Budapest, the former Soviet country is now a vibrant central European destination with history, architecture and paprika. We spent 3 days there in February of 2012. Not once during our time in Budapest were we bored. Never did we think of leaving earlier. And rarely were we not Hungary for more, from Budapest! There are plenty of things to do in Budapest.
Well as many already know, is two cities, one called Buda, and one called Pest. You will likely be spending the bulk of your time on the Pest side, as that was where we found the most to do. The Pest side is not without its things to do either,it just depends on what your interested in.
Starting with the Buda side, you'll find the Fisherman's Bastion. This astounding building was erected in the late 1800's, and is hard to miss. It sits on the Danube River, right near the center of town. It stands out at all times of the day. At night it is lit up and makes an excellent view from the Jazz boats on the Danube. During the day tourists stroll throughout each of the towers and stop for a coffee. The view from this area is stunning. It will provide a panoramic view of the city of Budapest.
Another thing to do in Budapest is visiting Hero's Square. The Square itself is one of the most popular in Budapest, and consists of one main column and seven statues. It was constructed in 1900, and has seen Hungary through many turbulent times. Today, the site is visited by thousands of tourists and is recognized as a monument to the people of Hungary who gave their lives for the freedom of others.
We visited Budapest in February. While one might think this is a less desirable time of year to visit, I will disagree. The lines to the various attraction were non-existent. Hoards of tourists did not fill up every corner of every photo I took. We met more locals than we met tourists. In summer, this photo would probably have 100 or more people in it. All excellent reasons why I love shoulder seasons.
The hotels were inexpensive and our particular hotel had an excellent special happening. We got 3 nights at the Mercure for $60 per night. This included two free passes to the Hungarian Day Spa of our choice. I am a true believer in off season tourism for this reason and many more.
You will find Hero's Square at the end of Andrássy Avenue. The Square is a perfect location for us as it is near or on the the way to several other things to do in Budapest. Surrounding Hero's Square you'll find the Museum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle.
After visiting the are around Hero's Square you can easily head to the nearest and oldest spa in Europe, called Széchenyi. It is located in the park behind Hero's Square. The spa in Budapest can easily last the better part of an afternoon. Take your time here. Appreciate the 100+ year old history of this bath. Bask in the age old architecture. Enjoy Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
It's like two amazing examples of architecture are having a staring contest across the Danube. Almost directly across from the Fisherman's Bastion is the Parliament Building. This is the largest building in Hungary, and houses many artifacts which are a time line of Hungarian history. Here you will find the Holy Crown of Hungary, historical statues, pictures and paintings.
The Terror House was by far the most captivating World War II Museum we have seen in Europe. It is an actual house used by the Secret Police as they held, tortured and murdered the citizens of Hungary. It is a very sad thing to go through, but it is a necessary experience of you want to understand the country and its history.
Each section inside the terror house is like a stand alone exhibit which engulfs the visitor. It uses all of your senses, and brings you inside history. An outsider like myself can only imagine the hardships that the people of Hungary went through, and the Terror Museum will help you do that.
The Terror House unfortunately does not get half the attention it deserves in the Lonely Planet Guidebook we were using. Only after listening to a podcast from Rick Steve's did we understand how important this living memorial is and decide to visit the building.
Getting around in Budapest is fairly easy. Upon arriving to this once foreign land, we came into the train station. I will say I wasn't completely comfortable walking around obviously feeling like a mark. We were told more than once in various Hungary guidebooks that this was an area known for pickpockets.
We were going to get right into the subway, but did not have any clue how it worked, nor did we feel like asking around. After 20 minutes struggling to understand the subway system, we decided on getting a cab. There is always an expectation when taking a cab in a country that feels "rippy-offy". I always assume I am going to get driven around to places I need not be going. This would not be one of those places.
We found ourselves using the subway for the rest of the trip. It actually isn't a hard subway system to figure out. It was more a combination of my impatience and irrational fear that paid for that taxi. Oh well. It was my birthday weekend. I can't complain.
This three day weekend we spent in Budapest would not soon be forgotten. I myself wondered what things are there to do in Budapest, but upon arrival my question was soon answered. It was only the second night, walking back from a great night of Hungarian food, beer and mulled wine, that was when I realized that I have a lot of time for Hungary. If your "things to do" include museums, history, café's, and architecture, than Budapest has plenty to keep you busy. .
My personal pick for anywhere in Europe is Rick Steve, and Rick Steves' Budapest. To tell the truth, I was never a fan of Rick, that was until I started listening to the podcast of his weekly radio show. It was this show which tipped me onto a couple things in Budapest and Central Europe that I would have never found on my own. Thanks Rick!
Find out what else I got up to during my weekend in Budapest. Hint: Drinking
The world is too amazing not to share.