Coming from Canada, where just flying to the next big city will cost you hundreds of dollars, I was ecstatic to be able to book a return flight from Copenhagen for 35€. I was also fortunate enough to have the added experience of being shown around the city by a local. I was the most excited about visiting the city’s Christmas Markets (you can read about those in more detail in my previous post here), but since it was my first time in Budapest, I was also eager to check out all of the main sights. I only had two full days and one morning to see as much as possible, so I made the most of my time.
I started my visit at the city’s most famous location – the imposing Parliament building. It’s one of those places you see photos of so often that it’s a bit surreal to be standing in front of it. The Parliament sits on the shores of the Danube, is guarded by uniformed soldiers, and sees the historic yellow trams continually zipping by, so it’s a great place to take some fantastic photos.
From the Parliament, we walked along the famed Danube River, taking in the views of the bridges, passing boats, and Buda Castle perched high above the city on the opposite bank. Along the shore is a stirring memorial to the murdered Jews of World War Two – casts of shoes of all sizes left behind by those killed on this very riverbank.
Crossing the Danube over the Chain Bridge, we avoided the touristic funicular and took a set of escalators up the hillside to Buda Castle, a World Heritage site and former palace of Hungarian Kings. We strolled the grounds, then continued along the small, shop-lined street connecting the castle to Fisherman’s Bastion, a neo-Gothic style viewing platform built in 1905. It’s a beautiful stone structure of archways, carvings, and statues and the ideal viewpoint for views of the Parliament. The bastion and the views together, along with the neighbouring Matthias Church, and the handcrafted wares being sold, make for another picture-perfect location. I snapped my favourite photos of my trip here.
In the evening, we strolled the main Christmas Market in Vörösmarty Square, then headed to one of my friend’s favourite spots, Vintage Garden, to warm up. I had seen her Facebook posts featuring their incredible hot chocolate and was eager to try it for myself. I ordered milk chocolate with salted caramel and my friend had a white chocolate with strawberry, and I also tried a mango-coconut-mascarpone dessert. Everything was delicious, and like most things is Budapest, really affordable.
We hopped on one of the distinctive trams and headed for Hősök tere (Heroes Square), an impressive monument to the seven founders of Hungary and other national leaders, as well as to the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for freedom and national independence.
From there, it was just a short walk to Vajdahunyad Castle. This striking castle looks like it dates back to Medieval times and was the residence of an ancient noble family, but in reality it is only about 100 years old and was built for the 1896 Millennium Expo. It was meant to display the various types of architecture used on the most beautiful buildings in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As such, it’s a mix of a architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance. It was originally made of wood and cardboard, but the people loved it so much that it was made a permanent structure after the Expo. It’s easy to see why – the castle is beautiful and the grounds charming, with a courtyard, chapel with cloisters, and statues.
We walked on, to the famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths, the largest thermal baths in Europe, which are heated by natural thermal springs. As a water lover, the baths are something I’d been eager to experience, but since I was pregnant at the time, it wasn’t possible. It was disappointing, but also meant more time to see other things, since once I went in there, I might have been tempted to stay! I had to make do with a little wander around the building, taking in the atmosphere and the water-themed frescoes on the ceilings.
We then took the subway (the oldest one in continental Europe!) to St Stephens Cathedral to check out the Christmas Market. The huge cathedral is gorgeous inside, and free to enter, and the Market out front was smaller and less touristic than the one at Vörösmarty Square. After a nice browse around, we headed to Auguszt Cukrászda, a historic dessert shop founded in 1870. Here I warmed up with a honey latte and a slice of dobos, a Hungarian cake with chocolate and caramel.
On my final day in Budapest, I had only the morning to spend before heading to the airport for my afternoon flight. I had the perfect amount of time left to visit Nagycsarnok – the Great Market Hall, which dates back to 1897. With every new city I visit, I seek out the local market – I’ve even been known to visit a city just for the market (I’m looking at you, Rotterdam), and this one didn’t disappoint. The building itself is charming, and the ground floor is filled with amazing produce, salamis, pickles, local wines, and spices, including lots and lots of paprika.
The upper floor is filled with all the souvenirs any traveller can handle, as well as food kiosks serving up local fare. It was here we enjoyed my favourite Hungarian food – lángos, a delicious fried bread. There are all sorts of toppings to choose from, but I love the garlic cream, onion and grated cheese. Yes, it gives you terrible breath, but it is so worth it!
It was time to go. I crossed the street to the end of the Liberty Bridge, overlooking the Danube. There was a shroud of morning mist hanging over the water, with rays of sunshine beaming through – it was the perfect scene to take in my last moments in this beautiful city.