Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary, one of the most fascinating cities in Eastern Europe. You know I’m really excited to visit here because this is a city that’s finally coming into its own. Through the years it’s been occupied by the Romans; the Turks, the Germans, the Russians, and now, just by us, the tourists. You know, one thing I did discover about Budapest, is that it’s actually two cities. On one side of the Danube River is Buda, the old medieval historical section and home to the Royal Palace, and across on the other side is Pest, where you’ll find the best hotels, shopping and night-life. Buda and Pest equal one whole city of Budapest.

Discovering a new city is a lot like falling in love. We start out a little clumsy and scared, nervous, but after a little while, we feel like we own the town! Every time we visit a new city, we take home with us the lasting impressions of the sights, the sounds and the sense of the place. That is the sort of magical quality that Budapest has.

First, it’s absolutely beautiful, it’s peaceful and yet exciting, in its own way.

Here amazing history blends with the trends of today. making Budapest one of the most fascinating and with-it cities in eastern Europe! With its storybook buildings, rolling hills and the River Danube flowing right through the center, you’ll feel like you’re vacationing in a fairy tale!

Full of romance and tradition, you won’t find a Central European City more dedicated to its history and culture. Artistic and political events are celebrated on nearly every street corner and in every square. This is a tradition that continues even today, as a new generation embraces their gypsy heritage.

Folk dancing was a way for young Hungarians to stay connected to their nomadic roots, as Budapest fell under the control of various countries and powerful leaders throughout its storied history. It’s also a lot of fun to watch! Free of Communist rule, the music of Hungary resonates with defiance, delight and pride of country. The delightful sound of a gypsy violin provides a fun and exciting soundtrack for exploring this romantic city, as its monuments, fountains and statues almost come alive with folktales and legends.

The oldest part of the city is on the Buda side, and here is where you find the old Castle district. Sitting high above the river, getting there is half the fun! Come on! We’ve got a few stairs, but it’s worth it! In the heart of the castle district, standing on the site of the old fish market, in front of the Matyas Church, is a bronze statue of King St. Stephen, founder of the Hungarian state. Perched high on a horse, the statue of the former king is one of the most famous in the city. It’s also considered to be one of the most beautiful monuments in Hungary. Crafted by master artisan, Alajos Strobl, it is easy to see how it earned its reputation!

Not a big fan of climbing stairs? Well…there’s another way to get up to the Citadel here in Budapest! The best way to get up Castle Hill is the Funicular! Now that way more fun than climbing stairs, especially if you are out of shape like many of us! However you get there, just don’t miss it! Castle Hill is the medieval part of Budapest, sitting 200 feet above the Danube and originally built as a fortified city. And once you make it up here, plan to do a lot of walking because some of the most popular tourist attractions are located here.

There’s Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Royal Palace, the Presidential Palace, and the Royal Library. But before you head off, take a minute to enjoy the view from the Royal Palace terrace. You can see across the entire city and identify many of the great landmarks of this historical city. Boy, it was good to be king.

Every place in Budapest has a story to tell and all are fascinating! The Parliament building, the symbol of the capital, was built at the turn of the 20th century. This colossal building is almost as long as 3 football fields and half as wide! Wow! It has ten courts, 27 gates, and 29 staircases.

The exterior of the building is decorated with lace-like Gothic pinnacles and 88 statues representing Hungarian rulers, princes and military commanders.

The main entrance is in the centre of the building, and is flanked by bronze lions. Behind that is the ornamental staircase which leads to the main hall under an amazing 82 foot high dome. Almost a football field high! Guided tours of the Parliament building are available, where you’ll discover all sorts of interesting tidbits about the building, like the statue of Imre Steindl, the architect who designed the building; the bullet hole behind the Speaker stand from a 1912 assassination attempt; not to mention the numbered cigar holders which corresponded to each member of Parliament! Got a light?

