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Budapest has the perfect balance of both Central and Eastern Europe that makes it unique, intriguing and always leave me wanting to return.
During our 5 week trip through Europe last summer, we used Budapest and Vienna as transitional stops between the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. The first time we visited was in late January, so the city was overcome with grey, the trees were bare and it rained a whole lot. So when we returned in the height of summer, it was like seeing it for the first time all over again.
We stayed in an incredible AirBnB on the popular shopping street Váci u. We were less than a minute from the incredible Liberty Bridge, which was closed for the duration of our stay and meant on the sunny days of our stay there were tons of people just relaxing and drinking and enjoying the weekend on it. We also had a metro and tram stop even closer to us than the bridge for travelling into Pest as well as plenty of restaurants and supermarkets.
After arriving in the late afternoon of a Friday from Venice we decided to have a nap and get ready at our apartment before heading out. We had booked a night time river cruise with Budapest River Cruise for €14 each. The price included a 1.5 hour boat trip along the Danube, a free welcome drink and free entry to A38 – a bar on the water. Having had a few experiences of booze cruises back in my fun days I was sort of dreading it the boat, expecting it to be full of cheesy games and bad techno music but I was more than pleasantly surprised. There’s plenty of companies to book with, and if you walk along the riverside on the Pest side of the Danube then you’ll be bombarded with flyers and questions about if you’ve booked one yet. Alternatively, there are more relaxed day cruises on which you can either just relax, have a meal or have some drinks.
After a late night we set out the next day around noon across the Liberty Bridge which could take us directly across to the park that led to Gellért Hill. The walk to the peak was a little confusing, but nonetheless painless. After incredible sunny weather the day before, we were faced with the very likely prospect of rain. The views on the walk up to the peak, where the huge Liberty Statue stands, were absolutely incredible and give panoramic views of the entire Pest side of the city. When we reached the peak, there were market food, drink and clothes stalls set up and tourists everywhere. Just as we got there the rain, thunder and lightning began – and it didn’t stop. We were beyond soaked through as we walked back down the opposite side of the hill, and then along the Danube. Just as we reached the Liberty Bridge beside our apartment the rain stopped dead, so we grabbed a Burger King and headed up to change clothes and dry off.
In the early evening we headed out with some beers to watch the sunset at Fisherman’s Bastion. We walked alongside the Danube with some beers and looked around Buda Castle, as last time we visited it was pouring with rain and, to see it in a different light. Like Gellért Hill, the Bastion is across the river in Buda and gives incredible views of Pest from high up. It’s closer to the Hungarian Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica, and so is a perfect vantage point for keen photographers. Just as we arrived it was starting to get pretty busy, but we still managed to get an incredible view of the city. When things started to get too crowded we ventured further into Old Buda, wandering through the empty streets and seeing an entirely new style of architecture from both Buda and Pest.
On our third and final day in the city we chose to see more of the Pest side of the river. Like we did the first time, we had lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. It sits on the corner at the very end of the street we stayed on, but we walked along the riverside to see the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. We decided to go back there mainly for old time’s sake but also because it had been a while since we’d indulged in a relatively expensive meal after backpacking for so long. There’s plenty of shops around – mainly high street stores – and bars and restaurants. Meals in and around this area are slightly more expensive than on the peripheral streets, so if you’re on a strict budget it’s worth venturing a little further out. For more upmarket streets, Andrássy Avenue is where you want to be heading.
From Hard Rock, we walked towards St. Stephen’s Basilica in the opposite direction of the Danube. The basilica itself is quite remarkable, a grand Neoclassical structure that both contrasts and compliments the surrounding architecture. On one side of the square it stands on are opulent, heavily engraved buildings in a similar style and on the opposite stands a quite stark, grey concrete building that seems so very out of place in its grand setting. There’s an incredible wine bar directly across from the basilica named DiVino Wine Bar, which has a seemingly endless collection of wines for all price brackets. The street connecting the Basilica to the riverfront is packed with bars, restaurants and hotels.
Just walking around Pest is incredible. It has incredible architecture, great shopping and so many wonderful bars and restaurants. The Hungarian Parliament dominates the city’s waterfront and is an absolute feat of architecture. It is just as beautiful in daylight as it is at night, when it is drenched in the most glorious lighting. To really get a grasp of the scale of the building, you can walk all the way around it to see the grand facade and the back which faces onto a beautiful green, monuments and even more wonderful buildings. Each of the bridges is so impressive, particularly the Chain, Elisabeth and Liberty which all follow one another along the river.
We still have so much to do in see in this city; the Thermal Baths and Freedom Square to name a few. I feel like every time we visit, we deliberately take our time because we enjoy being in the city so much we always want an excuse to return. I must admit that although it was much quieter during our winter visit, although to be able to walk around and not be shivering and wanting to hide from the cold was wonderful. An incredible city with so much to offer. A must if you’re thinking of a trip to Eastern Europe, and you can check out the incredible deals offered across this part of the continent through Gil Travel’s website – click here to find out more.