Sweet Shark and I just returned from a 2 week river cruise from Budapest to Prague. We traveled through Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria and Germany aboard the Viking Prestige cruise ship before taking a bus ride to Prague. I thought I should share with you my reflections of this bucket~list trip while it is still fresh in my mind, beginning with our 4 days in Budapest and 10 things you should do in Budapest.
During our trip, I posted photos and accounts of our trip on Facebook and Instagram. Many people responded with comments and questions about our travels. We have always heard what a great city Budapest is and we were not disappointed. Spanning both sides of the river, with traditional hillside Buda on the western side and modern Pest on the eastern side, Budapest became one city in 1873. In the last few decades Budapest has emerged as one of Europe’s crown jewels.
10 Things You Should Do in Budapest
So what should you do in Budapest? Enjoy yourself! Sweet Shark and I arrived on a Thursday morning, with 3 1/2 days to explore the city before our scheduled time to board our river boat on Sunday afternoon. We had no agenda, no schedule, just time to wander and discover what Budapest has to offer. This list of 10 things you should do in Budapest is our experience.
What to Pack Before You Arrive
People walk in Europe. It is the best way to see a city. If you have ever been to Europe, you know that the streets may be old and covered in cobblestones. Here’s a few suggestions how to prepare.
- wear shoes suitable for lots of walking ~ that doesn’t mean white tennis shoes that will make you stand out as an American, but flats or boots with good soles and good support.
- rain coat or all~weather coat ~ during the 2 weeks of our trip, we had very warm weather and chilly and rainy weather. I have a rain coat that has traveled all over the world. I can roll it up in my suitcase, it’s reversible and stylish and roomy enough to wear over a layers of shirts or sweaters.
- clothes for layering ~ pack tops that you can wear over each other. Both short and long sleeves, a lightweight sweater, or lightweight jacket.
- umbrella ~ although many hotels have umbrellas for their guest’s use as did our river boat, we like to each pack a travel umbrella. We definitely needed it on this trip.
10 Things You Should Do in Budapest
A couple of notes:
- Hungary uses the forint currency, although most of the larger shops, restaurants and hotels will accept euros; when we were there the US exchange was 260 forint to $1.00
- The Hungarian language is one of the hardest in the world to understand. When we travel, we always try to speak basic words like hello, thank you, you’re welcome, please, good morning, etc. We can do that in French, Italian, German and Spanish. We tried to learn some Hungarian, but gave up on the third day. It’s almost impossible to pronounce. But we did learn a few words.
- utca (utsa) ~ street; ter ~ square; Étterem ~ restaurant
- Everyone is very friendly and we had great service everywhere we went. Everyone we met in the restaurants, cafes and hotels spoke excellent English.
- It seems that eating outside for lunch and dinner and in~between is the popular thing to do, which I love.
- I decided not to take my DSLR camera and just rely on my iPhone. It was easier and faster to snap pictures. I Airdropped them to my MAC when I got home and edited them on PicMonkey. I also took al my pictures in Square mode so they would be ready for Instagram.
Walk Around the Parliament Building
After checking into our hotel, which was right on the Danube, unpacking our bags, and picking up a map at the front desk, we set out to explore. The first place we walked to is the Hungarian Parliament, the largest building in Hungary. Built from 1896 ~ 1904 in the Gothic Revival style, it sits right on the Danube and is surrounded by a large square. The year 1896 is important because it was the 1000th (that’s not a typo) anniversary of the country. Walk by the monument to the Hungarian Revolution of 1989 which ended Communist rule. Hopefully, you will get to see the changing of the guard.
Upper Left ~ one side of Parliament where you can see the detail of the architecture
Upper Right ~ changing of the guard on the steps of Parliament
Lower Left ~ the water feature on the square around Parliament
Lower Right ~ Sweet Shark standing next to a huge statue at the side of Parliament
We did not tour the inside of the Parliament, but I would certainly try to do that if you have time. The crown jewels of Hungary are kept there and pictures of the interiors look beautiful.
Walk Across the Chain Bridge to Buda and Castle Hill
Chain Bridge was the first bridge to span the Danube and join Buda, Old Buda and Pest. Built in 1849, it affords a great view of the Danube and the city. Looking back at Pest, you get a great view of the Parliament building and the spires of St. Stephen’s Basilica. Looking forward, you can look up the hill of Buda to the Castle Hill District.
