Last week, BF and I headed the furthest east I’ve ever been in Europe to meet up with my parents in Budapest, Hungary. As soon as we shared on European summer travel plans with my parents, they started planning a visit to the continent. We decided on three days in Budapest and four days in Vienna. None of us had been to Vienna and only BF had been to Budapest. We were all excited to check some cities off of our bucket lists!
Today, I’ll cover Budapest only. Keep an eye out for the Vienna recap next week!
Day 1: Walking tour of Budapest and the baths
We got into Budapest late in the evening so we were able to get started bright and early the next day. We began the day with a free walking tour of Budapest, which was a great way to get to know the city. Of course the “free” walking tour wasn’t really free, it was “pay what you can/want/feel is appropriate,” but it was still a great deal. We saw both the Buda (hilly with castles) and Pest (flat with historic neighborhoods) sides of the river. The highlight for me was the great views from Fisherman’s Bastion.
Following our tour we had a “lunch” of delicious, traditional cakes at one of the oldest cafes in Budapest, called Café Ruszwurm. We then headed to the Hospital in the Rock, a very cool system of subterranean caves used as a war hospital during WWII and later as a nuclear bunker. As I mentioned in my Normandy trip recap, I’m very into WWII history, so the museum fit my interests perfectly. My parents and BF enjoyed it as well.
We ended the day with a nice dinner followed by a trip to a traditional Hungarian bath, called the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool. Going to the baths is apparently a big part of Hungarian culture, so it was fun to experience it. The facility was a beautiful old building with numerous baths, both inside and out. Each of the baths is heated by thermal springs and there are baths at a wide variety of temperatures. We explored all of the baths but liked the hottest outdoor bath the best. No better way to relax your muscles after a long day of site-seeing!
Day 2: Exploring Pest and a river cruise
Day two began with a visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica. I’m not much for religion, but old churches (and as we saw later in the day, synagogues!) can be very beautiful. From there, we headed to Andrássy Avenue, known as the Champs Elysees of Budapest. We admired the beautiful theaters, the opera house and the fancy shops.
After that we wandered into the Jewish Quarter, home to several beautiful synagogues and a hub of hipster culture in Budapest. We were told by numerous people that the Jewish Quarter is the best place to eat in Budapest, and they were not wrong! We found a great “ruin pub,” as they’re called, that had several food trucks from which we had a great lunch. Ruin pubs are bars that seem to be mostly outdoors in abandoned lots. They are filled with discarded furniture and have lots of quirky charm. We visited a second ruin pub, called Szimpla, later in the evening, and it was definitely the place to be!
We also visited the Dohány Street Synagogue while exploring the Jewish Quarter. It was beautiful and had a lot of nice remembrances of past events. It was sad to see that here, and indeed in many other Jewish areas throughout Europe, there are armed guards at all building entrances.
Our evening on Day 2 was spent having a lovely dinner followed by a cruise of the Danube River. The Danube runs between Buda and Pest, which were once two cities. At night, beautiful buildings on both sides of the river are lit up, creating quite a spectacular view.
Day 3: New York Café, Central Market and on to Vienna
Day 3 was a short day, as we took the train to Vienna around 1 pm. We spent the morning eating breakfast at the opulent New York Café, then exploring the Central Market. The Central Market was very large and had all kinds of food, although most of it was ingredients in their rawest form. Upstairs there are stalls that sell local crafts and other goods, making it a great place to get some souvenirs.
We picked up some snacks to bring on the train with us and then headed on to Vienna. The train was pretty simple to navigate and only took about three hours.
This post, and the one to follow about Vienna, are going to be a little lite on the money side. See, this trip was considered a “family vacation,” meaning my parents footed the majority of the bill. BF and I were able to get plane tickets from Paris to Budapest and then from Vienna back to Paris using credit card points, so no costs were incurred there. Beyond that, BF valiantly tried to pay for meals and excursions, but was largely foiled. So, I’ll say it again, thanks mom and dad!
For those of you considering a trip to Budapest, I would say that it is a more moderately priced city than many other European capitals. It is definitely less expensive to have a nice meal in Budapest than in Paris or Vienna. Entry fees for museums and other buildings also generally seemed lower than for similar attractions in Paris.
A final note about money in Hungary is that they do not yet use the euro, and instead still use the Hungarian forint. At the time of this writing, 1 US dollar buys you 283 Hungarian forints. As you can imagine, this exchange rate makes it really challenging to understand how much things actually cost. For example, I purchased a souvenir for about 5,000 forints. That is actually only about $20, but it just seems like so much money! And so confusing! So, if you’re headed for Hungary, beware of the challenges of converting to forints in your head.
Have you ever been to Budapest? What was your favorite thing that you did/saw there?