Budapest – actually pronounced Budapesht – is not only the culturally rich capital of Hungary, but also a well known party city among travelers. With so many sights to see during the day, coupled with fantastic dining and lively nightlife – you can easily spend three or four days here without getting bored!
United in 1973, Budapest was originally two cities divided by the Danube River, Buda and Pest. These days if someone refers to Buda, they are speaking of the hilly city on the western side of the Danube and if they reference Pest, it’s the flat city on the eastern side of the river. If you ever find yourself visiting Budapest, the first order of business is to do yourself a favor and take a Sandeman’s walking tour. Taking a tour will not only ground you in your bearings, but will also allow for some base knowledge of historical and cultural facts. Seeing monuments, buildings, rivers, etc., will make much more sense and add meaning to your visit if you already have a basic understanding of the where’s, why’s, and how’s of a city.
* Random Fact: Comunisim ended in the year 1989 in Hungary, yet the older generation still won’t walk on the grass (one of the many social rules of any communist country) and will definitely let you know that they don’t approve if they see you stray from the sidewalks.
Chain Bridge (also pictured above) is a suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest and was built in 1849. With beautiful architecture to admire during the day, and brilliantly lit up during the night, Chain Bridge is a sight to see while visiting this city. Take a boat ride during the evening hours if you’d like to see both sides of the city at sunset from the water!
The Parliament Building is quite possibly the number one landmark of Budapest. Just over a hundred years old, it’s the tallest building in the city and the largest of the country. It is the third largest Parliament building in the world. It has 691 rooms, 20 kilometers (12,5 miles) of stairs and rises 96 meters (315 feet). The construction of the Hungarian Parliament began in 1885, it was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896, and then completed in 1902.
Majestically placed on the banks of the Danube, the Parliament Building is a beautiful addition to the cityscape. Sitting across the Danube at night with the Parliament reflecting off the water is a sight I’ll never forget. Chatting there with a few fellow travelers after a relaxing couple hours at a Turkish bath, watching the boats motor on by, the Chain Bridge lit up and the Parliament Building overlooking it all, was a pretty magical moment in time.
Sitting almost directly across the river from the Parliament building is the Buda Castle. If time allows, be sure to check out the Changing of the Guard.
Mon – Sun: 8:30 am – 5 pm, every hour by the hour (e.g. 10 am, 11 am, … 2 pm, 3 pm, 4 pm)
Special Saturdays: once a month on the last Saturday of the given month, the changing of the guards is accompanied by music. The Special Saturday Changing of the Guards is at midday only (12 pm).
I happened to be visiting Budapest during a time when a foreign delegate was meeting with the Hungarian President. Like the arrival of any president in any country, this was made out to be a pretty big deal. With music, horses, guards, police, foreign royalty, and a display of flags, uniforms, and utmost respect, this ceremony was fantastic to witness!
Nearby the Buda Castle are roped off remains of bomb bunkers destroyed during the height of the second World War. In the caverns beneath the castle lies the remnants of a hospital, as well as what is left of a maze of nuclear bunkers built there in the 1930’s. Check out the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum, admission is just under $16 USD. If you’re into history or architecture this will be a fantastic way to spend a few hours.
St. Stephen’s Basilica in St. Stephen’s Square on the Pest side, is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary. His mummified right hand is supposedly housed in the reliquary, or shrine inside the church. Today, St. Stephen’s Basilica is the third largest church building in present-day Hungary, and able to hold up to 8,500 people. With free admission and surrounded by several shops and cafe’s, this is a fantastic place to grab a great photo and a quick bite to eat!
On the Buda side, in the heart of the Castle District you’ll find the Roman Catholic Mattias Church. This church was used as a camp by the Germans and Soviets in 1944-45 during the Soviet occupation of Hungary and is now home to the Ecclesiastical Art Museum. One highlight of this church is that it has 7 bells, 6 of them are located in the bell tower and the last damaged bell hangs in the cavalry tower. The interior is breathtakingly beautiful and admission is free. Once a year, on Good Saturday (the Saturday before Easter), the church can only be visited by worshipers. There are many events held in the Mattias Church, such as weddings, orchestras, and dedications, etc. So plan your visit accordingly.
Set aside an hour or so to peruse the two-story Central Market Hall. Bustling with hundreds of vendors with every kind of good you can imagine, this is a perfect place to haggle (click here to learn some great haggling tips). This is definitely a great option if you’re looking for souvenirs. Also, if you want a break from “eating out,” grocers sell their local produce, meats, breads and delicacies here. Stop by and pick up the makings for a picnic! Or perhaps indulge in a little retail therapy on a rainy or bleak day.
Turkish Baths are a must during any stay in Budapest. These baths have been at the core of Hungary’s character since the 1500’s, and are an experience not be missed.
A peaceful morning Turkish Bath is one of my favorite ways to begin my day or ease a hangover. Check out The Szechenyi Bath in the center of City Park. This particular bath is vast, and has many indoor options as well. Probably the most popular because of it’s location, and even though a bit more expensive than a few of the other baths, it is definitely worth a visit. Surrounded by working-class neighborhoods and easy to find, Szechenyi Bath is probably the most popular choice for locals and tourists alike.
The Lucaks Bath is one of the more fun bath options for a night visit, and a bit cheaper than other more touristy Turkish baths. It can be a bit of a maze at first, but that can be remedied after about twenty minutes of exploring. Lit up with multi-colored lights, a whirlpool, and boasting a younger feel and atmosphere, Lucaks Bath is a great place for the younger crowd. There are “Bath Parties” on Saturday nights that many travelers hit up. I’d advise to leave by midnight if a bath party is on your agenda. Nothing good happens after midnight, unless you’re into floating around in random bodily fluids, stepping over/swimming around puke, and witnessing LOTS of drunken tonsil hockey.
One of my favorite things I did while visiting this city was a Trap Room (Team-Race-Against-Puzzles). This idea has now begin to spread to the Western side of the world, however the trap rooms I have done in the United States are nothing like the ones I have encountered in other parts of the world. This was my very first Trap Room, and it was amazing fun! Essentially the idea is that you are “trapped” in a room and have a limited time to figure your way out. This is most fun with three people or more, and this particular trap room gave us an hour to escape or a “briefcase bomb” would explode.
During that hour we had to find clues behind paintings, under rugs, and in pockets of old coats hung in a corner closet. It was extremely interactive, which I haven’t found in the United States yet. At one point I had to peddle an exercise bike as fast as I could in order to light up a glass box we found in the wall behind a painting which contained a maze. The whole ordeal was exciting, as none of our group had ever done one before and it was located in a basement off a side street.
Ruin Pubs are a staple in Budapest’s nightlife. Primarily found in the city’s old Jewish District, ruin pubs are the creation of a group of entrepreneurs who, back in 2004, wanted to create a hang out/bar space without having to build new. So they proposed to rescue and revamp an old dilapidated building, adding quirky and unconventional decor. Thus, Zsimpla Kert, the first ruin pub was born. Rated the #3 bar in the world and located on Kazinczy Street, Zsimpla Kert is an authentic taste of Hungarian culture.
From the history and culture to the food and nightlife, Budapest is a city offering a full, robust, and well-rounded experience for those willing to venture there. Happy travels!
Been to Budapest? Headed there? Share your experiences in the comments section below! I’d love to hear from you and I reply to every comment!