I can’t say I’d ever wanted to travel to Budapest prior to my best friend emailing me one morning and asking me if I fancied a two night trip. Obviously I wanted to go – why the hell not? But the closest I’d got to Budapest at this point was listening to the George Ezra song (which, ironically he wrote because he never actually made it to Budapest on his travels!) – I can’t believe how little I knew of this wonderful place and what it has to offer tourists.
The first and most important piece of advice I can give you is plan your trip to your best ability. There is so much to see and do, it can be overwhelming, especially if you are only travelling for a period of 56 hours! But if you can fill your time wisely, you will take so much from visiting Budapest.
I highly recommend the Berlitz Pocket Guide to Budapest, which comes with a handy pull out map. Not only does it offer key insights and the best of what to see, but it also breaks it down into periods of time, providing options on the best things to do, within certain time frames.
We arrived early morning and made our way to the hotel. Luckily our room was ready, so we were able to drop our suitcases off and go out exploring. I already knew from the Berlitz guide what I was eager to see! It is certainly advisable to speak to your reception desk before you set off onto the streets. Ours were so helpful in that we asked them where the central area was, and they drew the route we should take on the map, marking clearly any areas to be avoided. Whilst this can be restrictive, I am not overly seasoned in European city travel, so this was extremely reassuring and also meant we could take the best route to maximise our time at each attraction without accidentally veering into the unknown.
A point worth noting here is the taxi service from the airport. As soon as we hit the arrivals area we were bombarded by plain clothes men asking if we wanted lifts. Obviously, as I wouldn’t do this at Heathrow or Gatwick, for example, I made sure we headed outside to find the official airport taxi booking desk, and I am SO glad we did. They ran a fantastic service whereby you queue and tell them where you are going, they print a receipt with the allocated taxi number on it, and the price we would be expected to pay clearly displayed to avoid any confusion or nasty shocks. Seconds later, said taxi with matching number arrived, and we were on our way! We took the gentleman’s card and pre-booked our return as soon as we arrived at the hotel. Be careful with taxis – they use yellow cabs, however this does not necessarily mean that all yellow cars displaying a Taxi sign are in any way associated with the main companies such as Fotaxi, which is the company we used and would recommend. Never flag a taxi down off the street and always pre-agree the price. I’ve read some awful stories and reviews where tourists have been conned and even beaten by their driver – as you would anywhere else – exercise caution. Taxi Information Here
Budapest is landlocked, dissected by the River Danube which flows through the center, distinguishing the areas of Buda, and of Pest, linked by the beautiful Chain Bridge. Unbeknownst to me (shock horror), Buda and Pest were actually two separate areas, united in 1873 with nearby Oduba to become Budapest, the dual capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – (luckily for me this was ad rem to my university studies, as I was working on a module about Franz Joseph and the Dual Monarchy).
We stayed in Pest, the flat area, and traveled across the several bridges to Buda on our sightseeing tour. There is lots to see in both areas, it just so happened that the majority of what we did during our stay was in Pest.
I could write for days about the culture in Budapest, but for the purposes of simplicity, I am going to restrict myself to the following, which impacted upon me:
Be alert when dealing with locals. Whilst many are so friendly, they can be quite curt, not wanting to deal with tourists or tourism – we were singled out on more than one occasion for being British. Another point to note here is LEARN SOME PHRASES! This is not Spain or mainland Europe – no road signs or indicators are translated into English underneath – EVERYTHING is in Hungarian. You may be met with blank faces should you not learn the basics. We certainly found that by learning at the very least, Hello, Goodbye and Please and Thank You, that we received a better reception. Hello = Szvervusz /How are you? = Hogy Van?/ Thank you = Köszönöm.
The Hungarian peoples have a rich and diverse history, fraught with political change, war, invasion and time spent under communist rule, so it is no wonder that they are a proud, self-preserving people, reminded daily of their history, such as the uprising against Stalinism in 1956 by the bullet holes in the walls. But, by learning about the history in advance, the culture made far more sense and we were able to not take it personally! They are Magyars after all! A detailed timeline of important historical events in Budapest from the Honorary Consulate of Hungary, can be found here Budapest Timeline
Do NOT buy Euros before you travel or when you are there. Many people are unaware that there is a far better exchange rate if you use Hungary’s own currency of the Forint – everything priced in Euros was far more expensive when converted than when paid in Hungarian Forints. For reference, we paid 5000 Forints for 2 main meals, 2 alcholic drinks and 2 diet cokes, the equivalent of around £15, in Pest.
Make the most of your time there! Sunday AM-PM: Arrive at hotel/ took directions from reception/ wandered into Pest and grabbed a Planet Hollywood lunch. After milling around shopping for a few hours we made our way back to the hotel and had something to eat and drink.
Monday AM: Woke up early, took breakfast in the hotel and walked to Buadpest Zoo & Botanical Gardens – this is a wonderful zoo, and unlike many British zoos there are more open areas for you to interact with the animals. Budapest Zoo & Botanical Gardens Website We paid 2800 Forints for an adult ticket, which is the equivalent of about £8.20 – not bad for a morning out!
Tuesday PM: As we were already in City Park, we headed over to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath – thermal baths are huge in Budapest, offering a relaxing environment to mingle with the locals, take a drink from the bar and have a sit in the outdoor pool – outside it was THE most amazing experience, being sat in a 40 degree heated pool in the middle of February surrounded by elderly Hungarian men playing chess on the static boards – it truly was a beautiful sight, and one to behold! A few tips – take flipflops, a towel and a robe if possible – hire charges are applicable and flip flops will come in handy when wandering from the inside baths out. Also, definitely lock your possessions in one of the available lockers – pick one, pop you stuff in and signal an attendant who will lock it and take your name down for reference – it can be tempting to leave items by the poolside, but it is very busy and you cannot keep an eye out. We paid 5400Ft, the equivalent of approx. £15.80, to use the pools – as mentioned robe hire etc. is extra, but this price allows you entry for the day and the use of ALL the pools – take your pick! For those more luxurious travellers, there is a Spa offering a range of treatments, and as mentioned, food and drink can be purchased on site. Széchenyi Baths Website
We stayed for approximately 4 hours for a little R&R, and afterwards decided we needed a rest from our rest, so we jumped on the Big Bus Budapest, and we are SO glad we did. Not only is it a hop on/ hop off service, but we were provided with headphones to enjoy the history as we passed by the sites such as the Chain Bridge, St Stephen’s Basilica, Parliament, Heroes Square – which is just SO incredible to stand within, and other historical buildings such as the Danubius Hotel Astoria, preserved as it best can be with its original 1914 decor – and the many areas used as movie sets throughout the city.
As we were so short on time, jumping on the Bus was a real blessing as it gave us the opportunity to rest after a busy morning, but allowed us to take in the sites also – we would never have seen all we did had we not bought are tickets, and the pricing is so reasonable; we paid 5500Ft (roughly £16.00) for our day ticket which included the headphones and guided tour, and free wifi on the Bus. Monday Evening: Grabbed a Starbucks, wandered around Pest to grab some souvenirs, and took dinner in the hotel.
Tuesday AM: Flew home.
View From the Big Bus TourI know myself I will need to take another trip to Budapest, as there is so much more to see, such as: Parliament (if you are a member of the European Union you are allowed free entry on non-meet days), the Funicular Railway which takes you to Budapest Castle and offers breathtaking views across the city and the many art galleries scattered throughout.
Budapest is truly a beautiful city, with strong local heritage and wonderful attractions – just make sure you plan well to try and do as much as possible as there is so much to do! Oh .. and if you can … try the chimney cake (Kürtőskalács) – they’re huge!
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