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Visiting Budapest is a Feast for the Senses

Seeing The Hungarian Parliament Building while visiting Budapest.

The Paris of the East. That’s what they call Budapest, Hungary. We’ve had many friends visit Budapest and all have raved about the city. At times, this city has an identity crisis. Budapest’s rich architectural and cultural traditions stand in stark contrast to the bleak austerity under communism. We found ourselves overwhelmed by the sights and tastes along the Danube. We love visiting Budapest!

The Hungarian Parliament from the Fisherman's Bastion on the Castle Hill in Buda.  Castle Hill is a must for anyone visiting Budapest.

The Hungarian Parliament from the Fisherman’s Bastion

Of all the cities we’ve visited in Europe, we were least prepared for Budapest. The city existed for over 40 years behind the Iron Curtain making it a bit of a question mark for us on the travel map. What would we find in Hungary? Would we enjoy visiting Budapest?

Coat of arms at the base of Castle Hill and the funicular in Budapest, Hungary.  Riding the funicular is on the top things to do when visiting Budapest.

Visiting Budapest

The capital of Hungary is nothing less than a feast for the senses:

See Budapest’s Beauty

There is perhaps no city in the world more beautiful than Budapest. We realize that’s a bold statement, but this city can make that claim. One of our top things to do in Budapest is to walk around and see the city’s rich architectural beauty.

Budapest is divided by the Danube River into the older Buda/Castle Hill district and the newer Pest area. Start in the historic Castle Hill district in Buda for stunning views of the Danube from the Fisherman’s Bastion. This is a great view to take in the Hungarian Parliament Building. Before riding the funicular down to the river, be sure to visit Matthias Church. This might be my favorite church in the whole world.

The Lions on the Chain Bridge, with Castle Hill and the Budapest funicular in the background.

The Lions on the Chain Bridge, with Castle Hill and the funicular in the background

The Chain Bridge crosses the river and connects the two cities. In the newer Pest part of the city, the Hungarian Parliament Building is a highlight. At some point, anyone visiting Budapest will end up on the touristy Vaci Utca pedestrian street with its many restaurants and shops. St. Stephen’s Basilica is as grand as any you’ll find in the Europe. Lovers of the arts swear by the Hungarian State Opera along Andrássy Boulevard, the only boulevard in Europe to rival the Champs Elysees.

Statues outside the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest.

The Opera

Hear the Echoes of the Past

From 1945 to 1989, Hungary was a communist nation ruled as a puppet government of the Soviet Union. Communism was not kind during the 20th century and 85-100 million people were killed in the name of communism – including many Hungarians. While visiting Budapest, we took a Hammer & Sickle Communism Walking Tour and were able to hear some of the echoes of the past. A young man who was indoctrinated into the communist system as a child told us about how children were encouraged to turn their parents in to the authorities for even the most minor of Communist Party infractions. In the words of Vladimir Lenin, “Give us the child for 8 years and it will be a Bolshevik forever.”

The changing of the guard at the Hungarian Parliament Building in Budapest.

The history of Hungary is one of occupation. Hungary was conquered and destroyed by the Mongols, who were followed by the Turks and their fledgling Islamic state. Hungary was then liberated (and subsequently) occupied by the Hapsburgs of Austria, then the Germans during World War II, and finally the Soviet Union’s liberation of 1945 (a liberation in which they didn’t leave until 1989). Visiting Budapest is walking in the footsteps of 1,000 years of complicated history and around every corner you can hear the sounds of this past.

The Shoes on the Danube sculpture in Budapest, Hungary honoring the victims of the Holocaust.

The Shoes on the Danube

Finally, no visit to Budapest is complete without visiting the Shoes on the Danube sculpture and hearing the haunted voices of the Holocaust in Hungary.

Yellow flowers in The Shoes on the Danube sculpture in Budapest, Hungary honoring the victims of the Holocaust.

Smell the Caffeine

Visiting Budapest is like walking back in time. Hungarians have a love of coffee that dates back to when they were conquered by the Turks. A robust café culture developed in Budapest during the 19th and 20th centuries to serve the needs of local residents and visitors. Efforts by the communists to suppress coffee and the conversations that took place here were unsuccessful.

