Budapest is undoubtedly underrated. Whilst it sits shyly in the shadows of confident European cities such as Amsterdam, Prague, Berlin and Paris – Budapest is slowly creeping onto centre stage and proving why it’s a city not to be missed off any European bucket list (George Ezra has certainly done a good job of keeping the Hungarian capital on people’s minds as well with his all too catchy chart topper).
Steeped in Communist history and divided in half by the Danube, Budapest sits smack bang in the middle of Northern Hungary. In true Eastern European style Budapest can be done on a shoestring and yet you can still dine like a King. The Danube splits the capital into ‘Buda’ and ‘Pest,’ with the majority of tourist accommodation being on the latter side. Everything is easily walkable, but if the weather is playing up, the tram system is equally as easy to navigate – the only problem is that all signs are in Hungarian… so if you’re lucky enough to have this language in your repertoire then I salute you, otherwise detailed maps will be your best friend.
As Budapest is brimming with not-to-be-missed culture and food, here’s a handy top 10 bucket list to ensure you really feel the pulse of this Hungarian gem.
1. St Stephen’s Basilica
In the heart of the Pest side sits St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest church. Whilst the building itself is a work of art, for £3 you can head to the top of the tower to absorb the all-important panoramic views of Buda and Pest.
2. Hungarian Parliament
From the Basilica, it’s only a short walk to the Hungarian Parliament building, where you go via an incredible fresh ice cream parlour on the corner of Szent Istvan Ter. In order to get to the Parliament building you also walk through Freedom Square, home to the Soviet Freedom Monument and constructed by the Soviets to commemorate their liberating Budapest. The Parliament Building is highly impressive and EU citizens have free entrance. (Quite the perk.)
3. Jewish Quarter
Budapest boasts the oldest European synagogue and is a true contender for the world title. The synagogue is attached to the Jewish Museum and the two are a great way to spend an afternoon. Also, walking around the side streets towards the Jewish Quarter there is a wealth of interesting street art.
4. Fisherman’s Bastion
This is not to be missed. Walk across the Chain Bridge over to the Pest side and stroll up to the 19th Century Fisherman’s Bastion look out towers for the best panoramic view of the entire city (there is also the option to get the funicular up to the top if you’re a funicular enthusiast.) The seven turrets represent the seven Hungarian tribes who founded the present day country – a fun little fact for you. The Buda side is the only place where you’ll really be amongst the tourists. Walking around Pest, the city doesn’t feel overcrowded or overwhelming like certain capital cities.
5. Ruin Bars
Ruin bars are a slice of niche Hungarian nightlife, replete with worn-down furniture (bringing a whole new meaning to shabby-chic) and funky wall art. Usually there’s live music going on and it’s a great place to knock back a few beers in a completely original setting.
6. Gellert Hill
A strong contender for the best views of Budapest, Gellert Hill is for those sprightly young folk who don’t mind a walk. Might as well reward yourself with a cocktail (or two) afterwards as well.
7. The Terror Museum
It sounds macabre and ominous, and to be honest it’s a little creepy, but it’s definitely a unique and fascinating feature of the city that highlights the effects of Nazi and Soviet regimes throughout Hungary.
8. Heroes Square
A memorial to important national leaders, Heroes Square sits proudly at the end of Andrassy Avenue. Walking up Andrassy Avenue alone and you see the beautifully regal Hungarian architecture.
9. Spoon Café
Why not end your trip to Budapest in style by having goulash and cocktails overlooking the Danube? There’s no finer way to bid farewell to the city.
It wouldn’t be right having a top 10 bucket list without a cake shop recommendation. Attached to The Corinthia Hotel (the muse for film The Grand Budapest Hotel,) is the most idyllic old-fashioned cake shop with the most astounding selection of desserts. All for an incredible price too.
And One Final Top Tip: When arriving at the airport – don’t just hop in any old taxi waiting outside, make sure you go up to the taxis booths and they will order one for you – it’s half the price and you don’t have to wait long either (I sadly learned the hard way.)
Photo courtesy of Moyan Brenn via Flickr