Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is definitely one of the European capitals that I would highly recommend to anyone on a tour of Europe. From brilliant architecture and rich history to the thermal baths to the ruin bars, there is something for everyone.
Additionally, as is true with many eastern European countries, Budapest and Hungary are really cheap in comparison to Western Europe. At the time of writing, the conversation is approximately 1 Euro to 318 Hungarian Forints. The prices, especially in comparison with a country like Austria of accommodation and food were extremely cheap. One could easily eat like a king without paying kingly prices.
The Budapest Central (Great) Market Hall
The Central Market Hall in Budapest reminded me of the Victorian Era markets that one finds throughout Wales. It is a very similar style although on a larger scale. The iron-wrought structure has three levels and is much larger than it’s Welsh counterparts. Most of the ground floor contains bakeries, butchers, fruit and veg sellers, and other assortments of food stalls. The two upper floors offer less edible products, including items that are uniquely Hungarian (along with traditional touristic wares).
One thing that I found surprising is that the entrances are small. While there are numerous entrances, the doors would only let two people in/out at a time and had plastic coverings. With the crowds that were there on the day, it took quite a while to get in. Another surprise was the layout. While organised, it was not related to its Welsh counterparts; it did not keep the flow of people moving. Especially on the upper floors, the crowds of people came to a standstill and one had to fight their way through to reach their destination.
While I would definitely recommend visiting a Hungarian market, I would not necessarily recommend the Central Market Hall. While its location is hard to beat (next to Liberty Bridge) the masses of people make it a claustrophobic experience. Instead, as Budapest is well-known for its markets, try one of the myriads of others.
Heroes’ Square in Budapest
If you are interested in figures from Hungarian history, look no farther than Heroes’ Square. Heroes’ Square is a monument to some of the most important figures that have shaped the country’s history. Depicted are the descent from the Steppes of central Asia to kings fighting against the Habsburgs; it is best to take a local who knows the history. Hungarian history is taught in great detail in schools. Failing that, one of the numerous walking tours of the city can regale you with the details.
Even for a non-Hungarian, the site is impressive. It is rich in its history and the artwork of sculptures on display. The artwork on the columns, including the murals that tell the history of the figures, are a sight to see. Hands down, no questions.
For those who feel too overwhelmed by the spectacle, the city park behind it offers a place to relax. You can go to the zoo, see the circus, visit the thermal baths, or visit Vajdahunyad Castle.
Budapest’s Castle District
The Castle District along the length of the Danube River has to be one of my favourite areas of Budapest. The buildings, including Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Hungarian Parliamentary Building (just across the river) are impressive architecturally. Surprisingly they have a very pleasing aesthetic that is independent of the weather.
The modern Buda Castle occupies a hill that has been a fortification (usually a palace) since the 13th century due to its natural elevation yet proximity to the river. Today, the correct word to describe the buildings on the site would be a fortification complex. This includes Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion along with Matthias Church. These grand buildings were (re-)constructed or renovated towards the end of the 19th century and dedicated in 1912. They consist mostly of white stone, adding to the grandiose effect that it has on its visitors.
If you want to learn about Hungarian history or have wonderful views of the city, this is the place. The Castle District can be reached both on foot and by tram. If you do not want to walk up to the castle, the bus also goes directly there.
Budapest’s famous ruin Bars
If you are looking to go out in Budapest at night, look no further than the Ruin Bars. As the name suggests, they refer to bars that were created in ruins throughout the city. Szimpla Kert is probably the most well-known ruin bar in Budapest. It consists of several bars and spaces within the same ruin spread over two floors. Originally, these ruin bars were very underground; their cover has been blown and people from all around the world begin to congregate buildings that are little more than shells after World War II.
The bars themselves are an eclectic collection of local artists’ art (sometimes, the best word to describe the art is ‘doodle’), furniture from flea markets, and holes and pipes in the buildings. The buildings usually aren’t renovated before the bar(s) is/are set up. Some, like Szimpla Kert, are permanent fixtures while others change places, so know where you are going and whether it is actually before you go or you may spend hours looking for something that is no longer there (although this could lead to great adventures, so the choice is ultimately yours).
If you like hot water, do not plan on doing anything else on the same day while in Budapest. The thermal baths quite easily take up the entire day and more, even if you just go from pool to pool without stopping to enjoy the additional spa options that are available at many of the thermal baths in the city. The pools range in temperature from somewhat cool to moderately hot. If you want to go even hotter, most of the thermal baths also offer sauna facilities that are easy to access.
My personal experiences were with Széchenyi Thermal Bath (or Széchenyi Medicinal Bath due to the reported curative properties of the water) one fine Sunday afternoon. The Sunday not necessarily fine weather-wise, but there was fine company. It is located in Budapest’s City Park and can be reached by metro, tram or bus. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is fed by two thermal springs which heat a variety of indoor and outdoor pools that go from 18° to 38°C (64° to 100°F).
At the time of writing, a full day at the thermal baths cost €20 for basic access (all pools, steam rooms, saunas but no spa sessions like massages. People touching you cost extra) and is well worth it if you go early enough. Make sure to bring your own bathing suit and towel (or buy both there) and prepare for a long day of relaxing in the room/pool of your choice.
Here are some more photos from around Budapest:
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