Some stories are better sung than spoken, so it’s off to auditions at the historic Budapest Opera House! The Budapest Opera House was built in 1884, by Mikloov Ybel. It’s considered to be one of the finest in Europe. Although not as large as other world-class opera houses, Budapest is arguably the most beautiful to look at. Each year thousands of tourists and opera fans come to view the frescoes painted by Karolz Lotz. But you gotta look up….they’re on the ceiling!

Other historic buildings on the Pest side of the river are worth seeing as well. Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park was built in 1896 for the Millennial Exhibition, to illustrate the most beautiful buildings in the history of Hungarian architecture: Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque style. There are many famous statues inside the castle’s walls including the statue of Anonymus, who wrote the Hunnish-Hungarian cycle of legends. He also wrote the history of the Magyar Conquest and of the first Hungarian kings, as well.

And don’t miss St. Stephen’s Basillica! This church is said to be second in size only to St. Peter’s in Rome and can allegedly hold 7,000 people. It was completed in 1905 and has recently undergone a complete cleaning and restoration. Inside is where to see the mummified hand of St. Stephen himself, a religious icon!

Now, if you can’t live like a king, you can at least SHOP like one! Any trip to Budapest will invoke memories for years to come, as long as you bring home a souvenir to remind you! So for that, we head on over to Vaci Street on the Pest side of the river! Vaci St. is the main shopping street, where you’re going to find more of the upscale international shops. Now a lot of the really good designer names are off on the side alleys, so you have to go exploring. But what I really like about this street is not so much about the shop, but what you see. For example, don’t forget to look up. You’ll see beautiful buildings that have wonderful carvings and fabulous balconies with flowers over flowing up above you plus the streets are lined with gorgeous gas lamps. There’s always something to catch your eye when you’re wandering around Budapest.

To soak up some local color and sample some of the local cuisine, you gotta check out the local markets. The front of the market is where you’ll find your souvenirs, or you’ll find your embroidery or your more touristy stuff. But, in the back of the market, now this is what I call a true flea market! This is where people come to sell their own things. I mean you’ll find a gorgeous picture frame next to a doll with a broken head. You’ll find antique books that look like they’re over hundred years old next to a broken urn or something. You’ll see violins – I saw violins all over the place here. Who knows, you might even find a Stratovaria. Here is where to find really good stuff.

I imagine you’ll be hungry after all the shopping, so maybe it’s time to head inside for the food market! Markets are a huge part of Hungarian life. Well, they have supermarkets, but people still come here for the freshest meat, produce and vegetables. Now one of things that they have here, that I love, is Ganseleber pâté. You can take it home with you. I love this stuff. There’s so much to see and buy and eat here! Don’t worry if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, not everything here is going to appeal to everyone. Hmmm, pigs feet – yum!”

Wine is the national beverage of Hungary and the Hungarian House of Wines has over 450 different types of wines from the 22 historical wine regions in Hungary. And they’re all there for the tasting. Cheers! When the guests arrive to the reception desk, they pay around $15. They go down to the cellar with a little tasting glass, a map of the cellar, some Hungarian cakes, and they can pour from the open bottles, as they wish. There are at least 30 to 35 bottles open per day to try. The wines range in pricing, I got to try one that runs $100 a bottle, but on my budget, I won’t be taking any of it home with me. They give you two hours to taste all the wines you want. It’s up to you to not overdo it! But it’s a great way to spend two hours and a great way to learn a little bit about an important part of Hungarian culture.

Of course, you can’t visit eastern Europe and not venture out on the Blue Danube. Let’s say we explore this romantic river. You’ve heard of the Danube. It flows through Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania ending at the Black Sea, and it’s great for all kinds of river cruises – day cruises, week- long cruises, even longer. If you have the opportunity, cruise to a ittle town called Szentendre. From what I hear, it’s exactly what you expect to see when you come to Hungary.

