What an incredable weekend! I’m exhausted, but it was such an amazing trip and I’m so happy to have seen three new cities in two new countries (take that bucket list)!
I knew that Budapest was called the Paris of the east and in recent years has become a popular travel destination. Other than that, however, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was familiar with the history of the city, but only had a few mental images of the main attractions. Of course, Budapest did not disappoint.
We arrived in Budapest after an overnight bus ride, which maximized our time and gave us an entire day to explore the city. Not my favorite way to travel, but it meant I only had to take one day off work (I’ll sleep when I am dead, right?).
After dumping our luggage at the hotel, we headed to the Jewish Quarter to see The Great Synagogue, which, fun fact, is the second largest synagogue in the world and has been recently restored thanks to a famous Hungarian Jew, Estée Lauder.
I was immediately taken with the architecture of Budapest. Budapest boomed under Hapsburg rule in the 19th century and much of the grandiose and elegant architecture dates from that period.
Andrassy Avenue is a perfect example of Budapest’s late-nineteenth century cultural boom. It’s lined with ornate Renaissance-style mansions, luxury boutiques, fancy cafes, restaurants, and theaters.
The Opera House
After strolling the Champs Élysées of Budapest, we meandered to St. Stephen’s basilica, which is dedicated to the first king of Hungary (and whose mummified right hand is preserved in the church).
Following a quick Starbucks run (next to St. Stephen’s, FYI), we walked through Liberty Square and over to the massive and stunning Parliament building (probably Budapest’s most famous site).
This incredible building boasts over 650 rooms, which made it the world’s largest parliament building in 1902 (when it was completed). Today the Hungarian government only uses a fraction of the building, but they remain very proud of the fact that over 20 pounds of gold was used in its construction and decor.
Behind the parliament and on the banks of the Danube is a somber and touching memorial dedicated to Jewish Hungarians who were executed under Fascist rule during WWII. Many Hungarian Jews were ordered to remove their shoes before they were shot at the water’s edge so that the river would carry the bodies away.
After taking in this powerful memorial, we continued along the river promenade until we reached the Chain Bridge. This bridge, built in 1849 was the first permanent bridge built across the Danube to unite the two cities of Buda and Pest.
From the other side of the river (in Buda) we climbed to the top of the castle complex and took in the amazing panorama of Pest (first picture above). We spent the rest of our day relaxing in the hot thermal baths that Budapest is so famous for.
These baths date from the Budapest’s Turkish period, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire (1541-1686). The water comes from 123 natural hot thermal springs. These waters are considered medicinal and both tourists and locals flock to the baths year round to take in their healing properties. Most of the baths are outside, so when we were there it was a about 30 degrees outside and 80 degrees in the water (there was lots of shrieking as people entered and exited the waters lol).
Locals at the baths
Our day ended with a fabulous buffet of Hungarian delights at Trofea Grill. One word of warning, being vegan in Budapest (and Austria) is not easy and not fun. So yes I cheated a bit… but I am back on the saddle in Florence.
While I liked Budapest, I am not sure if it will make my list of favorite European cities. Perhaps I need more time there to give it a fair chance.
Has anyone else been to Budapest? What did you think?