Go back centuries in Budapest - and up to the Buda Castle, a highlight of the skyline and of Hungarian history. Though it became a palace and no longer houses royalty, remnants of the castle are still there as well as the iconic Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion. Do not be intimidated by the size of the Castle area's size. All of these places are easy to visit together. More importantly, all of these places offer incredible views of the city from inside and even just from outside, especially at night (though keep in mind that you cannot go inside of the church after 5 PM). At night, all of the Castle Hill area, the huge Parliament building, St. Stephen's Basilica, and all the bridges crossing the Danube River are lit up in golden lights. Bus Route 16, the Red Metro Line 2, and the Castle Hill Funicular Cable Car can take you to the entire area both during the day and at night easily (if you don't want to walk there on foot). The Cable Car is visible from the Buda side of the often photographed Chain Bridge.
Back on the ground floor of the city, jump ahead to more recent centuries in Hungarian history. As hard as it is to believe seeing Budapest today, Hungary was once under Nazi occupation and then behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union's spread of communism. This dark time in their history is preserved through museums and monuments. One of which could go nearly unnoticed if you're not looking for it: the Shoes on the Danube Bank. It commemorates people who were told to remove their shoes before being shot into the Danube by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944 and 1945. The memorial has no flashy signs and is almost overshadowed by the Parliament building located slightly further up on the river, but its simplicity is what makes it so moving. For more on the Arrow Cross, Nazi and Soviet occupation, visit the Terror House museum, which is very affordable and one can visit as quickly or as slowly as desired.
As I mentioned, Hungary has some different historical influences than countries to its north. The Ottoman Turks once owned the area. Popular parts of Turkish culture are bath houses. There are multiple natural spa areas in Budapest. The biggest one is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. It is located right by Hero's Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, and City Park Ice Rink, in a park area from the Yellow Metro Line 1. The bath only costs around $20-$25 dollars to relax and experience the feelings of Roman and Turkish bath houses.
Transportation Tips: Buy a public transportation pass for the amount of time that you'll be visiting. You can buy them at bus stops, including the one right at the main train station. You must show your pass to monitors in the metro stations. And keep in mind: Budapest does not have Ubers.
- Free Walking Tours! They meet at various parts of the city (but it's nice to tip the tour guides).
- Don't say 'thank you' to waiters/waitresses when you pay in cash unless you want them to keep the change.
- Budget with hostels or Airbnbs. Maverick City Lodge hostel is affordable, clean, and is in a perfect location.
- Budapest looks beautiful in snow, which also makes for a more unique visit to the thermal spas. Budapest has cold winters and hot summers.
- Book tickets to go inside of the Parliament building in advance as they can be sold out. If you cannot get a ticket, go up close to the building anyway. It is one of the most majestic structures that I've seen in Europe thus far.
- Mind the currency conversion rate. Around 250 Hungarian forints equals 1 US dollar (this may fluctuate). Something that costs 600 forints is only a few US dollars. Take that into account at ATMs and at currency conversion services.
|Fisherman's Bastion with a statue of Saint Stephen|
|Parliament as seen from Fisherman's Bastion|
|St. Stephen's Basilica|
|Shoes on the Danube Bank - the Danube divides the Buda side of the city from the Pest side|