Coming back home always leaves me restless for few days. I don’t want to unpack because it means it’s ”over”. So my bag stays on floor, usually open because I DO plan to to take stuff out, sadly staring at me every time I pass by. Longest period was two weeks of mutual staring until I just didn’t have the heart to leave it out in the open like that. Plus it was starting to take more space then I could afford.
Since this was my second time visiting the decorated snowy streets of Budapest in Hungary, I came here last year too, as well on New Year’s Eve, I was well prepared with layers and layers of clothes. Winter time here can be especially shocking for unprepared travelers. Walking down the Pest side the of the Danube river I felt as popstickle, walking with penguins around me. Truly wherever you turn around, your camera should be ready, beautiful pictures are just waiting to be taken. I used some of them as postcards. Of course you can buy them in the city but why not making them more personalized!
PEST (east) SIDE
On this side of the Danube river you can see and do so many things. First of all the Old Town, that is like a crisscross of narrow streets in which you can easily get lost. But some of us wish for that. It is packed with shops, restaurants, thai massage centers (I’m still surprised seeing so many of them), unique and different coffee shops, markets, thermal baths and spas, squares, historical buildings and clubs. If you wish to try some traditional Hungarian food you’re in the right area. Except the usual street stands where you can find meat, meat goulash (with many different types of meat), meat stew, stuffed cabbage (usually with meat), meat paprikash, sausages.. As you can see, it is a meat country. There are some delicious desserts like kürtőskalács (or chimney cake), dobosh cake, lángos, hungarian strudel and parlour candy which is traditionally hung on Hungarian Christmas trees. Let me repeat: Candy. On trees. Dreams do come true! And the famous Paprika ofcourse! Hungarian red pepper, ground into powder or pulverized into paste, used in a lot of recipes. It makes any food better. It is the best spice ever. Bow down.
Some standard things to see would be: Central Market Hall, Parlament, Grand Synagoge, St.Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes Square and maybe the Opera house. I definitely recommend visiting the Parlament as it is truly magnificent. You’ll get a nice angle if you’re coming from south to Parlament, just watch out not to stay too long as you will get neck pain looking up all the time, the Parlament is 96 meters high! Heroes Square is another place I recommend. So named after the 1000 anniversary of Hungarians. Enormous square with 36meters high statue of archangel Gabriel, two art museum on each side and city park with castle Vajdahunyad in the backround. Gorgeous city park with Zoo and Szechenyi thermal bath. I went there with metro (line 1 from Opera) and came back walking down the Andrassy street where you can see a lot of restaurants, shops, beermobiles.. Yeah you read it right, it was a beermobile, a car so to speak. Actually it was more of a beer-serving table with wheels, people sat around it and had to pedal to keep it moving. A drink and a workout! Well you can at least say you’re loosing all those calories.
Other attractions to see any try out are the Budapest Eye AKA 65meters high ferris wheel from which you get one fabulous view of the city. Zrinyi street where we ‘moved’ spending most of our time here when we wanted to warm up. Stands with food are amazing, most if not all have heaters, different hot beverages, desserts and souvenirs, but at some point you DO start to freeze. And then you start looking for a place to warm your behind. One thing that almost always work are the caffe shops. I feel sorry for those people that have to spend their nights and holidays working but hey, we do pay for it.
If you go to Heroes Square be sure to try out enormous open air iceskating ‘lake’ also called Varosligeti Mujegpalya. Who can pronounce that, hat’s off. While in the summer it turns into a wonderful lake for romantic boat rides in winter you have children screaming and laughing trying to ski, skate or crawl across from one side to another, what with so many people, can be a suicidal mission.
Many bars and pubs are so unique that it would be fine just to go in to take a picture. Like For Sale pub where you can leave your own note/drawing on the wall. Mazel Tov, Vista caffe, Central Kavehaz, Repeta Sarok..
For some night fun you might want to check area behind Grand Synagoge, there are bars and clubs that are just waiting. A must see is Szimpla! Whoever did some research about Budapest clubs will see this on top of most lists. It is a multicultural historical caffe/bar during day which turns into club at night. It is a so called ruin bar and it’s not the only one. There is Mumus, Fogashaz, Instant, Otkert, Tesla and some that I didn’t have chance to visit yet.
BUDIM (west) SIDE
While on the other side of river, you have less hectic but not less touristic places. Gellert hill with Liberty Statue and Citadella, Royal Budim Palace, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. When you pass these must see locations, you get a nice view of residential areas that lay beyond.