Left ~ view of Buda and Castle Hill from outside our hotel in Pest.
Center ~ walking across the Chain Bridge
Right ~ the Chain Bridge looking down from Castle Hill.
Take the Funicular Up to Castle Hill and the Royal Palace
You may have to wait in line, but the funicular is the best way to get to the top of the hill. Once on Castle Hill, walk around the Royal Palace and have your camera ready ~ the views are spectacular. Seeing the horse~back riding soldiers during the changing of the guard was a treat. I couldn’t resist talking to the soldier about his horse ~ and I could pet him ~ the horse, not the soldier.
Then head over to the Fishermen’s Bastion, an open terrace area of 7 turrets representing the 7 tribes that settled the area in 895 A.D. It’s easy to see where to go, past a small park and down a cobblestone street. The day we were there, a women’s choir was singing in the park which was a lovely background to the scene. The views of the river and Pest are amazing. Fortunately, we had a beautiful, clear day to enjoy the area.
Left ~ the day we were there, it was sunny and beautiful. The statue of Matthias in the center of a fountain with the Fishermen’s Bastion in the background.
Right ~ 3 days later the weather was cloudy and chilly in the afternoon when we toured with our river boat group.
After leaving Fishermen’s Bastion, which was named for the fishermen’s guild who protected it, walk around Buda. The buildings, shops and cafes are lovely and you will definitely feel like you have been transported back in time a few hundred years. I especially loved the painted buildings ~ they reminded me of Charleston.
We had a wonderful lunch at Pierrot on Fortuna Street. Located inside a 13th century bakery, it is charming and the food was excellent. The tomato soup was delicious. We also had the Duck Liver Selection: Seared Duck Liver and BRÛLÉE with Fruit Chutney and Brioche. It was heaven.
Tour Matthias Church at Fisherman’s Bastion
The day that we walked across the Chain Bridge by ourselves to visit Buda, we did not go in Matthias Church (I think we were hungry and ready for lunch.) On our last day in Budapest, we joined the Panoramic tour of Budapest, which was included in our river cruise. Returning to Buda, we now had time to visit the church which is at the Fisherman’s Bastion.
Matthias Church, named after the first Hungarian king, is one of the most unique churches in Europe. Since 1015 A.D., this Roman Catholic church has seen the coronation of Hungarian royalty, been a mosque for Ottoman Turks for 150 years, and continues to hold daily mass today. It is absolutely gorgeous inside. Outside, the church is Gothic, but inside, its breathtaking colors, graceful architecture, and rich wall paintings will leave you speechless. Don’t miss this gem.
St. Stephen’s Basilica and Square
In a beautiful square on the Pest side of the city is St. Stephen’s Basilica. Surrounded by cafes and shops, the basilica sits in the center of the square and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Named in honor of Stephen, the beloved first King of Hungary. He lived in the 10th century! Its symmetry on the outside is matched by its grandeur on the inside. In the 18th century the church as used as a theater for animal fights. Today concerts are held in the church.
Gold leaf is everywhere and the massive columns appear to be marble, but we found out later that they are painted to look like marble. Considered the most important church in Hungary, St. Stephen’s is notable not only for its beautiful Neo~Classic architecture, but also because St. Stephen’s right hand is said to be housed here.
Interesting Note: the church spire is exactly that same height as the dome of the Parliament building ~ 315 feet ~ so that church and state are equal.
We spent some time every day during our stay in Budapest in the square, walking around, having a glass of wine or lunch at one of the outdoor cafes. It’s a lovely place to sit for a spell and people watch.
Walk Andrassy Avenue
Andrassy Avenue is the Champ~Elysees of Budapest. Just so you know, it’s pronounced “Andrashay”. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every designer brand in the world is represented along this tree~lined boulevard where you can really appreciate the grandeur of Budapest. You definitely have to walk the avenue to window shop, view the flowers and admire the architecture. You’ll pass the Opera House (which you can tour, but we didn’t) and pass dozens of embassies housed in the grand old mansions.
