Balkan Adventure Stop 1: Budapest

Budapest Fast Facts

  • Country: Hungary
  • Official language: Hungarian
  • Currency: Hungarian Forint
  • Population: approx. 1.76 million
  • Famous for: paprika, goulash, Rubik’s Cube, thermal baths
  • Fun fact: the Hungarian capital is the result of a merger in 1873 of two distinct cities, Buda and Pest, which flank the River Danube.
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View over the Danube (ft. Chain Bridge) from Castle Hill

Day 1
Budapest (pronounced boo-da-pesht)… what a city! And what a beautiful place to begin our Balkan adventure. I’d love to say that Laura and I arrived in Budapest bright-eyed and bushy tailed, but it’s safe to say we were looking rather dishevelled after 24 hours of travelling – especially as being seated directly next to the toilet on the 13 hour Adelaide to Dubai flight was not conducive to restful sleep.

After disembarking we were immediately struck by how warm it was (turns out it was bloody hot and humid, even by Australian standards) and, naturally, the airport didn’t have air-conditioning. After waiting for close to an hour in a chaotic mass of sweating bodies to get through customs, we got our luggage, found the guy holding our surname on a whiteboard (such a thrill!) and were driven to our accommodation at the Maverick Hostel & Ensuites, on the Pest side of the river.

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The lovely entrance to the Maverick Hostel & Ensuites

We dumped our belongings in our room, had a refreshing cold shower, and prepared to explore the city. Little did we know that the region was experiencing its longest and most intense heatwave (nicknamed Lucifer) for over a century, with temperatures well over 40°C for our entire time there (see below, Budapest was in the red “very dangerous, threat to life” category!)

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Image: The Guardian

Still bleary eyed and fuzzy headed, we set out in the intense afternoon sun and walked the kilometre or so to the magnificent St Stephen’s Basilica. It took us much longer than expected because the combination of our jetlag and the lack of signage made finding it far more difficult than it should have been. Fortunately, a friendly local was more than happy to point us in the right direction.

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St Stephen’s Basilica
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St Stephen’s Basilica

We took in the sights of the Cathedral (and enjoyed the brief reprieve from the sun) before partaking in one of Budapest’s specialties, gelato from Gelarto Rosa, in the street in front of the Basilica.

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Delicious gelato roses from ‘Gelarto Rosa’ (Raspberry & strawberry + elderflower for me & raspberry x2 for Laura)

We wandered back to our hotel via a pool to cool off our poor sore and swollen feet and a quick gawk at the enormous Great Synagogue (biggest in Europe… too big for a good photo!!) and after a nutritious dinner of Chicken Crimpies, went to sleep.

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A lovely place to cool off on a very hot afternoon

Day 2
Woke up at 5am after a pretty average night of sleep (no air-conditioning in those temperatures takes its toll!) Went to the supermarket next-door and ate our bananas and pastries on the street as it was cooler than inside our room.

Walked through Pest, past countless gorgeous buildings until we reached the Great Market Hall.

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The Great Market Hall

We had a lovely time browsing the stalls; incredible fresh produce on the ground floor and then souvenirs and local food specialties on the upper floor. We bought some souvenirs for friends and family, tried some lángos (a local street food kind of like a savoury deep fried pancake, good with cheese and sour cream) and some beautiful fresh berries.

Walked back to our hotel and checked out. Caught a taxi to our first Topdeck accommodation, the Mercure Hotel, on the Buda side of the city. Caught the metro (conveniently located next to our hotel and very efficient, albeit with very poor signage) to the Szechenyi Baths (the biggest in Europe) and spent a few hours enjoying the cool outdoor pool as the temperature soared to over 40°C again.

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The beautiful front of the Szechenyi Baths
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Gorgeous mosaic ceilings at the Baths
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Some of the warm indoor baths
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The huge outdoor pool/bath, where we spent most of our time

We headed back to our hotel, checked in and scrambled to get ready before meeting our tour group in the lobby. Everyone seemed nice (almost all Australians!) and we chatted with some of them as we did the housekeeping and paperwork part of the tour, before having free time to shower and change before our driving tour of Budapest.

I really enjoyed the driving tour which included a photo stop at the Citadel for a view over the Danube and to see the liberty statue, and learnt lots more about Budapest and Hungary’s fascinating history from our guide who is Hungarian herself. We were dropped off at a cute restaurant near the Great Market Hall for our included dinner and we got to know some our group as we ate our traditional Hungarian three-course meal. From there, we walked to the eclectic ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, for drinks and dancing, before heading back to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.

Day 3
Woke up early and had breakfast in the hotel. Talked with a few others from the group over breakfast before the two of us headed up to the Castle District (phew, what a climb!) and enjoyed the serenity and views before the busloads of tour groups arrived.

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Views over the Danube ft. Chain Bridget and St Stephen’s Basilica in the distance
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Buda Castle

Wandered over to St Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion and admired the incredible architecture.

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St Matthias Church
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Fisherman’s Bastion
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Fisherman’s Bastion

In order to get a Showdown (Adelaide Crows vs. Port Power) score update and a cool drink, we took advantage of the Starbucks up on the Hill. Our salted caramel popcorn frappé tasted particularly delicious after hearing that Adelaide were thumping Port!! We bought a sugar and cinnamon chimney cake for the road and walked back to the hotel.

We had a cute picnic lunch of bread, berries and our chimney cake in the park in front of the hotel and then caught the metro to the Hungarian Parliament Building.

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The Hungarian Parliament Building

We admired the stunning parliament building from every angle before wandering up to the very moving ‘Shoes Along the Danube’ monument in memory of the Hungarian Jews who were shot into the Danube during WWII.

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We had made plans to meet another girl from the tour for dinner and a sunset river cruise, but sadly the weather had other ideas. A mighty storm covered Budapest including incredible thunder and lightning, so sadly we had to eat dinner in the hotel restaurant and forego our river cruise.

Overall, I had a fabulous time in Budapest – an amazing city filled with stunning architecture, friendly locals and delicious food. We had no trouble with the language (we tried speaking some Hungarian but everyone we came across spoke English), found it easy to get around both by foot and metro, and never felt unsafe – even though we are two young women not used to travelling alone. Do yourself a favour and visit!

My Top 5 Things to Do in Budapest:

  1. Visit the Buda Castle district including St Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion for stunning views over the Danube and beautiful buildings (the views are even better when enjoyed with a sugar and cinnamon chimney cake!)
  2. Go to St Stephen’s Basilica, climb to the top for amazing views and light up St Stephen’s mummified hand (be sure to visit Gelarto Rosa while there)
  3. Soak yourself in the Szechenyi Baths (and maybe splurge on a massage or spa treatment)
  4. Walk along the Pest side of the Danube to see the ‘Shoes Along the Danube’ sculpture and Hungarian Parliament Building
  5. Take a cruise along the Danube (ideally, time it so you see the sun setting as well as the buildings lit up at night) – I can’t wait to do it on my next visit, because:
BudapestAtNight-1038x576
So pretty!! Image: Go To Hungary

Have you been to Budapest? Or are you going? Have other ideas about the Top 5 Things to Do? Leave a comment below! xx

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