A city break in Budapest

Budapest had been on my list of places to visit for a long time after a lot of recommendations from family and friends who had taken short city breaks there so when a concert I wanted to see was announced to be on at the city’s arena, I jumped at the excuse to finally travel to Hungary.

Deciding to book our flights and hotel separately, we were disappointed to find a limited number of flights departing from our local airport in Birmingham on days that did not suit our plans and therefore, to my slight dismay following poor experiences on previous trips, ended up having to book flights with British Airways from Heathrow.

I’d like to say the airline redeemed itself but just a few weeks before our trip, they cancelled our evening return flight, transferring us to an unsuitable early morning one and giving us no alternative but to cancel that leg and return with a different airline, losing quite a bit of money after they gave us just a measly £12 refund on the return portion. But that’s another story…

With my travel companion having a friend who’d lived in the city for a few years, I left it to her to sort out our accommodation based on her friend’s recommendations on the area and the hotel itself and the result was a stay in an attic room at the conveniently-located and beautiful boutique hotel, Gerloczy Boutique Hotel at a pretty reasonable price.

Arriving later than planned after an hour’s delay to our flight departure, we easily found our way to the airport buses that went directly to the city and our hotel was an easy and short walk from the final stop.

Staff at the hotel were happy to give us recommendations and directions to Gozsdu Courtyard, the lively entertainment district a 5 minute walk from the hotel where we easily found somewhere to grab a light snack and a drink before it got too late.

We had pre-booked a free walking tour of the Pest side of the city for the next morning through GuruWalks on the recommendation of a friend who had recently been to Budapest. Being mainly unfamiliar with the city after just a short walk out the previous night, we decided to grab breakfast from the cafe attached to the hotel rather than go searching for somewhere else on the way to the walk’s meeting point. After some delicious pastries, we walked towards the city’s Cathedral Square, arriving just minutes before we were due to meet our tour guide. Failing to locate anyone holding a bright red umbrella, I check my emails to make sure we were in the right place only to see the guide had had to cancel following a family emergency and had transferred us all onto an earlier tour which we had, of course, now missed!

Disappointed, I did a quick google search and managed to find another free walking tour with a different company departing a nearby location in the next hour and with a couple of spaces to spare so we booked ourselves on that then spent our free half hour or so visiting the Cathedral while it was right there in front of us. Luckily, there wasn’t a queue for the entrance tickets and we had just enough time to look around without having to rush.

Time for our walking tour, take 2, and this time we found our guide waiting exactly where we expected to find him and checked onto the tour 5 minutes before it departed. The tour gave us a good overview of the Pest side of the city and helped us to get our bearings as well as see what we might want to return to see later in our stay and our guide had lots of recommendations on places to eat at for traditional Hungarian food for anyone that was interested in sampling local cuisine.

With it being mid-afternoon by the time the tour finished, we walked back to the central shopping district and found somewhere to eat before returning to our hotel to get ready for the evening’s concert.

With the arena being slightly further out of the city, we would have to use the city’s metro system for the first time to get there. It was just a short walk to the closest stop though and we found it easy to work out how to buy tickets and to navigate our way there. We were pleasantly surprised at how cheap the metro tickets were compared to in other European cities!

We had allocated the following day to exploring the Buda side of the city, starting with spending the morning at one of the city’s thermal baths. We decided to walk there so after another breakfast at the hotel’s cafe, set off towards the banks of the River Danube, crossing the Szabadsag Bridge into Buda.

We had booked the Gellert Spa rather than the larger, and more touristy Széchenyi Thermal Baths, again, upon the recommendation of a friend and as soon as we entered the building, with its beautiful Art Nouveau decor, we were really pleased with our choice.

After spending a few relaxing hours enjoying both the indoor and outdoor pools of varying temperatures included in our entry ticket, we headed back out into the cool Autumnal weather to explore the Buda side of the city further.

Walking along the riverside, we stopped for a snack at a small local cafe before continuing our walk towards Buda Castle. Short on time, we decided to catch the funicular up the hill to the castle and walked from here to Fisherman’s Bastion, an old hilltop fortress from where there were amazing views across the Danube to the Pest side of the city.

We also stopped to look around the beautiful Matthias Church before walking back towards the castle.

Rather than catching the funicular back down to the riverside, we continues to walk South along the hilltop within the grounds of the castle. It was dusk by now meaning the lights were starting to come on across the city making for more pretty views from above.

After a while, we walked downhill and crossed the Danube over Elizabet Bridge back to Pest where we spent a few hours warming up back at our hotel before heading back out to the Gozsdu Courtyard where we had a delicious dinner at 2 Spaghi, a fresh pasta bar.

From here, we walked the short distance to some of the famous Budapest Ruins Bars – bars opened in formerly derelict buildings in the old town area of Pest. Our first stop was at Szimpla Kert, probably the best known and the first of the Ruins Bars to open.

The huge space set across multiple floors was filled with an eclectic collection of mismatched items and had graffiti covered walls but had a really great atmosphere and was lively even on a midweek evening.

After a couple of drinks here, we walked to Csendes Vintage Bar and Cafe, a much more relaxed affair but with equally eclectic decoration – bicycles and all sorts of other objects mounted on the walls and hanging from the ceiling!!

We were flying out of Budapest the following evening giving us plenty of time that day for some last minute sightseeing. We began our day with some bagels for breakfast at a nearby cafe before walking down to the Danube and following the river north towards the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Along the way, we made a sombre stop at the Shoes on the Danube Holocaust Memorial, a simple but haunting sculpture of shoes left behind by Jews murdered on that spot during World War II.

Then we continued toward the impressive Parliament Building. We had tried to get tickets to tour this building from its website in advance but had left it too late and found them to be sold out. However, we had been told on our walking tour that it was possible to get tickets on the day so we called into the visitors centre and managed to acquire 2 spots on a tour that afternoon.

With a few hours to spare before we needed to check in for our tour, we decided to catch the metro across to Városliget or City Park. This meant taking a trip on the historic metro line M1, the oldest metro line in Hungary and the second oldest in Europe after the London Underground.

We were pleasantly surprise at just how cheap the metro system was for a capital European city, with prices for a single journey working out at less than £1 in UK money. Varolsliget is home to the pretty Vajdahunyad Castle and we spent some time walking around the grounds and the park before having dinner at an on site restaurant.

Then it was time to hop back onto the M1 and return to the Parliament Building to check in for our tour. Tours were led regularly in a variety of languages and when it was time for our English speaking tour to depart, we were all given ear pieces and battery packs to wear so our guide didn’t have to shout to be heard.

Unfortunately, we felt this had the opposite effect to what it should have with our guide often speaking too quietly so that even with our ear pieces in, we sometimes had trouble picking up what she was telling us. What we did hear, was interesting and the rooms we were allowed to visit were very ornate but the tour was vert short and we were allowed to see only a very small fraction of the vast building. Still, we were glad we had had the opportunity to see inside.

By the time our tour had finished, it was time to return to our hotel and collect our luggage before catching the airport bus back to Ferenc Liszt Airport where we checked in for our Jet2 flight which would be taking us directly back to Birmingham, saving on coach fare back from London had we not had to cancel our original British Airways flight.

We’d had a fun few days and had really liked the city of Budapest. We found there was plenty to do and see and for a capital city, prices were very reasonable. I’d definitely recommend a visit.

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