Budapest…underrated and enchanting. For labor weekend, we decided to visit the capital of Hungary. The capital is really composed of 2 parts. Buda and Pest. They are separated by the Danube River, yet connected by wonderful bridges such as the Chain Bridge.
We were only there for three nights so we had to make it count. The hotel we stayed at was a 5-Star Hotel and had all the luxuries we were expecting and more. It is situated in a prime location with a metro stop on the corner. The hotel is affiliated with Marriott and is inside the spectacular New York Palace. Its impeccable decor is Italian style, including high quality marble and breathtaking chandeliers. A pianist plays in the lobby, adding to the elegant ambiance. Needless to say, we were very impressed.
There was a food event going on that weekend. It was a tasteful coincidence and the food did not disappoint. There was music, booze and delicious street food. We decided on burgers with fries and a cold local hungarian beer. You can see a video of the event here.
We began our day with champagne brunch at the beautiful hotel restaurant. Just being present in this 19th Century Palace makes anyone feel like royalty.
Our first stop after breakfast was the Great Market Hall. This market was built in 1897 and today holds food and souvenir vendors. The first floor is similar to a farmer’s market and you can find all of Hungary’s favorite food products, including their famous sweet and spicy paprikas. The second floor is filled with souvenirs such as handmade lace, wooden figurines, Chess game boards, and much much more. There is also a place to eat Hungary’s local cuisine…such as their delicious goulash and their fried bread known as Langos. There is no debate here…Hungary has one of the best cuisines.
After the market, we crossed the Danube river into Buda and headed to Gellert Hill. This hill offers some of the best panoramic views in Budapest. There are a couple of ways to go up the hill and enjoy the city views. For a fee, you can take the cable car, Funicular Railway, up to the top. Or you can hike up the hill. We were not aware there was a cable car available, so we hiked it up. A little advice…dress accordingly if you wish to hike it.
Once you get to the top of the hill, it is all worth it! The views of Pest and the river are breathtaking! There are vendors on top where you can buy a quick bite and shop for souvenirs. We decided to try the local sausage sandwich and we were not disappointed.
There is an outdoor museum called Memento Park. This park displays the biggest statues of the Cold War. These sculptures were removed after the fall of the communism in Hungary. Since Herbie is the biggest history buff I know, we couldn’t not go see this important historic park. We got a cab to get there from Gellert Hill. We did not pay attention to the surcharge the taxi displayed upon entering the car. The park was 6 miles from Gellert Hill. When we arrived, we were told the total of the cab fare…17,000 Hungarian Forint ($55 dollars)! We got ripped off by the cab driver. Bad. After visiting the sculptures, we decided to take the public bus back to the hotel. It cost us a whopping $1.50 per person. The receptionist at our hotel told us that unfortunately, there is a big problem in Budapest with taxi drivers and the surcharges. Most of them can tell tourists apart from locals and they will charge tourists 3 times more than they should. Lesson learned. For sure.
Budapest is known for its thermal baths. One of the most popular baths are located in the middle of City Park, Szechenyi Thermal Baths. You can get there by metro (Line M1, stop: Szechenyi Furdo). There is a fee to enter ($17-$19 per person, depending on whether you want a locker or a cabin for your property). We paid for a cabin, but could have gone with a locker. You can rent towels there and the lounge chairs are available at no extra cost. The pools are huge and the following services are included with the entrance fee: jacuzzi, whirlpool, pools, saunas, steam chambers. One can easily spend the entire day there.
After we were done splashing and relaxing in the sun, we headed to the House of Terror. I wish I was speaking of a Halloween haunted house. Instead, the reality of the museum is far more sinister. The museum is a memorial for the period during World War 2 and after the war, when the Russians took over. Hungarians survived two terror regimes and this memorial tells the world about it. The metro stop to get here is line M1 and the stop is Vorosmarty Utca.
The Great Synagogue was one of the last places we visited. It is the largest Synagogue in Europe, and the second largest in the world. The details of the Synagogue remind you that it was build in 1850, during the wake of Romanticism. There is a jewish cemetery and also a memorial tree known as the Emanuel tree. This weeping willow is located in the back and each leaf is inscribed with a Hungarian Jew that was killed during the holocaust.
We really enjoyed our long weekend in Budapest. It was informative, breathtaking and delicious. The people were polite and professional. My favorite memory of the entire trip was when we got on the metro on our way to the Thermal baths. We saw two teenage boys with their skateboards on their way to the park. They were speaking hungarian and were so cute together. An older woman came in the metro and one of the boys stood up from his seat to allow her to sit. We observed this and said “his momma taught him right”. The boys’ metro stop was one before ours. When they got off, and the train started going, the same boy that stood up to give his seat to the older woman looked at us through the window and waved at us with a smile so big that it melted our hearts. We loved Budapest and we loved the people.