Budapest – A travel guide

A flag flies outside Budapest’s Royal Castle. Image by Emma Johnson

The Pearl of the Danube, and a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Hungary’s dynamic and vibrant capital lies on one of Europe’s most majestic rivers. Unbeknown to many, Budapest is uniquely composed of two cities; hilly Buda and the flatter Pest. The melange of world-famous architecture, rich historical legacy, varied culture and breath-taking sights make it a staple for any travel bucket-list.

Budapest has been listed by Lonely Planet as the second-best value destination of 2020; making it particularly appealing to students and young travellers.

Having spent a couple of days in this beautiful city in July the reasons for its popularity are clear. There’s appeal for every traveller, from the distinctive grandeur of Parliament, stunning basilicas, Art Nouveau architecture of the Fisherman’s bastion, to the tranquil thermal baths. Not forgetting the array of famous old-world cafes and eclectic bars which offer visitors a vibrant food and drink scene.

Here are my top 10 of things to see and do in Budapest to help you make the most of this inspiring city.

1. Check out the views from the Fisherman’s Bastion

One of the best-known monuments in Budapest, the stunning Fisherman’s Bastion offers arguably the best views to be found anywhere in the city. Located in the Castle District, The Bastion is made up of seven towers which provide panoramic views across the mighty Danube and across to Parliament. For even better views, you can attempt the challenging climb up to the top of Gellert Hill (235m).  Entry to the majority of the Fisherman’s Bastion is free and it is open all year round.

The Fisherman’s Bastion. Image by Emma Johnson

2. Explore the Royal Palace and Castle District

Dating back to the 12th Century, the city’s ancient Royal Palace is a must-see. Tourists can wander through palace courtyards for free and visit the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. A step inside the Matthias Church is a must, with its famously vibrant tiles adorning every wall space, floor to ceiling, as well as its striking gothic architecture.

Whilst in the Castle District, wander along the many cobbled streets and take in the ambiance of the district… think quaint streets, colourful buildings and enticing cafes and restaurants.

3. Walk across the Szechenyi Chain Bridge

Three impressive bridges stretch across the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest. The picturesque and historic Szechenyi Chain Bridge is one of Budapest’s best-known landmarks. Absorb breath-taking views of both sides of the city by walking across it. Evening is prime time here, when the city’s lights reflect on the river.

View across the Danube. Image by Emma Johnson

4. Sample some Hungarian delicacies in the Great Market Hall

Visiting the city’s oldest indoor market, dating back to 1897, is a fantastic way of trying Budapest’s cuisine. Local stalls sell everyday groceries, fresh spices, regional produce, flowers and hand-made souvenirs to name just a few. Prices here are generally cheap, perfect if you’re on a student budget.

5. Take in the sights of the Hungarian Parliament Building

A world-renowned example of the finest Neo-Gothic architecture, no visit to the city would be complete without marvelling at its impressive towering structure. Being a more costly attraction, this symbol of Budapest is worth simply admiring at night when lit up.

Outside Hungarian Parliament. Image by Emma Johnson

6. Relax in one of the city’s thermal baths

The Szechenyi thermal baths are the largest outdoor baths in Europe, numbering three large outdoor and fifteen indoor pools. Regardless of the weather, pools are kept between 30-34 degrees depending on the season. The cost of a day ticket is approximately £19.

The Szczenyi Baths. Image by Emma Johnson

7. Stroll through the whimsical grounds of Vajdahunyad Castle

A short walk from Szechenyi Baths are the grounds of the enchanting Vajdahunyad Castle. Situated around a lake, the Castle was built in 1896 as an embodiment of 1,000 years of Hungarian national architecture. Today the grounds are a popular place for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

8. Pay a visit to St Stephen’s Basilica

A building of great religious national importance, the city’s largest church attracts visitors of all ages. Upon entering you’ll be struck by the elaborate renaissance style main dome which spans a huge 96 metres wide! For Instagram-worthy shots across the city, climb to the observation deck, where you’ll also be able to view Hungary’s largest bell in the Basilica’s two bell towers.

St. Stephen’s Basilica. Image by Emma Johnson

9. Take in the contemporary culture of the Jewish Quarter

The historic Jewish Quartier is renowned for its iconic ruin bar. Located in formerly abandoned buildings, they offer quirky places to enjoy a drink. The quarter is also home to some of the city’s best multicultural food. If you’re a music lover the area is also frequented by many jazz singers and bands.

10. Eat in a Hungarian patisserie

Budapest is famous for its wealth of whimsical yet world-renowned patisseries, such as the Café Gerbeaud, dating back almost 150 years. You’ll find pastries to to rival many seen on GBBO.. In Hungary, no meal is complete without dessert, hence the popularity of patisseries. Perhaps the most iconic pastry is the Kürtőskalács, known as ‘chimney cake’ due to its unique shape. You’ll find these with various toppings.

For me, the sheer number of things to see and the city’s balance between fascinating history and a relaxed, contemporary vibe make Budapest one of my top European destinations, and definitely one I’d recommend anyone visiting.


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