When I started working on Lindblad Expeditions my goal was to quickly save up enough money to visit Europe. Budapest, Hungary was #1 on my list. Part of my family is Hungarian and as an avid lifelong lover of history Hungary is not to be missed. I met Clinton while working on the ship and we decided our first true test of love should be traveling through Europe. I had plans for a two week bus tour that brought us to Budapest for a few days through the tourist places such as the Heros Square, the Parliament Building, and the Castle District. Our plans included this tour and another two months backpacking around Europe. We loved Hungary and Budapest so much that we went back three additional times once we started traveling solo!
Budapest is a city and a county and the official capital of Hungary. The Danube River cuts right through the city. On one side is Buda, the other Pest – both connected through a series of gorgeous bridges. Buda and Pest merged on November 17, 1873 and are today the political, administrative, industrial, and commercial center of Hungary. Like many countries with borders surrounded by neighbors in constant conflict Hungary changed hands many times over her history but the pride and cultural identity of “Hungarian” is very prominent when walking around the city. Flags flutter in the wind and the lack of heavily influenced western themes while walking around the city made our visit even more magnificent.
During our bus trip we did go to a few dinners that included traditional dancing, food, and drinks. It was worth the time and money and definitely a great way to really immerse yourself in the culture of Hungary that you many not get without going to a museum. Walking and sitting around the city gives you a different experience. Hungarian is not like any other language that many westerners are use to. It is beautiful but not Latin based. The written language looks similar but is completely unreadable to most unless you’ve studied the language. The food is different and amazing but not like what you’ve had back in the States. What I’m trying to say is that to truly get a sense of how great it is in Budapest take some time to just sit and watch. You’ll appreciate everything even more. Take a chance and try something new and get out of your comfort zone for a little bit!
When Clinton and I first visited Budapest we had signed up for a two week trip that started and ended in Germany. The bus tour brought us to many out of the way small historical towns and museums that heavily emphasized cultural and historical locations that gave any visitor a beautiful introduction to the country. Some were more touristy than others, but it was a good way to introduce myself to Europe as a first time traveler overseas. Clinton had traveled years beforehand – not necessarily to Hungary – but just in general. If you feel like you need to slowly absorb a new travel destination do it. Don’t be the person too afraid to leave your hotel room and don’t be the one who is ready to leave the hotel room but doesn’t want to really be in the country! Our first visit was an introduction to the area and our tour guide brought us to many of the best locations around town.
Castle Hill is one of the highlights of Budapest on the Buda side of the city. It was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987 and is home to the beautiful Buda Castle. Constructed in the 13th century, the surrounding Castle District hosts cobblestone streets and a medieval atmosphere that entertains while teaching visitors Budapest’s unique and wonderful history. Matthias Church, also built in the 13th century, was the city’s first parish church. During the 1541 Ottoman occupation the building was transformed into a mosque until the Turks were expelled over a hundred years later. The amazing architecture will take your breath away. Fisherman’s Bastion is right in the same area and for about $3 you can walk up the terrace to a beautiful view of the city and the Danube River. You’ll have to time your view since the upper terrace is not open 24 hours.
Getting to the Castle District is easy as the castle will light up in a spectacular fashion at night, and is so large you can’t possibly miss it during the day. Walk across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which brings you right to the Castle District. The bridge was originally built in the 1800s by William Tierney Clark, but it was mostly destroyed during World War II. The original pillars and stone lions, though badly damaged, were reconstructed in the late 1940s and today it is a marvelous bridge to walk across at any time of day or night.
On the Pest side of the city the Hungarian Parliament rises out of the ground like a Gothic temple. It is amazingly stunning to stare at before realizing the historic significance. The Hungarian National Assembly meets in the building and is a wonderful symbol of the country’s independence and commitment to democracy. Continue walking around the town to see the architecture continue, even in the stylist Four Seasons Hotel and the InterContinental Budapest. Clinton and I ate at least twice at a wonderful pizza parlor that we randomly found while walking around the city as well as tasting traditional food like pierogi’s. I cannot rave enough about how amazing the food is in this country! No matter what you get you will enjoy it. When I traveled overseas at this time I was a vegetarian and Hungary gave me no problems. Traditional pierogi’s are made with potatoes, onions and cabbage – yum!
We were able to take our time around the city when we first visited and took enough notes to get back once we decided to backpack on our own. Budapest was a very easy city to navigate and since it is considerably affordable it was well worth as a stop over whenever we could get there. Hotels were easy to find and most had a wonderful sell served breakfast that included bread, cheese, spreads, and meats. Much better than the continental breakfasts you get at a hotel in the US! The trains are not as fast as some of the western trains but they are reliable. We never felt unsafe while traveling – and I always look up what’s going on through the State Department! We without a doubt recommend Hungary and plan to go back whenever we can! Budapest was not the only place that we went during our travel through Hungary, so stayed tune to another post about this wonderful country! Until next time!