Budapest was our last stop in Europe as we considered Istanbul to be more middle eastern than European. This was a stop that we were looking forward to as family and friends who had visited the city before, raved about it. I’m always interested to see how I react to cities that people I know love. Sometimes I like the cities that others like, while other times I have the exact opposite reaction. We were pleasantly surprised with the city and enjoyed our time that we spent there.
Even though we relaxed in Brno, we still had some travel fatigue. It worked out well that the weather on our first day was a little cold and rainy. This gave us the opportunity to relax a bit and do the bulk of our sightseeing on our second day.
Getting Around Budapest
When you’re in a different country, you never know how the public transportation is going to be. We were shocked just how great the public transportation in Budapest was.
Benefits of public transportation:
- Minimal cost of 650H or $2.25 for a 24 hour ticket
- The metro system was very extensive
- There were maps and clearly marked signs at every metro station
- Trains ran very regularly
- Trains were very clean
I have to say though, our absolute favorite part of the metro was the escalator. It sounds weird, but hear me out. The metro stations were pretty far below the city. Because of this, you would have to take an escalator quite deep into the ground to get to the platform. Normally this would take a while but not in Budapest. The escalators were FAST! So fast in fact that I was worried I would miss the step when I was getting on it.
The trains looked like they were from the Soviet era, but they were reliable, clean and got us where we needed to go cheaply. The only negative was the loud screeching sound that the train car made when it braked.
Before we did our sightseeing, we pulled up the metro map. It was very easy to read and every place that we were going to visit was close to a metro stop. To save a little extra money, we planned out when we bought our 24 hour ticket so we could also use the same ticket to get to the airport the following morning.
Things We Saw & Did in Budapest
Central Market Hall
The only thing that we did on our first day in Budapest was head to the Central Market Hall. The market is closed on Sunday so had we not gone the day we arrived, we wouldn’t have been able to experience it.
To say that the market was busy would be an understatement. There were cruise ships docked on the Danube and hoards of cruise ship customers were bussed to the market. This meant wall to wall people in narrow hallways. Getting around was extremely difficult as people were browsing and slowly walking by the stalls.
Our goal was to do a quick lap to pick out a Christmas ornament and postcard. Even though it took way longer than we thought, we made our way through the crowds and found what we needed. I’m sure it was overpriced but we figured it was worth it to not have to deal with finding our souvenirs when we were sightseeing.
We decided that our first stop of the day should be the furthest away place. Even though we arrived early, the line for the museum at the Vajdahunyad Castle was quite long. Since we’re not museum people and had a limited time to see the whole city, we decided not to pay the fee to go inside.
We enjoyed walking around the castle grounds, taking pictures of the beautiful flowers and finding a few corners where we could get some pictures without people in the background.
Our next stop was to Heroes Square. This was walking distance from the castle which made it extremely easy to get to. Similar to the market we visited the day before, there were tons of tourist buses around.
There were some monuments in a square which didn’t overly excite either one of us. The best part of the square was the large wooden letters that spelled Budapest. While we both really wanted our picture in front of it, there were just too many people around and we were not comfortable leaving our camera unattended on a tripod that far from us.
Most people don’t realize that Budapest is actually 2 cities, Buda and Pest, which are separated by the Danube river.
The chain bridge began construction in 1839 and was completed in 1849. At the time of construction, it was the second longest bridge in the world and was the first permanent bridge to connect Buda and Pest.
The name “chain bridge” has meaning as the road hangs from iron chains and gives the bridge the ability to sway slightly. The chain is secured not only to the bridge, but also goes through the pillars where they are under the riverbank for additional support. This allows the bridge to make small movements while still staying secure.
For how old the bridge is, the condition is excellent. We enjoyed our walk across it and saw many other tourists taking the same walk.
When you hear the word castle you have a particular style of building in your mind. The Buda Castle is not what I envisioned when I heard the word castle. Instead of an ornate building, there was a nice building which reminded me more of a government building than anything else.
There were views of the city and river from the castle which was nice. After taking in the scenery, we were off to our next stop.
One of the top attractions in Budapest is the Fisherman’s Bastion. It is named the Fisherman’s Bastion as it was protected by fisherman during the middle ages. To me it looked more like a castle than the Buda Castle and reminded me a bit of Cinderella’s castle.
Our favorite thing about the Bastion was that admission was free. I guess that isn’t true, most of the Bastion was free, but there was a fee that you could pay to go to the upper level viewing platforms. The view from the lower level was pretty good. Not only could you see up and down the Danube, but you had a really great view of the Parliament Building.
We saw that there was a small cafe on the upper level. Since there were a lot of people around, we went up to check it out. The view was a little better than the lower level view which was nice. Not surprisingly though but the prices were outrageous; a .5 liter draft beer was going for 6E or $6.75. Like most of the people that were up there, we took some pictures but left without purchasing anything from the cafe.
I was excited to see what the inside looked like but became irritated when I learned that you had to pay an admission fee to go inside. I can see charging for photo passes, or charging a fee to climb the bell tower, but to charge a fee simply to walk inside was a bit crazy.
There weren’t too many people around so we set up our tripod outside the church and got a few pictures of the church in the background.
Walk Along the Danube
After we visited Matthias Church we strolled along the Danube river. The river itself isn’t overly beautiful as it is a brownish color, but it is always nice to be next to water, even if it doesn’t look pristine.
It was a nice, leisurely stroll for us which was peaceful since there were very few people around. I didn’t really think that we would take many pictures, but we ended up taking a bunch as the view of the Parliament building from the ground was quite different from the elevated view that we had seen earlier.
There were boat rides that we could have taken down the Danube, but they were quite expensive and the weather wasn’t ideal.
Most cities have a landmark which is iconic. In Budapest, Parliament is the landmark building. It is absolutely beautiful and extremely ornate. It was fascinating to learn that the building was designed as part of a competition. In 1896, on the 100th anniversary of Hungary, the building was inaugurated and was completed in 1902.
We had seen the building from afar earlier in the day when we were sightseeing on the other side of the river, but were excited to see it up close. After we got off the metro, we took a few pictures outside before heading inside. We saw that there were tours which would have been interesting, but at 5400H or $19 for visitors who are not part of the EU, seemed expensive.
Since there weren’t too many people around, we decided to head back outside and take more pictures before leaving for our next sight.
Shoes on the Danube
One of the sights a friend told us to visit was the Shoes on the Danube. Before we left, we read up about the memorial and learned quite a bit.
During WWII, people were gathered up from the ghetto, forced to strip naked and were shot in the back so their bodies fell into the river for easy disposal. There are 60 pairs of shoes cast in iron on display. The thing that you notice as you look at the shoes are the vast size differences – from small children’s shoes to women’s high heels and men’s shoes.
Even though the memorial was only erected in 2005, I was a bit sad to see that many of the shoes were already starting to rust. As we walked by, we noticed quite a few memorials left by the shoes, from candles to flowers to toys. While I understand the significance of the items left, I wish that things were cleaned up more as dead flowers and burnt out candles, to me at least, took away from the memorial.
As Andy and I sat in a bar drinking some local beers, a fun way to use up our Hungarian currency before we left, we reflected on our time in the city. We both agreed that Budapest exceeded our expectations that we had going in.
It was pretty easy to see everything in the city with the great metro system. Due to the bad weather on our first day we ended up speed sightseeing, hitting the main attractions in 1 day, but it would have been a lot less rushed had we used both of our days to explore.