Today, walking into any of the Budapest cafés is like stepping back in time. Breathe deep and enjoy a cup along with a cake and experience life as it was meant to be.

The ornate interior of the St. Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary.

Taste the Rich Culinary Heritage

Budapest doesn’t have a reputation as a worldwide gastronomic capital…and we don’t know why. Our absolute favorite thing to do was to indulge in the city’s amazing culinary offerings on a Budapest food tour. And there are many culinary offerings.

When visiting Budapest, don't miss the city's grand Central Market.

Budapest’s Central Market

The focal point of the Budapest culinary scene is the Central Market – a large, three-floor indoor market selling all kinds of foods. This isn’t a made-for-tourists market. We were visiting Budapest in October and found little old ladies buying their fall vegetables – leaks, root vegetables and squash. Late summer cucumbers that had been pickled were just brought out and old men were lined up for them. Other stalls specialized in charcuterie or paprika spices.

Peppers at the Central Market in Budapest, Hungary.

Peppers at the Central Market

On the upper floor, we encountered a small, unremarkable stand with a huge crowd around it. In the stand, a guy was turning out small, personal pizzas. But these aren’t pizzas. This is langos and it’s practically the national dish of Hungary. We ordered the traditional bread with sour cream, cheese and garlic – assured by a local that this was the authentic way to enjoy the langos. And enjoy them we did!

Sampling the sausages, salami and charcuterie while visiting Budapest's Central Market.

But at the Pesti Disznó gastropub, we discovered the Mangalica. The Mangalicas are an ancient and rare pig breed that grows hair and looks like a sheep. And the Mangalica tastes delicious! The Pesti Disznó makes a life-changing Mangalica burger. Trust us. It’s that good. [Random trivia: It’s rumored that the Mangalica was the inspiration for Miss Piggy from the Muppets.]

And no trip to Hungary would be complete without a bowl of Hungarian goulash.

An elaborate fountain at the Budapest Castle.

Elaborate fountain at the Budapest Castle

Feel the Thermal Waters

Hungary, like much of Central Europe, is blessed with a large number of naturally occurring hot springs. Within the city limits of Budapest are a five major hot springs and thermal baths complexes with over 45 different pools. One of the highlights while visiting Budapest is a trip to one of the city’s many spas to soak in the thermal waters.

The indoor Gellert Baths in Budapest, Hungary.

Baths at The Gellert Spa

We visited two of the Budapest thermal baths. Our first afternoon in Budapest was rainy and we headed to the posh Gellért Baths on the Buda side of the river. Here, we could soak to our heart’s content in the indoor thermal pools. Later in the week, we visited the vast Szechenyi Baths complex. For 101 years, residents of Budapest and visitors alike soak in the three outdoor and 15 indoor pools. We found that the hot springs and baths in Budapest are some of the finest in the world.

One of the most iconic Budapest photos:  The Szechenyi Baths.  For over 100 years, the Szechenyi Baths have been soothing visitors and locals alike. For us, the best time of year to visit Budapest Hungary is the fall when there are cool temperatures and you can soak in Szechenyi Baths to warm up!

The Szechenyi Baths

Visiting Budapest truly is a feast for the senses!

From our experience, the best time to visit Budapest is the spring (March-May) or the cool fall (September-November). We love visiting Budapest in the fall because there’s just something magical about dipping into one of the thermal baths with the cool temperature in the air.

Have you ever visited Budapest? What was your favorite thing about this city?

The ornate interior of the St. Matthias Church in Budapest, Hungary.

St. Matthias Church

While in Budapest, we explored the city as guests of JayWay Travel, providers of bespoke Eastern European travel. As always, all opinions are our own.

And just because you can never have too many Budapest photos:

One of the highlights of visiting Budapest:  The Hungarian Parliament Building.

The St. Matthias Church on Castle Hill in Budapest.

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What do you think about Visiting Budapest is a Feast for the Senses?