Spend those 20minutes walking up the Gellert hill, neglect the subtle pain that might come if you’re not a fan of walking uphill with more then 10°inclination, because it is worth it. The top is at 140meters and the panorama is breathtaking. When you’re there you might as well go see the Liberty Statute and Citadella, and coming down do say hello to guests of Gellert Thermal Baths. There is an open bath where you can enjoy in this atmosphere while soaking in hot water. Baths are all around the city and most of them offer New Year party programs.
The Royal Palace is story for itself. With the Mathias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion it makes a well route for tourists. Not only that the panoramas are magnificent but the story behind it makes it even more interesting.
Boat sightseeing rides are often on Danube river. You can easily find one near Margaret island, on the Pest side. Also you can choose between more romantic dinner and cruise with live music, 2 hour city tour with water bus or a simple panorama boat ride. All are wonderful and prices vary depending on that wonderfulness.
On the New Year’s Eve you can choose between so many programs and things. Clubs usually need reservation, as well as thermal baths which are packed. It is a wonderful experience to celebrate a night in an outdoor or indoor thermal bath so don’t miss it. We went to one of the many squares in Pest. Erszebet square, Szabadsag square, Oktogon and all those places in between will be filled with people ready to celebrate the night. You will find stands with food and drinks everywhere, music coming from all clubs and people ready to celebrate. Fireworks starts from whenever you find lighter or matches. I was sad that there wasn’t a countdown but I do understand that it would be hard to get all those people yell at same time. I’m sure someone’s clock was going few minutes earlier! As there are many squares there were a lot of fireworks which had me staring at the sky for 30 minutes. You don’t know where to look, at same time take pictures and congratulate to people around you. Here you find the true purpose of multitasking. Finally, a New Year’s Budapest video of one of the group I was with to show you you do not need anything but good company to have the amazing time.
A lot of buildings, statues and attractions here are built in memory of Budapest liberation. So as you walk around town, keep in mind two facts: large part of Budapest was destroyed in World War II, and the communist regime only ended 1898. Since then Budapest has, in relatively short time, made some gigantic steps but it still needs a lot of adjustments. Many of the old buildings were destroyed and on their places modern buildings were built with boutiques and restaurants. Even though most of them were saved and brought back their old glory, you can still find many shabby facade.
One thing to watch is that there are a lot of homeless people on the streets. Some of them find their corner in some closed shops while trying to get warm. Although is hard to imagine how they deal with the cold daily, one does find some shame to stop complaining about the cold. There are some truly amazing people living there, ready to help out if needed, truly patient, sometimes too persistent, still I would recommend this historical beauty to anyone. I encourage you to go and discover hidden gems of this city. Winter, spring, autumn or summer, Hungary is living! Prepared to excite you, surprise you and give you best memories.
To sum it all up:
Attractions to be seen:
PEST side – Old Town, Parlament, Chain bridge, Central Market Hall, Zrinyi street, Hungarian National museum (for the art lovers), St. Stephen Basilica, Budapest Eye, Heroes Square with Vajdahunyad Castle and City park, Ruin bars/pubs (Szimpla, Mumus, Instant..), Thermal baths, Sightseeing Danube boat tours, riding tram line 2 ( it’s all decorated with Christmas lights in winter ) along the Danube river.
BUDIM side: Gellert hill with Liberty Statue and Citadella, Royal Budim Palace, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion (try to take a picture with eagles near the statue), Matthias fountain, Gellert thermal baths, hidden cafe bars.
Food to be eaten: A lot of meat. Kürtőskalács or chimney cake ( lovely to get your fingers sticky while walking around looking for nice souvenirs to take home ), dobosh cake, lángos, hungarian strudel. Street food, get wild!
Clothes to be worn: layers and layers!
Places to be sleeping: this completely depends on your preferences. Someone might be the type that is completely fine with hostels, being in room with a lot of people. I used Couchsurfing page for some nights as it allowed to meet Hungarian people and stay in their home. For others this might be too much so hotels are also an option. Whatever you choose it will be fine since you will only be sleeping here, your days will be remembered by days you wander around. This time I was staying in All Central Hostel which i highly recommend.
Language to be spoken: is Hungarian. But if you don’t know it I recommend to start learning the basics. In most areas that tourists wonder, people speak more than enough English. Especially in restaurants but if you go a little outside of the center maybe German would be more useful, because until 1990 German was a universal second language in Hungary. Last time I was there I checked some sites for quick Hungarian lessons.
When it comes to money, currency is Hungarian forint, so take some time to go outside of the center and find an exchange office, because they tend to have better or no commission. Look for one near Lonyay street or beyond. Most of restaurants and shops do take credit cards but they will not be useful on streets.
And last, but not least, have fun! Enjoy, do what makes you happy, as it is your experience and yours only.