The Pearl of the Danube, a tale of two cities, folklore, and horsemen
We had cycled to Budapest from Vienna over the previous week. You can read about our trip here. Our first night was spent at the Hotel Mátyás after arriving to the city in the evening. For our remaining 3 nights we would be moving to the Buda side of the Danube to the Lanchid 19 Design Hotel.
Arrival and Departure
Hungary is a landlocked country in the centre of Europe and so it is easy reached by land from one if it’s neighbouring countries.
If you’re heading straight to Budapest for a long weekend it is very well connected with direct nonstop flights to several UK airports as well as other European Airports from Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. Taxi’s from the airport to the city are inexpensive at around €20 for the half an hour journey. There are also public transport options but they will take twice as long. For more information on your options see here – Budapest Airport
Hungary does not take Euro’s make sure you get their local currency which is the Hungarian Forint.
When you arrive in the city you will find a city of two parts, Buda and Pest. There are 3 main bridges that cross over the Danube in the centre of Budapest. The Chain Bridge, the Elizabeth Bridge and the Liberty Bridge. The Chain Bridge is the oldest bridge in the city built in the 1800s.
Where to Stay
We would recommend the second hotel we stayed in in Budapest. We appreciated the modern design of our hotel in Buda, the Lanchid 19, after spending the previous 6 nights in hotels that had been booked for us as part of a cycling tour. The hotels included were a bit dated but in the smaller towns outside of the capital you have less options. The Lanchid 19 is modern and is in a great location. We had a river view room and you couldn’t have gotten a better view in Budapest.
Day 1 – Buda
On the Buda side of the Danube you will find Castle Hill. There is a funicular which makes accessing the hop of the hill very easy, a return ticket costs around £5. At the top you will find several of the ‘must do’ sights including, the Buda Castle, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.
Near the castle there are many statues and an excellent view across the river. If your timing is right you may also get to see the changing of the guards. You can also take a tour of the castle but we skipped this, there was plenty for us to see outside.
From Buda Castle you can take the short walk to Fisherman’s Bastion. Just before you reach it you will see the Roman Catholic Matthias Church which has a very decorative roof. There was a service on while we were in the area so we did not enter but other times you can pay to go inside, approximately £4.50 per person and you can book online.
Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite of the three sights we visited on Castle Hill. It also has a great view across the river and has a cafe and restaurant within it where you can eat while enjoying the view. This is a perfect photo opportunity to get a great shot of the iconic Chain Bridge.
A full day can easily be spent on Castle Hill and there are so many more places to explore in the city. The Pest side has just as much on offer and we equally enjoyed both sides of the Danube.
Day 2 – Pest
If you think the Castle Hill attractions look impressive then be sure to visit the Parliament Building which you will have seen across the river when looking out from Castle Hill. The Parliament Building is an impressive building which stands out on the banks on the Danube. It looks like a large building from a distance but seems even more so when you’re standing outside. A highly photographed statue of Attila József can be found sitting on the steps outside of the Parliament Building, Attila is a 20th Century Hungarian poet who was born in Budapest.
All across Europe you will see evidence of the impact of the world wars. A subtle but hard hitting monument for those lost in world war two is located near the Parliament Building where countless people were lined up and shot, their bodies allowed to fall to the river below.
Heading further into the city you will soon find yourself at the Roman Catholic St Stephen’s Basilica. It is named to honour the first King of Hungary. You can see his mummified hand within the Basilica. We did go inside here and would recommend you have a look in, but be prepared for the crowds, this is another popular sight.
Around the city are many statues and across Europe it is common to rub statues for luck as you can see on some of those in popular locations in Budapest. The Little Princess is located near the banks of the Danube and the Police Officer is located in the same area as St Stephen’s Basilica.
The main shopping street in Pest is called Váci utca and at the end of this street is the Great Market Hall. We love exploring markets when we’re travelling, even at home when we can, the Great Market Hall is huge it is based in a large building over three floors. You can find Cafes, Restaurants, Bars, food stalls, clothing, gifts, and souvenirs or all kinds. We spent a few hours in here over our trip. It is very busy but if you go early it makes a difference.
Something a bit different to try if you haven’t elsewhere, we visited a cat cafe, ever been to one of those? It’s a strange experience and we weren’t sure what to expect but we love cats and wanted to see what this new trend was all about. Cat cafes have been popping up across Europe and there is one in Budapest.
We had a drink and a cake each in the busy cafe while several cats wandered round as they liked. They generally keep to themselves, sleeping in their many hideouts around the cafe. They all seemed well kept and hygiene does seem to be a priority, the kitchen and drinks prep area are kept well out of reach of any of the furry residents!
Another option if the weather isn’t cooperating, or if it is and you just want to cool off, is to try a visit to the Ice Bar. Again there are many of these now across Europe but they’re each designed to reflect the city they’re in and how often do you get to drink out of a glass sized ice cube really? Not somewhere you would go back to on every visit to Budapest, it’s a bit gimmicky and obviously just a money spinner, not particularly cheap for a quick drink either but if you find yourself nearby and have a spare half hour why not give it a try?
Nightlife & Entertainment
Budapest is a popular city for nightlife it’s well known for it. If you have time between visiting ruin pubs I’d recommend going to see a folk show. We went to see a folk show at the Danube Palace which is right in the centre of Pest so easy to get to. We like to experience the local culture and this is certainly a way of doing that. The performance is of traditional Hungarian dances and music and they’re brilliant to watch. I particularly liked the ladies bottle dance where they balanced bottles on their heads while dancing and not once did they drop one.
Another option to get a taste of life in Budapest is to visit the city’s thermal baths. There are a number to choose from throughout the city but as we were limited on time and had experienced these in other areas of hungry during our cycle trip, we gave these a miss.
Day 3 – Puszta Great Plains and Kecskemet
On your third day I’d recommend getting out of the city. We spent a day visiting Puszta Great Plains and Kecskemet to see some of central Hungary and their famous horsemen.
In Kecskemet we had a guided tour of the town before having some time to have a walk around on our own. It’s a great small town in central Hungary and worth a visit to see what life is like outside of the big city.
After leaving Kecskemet we visited a horse farm which was one of the main highlights of our entire trip for me. On arrival we started with local drinks and snacks followed by a carriage ride and watching the horsemen working with the horses, including some young foals learning to run beside their mothers.
We also got to watch a performance the horsemen put on which felt like a sneak peek into Europe’s version of the Wild West. A three course traditional meal was included as well as local drinks while being entertained by traditional musicians.
This tour will take up most of the day but it’s worth it to give you a better feel for the country. A lot of capital cities in Europe tend not to fully represent that country and staying in Budapest will give you a skewed impression of Hungary. Outside of the capital you will see the diversity of Hungary and better understand it’s history.
One more thing, we found Hungarian particularly difficult to pick up for our trip, here’s a few phrases to get you started;
- Hi – Szia. (SEE-å)
- Please – Kérem. (KEY-rem)
- Thank you – Köszönöm. (KØ-sø-nøm)
- The bill please – Kérem a számlát
- Bye – Viszlát