We recently relocated to Sofia, Bulgaria for work – more on that later. One of the perks of living in Eastern Europe is the proximity to travel destinations that might be otherwise out of reach on a European vacation due to the desire to visit the main cities (Paris, Rome, London) or time constraints. In any event, we were lucky enough to be able to get a last-minute flight to Budapest on a whim. What a surprise! Budapest did not fail to impress us with its beautiful, historic buildings, lively restaurant scene, and gorgeous waterfront setting along the Danube River. I had few preconceived notions about Hungary (hot paprika), but I was not prepared for how truly impressive Budapest is today. My advice for a peak-season summer city visit is to skip the big ones: too crowded, too hot, and too expensive. Instead opt for another capital city that is equally impressive and more affordable: Budapest.
Where to Stay
Where you decide to stay has a big effect on whether you like a place or not. First impressions do make a difference. If you are able to splurge a little or go during the week instead of the weekend, try to stay within walking distance of the main sights. We stayed at the Hotel Moments Budapest on Andrássy út 8. This hotel is an older building that was totally renovated in the interior. It has a delicious restaurant, excellent included breakfast and the location is perfect. Andrassy Avenue is a pretty, tree-lined street in an upscale area right around the corner from some of the major sites. I loved this hotel so much and it was surprisingly affordable. The room was large and we scored with a room overlooking Andrassy. I almost stayed at the Buddha Bar Hotel which is closer to the Danube; that area is decidedly more congested and touristy, but still nice. There are many hotels in both areas and either way you would be close enough to walk to the major sites.
Hotel Moments Budapest
Andrássy út 8.
Where to Eat
There seems to be a bit of a foodie revolution going on in Budapest. We never got a bad meal, admittedly we did avoid the very touristy places. Our splurge meal was on the recommendation of the hotel. Yum.
What to See
Walking and Parks – There is a lot to see just walking around Budapest for free. We do a lot of outdoor touring with our two-year-old son. On the first afternoon, we splurged on the Budapest Eye, a Ferris wheel which was really cool and gave us a nice overview of the city. It is located in a lovely city park with restaurants, food stalls, trinket shops and a concert venue as well. We saw a free traditional folk festival while there.
Check it out: Budapest Eye http://oriaskerek.com/home/.
Bridges and Castle Hill – There are a number of impressive bridges, including the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, spanning the Danube, and you can easily walk across. We walked to Castle Hill (Buda side) for a pretty view of Parliament (Pest side). Castle Hill itself has some jaw-dropping buildings as well, and an interesting little place called Fisherman’s Wharf. You can hike up or take the little tram, or funicular, up to the top. I found the tram was well worth the fare.
Budapest Funicular http://budacastlebudapest.com/funicular-buda-castle-district/
Cruise – Finally, on our last night we took a 1-hour ferry down the Danube at sunset. It was last minute and we didn’t have a dinner cruise, but there are lots of options. Ours was simple but accomplished the same goal, seeing the sights lit up from the water was stunning. You can pre-book cruises or just walk up to one and ask for the sailing times.
Spas – Budapest is famous for spas, but we didn’t have a chance to go. I did visit the older more famous one, Gellért Baths. It was a neat old building and I’m sure worthwhile for a few hours. A Danish couple we met on the Danube boat went there and to another one, which they said was better – alas the name escapes me!
In short, three nights was a nice introduction to Budapest, but not long enough to enjoy this vibrant city. I highly recommend it and intend to return myself.