After being so charmed by Krakow, I tried to lower my expectations in preparation for our trip to Budapest to avoid disappointment, but there was no need. Walking down the street of the Hungarian capital, Gui declared that it truly was “the Paris of the East,” prompting teasing on my end about which slogan-wielding travel site he read to prepare for our visit. Moving past the cliché, however, I would have to agree with the sentiment. Budapest has a certain kind of magic, of sparkle, of romance, that pervades the city, with a distinctive Eastern European flair. Even if we hadn’t been there celebrating Valentine’s Day, and even if the weather hadn’t been so bright and sunny, I think I still would have been enamored. Here’s how Budapest captured my heart:
Gui and I arrived on yet another bargain Easy Jet flight Saturday afternoon and took a rather long journey via bus and then via metro to our hotel downtown. Those first impressions weren’t so great: The airport is in the middle of nowhere and the drive into the city was not very scenic, not to mention the, err, interesting passengers in our metro car (totally hammered at four in the afternoon?) We checked into our small, spotless room at the Hotel Parlament — which, by the way, has the most fabulous breakfast selection we’ve encountered yet, particularly for vegetarians — and then set off in search of dinner. The most notable part of our meal, aside from the amazing fresh Hungarian farm cheese plate, came when Gui ordered a carafe of wine. We could have comfortably shared the jug that arrived at our table with another couple, but we did our duty and finished it — and somehow made it back safely to our hotel 🙂
Sunday we explored the area near parliament and were quite moved by the pairs of iron shoes lining the Danube in memory of the Hungarian Jews executed on its banks during World War II. Afterward, we saw the changing of the guard in front of parliament — complete with choreographed dancing to lively Hungarian music — and then lined up for our 12pm tour of the ornate interior. Make sure not to walk too close to the sword-wielding soldiers guarding the crown jewels if you don’t want to be reprimanded. Apparently the swords are very sharp and the guards can swing them around at any moment, so they need a certain crowd-free radius.
We had lunch at the delicious Hungarikum Bisztro — I’d recommend making a reservation, as we got the last non-reserved table — where I had a delicious mushroom stew with Hungarian dumplings and Gui burned his tongue off by trying the tiny red Hungarian pepper that accompanied his meal (the waitress warned him, but he was not to be stopped). Afterward, we walked across the Chain Bridge, which was built to connect the cities of Buda and Pest, and then took the funicular up to Castle Hill to explore the grounds. The vantage point provides some lovely views of the city and there is a gorgeous, tiled-roof church that reminded me of the one in Vienna, but my favorite site was undoubtedly the elegant white terrace of Fisherman’s Bastion (see below). We finished out the evening with Hungarian beer at one of the city’s famous ruin bars and then headed to dinner at Vintage Garden — a romantic, candle-lit restaurant with chandeliers and white details that would win any Etsy-lover’s heart. And the food is awesome too.
Monday we spent the morning at the largest synagogue in Europe — it closely resembles a church, inside and out — before heading to the palace-like New York Cafe for fancy shmancy coffee that was still cheaper than a drink at Starbucks in Geneva (!) Afterward, we picked up a sandwich and soup from the tiny Bors GasztroBar (hello, butternut squash deliciousness) and then spent the rest of the afternoon at Széchenyi thermal baths.
The baths were the highlight of the trip for both of us. When you enter the bathhouse, you pay admission and are given a little plastic watch that is used to swipe you in and out of the complex. We changed in a cabin, put our stuff in a locker, and then made a mad dash from the warm interior of the bathhouse into the almost-freezing winter temperatures to experience the balmy outdoor pools. It’s shiver-inducing to be outside in your bathing suit in that weather, but once you submerge yourself in the pool’s steamy water, it’s glorious. Gui was a champ and sent me directly into the water while he arranged our shoes and towels on nearby chairs before rushing into the pool. He braved the cold again shortly afterward to take a few photos that he knew I’d want; thanks Gui!
Pro tip: The outdoor pool that is the farthest away from the bathhouse entrance has much fewer bathers, given that everyone wants to minimize their time in the cold air; if you stay indoors and walk all the way to the end of the bathhouse you can enter that pool with minimal exposure to the cold.
We watched the sunset in the bath with steam all around us before heading back to the hotel to change and celebrate an early Valentine’s Day at Mazi with the best Greek food I’ve had in Europe outside of Greece. Delicious!
We spent our last morning ice skating in City Park to celebrate Valentine’s Day and shared a Hungarian pastry that was very similar to the beloved trdelník that we feasted on in Prague. We returned to Hungarikum Bisztro for our final meal in Budapest before wrapping up another fabulous adventure. Thanks for tagging along!