There's nothing more magical than waking up in a new city. I fulfilled a long time dream of mine and took an overnight train from the Czech Republic to Hungary. While the trip was by no means glamorous, it was so fun to have my own cabin, fall asleep as the train zoomed past towns, and wake up in a new country! It felt like a throwback to better and simpler times. Andrew and I boarded a 12 a.m. train from Prague and were welcomed to our own cabin. We got the friendliest wake up call by the train attendant and got to sip coffee while watching towns zoom past. Surprisingly, a flight between the cities just didn't make sense financially or logistically, but I'm so glad I got to experience this! I would recommend a cross country train ride if you have the time.
We were so excited to experience a new city after falling head-over-heels in love with Prague. To my surprise, Budapest is a much bigger city than Prague. It took a lot longer to get from place to place and major sights are very spread out. There are certainly pros and cons to both sizes, but it was definitely something to get used to after being so comfortable with Prague. I couldn't stop singing George Ezra's song "Budapest" in my head and am so excited to share all my favorite restaurants and sights with you. If you have the travel time, visiting Prague & Budapest is a must and I think the two cities compliment each other beautifully...
Did you know that originally Budapest was two separate cities? One side of the river was called Buda and the other side was Pest. The Chain Bridge was built in 1849 and until then, the two cities lived very separate lifestyles. Budapest is commonly referenced as "one city with two personalities" for that very reason.
Just like Prague, the best way, in my opinion, to see Budapest is to split your time between the left and right side of the Danube river. There are very different things to experience on both sides and you'll definitely need more than one day to thoroughly explore each.
Buda is a more quiet and historical part of the city, while Pest is known for it's liveliness. Don't be mistaken, though. Pest has several very important political and religious buildings. Here's a few of my favorite activities on each side of the Danube:
- Gellert Baths: The sole activity I knew I wanted to do in Budapest before arriving was the baths. Visiting the baths is actually used for medicinal purposes for some Hungarians. It's believed that the natural spring water heals aches, pains, and other physical impairments. Others just visit because it's relaxing and something fun to do with friends and family. There are several baths to choose from in the city, but we chose Gellert because it was the less touristy one and was very highly rated. We visited Gellert twice because we loved it so much. The first time we rented a private room with a bath and let me tell you...I have never felt so relaxed in my entire life! I was in utter bliss for two hours and highly recommend this to any couples or groups of friends traveling. The suites can fit up to four people and is well worth your money. The room includes fruit and champagne, so you really can't go wrong. The second time we visited, we wanted the community experience. Gellert has over ten separate baths, both inside and outside, that range in temperature. I could've sat in the baths forever and would recommend to anyone visiting Budapest.
- Buda Castle: The Castle is situated on a very high hill and unless you're up for a hike, I would suggest taking the public bus. There is a tram that takes you up the hill, but the line is outrageous and it's very expensive. While I opted out of the inside tour, I thoroughly enjoyed the views from outside as well as the stunning views of Pest. It's undoubtedly one of the best photo ops of the entire city and well worth the visit.
- Fisherman's Bastion: This was by far my favorite architectural sight of the entire city. The building itself was so unique compared to anything else in the city and we got the best views of the city. I recommend making the trip up the hill early to avoid mass amount of people.
They say Pest wakes up when Buda goes to sleep....I'll have to agree with that! There's so much to do!
- Hungarian Parliament Building: This has to be one of the most iconic buildings in all of Hungary. It's in nearly every photo shared on social media and it has every right to be.
- St. Stephen's Basilica: For a second I felt like I was standing in the Vatican at St. Peter's Basilica. Surrounded by a lively neighborhood of shops and restaurants, the Basilica is one of the architectural icons of the city. Don't miss out on the opportunity to dine at one of the restaurants in front of it. (I'll chat more about my incredible dining experience below...)
- Great Market Hall: Looking for unique souvenirs to take home and authentic food to munch on? Look no further! This Hall really is great. I loved being surrounded by local artists. Hungary definitely has some of the most beautiful handmade products I've ever seen.
- Shoes on the Danube Bank: Be prepared to be incredibly humbled. The monument was created to honor the people who were killed by fascist militiamen during World War II. It's in that very spot that innocent men, women, and children were shot and killed on the river's edge. We often hear stories about people being killed in war, but there was something very eye opening about seeing the shoes lined up along the riverside. Having the tangible reminder made me think about how devastating World War II really was for countries around the world. The most difficult realization was seeing the small shoes of children who couldn't have been older than four or five years old. Visiting this memorial is a must while you're in Budapest, because while the restaurants and shops are fun, learning about a country's historical hardships is just as important.
- Budapest Eye: There's nothing like seeing a city from above. While the Budapest Eye isn't nearly as big as the London Eye, it was still a fun way to see Pest from above.
So there's Buda and Pest, but you can't forget about Margaret Island that's conveniently placed in between the two places. About 1.6 miles long, the island is a perfect place to spend the day, renting golf carts, exercising, or grabbing a bite to eat. It's also home to a massive sports pool that hosts international events.
- Stika: I can never start my day unless I've had breakfast and there's nothing better than having a lil' something of everything. Stika made my breakfast experience in Budapest. I don't think I've ever been so happy walking out of breakfast before. Don't miss out on the oatmeal, eggs, fresh juice, and coffee!
- Platz: Remember I mentioned the restaurants outside St. Stephen's Basilica? Platz is one of those gems tucked beside the beautiful Basilica with the tastiest food and coziest atmosphere. They have a fire going near the tables, offer blankets, and have delicious food. Platz is definitely the top of my dinner list in Budapest and a spot you just can't miss!
- Hummus Bar: This cute lunch spot started really small and slowly expanded all around the city. It has delicious Mediterranean options and my favorite part is that its so affordable. Apart from the super inexpensive options, they also offer a student discount, so it's a win-win for everyone.
- Gelarto Rosa: I was recommended this place by a sweet friend from Italy I met on a travel group called Girls Love Travel. If you're not a member of this incredibly awesome group on Facebook, you must join. Reach out to me and I'll add you to the group! She said the gelato was some of the best she's ever had and that means a lot coming from an Italian! (Follow her beautiful life in Italy!)
- Mr. Funk: Andrew has the worst sweet tooth ever so sometimes we often stop for dessert two to three times a day (so bad, I know!) Because of this, I basically know the dessert scene of any city like the back of my hand haha! Mr. Funk is one of the most fun and vibrant places. It's impossible to leave without a smile on your face. The coolest part is they have plush sofas in an outdoor seating area on the street. Their overall decor is funky and I'm so glad we found it!
Budapest was the perfect way to close out my summer before beginning my adventures abroad in Ireland. I loved continuing my exploration of Eastern Europe and left knowing it most definitely wouldn't be my last time.