Our first true introduction to Budapest was in an episode of No Reservations. Anthony Bourdain’s rendition of Budapest was dark, gritty, and rough around the edges. After seeing this, we weren’t super excited about the third stop on our trip. However, friends encouraged us to go and we were constantly being told that it is a favorite among its visitors.
Reluctantly, we left beautiful, pristine Vienna for Budapest.
Well, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Just as Bourdain suggested, Budapest IS gritty. It is gritty in that it is a dynamic city with a dark past, moving forward not by trying to forget its past, but rather by trying to celebrate it and show the resilience of a place and a people.
Budapest is a stunning city, split in two halves (Buda and Pest) by the Danube.
While cities like Vienna maintained much of their original architecture through World War 2, Hitler saw no arts, culture, or anything worth saving in Budapest, and the city was all but destroyed during the war. After World War 2, Budapest was again destroyed under Communist rule, which had emerged with a promise to protect the city and it’s people.
The history of Budapest is grim. The people of Budapest have survived two massive attacks on their lives, culture, and country, both during the Holocaust and during the Communist rule. Budapest doesn’t shy away from discussing and exposing the terrible things that have taken place there.
To truly see Budapest, you have to be open to learning about its history. As beautiful a city as it is, you don’t get a full grasp on it without understanding where it came from.
We stayed at a super hip little AirBnb that was relatively centrally located. It even had a golden grand piano (anyone?)!
Perhaps the coolest thing about our AirBnb is that it was right around the corner from the best restaurant we have ever eaten at. We ate there every single day. Sometimes twice a day. We regret nothing. It is called Meatology and I stupidly never got a picture of our food (probably too busy devouring it), so you will just have to go there and try it for yourself!
Another food stand out was the traditional Hungarian Goulash, which we got from the Street Food Karavan Budapest at a food cart called Nyakleves. It was out of this world!
Budapest was full of heavy walking days, as there was so much to see! We walking upwards of 20 miles both full days in Budapest!
One of the most concentrated sightseeing areas is on the Buda Castle District side. At the top of the hill, accessible by the Funicular, you will find Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, Buda Castle, and the Labyrinth (an A+ tourist attraction).
Fisherman’s Bastion is a sandcastle-looking terrace that was constructed between 1895 and 1902 and was later reconstructed after it was destroyed in WW2.
Directly beside Fisherman’s Bastion is the beautiful Matthias Church. While the original church was built in1015, nothing remains of the original structure. The church has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, with the most current iteration being from 1873-1876.
We would strongly suggest stopping the courtyard outside Matthias Church to grab a drink or bite to eat. The view was absolutely unparalleled.
Also at the top of the hill is the Labyrinth, a super touristy and super fun underground museum dedicated to Count Dracula. The underground tunnels are where Vlad Tepes, ie. Dracula, was imprisoned for terrible and gruesome crimes against the people of Budapest. There is a really fun maze that is completely dark and actually pretty spooky! The Labyrinth is probably the most “touristy” thing we did on the whole trip, but for two people who love the spooky and morbid, it was worth every penny.
Before you head back down the hill, be sure to wander around and check out some of the beautiful statues and hidden, winding streets of Buda.
Back on the Pest side of the river, you can’t miss the Hungarian Parliament Building.
To the naked eye, the Parliament Building is just a beautiful, lavish government building. But venture a bit further in to the Parliament Square and you can really dig in to history of the building. Hidden down an unassuming stairwell in front of the Parliament building is the 1956 Underground Museum. The museum gathers interviews and artifacts from the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against Soviet policies. The uprising was a tragic murder of over 700 Hungarian people. The museum was absolutely fascinating and one of the highlights of the trip.
Close by you can also see the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a memorial to honor the Jewish people of Budapest who were murdered alongside the river during WW2. It is an incredibly moving memorial and a must see.
Beyond the history of Budapest, the city is known for a great and unique nightlife. On most peoples’ to-do list are the Ruin Bars. As the name indicates, these bars are tucked away in ruins of buildings that were destroyed during the war.
The Ruin Bars are mazes of tucked away rooms and staircases that seem to have a surprise around every corner. Though we aren’t huge night life people, the Ruin Bars are phenomenal!
We also happened to be in Budapest during their Spring Festival. We had an amazing evening sitting outside, listening to live music, and drinking beers with the locals.
Before heading out our final morning, we visited one of the famous Budapest thermal baths. Unfortunately we were a bit pressed for time to get to the airport, so we didn’t get as much time as we would have hoped.
We decided to visit the Gellert Baths, which we were told were the most beautiful of the baths and much less crowded than some of the more popular, central options. I wasn’t able to get any pictures inside, but it was truly an amazing, relaxing place. Be sure to visit at least one bath (and give yourself more than 2 hours!) during your trip to Budapest!
Budapest is, for lack of any better word, extraordinary. We talk almost daily about how much we want to go back, and Budapest is definitely on our list of places that we want to spend extended time between contracts.
Of all the places I have visited in the world, Budapest is one I would go back to again and again. I will be bold and say that, if you make it to any European city, make it Budapest.
And our last stop…