With its spectacular palaces, stunning bridges, grand Parliament building, amazing museums, thermal baths and great restaurants, Budapest is one of Europe’s most delightful cities. This summer, I had the chance to get excited about experiencing the magic of the Hungarian capital.
Having left Bratislava, Slovakia, early in the morning, we arrived in Budapest by afternoon. As soon as we were unpacked and settled in our hotel which, incidentally, overlooked the Danube and the Parliament, we were ready to explore. For me, it was simply love at first sight, as the beauty of the city left me enthralled. It was just as I had imagined it – magical and mythical. As a sprawling city with lots to explore and lots to do, time simply flew! Here are five of my recommended Must-Do’s when you are in the ‘Paris-of-the-East’.
Must-Do #1: Step Into A Fairy Tale
Located just behind the Mathias Church is the magical Fisherman Bastion, which will make you feel as if you have been transported into a fairy tale. Fisherman Bastion is Budapest’s Disney castle. Its seven pointed towers represent the seven Hungarian leaders and tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin and settled down here around 1896. You simply must spend a few leisurely hours here – enjoy a cup of tea or coffee while admiring the beautiful sights of the Danube and the Parliament. They are especially breath taking at night.
Must-Do #2: Soak It In With The Baths
Budapest is famously known as the city of baths. It possesses a bathing heritage of thousands of years; in fact, it is the only capital in the world that can be called a spa-city, thanks to its abundance of thermal baths. Currently, seven of these are operating thermal baths. We chose to go to Széchenyi, which turned out quite an enjoyable experience. The outdoor pools are open till 10 pm while the inner thermal pools close at 7pm. Spend a few hours relaxing and having fun in the water. If you only wish to see the magnificent palace of the famous baths, you can choose to take a short tour, lasting about fifteen minutes.
Tip: Do bring your own towels, flip flops and swimwear so you can avoid the long queueing to rent these items.
Must-Do #3: River-Cruise the Danube
The Danube, the second-longest river in Europe, originates in Germany and flows southeast through several countries before emptying into the Black Sea. In Budapest, it is flanked on both sides by magnificent buildings, and boasts some spectacular bridges. As the sun sets behind the Buda Castle and all the lights are lit up, Budapest looks magical. Enjoy some really enchanting views, and take those pictures. Relax and enjoy as the boat gently flows by all the iconic sights of the city.
Must-Do #4: Take In All That Architecture
Walking is a wonderful way to get to know any city. Do look up walking tours; I recommend the walking tour of Downtown Pest, a 1-to-1.5-hour walk in which you get to see the National Bank, the last-standing Soviet War memorial, the Parliament building and the 1956 memorial monuments. This tour starts daily at 12 noon from Elizabeth Square.
Budapest’s Opera House is a neo-Renaissance architectural masterpiece in the heart of the city! The Grand Foyer, stunning frescoes, mosaic tiles and the magnificent auditorium are sheer delight to the eyes. The guided tour costs 12 euros. If you have time, enjoy a performance in the evening, too. Mozart’s Don Giovonni is highly recommended!
Also, don’t miss visiting the biggest church in Hungary, the Saint Stephen Basilica, which also happens to host Hungary’s most sacred relic, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand! Do go all the way up the cupola for magnificent views of the city.
Must-Do #5: Travel Back In Time
New York Café, which has lived through many eras, is famously known as the most beautiful cafe in the world. Without a doubt, that, it is. Entering the café makes one feel as if one has been transported back into the 1920s in Paris. I couldn’t help being enchanted by the ornate lamps, the rococo decor and the grand interior. Enjoy a culinary experience in elegant surroundings at this café – have a cup of coffee and try some traditional Hungarian food while enjoying live piano music.
A bonus – not only is this vibrant city breath-taking with its architectural wonders, multi-faceted nature, flowing river and stunning bridges; it also offers a plethora of child-friendly attractions such as the Children’s Railway, House of Future and Budapest Zoo. The best time to visit would be September-October because of lower tourist traffic, and pleasant weather with autumn starting out.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in the Hungarian capital and can’t wait to visit again.