|Budapest has for a long time been on our list of places to visit and we finally made it there last November. Budapest is really two cities in one divided down its centre by the Danube river with Buda to the west and Pest to the east. The historical part of Budapest is Buda, built on a hilly area where many of the streets are cobbled. Here you will find the Museum of Military History, the Museum of Ecclesiastical Art, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum together with the Royal Palace, the Magdalen Tower, Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Citadella and the Independence Monument.
Pest is the cosmopolitan and commercial area of Budapest which will most likely be the first part you see as the main railway station (nyugati pályaudvar) is located in the north of the area. Budapest Ferihegy International Airport, which is 10 miles outside of Budapest, is where we flew into. It may be that you will have transfers arranged to your hotel from the airport but we opted to use the railway as we knew it was only a few minutes walk from the airport terminal and at the other end just a few minutes walk to our hotel. Although the trains are old and rather scruffy at least the fares are cheap. It cost us just 320 HUF, in the region of £1.08 each for the one way journey.
Our hotel, the Marmara, was chosen because of its ideal location close to the station and all the sites we wanted to see. We feel the best way to see any town is to walk everywhere and as soon as we arrived we dumped our cases in our room and headed off towards the banks of the Danube. It was just getting dark and the town was starting to come alive and luckily, the weather was on our side. Our first walk took us down the east side of the Danube to Parliament House and then on to the chain bridge. Across the other side of the Danube we could see the floodlit Fisherman’s Bastion and Hungarian National Gallery.
We were lucky to visit Budapest whilst the very colourful Christmas Market was on in the Vörösmarty square (GPS coords 47.496635,19.050617). The quality of the craftsmanship of everything on sale here is exceptional, from pottery and jewellery to hand made sweets and traditional hot food which can be bought and taken to a central area with covered tables and bench seats to be eaten. We had leg of goose with spiced potatoes washed down with a mug of hot mulled wine, all for about £12.
Vörösmarty square is at the northern end of Váci utca, probably one of the most famous streets in Budapest. It is where you will find all the upmarket and designer shops which are mainly there to cater for the tourists. Having said that, we couldn’t help notice how the Hungarians, particularly the young, seem to love their fashion and how up to date and positively chic many of them are.
As I have already said, you tend to see more if you walk most places, but there is a good network of trams to whisk you around at a faster pace and these are also a very cheap form of transport. You need to buy your tickets before hand and these are available from ticket offices all over Budapest. Our nearest one was in the subway just outside of the main railway station. There are also many boats on which you can cruise up the Danube and have a meal or just a drink. Your hotel will have leaflets from all the cruise companies and will also be able to give advice on which ones may be best.
We wanted to have an evening meal in a typical Hungarian restaurant which also had live traditional music and dancing. After taking advice from people in a few bars we stopped at for refreshments we decided on the Mátyás Pince. Opened in 1904, the restaurant is in the vaulted cellars of the building. The room is full of renaissance carved furniture with traditional paintings and lead glass windows. The food there is excellent, if a little expensive but then you do get the full Hungarian folk music and dance experience, although make a note that the dancing only takes place on a Wednesday and Thursday. One thing to bear in mind when you are checking out the prices of the meals in restaurants is that a 10% tip will automatically be added to the total of your bill, regardless of whether you are happy with the service or not.
Just a quick note about our hotel the Marmara. It’s a new hotel having opened in early 2009. The rooms were clean and smart with flat screen tv, mini bar and air con. There were films and internet available but these cost 7500HUF at the time for the period of your stay. Free wifi internet was available in communal areas. Breakfast was very good with a wide selection to choose from. All the staff were very friendly and helpful.
Budapest has a lot to offer tourists and one could easily fill a two week vacation and still leave you wanting to return to explore the surrounding countryside and villages such as Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom on the Danube bend. Outside the town in these pretty villages life takes on a slower pace and would be ideal places for you to unwind. We will definitely be returning to explore the areas further up the Danube.