Walking around its cobbled streets Budapest struck me as a very beautiful place, and it was easy to see why the city inspired the nickname the “Paris of the East”. Grand buildings, wide streets, and the mighty Danube offering wonderful views from either side of its banks.
A quick break in September saw me take in the following sights and tastes:
1. Parliament Building – Budapest’s most famous landmark, this huge domed edifice sits on the Pest side of the river and is a must-see on any trip to the city. Impressive in the day, it is even more stunning when it is lit up at night, with the floodlights also picking out hundreds of bats circling its spires. Top tip: for tours inside, you must book in advance.
2. Fisherman’s Bastion – situated on the Buda side, this complex of towers, terraces and battlements date from the late 19th century and provide a great vantage point of the river overlooking the whole city. It is named after the Guild of Fishermen, responsible for defending this part of Budapest against invasions. Behind the Bastion sits the brilliantly decorated Mattias church, giving more than enough reasons to make the climb up Castle Hill.
3. Budapest Castle – walking on from the Fisherman’s Bastion gets you to the old Hapsburg castle (which looks more like a stately home). Inside there are galleries and museums but outside are yet more panoramic views down across the Danube over to the Link Bridge and beyond to Parliament Building. A perfect spot for a gelato.
4. Chain Bridge – the first built to cross the river, this suspension bridge has been standing for more than 100 years. So proud was he of his work that the architect challenged the city’s residents to point out any flaw, wagering his life that none could be found. Unfortunately for him, it was pointed out that the stone lions on either end of the bridge had never had their tongues put in. Being a Hungarian of his word, he duly committed suicide. Despite this sad legend, the Bridge is well worth a visit for its intricate wrought iron works and views of the river.
5. Central Market – one of the largest food markets I’ve ever visited on my travels, this is a must-visit for everyone. The lace and souvenir shops on the first floor are a distraction from the main event – the endless greengrocers, butchers, bakers, chocolatiers and more on the ground floor, and the smattering of restaurants and stalls serving langos (a fried Hungarian speciality) or cakes if you get peckish. This is a foodie’s dream destination. The sour cherry strudel also comes highly recommended!
6. Margaret’s Island – where Budapest’s residents relax after a long week, this island in the middle of the Danube has swimming baths, pleasure rides and even a mini zoo. Manicured rose gardens, a well maintained running track and lots of green space make this a tranquil place to watch Budapestian’s enjoy their weekends.
7. D-12 – this is the water transport service laid on by the city’s council offering commuter services up and down the river. Tired of walking but still wanting to sight-see? Ignore the pricy river cruises and use one of these ferries for the bargain price of £2, and tick off ‘sailing on the Danube’ from your Budapest bucket list.
8. Goulash – paprika is the key ingredient in goulash, the national dish of Hungary. No trip to this country is complete without a bowl of this hearty stew/soup. Served almost everywhere for roughly £4, tourists and locals lap it up without it denting their wallets.
Budapest is a 2.5-hour flight from London and a regular destination for low-cost carriers. While you might share your transport with an assortment of stag and hen parties, rest assured Budapest has much more to offer than just cheap beer!