What To See: The most popular countries in Europe that tourists flock to are in western Europe such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium, etc. Now Eastern Europe is getting its limelight as this region is becoming more and more popular every year. Since eastern Europe is not as well known as the west, due to many reasons including the whole communist era, a lot of people don’t know what is there and what to expect. However, eastern Europe can be nicer and more fun in some ways than the western countries on the continent. If you are planning to travel around eastern Europe, you must stop in Budapest, Hungary as this is a must see country. It is known as the capital of the east since it is such a beautiful, large and lively city to visit.
The architecture in Budapest is a lot of old Roman architecture with gothic like churches and buildings and intricate details that are built into these sights. Not only can you see the ancient Roman, Greek, English and other types of European architecture, but you can even see an Arabian and Turkish influence built into some sights which makes the colors pop. You won’t be disappointed anywhere you go in Budapest as all the sights are breathtaking.
My personal favourite sites that everyone should visit are:
- The Parliament building is an amazingly detailed with its architecture. It is right on the water and gets brilliantly lit up at night because of the water which reflects all of its lights. As spectacular as it is during the day, it is even more amazing during the evening. You can buy tickets to go inside the Parliament and get a guided tour. I recommend this as the inside is spectacularly built and decorated like the outside. You can also see the crown jewels in the Parliament. For more information about tours and prices look here.
- St. Stephen’s Roman Catholic Basilica is an amazing sight to see as well. This humongous church is amazingly built and is in the middle of a great big square with pretty patterned colored mosaic tiles that line the square.
- The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the large bridge in the city which runs over the Danube River and separates the two land masses Buda and Pest from each other. Walking across this bridge gives you an impressive view of the city and the Danube. It also has amazing architecture on the bridge such as impressive lion statues that are on the pillars of the bridge at either entrance; lions are the royal animal in Budapest. If you cross this bridge from Buda (main part of the city) to Pest (Castle Hill) it will lead you to the mountain where you can find a spectacular aerial view of the city and the castle.
- There are a few well known monuments and statues in the city. On the way to the bridge as you are walking by the water you will pass by a bunch of metal shoes laid across the waterfront which is a tribute to honor the people of Budapest (mainly Budapest Jews) who were killed during WWII.
- Another famous statue you will see near the bridge along the Danube is the Little Princess statue created in 1972. The artists sculpted the statue after his six year old daughter dressed up as The Little Princess from the book and it soon became a well known statue in Budapest. She also symbolizes one of the first women statues after the removal of the dominating male statues. It is a fun statue to take a photo with.
- Another well known statue near the basilica is the fat man police statue. He represents a love of heavy and hearty Hungarian food dishes. Since he eats a lot, he has a prominent belly which is rubbed by everyone for good luck. You can see the change in color in metal form where the statue has been rubbed so many times by tourists.
- The Funicular is a fun ride up to the top of the hill to see the Buda Castle if you do not feel like walking up. It costs Adult: HUF 1,200 one way, HUF 1,800 return, Children aged between 3-14: HUF 700 one way, HUF 1,100 return and is free for children under 3. For more information look here.
- The Buda Castle, otherwise known as the Royal Palace is a World Heritage Site. The Castle is amazingly built on top of the hill and feels like a real Disney castle. There is an outdoor courtyard in which there is a hallway full of beautifully arched windows which you can take great pictures.
- This castle has a long history dating back to Medieval times where royals lived there and then it was taken over by the Ottoman Turks. Now it stands in almost perfect condition. For more information about the castle, other sites in the area and tours look here.
- Matthias Church is another spectacularly Gothic style constructed church in Budapest which was built on the hill next to the Buda Castle. It originally was constructed in 1015, but then destroyed by Mongols in 1241. It was reconstructed in the latter half of the 13th century and rests the same today as it was built back then. It is a unique and amazing sight to see as it has colorful mosaics that line the spires of the church.
There are many other sites and famous buildings in Budapest that you should visit. It is an easily walkable city and if you do not feel like walking there is the hop on hop off double decker tour bus along with a good public bus and tram system in place. Another fun way of transportation is renting bikes and seeing the city that way. There are many different squares, large streets, shopping areas and restaurant/bar areas in the town to discover. You will find that since the city is on a large body of water it is beautifully laid out and easy to navigate around. The city is vibrant, full of people and has different types of colorful architecture everywhere you like. This makes walking around the city very enjoyable. For more information about things to do in Budapest and sights to see here.
Bathhouses: In Budapest your trip is not complete without experiencing a bath house at least once. Bath houses derive from the old Roman and Turkish cultural traditions where they would have bath houses to cleanse, purify and relax themselves. The Széchenyi Bathhouse in Budapest is the most popular and largest. It uses thermal water and has many different pools both indoor and out. It has impressive roman architecture and is a bright yellow color with white filigree architectural details compliments the turquoise blue water.
The location of the bathhouse is also spectacular since it is in the gardens next to old medieval buildings.
It makes for a good half day or day trip as you will want to spend a lot of time there since it is so relaxing. The large pool outside has thermal whirlpools where you will see groups of people running around in a circle due to the force of the whirlpool. Since it is so popular it can get very crowded with tourists and locals, however this was still one of my favourite things to do in Budapest. Once you enter the bathhouse and pay you have access to all of the pools in it. On weekend evenings there are bath parties where music is played by a dj and the pool becomes like a dance floor with lights and everyone dancing in the pool. These parties can get quite crazy as they are mostly geared towards young tourists and not the locals. There are also extra fees such as towel service and massages you can pay for if you would like. The Széchenyi Bathhouse costs about 15-20 euros which is quite expensive for a bathhouse, however it is very worth it in my opinion. Other bathhouses can cost half or a quarter of that price. For more information about all of the bathhouses and their locations and prices in Budapest look here.
Food: The food in Budapest is like a lot of eastern European foods- heavy, hearty and delicious. Kürtoskalács are a great dessert that are very popular in Budapest and they are made hot and fresh and served at outdoor markets or festivals. They are cone shaped out of the lightly fried dough and they are usually served with plain ice cream inside and then topped with chocolate, coconut, sugar, cinnamon or fruit. This is a delicious dessert to have while walking around and exploring the city.
Other popular dishes for lunch or dinner are goulash soup which is a thick and hearty stew mixed in with cooked tomatoes, chicken, beef and other vegetables. Next you would find a lot of Chicken Paprikash which is roasted chicken with thick noodles cooked in butter and cream sauce. Other popular snacks and dishes are fried potato chips on a stick, sausages, hungarian pizza (creamier sauce instead of plain tomato sauce) and gelato shaped like a rose using different flavours as the petals of the rose.
Currency: The currency in Budapest is different than the Euro. Even though it is a European country they use their own currency. Their money can be a bit confusing to foreigners, however the good news is their currency is cheaper than the Euro which means you can travel affordably around Budapest. They use the Forint, otherwise known as the HUF. $1 CAD is 206 HUF, therefore a pint of beer could cost as low as $2CAD or around 400 HUF. Prices for food and drinks can be quite cheap in Budapest depending on what restaurants and bars you go to. Restaurants and market areas that are geared towards only tourists will mean you will end up paying more, however if you find out spots where locals go you will pay a lot less. Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of transactions in Budapest are paid by cash and card, therefore make sure you always have HUF on you. For more information about the HUF look here.