Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dos and Don'ts of Budapest

So we popped off to Budapest for a long weekend recently. My thoughts about the place can be filed under 'Do' and 'Don't'. I'll start with the 'Don'ts' to get them out of the way.

Go to the Cave Church. It's (as the name suggests) a Catholic church founded by Pauline monks in 1926, set in a small network of caves. Unfortunately it's totally devoid of atmosphere as all the caves have been sprayed with concrete, had floors put in and decorated with flowers and statues.

Also, the film about the place and the audio commentry were hilariously bad. The soundtrack was a group of monks singing 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol (why?!), the commentary was read by someone who sounded like a bored student and written by someone who thought that to convert us to Catholicism, all we needed was loooooong explanations of topics such as 'the Sacred Heart of Jesus'.

Nice view from the Gellèrt Hills though.


Give yourself less than three days in Budapest. Five days would be ideal, to allow for side trips. There is so much to see and do. With the way our flights worked out, we only ended up with two days and it just wasn't enough.

 This one is a bit of a qualified suggestion... The baths at the Gellèrt Hotel are famous and on the recommended list for a visit to Budapest BUT... I found the experience before and after actually being in the hot water quite stressful. It was really quite expensive and hard to work out what kind of ticket we actually needed. We didn't notice until we were actually in there that we needed to buy a swimming cap to go in the inside pool. We snuck in without one and we got away with it.

The place is a labyrinth! So difficult to find your way around, it's not funny. I couldn't find a ladies loo for the life of me, and there were only two hairdryers (significant in a cold climate as you don't want to go out with wet hair).

The hotel looked a bit like it was leaning on its fading grandeur, with tacky stalls in the foyer. The main outdoor pool was closed for winter, which was a bit sad.

I'd suggest you try some of the other baths available and see if you get a better experience.

Bother with the main shopping street Váci utca and Central Market Hall. They are complete tourist traps, complete with acres of similar souveniers, people calling out to you to come and see their shops or eat at their overpriced restaurants. If you wanted to buy food i.e. fruit, vegetables, cheese, spirits including local liquers, meat including lots of sausages and salamis, then the Central Market Hall is probably a decent proposition, but we weren't there long enough to do any cooking.

Worry about not being able to speak any Hungarian. We looked at a phrase book and gave up on even being able to say hello. Not to worry, everyone kindly spoke English.

Right, now onto the positives...

Go to Budpest, especially in autumn. It's such a pretty city and it was made even prettier by the autumn leaves and mist. Evidently it gets crazy-hot and full of tourists in summer. The only slight suggestion would be to maybe go in September so that some things wouldn't be closed for winter and the days would be longer. It did get dark very early (like around 4:30pm).Or try going in spring as I'm sure that would be very pretty too.

Decide what you want to do and book early. We missed out on a evening river cruise and on a performance at the Opera House 'cos we hadn't worked out our itinerary for our visit and booked tickets.

Walk over as many of the bridges across the Danube as possible.  The views along the riverbanks are stunning, either by day or by night. The parliament buildings are particularly pretty.


Walk up Castle Hill (or take the funicular railway - sadly it was undergoing maintainance while we were there) and spend a day. The views are amazing, the architecture spectacular, Matthias Church is one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen. We also did a whistle-stop tour of the Hungarian National Gallery which had a lovely collection of art, from ancient elaborate church decorations to a spooky modern installation in the dome. Sadly we didn't have time for the other museum in the old Palace. We'll have to go back at some point as there's just so much to see!

Cute Neo-Gothic tower on Castle Hill
Spiral window inside Matthias Church

Castle Hill from the river bank
Eat like a pig! The traditional food is hearty, rich and filling to help keep out the winter cold (and also reasonably priced). We had delicious paprika spiced sausages, lots of mulled wine, goulash (of course), soups like the kosher pea soup in the picture, rich desserts with honey and cream... mmm... makes me hungry just thinking about it! We enjoyed the good service and amazing food at the Drum Cafe.

So, in summary, Budapest is awesome! I'm definitely planning to go back at some point and catch up with some of the things we missed. It's also handily close to other places I'd love to visit such as the Croatian coast and Austria. 

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