Colm O’Neill leaves no nook unexplored as he covers all the highlights of the Hungarian capital
Divided by the Danube, the districts of Buda and Pest were combined in 1874 to form what may now be the continent’s most under-appreciated gem. Set into luscious green valleys, Budapest is a city brimming with culture and history. It boasts some of Europe’s most breath-taking architecture, and is home to numerous world heritage sites.
With a relaxed, almost Mediterranean atmosphere, it is easy to forget that Budapest is almost as far east as Warsaw, and with its bitter cold winters, Budapest is definitely a city to be visited in the summer months.
As with most major European cities, the advent of cheap airlines has made getting there easy and affordable. A trip is certainly possible on a tight budget. Finding a decent hostel for a good price is not a problem, with €15 being an average nightly rate, even in the peak months, and though Hungary has been an EU member state since 2004, they have yet to adopt the Euro, which is good news for Irish visitors. A good meal in a nice restaurant should set you back little more than 3,000 forint (€11), while the average cost of a pint of beer ranges from 300 to 500 forint (about €1.10 to €1.80).
Taking a bus tour near the beginning of the trip is a wise decision, as it provides a valuable opportunity to become acquainted with the general layout of the city, and a great chance to learn about its fascinating history, from the birth of the Hungarian nation to the fall of communism.
Hungarian history is equally tragic in its sufferings and inspiring in its triumphs, and if you are in any way interested in modern European history, then visiting Budapest’s House of Terror is a must. Chilling and unforgettable, this museum offers you a tour through Hungary’s communist past, the effects of which are still very much ingrained in the city’s identity.
Though the city offers excellent public transport (including the second oldest underground railway system in the world, after London), this is a city best seen by foot. It’s worth immersing yourself in the city completely; wandering around charming side-streets, bravely trekking the city’s steep hills, and getting completely lost on several occasions.
If there is one part of the city that is truly unmissable, it is the beautiful Castle Hill. Located in Buda, Castle Hill is home to some of the city’s most impressive and important buildings. Getting a cable car up the valley allows you to watch the city emerge and expand before your eyes, and leaves you at the foot of some of the city’s most notable landmarks, including the Fisherman’s Bastion, an incredible white stone terrace built into the valley wall, which looks like something straight out of a fairy-tale, complete with towers and turrets.
Much of your time traversing the city will more than likely be spent crossing the city’s many bridges, which are among the most famous of Budapest’s structures. Perhaps the most notable of these is the incredible Chain Bridge, an iconic and intrinsic element of the city’s composition, comparable to being the Golden Gate Bridge of Budapest, and a very impressive feat of engineering for way back in 1848.
Along with its bridges, it is perhaps the outdoor public baths that are Budapest’s most celebrated feature. Scented, medicinal, icy-cold or piping hot, the various baths are the perfect place to escape from the world and slip into a state of total tranquillity. You’ll be amazed to discover just how quickly searing heat can become absolute bliss, as all your worries slowly float away into the dreamy summer sun.
Dining in Budapest can be a very enjoyable experience, if you look for the right places. Searching for some local cuisine will prove to be a highly rewarding venture. Hungarian cooking is nothing short of delicious and it is never hard to find good value in Budapest.
The vibrant cafe and bar culture is one of the highlights of a stay in Budapest. The open air cafes of the squares and sidewalks are the perfect place to relax over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. Subterranean bars can be found throughout the city, providing a novel atmosphere for a night out.
An interesting and original feature of Budapest’s nightlife is the various ruin bars found around the city. These are old abandoned buildings which have been converted into bars, each with their own unique personality and crowd, and are a must-see for anyone thinking of sampling Budapest’s nightlife. These bars have an exciting underground feel to them, and are a unique way to kick back with a beer is such a friendly and easy-going environment.
People tend to believe that a city can be friendly or unfriendly, with poor old Paris often considered on the negative end of the scale. Budapest is much like any other city in this regard: it is a great melange of the weird and the wonderful, the nasty and the nice. There is no point in trying to present an entire city’s inhabitants as being of one uniform personality. Quite frankly, if that were the case it would be a rather strange and unsettling place to visit.
Budapest offers its tourists with the opportunity to make their trip authentic. The city does not cater for tourists at every corner like its more popular European counterparts. Instead, tourists are left to dip into a culture and society that is nothing but welcoming. It is genuine and that is perhaps the city’s greatest appeal.