Budapest is a city of stark contrasts– a beautiful city center aside very old weathered neighborhoods. The current city is three old cities that have grown together. Buda is situated on the hilly side of the Danube, opposite of very flat commercial Pest. The third, Óbuda is the site of the ancient roman settlement, Aquincum.
Modern, post-soviet Budapest (1991–present) is in the midst of a high-pace revitalization. The areas closest to the river are all rebuilt. As of right now, there remain many visible markers from the past. On one stretch are 150-year old mansions (some are currently undergoing restoration) dating from the Austro-Hungarian empire. Not far away you can still find buildings with bullet holes from the 1956 Hungarian revolution.
In ways more apparent than in other European cities, the sidewalks are littered; the homeless sleep in doorways; and there are tell-tale signs that some of the buildings are aching for repair– such as a sign alerting pedestrians to falling rock near Keleti train station.
We enjoyed the city and the mix of sights!
Király utca connected the square where we stayed to the sights, so we seemed to walk this street a lot. Bars and restaurants are densely located within the area.
Astoria + Katona József utca
We stopped at Bomo Art, A handmade paper store in the Astoria neighborhood. That morning we had trekked across town to Bookstation, where they sell new and used English language books. The book seller pointed us toward a section of Hungarian writers: Sándor Kányádi is a Hungarian poet, —- the other is a book of short stories, many involving food, written by Gyula Krúdy set in Budapest in the 1900’s.
Antiques at Falk Miksa utca
A few monuments near Országház, the Hungarian Parliament—–
The white wave sculpture lists the bracelet numbers of Hungarians who died in concentration camps—-a unique piece of public art and beautiful commemoration. The plaque near the Shoes on the Danube Bank reads “In Memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militiamen in 1944-45” .
Szent Istiván Bazilika
They suggest a hot soapy shower before and after. The hot springs are the reason Budapest was settled by the Romans and the spas are a must see! We knew in advance that the baths were among the few places open in Budapest on Sundays. They are also open through the winter.
Várhegy, Castle Hill
Our last night in Budapest, we walked across Szecheny Chain bridge, to Várhegy, Castle Hill. Buda is considered quiet and residential compared to Pest. It is the site of the royal palace and offices of the Hungarian president. You might have seen Budapest and didn’t know it– It is in the Katy Perry Firework video. It was shot in Budapest and the dance scene is in the courtyard of the Buda Castle.
We didn’t know just how much Hungarian we would need to find our way around. It turned out that the city was easy to navigate as an english speaker. The Hungarians were encountered were impressively multilingual. The Hungarians we interacted with (such as our Airbnb host) spoke perfect conversational english.
One thing that we found interesting, related to language— is that Hungarian is similar to Finnish. The languages are Uralic, derived from the ancestral proximity to the Ural Mountains. Many older Hungarians speak German, and the younger crowd speaks english. I still tried to learn a few new words on the train, and the numbers 1-10.
Our trip to Budapest greatly intrigued us for future visits to other Eastern European cities. It will be a complete (and welcome) surprise if we are ever back in Budapest, and we greatly enjoyed the city. The train from Budapest was nine-hours to Würzburg. It was a long train ride, with one brief transfer at St Pölten, Austria. The weekend was a fun change of pace for us.
You can read about our Airbnb apartment in Budapest here.
We booked tickets the day after Easter, thanks to this must read article! My European Ritual / NYT.com
More photos and an overview of Széchenyi Baths
A good (and humorous) YouTube video tour by a likable American tourist
A top music hit in Germany in Austria (On the radio every five minutes) on Bayern 3–
this song by George Ezra – Budapest Music Video
Katy Perry’s Firework Music Video