Booking up for Budapest sort of happened on a bit of whim. It was one of those places I’d seen the Instagram posts of the Parliament Building… and uh yeah, that was about it! But anyway, we’d found a couple of cheap flights so it was good chance to see what Hungary has to offer this tourist.
For some reason people tend to lump Prague and Budapest together; ‘You liked Prague, oh you’ll love Budapest, go to Budapest…’. I mean, yes, they are roughly in the same part of Europe but they don’t actually even share a border and now, having been to both, they are definitely not comparable.
Similarities stop in that they are both pretty affordable cities, but then again so are a lot of countries in Central / Eastern Europe, and that you can find good beer and hearty beige food to fill up on, but again, so do a lot of countries to this side of the continent.
Prague is quaint, fairy-tale, ornate buildings, perfect film-set like cobbled streets, typical but beautiful old town and square. Budapest is grander, more vast, with the great expanse of the Danube cutting through the centre, separating the once detached towns of ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest’ and these majestic buildings and incredible architecture. It’s a bit ‘grittier’ and has more of a ‘big city’ feel. And the baths! The Budapest baths were basically why this city now holds my heart!
We were lucky in that the March weather was being kind; Budapest was sunny and very mild, perfect walking temperature to get around the city. We had chosen a hotel on the ‘Pest’ side, the Mercure which was conveniently located on Vaci Street, a main shopping hub of the town, so we decided take a wander down this side of the Danube today and gravitate towards the Parliament building taking in the sights along the way; these funny little statues on the bank, the yellow trams, Saint Stephen’s Basilica, the views across the Chain Bridge and the Shoes on the Danube memorial (in memory of victims shot into the river during World War II) and then finishing with the fantastic Parliament Building.
Postcards From Day One
Day Two in Budapest
On our second day, we decided to branch out and ‘do Buda’. The west side of the Danube is arguably ‘prettier’, with lots of hills and winding streets, you get a more ‘old town’ feel on this bank. This side offers Gellert Hill with Gellert Baths at the foot, just next to Liberty Bridge, Buda castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is a fabulous terrace around the pretty Matthias Church (that roof!), but what you’ll remember most is the stunning view from the balcony, that panoramic across the Danube to the Pest side with the Parliament Building taking centre stage.
Crossing back over Liberty Bridge to the Pest side you’ll find the Market Hall building, there’s stalls that sell fresh produce and little knick-knacks but on the top floor you’ll find the Langos hut (follow the crowds!).
Langos is a cheap Hungarian street food which looks a bit odd, sounds a bit dubious but tastes like a slice of deep-fried heaven.
The ‘original’ Langos appears to be some sort of fried dough, topped with garlic butter, lashings of sour cream and a couple of pounds of grated cheese to finish.
Healthy this is certainly not, but the best things never are… and it was delicious.
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee listed the panorama along the Danube embankments of Budapest and after recommendations we decided the best views would be from taking a twilight boat cruise down the river.
Hungry after our cruise we went in search of somewhere to eat and got grabbed by one of the touts outside of Szazeves Etterem. We politely had a look at the menu outside and the man at the door mentioned that they also had some live music. Turns out it was good choice to stop; the prices looked reasonable so we decided to give it a go.
Inside was actually lovely and quaint. We were seated in a little booth and opted for the garlic soup served in a hollowed out bread and the small goulash soup, and then for mains the veal pancake with sour cream and cheese and the boar stew with cottage cheese dumplings. The violinist was exceptional too, and the whole experience really topped off a super romantic night!
Budapest Thermal Baths
Now for my thoughts on my favourite part of the trip;
I’m quite a fan of thermal baths anyway, having indulged in quite a few geothermal pool delights in Iceland, so when I decided to come to Budapest, Gellert Baths and Szechenyi Baths were on top on my list to visit. Gellert, despite being the smaller of the two, was quite confusing to navigate, but I couldn’t find a fault with Szechenyi; it’s quite a sizeable complex with lots of different baths at different temperatures along with a gorgeous heated outdoor pool and piping hot steam room. The atmosphere is more sociable and relaxed in Szechenyi. Gellert baths, being situated within a hotel, seemed a bit more pretentious.
We paid around 10,000 HUF for the pair of us to go on the Monday (it’s slightly more on the weekend) sharing a cabin, which I feel was better than opting for the lockers. It seemed a very reasonable price to pay for a couple of hours we spent in the various pools. My ultimate favourites were the hot 40-degree hot pots, and then the much cooler 20-degree pool next to it; it felt amazing switching between the two. It was also lovely to be able to laze around in the outdoor pool with the water jets in the March sun.
I would definitely recommend a visit (or two!) to Szechenyi baths. Budapest has a great bath culture; don’t go expecting a refined and luxurious 5* spa experience… That’s not really the case. It’s not like that and it’s not trying to be… But that doesn’t mean that it’s not amazing.
Highlights from Budapest
The Baths, Szechenyi in particular! I’m already sold on the idea of it, so I’m a little bias, but I find thermal baths a superb way to relax and feel healthy on holiday. Szechenyi is a beautiful canary yellow building, with a fabulous outdoor pool – I’d easily be tempted to book up a return trip to Budapest purely for a good spa weekend!
Langos! As already mentioned, this moreish street food is incredible. I have since tried my hand at making these at home and found a stall in Camden Market (about five minutes’ walk from my work place) that sells these. Amazing stuff!
The Panorama – the banks of the Danube are just something else. If you’re into architecture and good views, Budapest is your place!