Three Magical Days in Budapest

Danube, Budapest

Cruising along the Danube in Budapest, Hungary.

Getting to Budapest from Italy is a piece of cake.

Our recent trip to Budapest is just one example of just how easy, and inexpensive it is to hop around Europe. Even better, since we live just north of Venice, we’re that much closer. The Venice airport continues to expand, and it offers multiple options for getting to destinations such as Budapest. We took easyJet for 60 euro a piece. That’s roundtrip, including one checked bag for the two of us (you don’t need much for three days). The flight there, from Venice, is a mere fifty minutes from takeoff to landing. Not bad, wouldn’t you say?

Get thee to Budapest before the old world charm is overrun with tourism.

I strongly urge you to make a beeline for Budapest. We all know what happens when a destination is “discovered”, don’t we? Budapest has been compared to the vibe of Paris from years ago. Spectacular architecture abounds – as does a rich street culture of coffee bars, cafes and restaurants. Technically it is two cities – Buda (west side of the Danube) and Pest (east side of the Danube). The city center, including old town, is in Pest. However, treasures abound on both sides of the river.

If you’re looking for confirmation that Budapest is a worthy of your attentions, consider the following:

Conde Nast Traveler ranked Budapest as “the world’s second best city”.

“…ranked as the most liveable Central or Eastern European city on EIU‘s quality of life index” (source Wikipedia)

Now, you easily could plan a week’s stay in Budapest. I’m sure we just scratched the surface. But, if you want to hit the high points, three days can do the trick. If you’re like me, and like to draft off of other people’s experiences, consider these to be tops on your list:

Budapest is world-famous for its thermal baths. Pack a swimsuit, flip-flops and jump into the experience.

If you love a long, leisurely soak in a deliciously comforting bath, you’re in for a treat. The benefits ramp up if you decide to tag on a full-body massage, or a host of other spa types of options. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the palatial and beautiful historical environments are the settings.

Now, where to go? If you’re staying in the city center or close by, you have two excellent options. The Szechenyi Baths is the biggest. You feel a bit like you’re entering Versailles when you go there. A vast expanse of open space in the center of the structure houses two large thermal pools, and a heated lap pool. Even though we were there in the late afternoon and early evening on a chilly and rainy night, the outdoor pools were packed with happy people. Steam was rising off the water. We readily donned out suits, and headed in.

After about an hour of testing the waters of the different outdoor pools, we went inside. There we discovered seemingly endless rooms of baths, saunas, and steam rooms. And, oh yeah, cold plunge pools for the brave of heart and those with sturdy constitutions. I tried it once, and thought I was going to pass out – so proceed carefully. Overall, its’ like a giant buffet of thermal baths with varying temps.

The second “big” option (though smaller than Szechenyi) is the Gellert Baths. This was our favorite of the two. It just depends on your tastes. Here, it’s like swimming inside a cathedral. So, while you’re soaking, you’re also marveling at your surroundings. Maybe the seventy minute full body massage tipped the scales for us. We were in capable and strong hands. You can’t beat the price – around $50 for the seventy minutes.

Our hotel was able to book the reservations (voucher) for us. We just went to a special desk at the baths and presented our voucher.

Enter the fairytale world of Fisherman’s Bastion

Located up on the hill, close to the river in Pest, is this amazing work of architecture. Built between 1895 and 1902 Fisherman’s Bastion owes its name to the fishermen’s guild tasked with protecting this section of city wall during the Middle Ages.

Of all the places we visited, this won the prize for “buzzing with tourists”. Why? Well, in addition to having a magical, fairytale-like quality, it offers probably the most stunning views of the city, and of Parliament. So, it’s a worthy inclusion on your itinerary.

Budapest is home to the largest synagogue in Europe.

And, the second largest in the world (New York has the largest). The Dohány Street Synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859, and its interior resembles the layout of a traditional Christian Church with a nave and apse. It’s breathtaking. Also, a must-see is the modern metal sculpture of a weeping willow, called The Memorial of the Hungarian Jewish Martyrs. Designed by Imre Varga, each leaf bears the name of a Jew murdered by the Nazis.

The Hungarian Parliament

Finished in 1904, this structure, which has a front row seat on the Danube, is magnificent and well worth a visit. Guided tours in your language of choice are available, but most reviews I’ve read say they’re a waste of money and you’re better served by following a guidebook. Plan your visit here carefully to make sure you don’t end up on a day when it is closed. Most museums are closed on Mondays.

Parliament, Budapest

Hungary’s Parliament

Have a coffee or a light lunch at the New York Cafe

Be prepared for opulence. You might be tempted to say “It’s not done until it’s overdone” but somehow this all comes together tastefully. Simone had a cappuccino and a pastry. I had a double macchiato. For Budapest it was expensive – over $14. It was a fine coffee, but we really were there for was the atmosphere. Suffice it to say I felt like a pretender with the rich and famous. The place seems to be dripping with moneyed patrons. You’ll constantly be serenaded – either by a fellow on the baby grand, or another on the violin.

The New York Cafe is part of the luxury Boscolo Hotel. The structure originally was built by New York Life Insurance company to be its home office. It was nationalized during the communist era, bought by Boscolo Hotels in 2001, and reopened in its present glory in 2006.

The New York Cafe is definitely worth a brief entry in your itinerary. Read reviews of dining there if you’re intent on going there for more than coffee. The bulk of what I read said it was long on atmosphere, and short on quality of the food.

Hotel Rum is centrally located and stylishly designed.

Look no further if you’re looking for an affordable hotel that is also well-appointed and well-run by a friendly and knowledgeable staff. We couldn’t have been happier with our stay at Hotel Rum. Though we had booked a “small” room, it was one of the most brilliant uses of space that I’ve seen. Modern, and supremely comfortable. We’d stay there again in a heartbeat. There ‘s a nice restaurant/bar downstairs (our breakfast was included in the price).

Dining out is very affordable in Budapest.

At least, this was our experience. You’ll find a multitude of options. If you’re hankering for typical Hungarian food, like goulash, you’ll find it being served left and right. My advice, however, is to research the best reviewed restaurants for traditional fare ahead of time. And, be sure to book reservations well in advance. We tried three top rated places and found out they were booked up for the entirety of our stay.

If you’re like us, you won’t want to overdose on heavier Hungarian fare. So to mix things up we lunched at the Hummus Bar, just around the corner from our hotel. Also, two blocks north was Pad Thai Wok Bar. Both were yummy and inexpensive.

Getting to and from the airport can be inexpensive.

While a taxi is the most painless way to get in and out of Budapest, it can run you around $20-$30. We opted to take the 200E bus (departs about every 15-20 mins) from the airport to Kőbánya-Kispest train and metro station (south of the city). Here you can take the M3 metro north into the city center. You can pay for this a couple of ways. Depending on how long you plan to be in Budapest you can get a one or three-day pass (longer options are available) that covers both the buses and the metro. For the one-day pass, I think we paid around just over $5 each. Otherwise, you’ll need to purchase two individual tickets (one for the bus and one for the metro. Those run about $1.25 each.

Ultimately we opted to walk as much of the city as possible. After using the one-day pass we purchased individual tickets on an as-needed basis.

Well, that’s my take on Budapest, with a hearty thumbs up!  This is a longer post than normal, but I wanted to provide useful information should you make the enlightened decision to visit Budapest yourself. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have questions!

Happy traveling!

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