By: Isabella Troconis Zampaloni
European Travel Correspondent
Strolling along Danube’s shore and crossing its majestic Chain Bridge, there is no doubt that Budapest is the most beautiful city in central Europe. Even if it is not as popular for tourists as Prague is, its Art Nouveau and sometimes racketed buildings, its lovely sightseeing combined with Hungarians’ daily life make this capital a genuine destination. What we usually hear about Hungary on the news is that the country has been struggling to overcome the crisis, like any other European country, or that its president, Victor Orban, has been curtailing democracy this last year, but certainly Budapest has much to offer.
There are countless reasons to visit Budapest! Here is a roadmap of things to not miss out when you visit!
Look: Around, to the sides, and above
If you have a passion for architecture and belle epoque buildings, Budapest is a must see on your list.
Hungary’s parliament is a magnificent gothic construction built in the 19th century located in Kossuth tér. Also, it is the largest parliament building in Europe, yes even more than UK´s big bang building. Locals always joke that it might be bigger but democracy has still a long way to go. To get in is not as easy as entering the Capitol, in Washington DC. You first need to book, preferably a week in advance. Also, do not trust the official website, because it is not clear enough. It will be more effective you send directly an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The good news is that if you are EU citizen, the visit is for free!
If you are American, the Ronald Reagan statue located two blocks away from the Parliament, and in front of a communist monument will astonish you.
Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall is the largest indoor market in Budapest, and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful buildings in town is a must see for anyone who enjoys the sights, sounds and smells of markets. To get there from the Parliament, you should take the tram 2. It will ride you along the Danube and offer you a better sightseeing of Budapest than any tourist red bus.
Once you get there, you will first draw your attention to the colorful tiles of the Market’s ceiling. Inside you will notice that there are as many tourists as locals, which is certainly not the case of the Great Bazaar in Istanbul. On the top floor, you will find sort of a food court, where you can taste a lángos, a yeast-based dough deep fried in oil topped with any flavor it comes to your mind. The most popular topping is sour cream and cheese. If you are a true fan of strong spices, you must get some Hungarian paprika on the ground floor, before leaving the market.
if you are somehow related to Judaism or have visited New York’s marvellous synagogue, then you cannot miss the Jewish quarter. Before the World War II, the Jewish Community in Hungary was the largest one in Europe. This might explain why Budapest was also known as Judapest.
Although it was the last country invaded by the Nazis in March 1945, they managed to kill up to 600 000 of them in just three months, by gassing Hungarian Jews in masses.
Separately, it is worth mentioning that you can still find Budapest Ghetto borders, which are next to Theodore Herzl’s home and to the Great Synagogue. By taking a quick look at the Doha/Great Synagogue building, it is quite easy to tell that it does not correspond to the typical synagogue model. An interesting fact is that its architect, Friedrich Ludwig Förster, designed its structure after Cordova’s mosque. These plans were then copied to build the Temple Emanu-El in NYC. During the Nazis occupation, the Great Synagogue was turned into a horses stable and its two towers became Eichmann’s workplace. Moreover, you will find several memorials honouring the diplomats who risked their lives to save the Hungarian Jews. Among them, former Swiss ambassador Carl Lutz’s and former Swedish ambassador Raoul Wallenberg’s (whose niece is married with Kofi Annan) memorials are worth taking a look at. But, the upside-down menorah located at the backyard of Synagogue is definitely the most striking. Interestingly, American actor Tom Curtis, whose predecessors were Hungarian Jews, commanded the latter.
The Jewish quarter is not just about strolling around gloomy sightseeing, but it also offers a wide range of so-called “ruined pubs”. The most well known ruined pub in the block is Szimpla Kert. According to the Lonely Planet, Szimpla is the best bar worldwide! If you stop by, you should have a lecso or a “hot sandwich” or try a palinka (national schnapps) or fröccs (wine mixed with soda).
Eat, Drink, and Be
If you are this type of tourist who just like to wander around and discover fashionable cafés, then Budapest has a lot to offer!
It is considered one of Budapest’s main shopping streets, with fine cafés, restaurants, theatres and luxurious boutiques. This iconic boulevard is one of longest avenues and leads to the famous Heroes Square, where according to Oxford academic, Timothy Garton Ash, Nagy’s reburial symbolized the start of the velvet revolution in Hungary. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that Andrássy út was built to commemorate the millennium in 1900. Since the capital bourgeoisie opposed to surface transport on this road, the mayor at that time decided to construct the first underground railway in continental Europe.
Among the beautiful Art nouveau buildings, you will find the freshly renovated art nouveau “mall” Parisi Nagyaruhaz. The best part is the top floor. There you can find an old-fashioned but yet chic café, where you can listen to live piano music, while having a delicious cappuccino.
Hungarian National Opera
Continue walking on the same avenue and you will encounter a very small neo-Renaissance building, the Hungarian National Opera. Upon its completion in 1884, the Opera house was considered the most modern opera house. Yet, the indoor furniture is astonishing and its ballet and Operas have nothing to envy Paris Opera’s performances. Also, the tickets to get a nice spot are considerably cheap, no wonder tourists are all over the place!
If you happen to be on Váci utca, the most popular shopping street, you cannot miss Gerbaud Pastry, located at the northern end of the road. Apart from being the best coffeehouse in town, its Gründerzeit style will either fascinate or repeal your eyes. Either way you will be delighted by its desserts, specially the apple strudel, an Austrian sweet that is considered Hungarian by the locals.
Pampering fit for a King and Queen without the price
If you happen to be a non-stop workaholic or just need a break or.. wait no need for excuses, then enjoying Budapest’s thermal baths you will get back on your feet!
In fact, the Hungarian capital is the only large city in the world, which abounds in fountains of healing water. Plus it is not expensive (less than $20) and quite clean.
Gellert Spa Bath
One of the most popular baths for tourists. The deteriorated building but yet majestic indoors, comprehends a medicinal spring already popular during the 13th century. You name any treatment, and you will have it instantly! The most demanded is the Aroma relax massage for half an hour.
Szechenyi Spa Bath
The locals rather go to Szechenyi Spa Bath situated within the City Park. It is the largest bathing complex in Europe and it offers the deepest and hottest thermal wells in the capital. Given that it is a very attractive place for tourists and locals during summer, it is recommendable to go or very early in the morning or after dinner, around 8-9pm. Prices vary between $15 and $17, more or less the same you would pay to go to a movie theatre back in the States!
Have you ever been to Budapest? Comment below and share with us your experience!