  1. Victor December 9, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    Yes, this a bold statement, but seeing your photos, man understand that Budapest is one of the interesting European cities. And it was interesting to read your post.

    • Laura Longwell December 14, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      Thanks, Victor. It’s a beautiful city with a wide variety of things to see and do.

  2. Sue Reddel December 10, 2014 at 6:13 pm #

    I’ve always wanted to visit Budapest and reading your story and seeing your beautiful photos make me want to go sooner than later.

    • Laura Longwell December 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm #

      We didn’t know what to expect with Budapest but couldn’t have loved it more.

  3. Esther December 17, 2014 at 5:59 am #

    It’s so beautiful, isn’t it?

    • Lance Longwell December 17, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

      I think it might possibly be my new favorite city anywhere in the world.

      • Andrea Gerak September 7, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

        This is awesome to hear, Lance! I enjoyed reading your well-written post and looking at the great photos. As a Hungarian, sometimes I live in Budapest, and after having lived in several gorgeous cities in Europe (such as Zurich, Stockholm, Vienna or right now I am in Prague), Budapest is still my favorite.

        And I keep hearing it from tourists all the time how much they loved it 🙂

        • Lance Longwell September 7, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

          Thanks Andrea! You’ve got an awesome country.

  4. Steven January 6, 2015 at 8:51 am #

    stunning city, really enjoyed the architecture and reading your post reminded me of being there 🙂

    boat trip on the danube or a meal on one of the boat restaurants is recommended too.

    • Lance Longwell January 8, 2015 at 8:18 pm #

      We didn’t do a boat trip on the Danube. It was one of the things we just couldn’t fit in. I think we need another trip back to Budapest!

  5. the lazy travelers January 8, 2015 at 10:22 am #

    like you guys, we were DEFINITELY unprepared for budapest. we had no idea what to expect of the city! we ended up having an AMAZING two days there, filled with amazing food and wine (who knew!). we’d love to go back to explore more!

    • Lance Longwell January 8, 2015 at 8:17 pm #

      A return trip to Budapest is definitely in the cards for us. We felt like we only scratched the surface on this trip!

  6. Raymond @ Man On The Lam January 20, 2015 at 6:09 am #

    Your photos really do the city justice. I’ve been to Budapest twice and absolutely love it there.

    • Lance Longwell January 20, 2015 at 11:58 pm #

      We’re itching to get back there! Need to find a way in 2015.

  7. Diana Edelman January 20, 2015 at 2:42 pm #

    Budapest is such a gorgeous city! I was mesmerized by it and cannot wait to get back there!

  8. Abi January 21, 2015 at 5:36 am #

    I have mixed feelings about Budapest myself. It’s beautiful, yes, and with a dark and intricate history…but perhaps it’s that that’s meant I never truly felt at home there? Who knows. Great city to visit anyway.

  9. Mindy and Ligeia January 22, 2015 at 10:50 am #

    This looks like a great tour of Budapest replete with beautiful photos. I enjoyed a tour of the opera house while I was there but missed so many of the sights you visited. I find the shoes on the Danube particularly powerful.
    Thanks for reminding us that perhaps it’s time to take a trip back to Europe. 🙂

    • Laura Longwell January 26, 2015 at 10:35 pm #

      Funny, because we missed the opera house. Proof of how much there is to see in Budapest 🙂 And, yes, Shoes on the Danube was one of the things we wanted to see most on our visit. Very powerful.

  10. Leah January 22, 2015 at 6:41 pm #

    The architecture in this city really blows me away. Would love to see it in person, and to learn more about Budapest’s fascinating history.

  11. Christina January 31, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Great photos and walk through Budapest! It’s definitely on my 2015 list 🙂 How long were you there?

    • Laura Longwell January 31, 2015 at 6:22 pm #

      Thanks, Christina. We were there about 3.5 days and could have spent at least another 2 days and still had plenty of new things to see.

  12. Milena Yordanova June 27, 2016 at 9:15 am #

    Amazing photos! Budapest is truly beautiful. I love it, especially at night when everything is illuminated.

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