Sure it’s faster to get there by car or train, but not nearly as pretty as a leisurely 90 minute cruise up the Danube, if you don’t mind sharing the river with a canoe or two. Arriving in Szentedre is really like taking a step back in time and well worth the trip! It’s been around since the Stone Age and was a popular Roman City once upon a time. Szentendre today is a cultural center full of museums, art galleries and lots of good old-fashioned atmosphere!

This town is so cute. It’s exactly what you’ll want to see. There are a lot of cobblestones on the streets, so wear flat shoes. You know what? A lot of people say this town is touristy, but hey, I’m a tourist and I love it! There’s plenty to do here, including my favorite – SHOPPING!

The ethnic crafts and fine arts are presented side by side with handcrafted clothing and other souvenirs. It’s a great place to buy gifts for those back home and I’m sure you’ll find something for yourself as well! There’s lots to choose from here! They even have a bull in a china shop! Even an unexpected rain shower won’t dampen your spirits as the menagerie of hand-blown glass ornaments will capture yours and your children’s attention for hours! It really is beautiful here. I love the old Hungarian buildings, the typical Hungarian landscape, and the friendly Hungarian kitty cats!

That was nice and relaxing, but there is so much more to see back in Budapest! Spa time, everyone! You’ve heard of the Roman baths and the Turkish baths. Well, the Hungarians also believe in the wellness and healing properties of thermal bathing, and the natural springs under Budapest have been a big draw for centuries. Now, there are over a hundred thermal hot springs under Budapest, feeding over 20 of these thermal baths.

Szechenyi Baths is the largest thermal bath in Budapest. Built in 1913, the neo-baroque baths is a huge complex of indoor and outdoor pools and is considered to be the premier medicinal bath in town. Its thermal springs are the deepest and warmest thermal wells in Budapest. The art and architecture of the baths are as beautiful as the water is healing – it’s easy to see why the locals all come here to exercise, relax and to socialize.

Something your kids may enjoy is the Budapest Puppet Theatre. Puppetry has been a Hungarian tradition for hundreds of years, and for the past 55 years, the Budapest Puppet Theatre has been the place to go to see the very best. Henrik Komine is the puppetmaster here and he’s the most famous puppeteer in Hungary. He’s had his own TV show and everybody knows him. Now, his father was a puppeteer, his grandfather was a puppeteer. The shows are all in Hungarian but are based on widely known fairy tales, so the stories are easy to follow and the artistry is amazing. You’ll find the parents enjoy the experience as much as the kids.

For a decidedly more adult evening of entertainment how about checking out the local music scene at a jazz restaurant in old Buda! The menu at the Rivalda Café and Restaurant is not exactly what you’d expect to find in Budapest. It features selections that one might find all over the world, even to North Africa cuisine. All the ingredients are Hungarian homegrown and the recipes have all been adapted to make sure that we incorporate all the spices and everything that are indigenous to Hungary. I think what I like about this place is the terrace–eating outside. That’s very European, very Parisian.”

What I also find charming is the music here in Budapest. On every street corner, you see a violinist and they’re all good. Hungarians are very musical people. They have more symphonic orchestras in this country than I think most countries do. There are two opera houses Budapest is full of talented musicians. It’s just part of, part of the heritage. It’s an integral part of the culture from the time they are little children growing up, they all go to the opera. Be sure you enjoy a performance while you are there, too.

So, what better way to top off a wonderful vacation to Budapest than by being on top of the world? How about being above it all…. in a helium balloon! Tethered to the roof garden of the West End City Center shopping mall, is the Budapest Eye, a 60 foot diameter helium filled balloon with an attached gondola that rises nearly 500 feet to provide breathtaking panoramic views of the entire city. Now this is an adventure with a stunning view. You can see for miles and miles in all directions. It’s a great way to start your vacation so you can get an overview of the city, and it’s also a great way to end your vacation, so you can see where you’ve been. Either way, the kids will love it! And so will you!

Budapest is an amazing city with an incredible history. The people are friendly, the food is great, and the historic sites are just totally romantic what with the beautiful blue Danube.