Budapest is one of those cities that people almost never disparage. In fact, most people that have visited Budapest have only good things to say and it regularly appears on “favorite European cities” lists. And what’s not to like? It’s cheap, has surprisingly good food, is dynamic, cosmopolitan, energetic, has beautiful architecture, is full of interesting history, and just has such a variety of things to see and do. The city has two contrasting sides: hilly, leafy, cobblestoned Buda and modern, urban, hip Pest. We stayed (here) in Buda for our four-day visit and we’ll cover this half of the city in our first post.
What better way to welcome yourself to Budapest than a view out over the city from Fisherman’s Bastion, a 19th-century faux fortress topping one of Buda’s hills? This spot offers great views 24 hours a day, but it’s especially picturesque at sunrise and sunset when the golden glow of the sun warms the sight of Parliament across the river. Fisherman’s Bastion shares real estate with Matthias Church, a 14th-century Catholic church whose exterior beauty (check out the roof tiles) is surpassed only by its interior beauty (stunning floor-to-ceiling patterns). It’s well worth the price of admission. The cobblestoned streets behind Matthias Church are worth a wander (or two) for their colorful buildings and undeniable charm—this is the oldest part of the city. Be sure to check out Magma, a shop carrying handmade Hungarian souvenirs and artwork.
Buda Castle, from where Hungary was ruled for hundreds of years, dominates the southeastern portion of the hill. The castle these days is home to Budapest’s History Museum and Hungary’s National Library; we didn’t visit either, but we did spend a lot of time around the castle appreciating both its exterior and the great views. We stumbled on Tóth Árpád sétány, a pedestrian walkway and park that runs along the western edge of the hill, on our first evening wandering around this area. It was especially beautiful this time of year as spring flowers were blooming on the ground and in the trees. We had fun picking out which houses along this promenade we’d like to live in! We finished off our first day with a one-hour nighttime river cruise along the Danube. Budapest really knows how to showcase itself in the evening—everything from buildings and bridges is vividly but tastefully flooded with an orange-yellow glow.
South of Castle Hill lies Gellért Hill, topped by the stone fortress Citadella and majestic Liberty Statue. We climbed up from Liberty Bridge, stopping several times to catch our breath (it’s deceptively steep!) and check the views. After summiting, we hiked down to the Szent Gellért Monument which provides a striking straight-on view of Elisabeth Bridge. Back north on Castle Hill, we made our way to the Hospital in the Rock, which you would easily miss if you weren’t looking for it. The entrance, located on a small street at the base of the hill wall directly below the Tóth Árpád sétány promenade, hides behind it a huge complex of rooms and hallways extending through the rock of the hill. The museum here offers one-tour guided tours of the complex, which was originally used as a secret hospital during the Second World War and then as a nuclear bunker during the Cold War. It was one of the most unique museum experiences we’ve ever had and we really appreciated the message throughout: war is always a tragedy.
We were surprised by how good Hungarian food is. Buda is host to many good restaurants, ranging from budget bistros to top-tier eateries. One of our favorite dinners was from Café Pierrot (grilled goat cheese and beet salad, goulash soup, cottage cheese ravioli with bacon, raspberry cake), a higher-end restaurant housed in a 13th-century bakery with a beautiful grassy courtyard. We drool over that raspberry cake on a nightly basis! Pierrot’s sister restaurant Pest-Buda, which has a lighter vibe, played host for another dinner (goulash soup, pasta with cottage cheese and bacon, apple strudel, and Hungarian nut cake). No visit to Budapest is complete without some serious café hopping, and Ruszwurm Cukrászda is one of the classics; we actually finished off our four-day weekend with a visit (lime cake and cream cake) which made the bitter pill of leaving the city a bit easier to swallow.