Back in the day, this was where high society lived. Many mansions today are closed, but many are still beautifully maintained. We walked up one side on our way away from the city center and down the other side coming back.
Visit Heroes Square
At the end of Andrassy Avenue, you cross an intersection and come to Heroes Square, also an UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in 1896. Around the back side of the square is its iconic statue complex, featuring the 7 chieftains of the Magyars (The people from the east who settled in what is now Hungary. Magyars is another name for Hungarians.) and other important Hungarian leaders. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is here also.
At the Center is the Millennium Monument, begun in 1896 to commemorate the thousand year anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state.
On the Saturday that Sweet Shark and I walked on Andrassy Avenue to Heroes Square, the weather was chilly and drizzling. When we arrived at Heroes Square, there was a basketball tournament with hundreds of kids and portable basketball hoops covering the square. Although we could walk around the back of the square and the statue complex, we couldn’t walk into the square. On the day of our Panoramic Tour, which was Monday, the day was dry and clear and the square was empty of kids and basketballs. We could now really appreciate the massive size of the square (It’s the largest in Budapest.) and the beauty of it.
Drink Hungarian Wine
Hungary is known for its wine and we didn’t have a glass we didn’t like. Wine has been cultivated in Hungary since around 1000 A.D.. With 22 wine producing regions, Hungary will please any wine lover. On the menu, you will mostly see either dry or sweet white wines, roses or red blends.
Stop for a rest in a sidewalk cafe, sip a glass of wine and enjoy a serene moment.
Eat Hungarian Food
We had 4 lunches and 3 dinners in Budapest and every meal was outstanding. Fortunately all the menus were in Hungarian and English and you won’t have a problem asking your server to help you with the menu.
Hungarian food is called Magyar cuisine and is known for its rich flavors. The food is comfort food as its best. With a rustic approach, think mouth~watering spicy dishes, rich stews, and sauces and hearty soups. As a landlocked country, Hungarian cuisine is meat~oriented, meant to be hearty and warming ~ that’s why every meal begins with soup.
We had soup everywhere and every bowl was delicious, whether tomato~based, vegetable or mushroom.
Paprika is the most important culinary spice in Hungary (brought by the Turks) and it is the hot variety. Stewing and roasting are the cooking techniques of choice. The one pot meal is the way food is made. Hungarian Goulash is an institution which we enjoyed at lunch; think of beef stew, but with lots of paprika and tomatoes.
Our first night we had a delicious lamb shank, new potatoes, string beans tomato chutney at Aszú on Sas (pronounced shas)Utca. This is exactly where we ate dinner.
Our second dinner we ate across the street at Rézkakas Bistro; we had perch~pike, a lake fish, that was delicious. At both places, we ate outside which was a wonderful experience. You will find Italian restaurants all over Budapest and on our third night, we decided to try one on the square at St. Stephen’s. We had a wonderful dinner at La Fabricca of beef carpaccio and pasta.
Walk Vaci Utca
Located a couple of blocks from the Danube between the Chain Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge is Vaci (Vashey) Utca ~ utca is street in Hungarian and is pronounced “utsa”. A pedestrian street lined with shops, cafes and ice cream and pastry shops, it is the poor relative to Andrassy Avenue.
Definitely more touristy and crowded, but with a fun vibe, Vaci Utca should be visited during the day was the advice from the friend of a friend whose mother was born in Hungary and has been there many times. It has a sense of energy, more affordable shops and less expensive dining options.
We didn’t taste Kürtőskalács, a traditional Hungarian pastry, but it was fun to watch it being made. Notice the Coca~Cola sign.
This is a bonus to~do: see Budapest at night, especially the Chain Bridge and the view of the Royal Palace. It is magical and spectacular. From the Buda side of the Danube, Parliament is amazing too. Budapest at night is so beautiful.
I hope that you enjoyed this quick journey through Budapest and that my recommendations for 10 things you should do in Budapest will help any travel plans you have in the future to visit this magical city.
Now it’s time to check out the wonderful fall decor offerings from my Texas blogging sisters. We’ll be sharing ideas for fall decor today through Thursday. I’ll be back on Thursday with some fall decor inspiration for you. On Wednesday, I’ll share a cute and easy fall decor DIY on our October Ten on the 1oth. It’s a great week for seasonal home decor!