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Experiencing the sights, sounds and culture of Budapest

After my solo trip to Bruges the previous month, I didn't think I could have such another successful and eventful trip just 3 weeks after in Budapest - I was proved completely wrong and had a great time in the bustling capital of Hungary. For this trip I travelled with one of my best friends Ant - He had previously accompanied me to Iceland and after weeks of badgering, gave in to my incessant requests to join me. So why Budapest? Plenty of people asked me this beforehand and I always had an answer - Firstly, I wanted to visit a different country, secondly it was somewhere different and intriguing, thirdly I had read a great deal about the city, and was mesmerized by the architecture (particularly the Parliament building), and finally it just genuinely looked like an exciting and interesting place to go!

The iconic Parliament building

Budapest Airport – Ferenc Liszt

Our flight was from East Midlands in Nottinghamshire, to the main airport of Budapest – Ferenc Liszt; we flew with Jet2 who had reasonable prices and good flight times. The outbound flight was delayed due to one of the air-hostesses being stuck in a traffic jam (we saw the queues heading down the M1 and were unaware that this would delay our flight!), however the flight was only 2 hours 30 minutes so we landed around 19:00 Hungarian time.

The Ferenc Liszt airport was modern, clean and we got through the security fairly easily – Note that there are two terminals so make sure you check which terminal your return flight is from (Luckily for us our taxi driver knew!). The airport itself is not in the city centre so you will need some form of transport – Our hotel offered us a private taxi at 8000 HUF each way (approximately £24, £12 each), I thought this was reasonable and took out a great deal of the hassle. The taxi drive took around 40 minutes each way – If you aren't on an extremely tight budget I would recommend this method of airport transfer – Most hotels will offer the same.

Getting around the city

Budapest is a large city – luckily the main sights are located within the central districts so we actually walked everywhere. I'm not a great fan of walking – I like to keep fit, but I have fairly short legs so I don't cover much ground quickly :(, however Ant convinced me to "stop being an idle sod", and off we marched! From the central starting point of the Széchenyi chain bridge the walking distance to the main sights are as follows; (I would +/- 5 minutes as I am basing these times on our average walking speed) Buda Hill/Castle complex (15 minutes), St Stephen's Basilica (5 minutes), Parliament (20 minutes), Central Market Hall (25 minutes), Fisherman's Bastion (30 minutes). It really is a pleasant city to walk through, especially walking along the banks of the Danube.

St Stephen's Basilica - One of my favourite sights in Budapest

We used the Budapest Metro system once to get to the area near the Széchenyi spa & baths – A single ride cost us around 700 HUF each which is just over £2. To get to the Széchenyi spa you want the yellow metro line – We got on at the Bajcsy-Zsilinsky station which is right next to St Stephen's Basilica and got off at the Hosok Tere station which is next to Heroes Square. Heroes Square is an impressive sight in its own right and Vajdahunyad castle and the Széchenyi spa are only a 5 minute walk away. If you are going further afield, the Metro felt like a relatively cost effective and reliable way to get around.

Sights/Things to to

Central Market Hall - Read my full review of the Central Market Hall here

Szechenyi Spa & Baths - Read my full review of the Szechenyi Baths Here here

St Stephen's Basilica – St Stephen's Basilica is simply monumental, I didn't realize how big it was until I was stood in the square, looking up at the front façade and bell towers. It really is a beautiful piece of architecture both inside and out – The outside has some intricate stone work and the bell towers have lovely gold trimmed domes, while the inside has all the decadence and outrageous décor you would expect from a church of this era – Very impressive and magnificent. Make sure you go inside, have a good look around the outside, and also see the Basilica at night – It is lit up by a gentle golden glow that accentuates the buildings features. Finally, you can take the stairs (for a fee of 700 HUF), to the top of the Basilica and walk around the outside of the Dome – I always love getting up to a vantage point in any city I visit, and spending some time looking at it from a different perspective. The panoramic views are brilliant and you can clearly see the famous landmarks and dominating Danube.

Buda Castle/Buda Hill – I don't think we made the most of the Buda Castle Complex, I didn't research it properly beforehand and there was some kind of fare in progress – We walked across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and then up to the top of Buda Hill (You can take the cable cars up there, but the queue was immense so we thought it was quicker to just walk), the views at the top are amazing – You can clearly see the Danube, Parliament Building, Széchenyi Chain Bridge and St Stephen's, plus great views of the rest of Budapest. I can't really give much more advice about the Royal Palace – We had a walk around the grounds and that was about it – I'm sure there is more to do, but we failed big time!

The River Danube

Fisherman's Bastion/Matthias Church - Across from Buda Castle is Fisherman's Bastion which is an old terrace built around the turn of the century. The Bastion has seven towers which represents the seven Magyar chieftains and is a great viewing point across the Danube. We took spent some time there just admiring the view, and also enjoying the musicians that were playing; there was also a falconry display – The birds were nearly bigger than me! Slightly setback from the Bastion is Matthias Church – We didn't get to go inside as the queues were stretching halfway around the side of the church however the architecture and exterior are really striking. The roof is particularly colorful and is made up of thousands of small tiles in varying shades of orange that create a great effect.

Parliament - The Parliament building was one of the sights I was looking forward to seeing the most, so you can imagine my disappointment when we got to the ticket stand and the English speaking tour was soled out! In hindsight I should have pre-booked the tour – I just didn't think it would be that busy, don't make the same mistake! Although we didn't get to have the guided tour of the inside, for me the exterior of the building made up for this – I love the style and the colours, the white stone and the dark red rooftops create an impressive effect and make this building instantly recognizable. We spent a great deal of time photographing the building and the surroundings including the various statues and the Hungarian guards – It is extremely photogenic, with so many different angles to shoot from.

