My mum and I always wanted to visit Christmas markets in a European country. Kevin wasn’t that interested and also had no holidays left in work so he couldn’t come.. Soz Kev.
We originally booked Brussels, but after the terrorist attack happened in Paris in November, Brussels went under lock down the following month and was on high alert for a few days. We both agreed that sadly we would be too nervous to visit at that time, so we changed the destination to Budapest. I had never been to Hungary before so I was interested to see what it could offer.
We had an early start as we needed to catch the first flight from Inverness to London Gatwick at 7AM, where we would wait a couple hours for our next flight. When everyone had boarded the next plane we were advised that there was technical problems which resulted in everyone having to transfer to a different aircraft. This was really annoying and took up a considerable amount of mulled wine drinking time.
When we FINALLY arrived at Budapest airport it was late evening. Checking into the hotel, we dumped our luggage and headed out to make the most of the night. Hungary’s capital is spilt into two main areas, Buda which is hilly and Pest which is flat. We were staying very central in Pest, located about a 10 minute walk from Vörösmarty Square where a lot of the Christmas Markets are. The square was decorated beautifully, with lots of Christmas lights and a big tree at the entrance. Wasting no time we tried our first local delicacy, Kürtőskalács (chimney cake). This is a long pastry, baked around a rolling pin in front of you and covered with with cinnamon, chocolate or nuts. A few of these were sampled during our time here. We then had a look around the different markets stalls before heading back to the hotel frozen and knackered.
After a decent sleep we were ready for our first full day in the city. We decided to stop at a cafe for breakfast before we went to the meeting point of our first activity with Free Budapest Walking Tours. The guide we had for this tour was absolutely brilliant. He was informative and funny and explained the interesting history this city has. I have been on a lot of walking tours and he was definitely one of the best. We visited sites including St. Stephens Basilica (we returned here later in the day for the scenic view at the top and also because there were more markets located here) and the Szechenyi Chain Bridge which was destroyed during WWII, when the nazis were retreating.
The river separates Buda and Pest so we were heading to Buda for the first time.
Buda Castle is located on top of a hill on this side of the river, usually the Funicular Railway can take you up the hill but it was out of service so had to take the steps instead. We don’t seem to be having much luck do we? The climb was worth it as we were rewarded with a fantastic view of the city. We also got to see the changing of guards ceremony at the castle. Further along this area we saw Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion which was built as a look out tower in the 19th century and gives another fantastic view of the river Danube and the Hungarian Parliament Building.
The walking tour ended here, it was an ideal way to see the city. I always try and do one of these tours on the first day because it also helps to find your bearings and you usually get some handy tips if you have a good guide. For lunch we headed to Vörösmarty Square for more Hungarian goodies. This time we opted for soup goulash served inside a big, crusty roll and washed down with mulled wine. It warmed us up a bit because the temperature was dropping and it was freezing cold.
In the evening we visited some Ruin Bars that are located in the former Jewish district of the city. Ruin bars are basically old warehouses or derelict buildings that have been transformed into a bar. They are usually in their original state and contain quirky furniture and random items. Is a great place to go if you’re looking for something different to do and they are really popular in Budapest. If you are planning on visiting make sure you check out Szimpla Kert. After several local beers we headed for some dinner, followed by a trip to Gelarto-Rosa for dessert. They serve gelato shaped like a rose and also pure hot chocolate in mini mugs. It was a great find.
The was our final day and we still had a lot to see. So we were up early and headed for Andrassy Avenue, known as the Champ Elyseese of Budapest. Around halfway up this street the House of Terror is located. A former interigation building, it contains information about the fascist and communist regimes that Budapest lived through. It was quite good but there is not much information in English so I wouldn’t say it is essential that you visit here.
When we were finished we continued walking up the street, (which is really long btw) past many embassy buildings until we reached Hősök tere (Hero’s Square). This is a major square in the capital and contains the tomb of the unknown soldier, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Millennium Monument. It is probably one of the most iconic areas of Budapest and very impressive.
Behind the square is City Park of Budapest. There are many sights located in the park but we only had time to see a couple. First we went to Vajdahunyad Castle which is a stunning building and well worth visiting if you are in the area. I’m not sure if you can go inside but we spend a bit of time wandering around the castle grounds. Next we visited Széchenyi Bath, a thermal medicinal spa. We didn’t take a bathing suit with us, which I really regret, so we were unable to go in the water. There are lots of these baths located in the city and they are popular with locals and tourists. I would say going for a dip is a must even though I didn’t get to do it. (Remember your swimwear!)
We then walked ALLLLL the way back up Andrassy Avenue, stopping for a coffee at the cat cafe which is home to resident cats. I had been to one of these before in Munich and really enjoyed it so didn’t mind trying a different one. This cafe had lots of cakes in the shapes of cats that you can enjoy in the company of a feline friend.
I’m not sure how, because even writing this it seems like we did loads but we had a wee bit of time to kill, so visited The Great Market Hall. This is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest, containing hundreds of traders selling food produce, Hungarian souvenirs and cooked food.
For the late evening we had booked a boat cruise of the Danube river. This was a great way to see the whole area at night time. The Hungarian Parliament building was absolutely beautiful all lit, it looked as though it was made from gold and looking completely different from the day time. The boat we were on also had headsets that provided extra information or you could just enjoy the view with complimentary drinks. I highly recommend doing this in Budapest. The photos don’t even do it justice.
Back on solid land we had drinks at the Mini Bar which is themed after the car it is named after. It was a pretty cool bar and the staff were really friendly. Then after walking around for a bit trying to find somewhere for dinner, we opted for an Italian restaurant, which was okay. I found it difficult finding authentic places to eat in the city which was a shame. We headed back to the hotel to pack before catching our flight home early the next day.
Budapest is a great city, with lots to see and do there is something for everyone. If you aren’t into sightseeing it would make a great spa break! I wish we had a couple of more days here because we didn’t manage to fit everything in that I would have liked. The Christmas Markets were also great and I can’t wait to experience them again in a different location.