something I can’t remember the name of, but can only describe as various kinds of mini sausages topped with crispy onions and cheese in a bagel shaped like a cone… and dang, was it ever good.
If you continue from here, and cross the Liberty Bridge, you’ll get to the Buda side of town. This bridge is not quite as pretty as the Chain Bridge, which was the first bridge built spanning the Danube in Budapest, but you still get great views from it.
The original Chain Bridge was destroyed by the Germans during the Siege of Budapest, but was restored following the war and is now very busy with both road traffic and pedestrians crossing the Danube.
There’s a great museum on the Buda side of the city, built right into the hill… Known as the Hospital in the Rock. It’s part of a 10-km series of interconnected caves in the hill underneath Buda Castle. These caves were used as an air raid shelter, a secret emergency hospital was opened during WWII, and in the ’60’s during the Cold War, expanded to a nuclear bunker due to the threat of nuclear war.
Tours are €12 and last about an hour or so. I found it pretty interesting to see the original medical instruments from the ’30’s and ’40’s, and to see how it was set up as well. There’s a lot of information to take in in just an hour, but it gives you quite a perspective on not only medical history, but life during WWII. Pictures aren’t allowed inside, but you can just tell from the outside that the visit will be worth it.
Also on the Buda side, you can find the Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, Gellert Hill, and the Castle Hill Funicular. The funicular takes you to the top of the hill for HUF 1200 ( about €3.75), or you can make the roughly 15-20 minute climb by foot.
Buda Castle is really more of a modern palace than a castle, and like many others it seemed, we chose not to go inside. There are two museums inside though, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, as well as the Hungarian National Library.
Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion are nearby, and although we chose not to enter the church either, the architecture is really quite something and the views of Pest from here are just spectacular.
We climbed up Gellert Hill to see the Liberty Statue, also referred to as the Freedom Statue, built to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of Hungary. Beautiful statues, beautiful views.
After making our way back down the hill, we decided to stop in to Gellert Thermal Baths. And these were well worth the price of admission. There are baths both inside and out, which are much less crowded than those at the Szechenyi Baths on the Pest side.
Budapest has tonnes of memorials and statues, including this lovely one – the Tree of Life Memorial. This memorial stands over the mass graves of those murdered by Nazis in 1944-45, and has family names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims inscribed on the leaves of the metal tree.
This memorial can be found in the backyard of the Great Synagogue, the largest Jewish House of Worship in Europe and second largest in the world. It is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum.
Another moving memorial, the most humbling one I’ve personally seen, is the Shoes on the Danube. You can find these shoes on the east side of the Danube, created in memory of the Jews killed during WWII. It was along this river that Jews were rounded up and forced to strip naked and stand in a line facing the water, then were shot in the back so they would fall into the river and be washed away.
Just down from this memorial is the Hungarian Parliament Building… one of the most impressive ones I’ve ever seen. Huge – the third largest parliament building in Europe -and right along the river as well. The external architecture is gorgeous, and I’ve heard that the interior is as well. But, we decided not to do the tours of the inside as I’d read that they’re only 15 minutes long and not worth the admission.
The building looks amazing lit up at night, especially from evening boat cruises, but this is another thing I’ll have to do on my next visit to Budapest.