The Parliament Building

Danube Boat Tour - On the Sunday we booked a boat trip on the Danube, our tour provider was Legenda who's boats are located at pier 7 which is roughly a 15 minute walk from St Stephen's Basilica towards the Elizabeth Bridge end of the Danube. The tour was really good value and included the actual boat trip, a free drink (Beer, Juice, Homemade lemonade etc), and an optional stop at Margaret Island. The boat trip was relaxing and it was a pleasure to just have a beer and admire the sights lining the Danube - There was an audio guide in various languages that gave a great overview of the city. Margaret Island was a great place to walk around, you could also hire bikes, or pedal cars which looked like fun - The Island is mainly for recreation and fun; There were loads of people biking, running and playing sports. The boats picked people up from Margaret Island every hour, and we caught the last one back in the evening. I would definitely recommend a boat trip to anyone visiting Budapest - It's a great way to relax and enjoy the sights lining the Danube.

Enjoying the Danube boat tour with Legenda

Food/Drink

I sampled some amazing food and drink in Budapest - The Goulash (Comparable to a beef stew) at the Central Market Hall was really tasty and I can imagine it being a great food to warm you up on a cold winters day; Many restaurants serve some form of Goulash, so give it a try - It goes really well with dumplings. The Langos (A dough based pastry in the shape of a pancake) we tried there were also delicious and very filling - we ordered one each but only ended up eating about half each - They were huge! If I went to Budapest again, I would try the savor Langos with some Bacon and Cheese on - I can imagine that being divine.

We also had some first rate non Hungarian cuisine - There was a beautiful little Italian restaurant next to our hotel and we dined there twice - On one occasion I had a fresh oven baked Pepperoni Pizza which was full of flavor and quite spicy, while the other time I enjoyed Mozzarella topped chicken breast with Asparagus Risotto - The chicken was tender and juicy, and the Risotto was creamy and filling. As well as quality main meals, we had a variety of snacks and treats - Ice-cream at Buda Castle, Nutella and Cinnamon Strudel at Vajdahunyad castle, and a mouth watering hot-dog across the Széchenyi chain bridge.

Budapest exceeded my expectations - I thought I would enjoy the place and have a great time, as it turned out I loved the place and had an unforgettable time! I felt like I really made the most of my trip, and didn't simply rush through the sights and experience - I have been guilty of this in the past and have sometimes not fully appreciated the place I have visited as I have been trying to cram so much into a short space of time. I have learnt that maybe seeing a little less is not a bad thing, and that in doing so, I actually enjoyed the things I did see and do in Budapest even more.

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I heart this place because

Budapest is the first place I have really got into the local culture – I tried traditional food and drink such as Goulash and Langos, learnt about the cities history, and took time to watch the locals, especially the live music. You can obviously do this in any city, but I really felt like I made the most of Budapest and didn't simply do the tourist attractions for once.

Dont miss out on

The Széchenyi thermal baths – You must go there, no questions asked, just do it! Firstly it's a great place to spend a morning or afternoon relaxing after a hectic day of sight-seeing; Get your Speedos on (Please don't :p) and take a soothing dip in the warm outdoor pools. Secondly the building complex itself is so beautiful, with stunning ornate yellow stone work – It really is a pleasure to be there. We really enjoyed a morning there after two day's of walking and activities.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths & Spa

Szechenyi Spa

Information and resources for Budapest - links will open in a new page

Budapest on WikiTravel

Useful travel information including transport for Budapest - Link

Legenda boat tours

Boat tour provider we used for our Danube boat tour - Link

Hotel Central Basilica

Wonderfully located hotel that we stayed in - Link

Budapest Parliament Building

Site containing tour times and useful information for the Parliament - Link

Buda Castle

Info about Buda Castle complex/The Royal Palace - Link

Photos taken using a Canon EOS-M with 22mm EF & 18-55mm EF lens

Budapest gave me some great creative opportunities; the Central Market Hall was particularly memorable what with all the different stalls and cascade of colours, while the ever changing weather created an array of different skylines, from bright clear blue to dark grey and moody. If like I did, you decide to take some photos of the Guards outside Parliament, just be respectful and acknowledge them afterwards - It cannot be an easy job having tourists gawking at you all day!

Szechenyi chain bridge Szechenyi chain bridge and Buda Castle Beautiful interior of St Stephen's View from top of St Stephen's On top of St Stephen's Basilica Streets of Budapest Tramline No. 2 and Buda Castle The Central Market Hall Tea towels in the Market Hall Eating Goulash in a local Cafe Delicious Langos! Fruit stall in the Central Market Hall Paprika stall in the Central Market Hall Statue of Kosoth Guard at Hungarian Parliament Guard outside Hungarian Parliament Hungarian Parliament Shoes on the Danube Spicy Pepperoni Pizza The Royal Palace on Buda Hill Looking across the river Danube Turul Statue at Buda Castle View across the Danube to Parliament Guard outside the Royal Palace Looking down the Funicular Honved Memorial Fisherman's Bastion Fisherman's Bastion Fisherman's Bastion Margaret Island Vajdahunyad castle Szechenyi spa and baths Szechenyi spa and baths Vajdahunyad castle Heroes Square The Magyar chieftans on Heroes Square St Stephen's Basilica
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