Budapest, Hungary

Out of the seven cities in the five countries, we visited on my Eastern Europe trip, Budapest, Hungary was by far my favorite.

Although we did a lot of sightseeing in all of the cities we visited, I think Budapest is my favorite because of how much we managed to do. Our wake-up was somewhat relaxed, as we were already in Budapest after visiting our Second city on our tour, Bratislava, Slovakia, the previous day. After grabbing a quick breakfast, we boarded the bus and made our way into the city to our first stop of the day, Heroes Square.

Heroes Square or Hősök tere (in Hungarian) is one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks. You can find it on posters, postcards and on tourism flyers for the city. In fact, the first time I saw it, was in a Bollywood action movie a few years ago where Heroes Square was the drop off location for some ransom money or something like that. Anyway, Heroes Square is a large open plaza with a tall central tower flanked by two quarter-circle arches. Figures on top of these monuments represent great kings, heroes, and noblemen from the history of Hungary, hence the name, Heroes Square. The square is also a tomb for the unknown soldier. The square was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years since the founding of Hungary.

From Heroes Square, we drove first to a city overlook, which offered us amazing views of not only the city below but also of the beautiful Danube River. After taking several pictures, we drove back into the city, and up another hill to the Fisherman’s Bastion, which not only had a beautiful facade but also gave us a view of the city from a different angle. The beautiful castle played a crucial role in Hungarian history but is now just a tourist destination. After taking several more pictures, it was back on the bus for a drive into the city center.

Budapest is a very pedestrian friendly city, and many blocks in the heart of the city are vehicle free zones. The city of Budapest, capital of Hungary, is, funnily enough, two cities! Buda, and Pest (pronounced “pesht” in Hungarian). Buda, to the south of the Danube river, is more hilly and is home to more of the historical landmarks. It gets its name from Atila the Hun’s brother. Pest, to the north, is where many people live, and is more modern. Pest gets its name from the “pest” ovens that used to line its streets. People would make bread in the ovens and sell it to passersby. Several bridges, including the famous Chain Bridge, link the two cities. Altogether, about two million people call Budapest home.

We were given about six hours in the city center to shop, eat lunch, and do whatever we wanted really. Six hours was a LOT of time, so we decided to experience as much of the city as possible in that time. We asked our local guide what the best way would be to get to Széchenyi thermal bath. Budapest sits on several thermal pools, and over time, several have been converted into bathhouses. Our local guide told us that the best method of transport would be the underground rail system, and boy was he right! There was a station very close to where the bus dropped us off, and the local guide had told us the name of the station we were supposed to get down at. Turns out, that the bathhouse had its own station! The price of the underground rail was VERY reasonable too, costing us only about 300 Hungarian Forint (1 euro) per person per trip. If you want to see a quick video I took of the Budapest Underground Rail, click here.

Once we entered the bathhouse, a very large yellow building, we bought tickets to enter. We bought a pretty basic package that gave us a locker to put our clothes in and a two-hour session in the water. Towels could be rented as well for a very high extra cost, however, all of the money from the towel rental was refunded when the towels were returned. After changing into our swimwear, we walked out into the central courtyard where several bathers relaxed in three massive pools. We made our way to the least crowded one, to the far left, and were quite disappointed to learn the water was cold. We quickly learned that the hot water we expected was in the pool on the other side. Out of the three pools, one was a lap pool for those who wanted to work out. Between the other two, one was a cold pool, and the last one was the naturally heated water.

After spending a little while in the hot water, we went back to the changing rooms and changed back into our street clothes. We took the underground rail back to where we were dropped off by the bus. From there, we walked quickly to the banks of the Danube river and purchased tickets for an hour-long river cruise. The ship sails up and around Margaret Island, an island in the middle of the Danube, and back to where you board. Along the way, several important buildings are visible like the Parliment building and the Fisherman’s Bastion from the water. We also sailed under the chain bridge which will be important later on. The open-air boat was nice as the wind blew into my face and really cooled me down.

After the boat dropped us back off at the dock, we still had a few hours before we had to meet our tour group again. So we went back to where the bus dropped us off and did some shopping. After shopping, we decided to sit and rest in a small square. Several people with Segways were going around to tourists and trying to sell them Segway tours. One such salesman let me ride his Segway for a few minutes. It was my first time on a Segway, and while it was a little scary at first, I quickly got the hang of it. I was a natural if I say so myself.

Soon, it was time to meet up with our tour group again. We had already been told the meeting point and we realized that we were quite close to it. We were one of the first people to arrive! The meeting point was the restaurant we were having dinner at that night. After a scrumptious meal, most of our tour group went back to the hotel. But we wanted to see Budapest by night. After asking for directions, we made our way to the very famous Chainbridge which spans the length of the Danube. The sun was setting which created for some beautiful pictures.

We walked across the Chainbridge, which took several minutes, and on the other side, decided to ride the funicular. A funicular is like a combination between a cable car and a train as it is a railed vehicle moving up a very steep incline. At the top, we could take photos of the city below. Unfortunately, we timed our trip up at a bad time and we weren’t able to see Budapest all lit up from the top of the funicular. Instead of riding the funicular back down, we decided to get some exercise by walking all the way back down to where we boarded it. A little dejected that the city had still not lit up, we started to walk back across the Chainbridge and make our way back to the hotel. However, when we were just about halfway across the bridge, all the lights in the city seemed to come on simultaneously! THAT MADE FOR SOME LOVELY PICTURES! We could even see the Parliment building looking really nice in the mood lighting.

We went back to the underground rail station from before because we knew exactly where our hotel was in terms of underground rail stations. However, because Budapest is adding to its underground rail system, so some of the stations on the way were closed. So we were asked to get out of the train and get on a local bus. This was a nice surprise as now, we were able to experience bot the underground rail, and the local bus. The bus dropped us off right in front of our hotel. We were exhausted, but very happy with all the sights we were able to see.

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