Budapest is one of the most well known and visited cities of Eastern Europe. The city is eclectic and spunky, full of energy and creativity, with a mix of both old and new world architecture. Some parts are revitalized, bright and full of life; others are in disrepair, with darkened and bullet-ridden buildings showing evidence of World War II.
Budapest actually used to be two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube river. Though the two separate cities were unified in 1873, they still retain a slightly different feel. Buda is built up into hills, unlike Pest which is bigger and spread out over a large flat plain. Buda is quiet, home to a well preserved old town and Buda Castle, while Pest is lively and bustling with action. A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a visit to both sides of the river!
The Buda Side
On the west bank of the Danube river is Buda, the side of imperial wealth, quiet-tree lined streets, and high class homes and cars. Buda is also home to a number of historic sites and famous landmarks, including the Buda Castle.
One of the highlights on this side of the river is Fisherman’s Bastion, a fairy tale-like fortification offering panoramic views of the city. Despite its appearance, the Bastion has never had any true defensive role in the city’s history. Instead, it is a lovely place to visit in the early morning to watch the sun rise over the Danube.
The Pest Side
Pest is bustling, lively and throbbing with life at all times of the day. Pest is the louder and more affordable answer to Buda. Pest is also where most businesses are centered, with many restaurants, shops, cafes and bars to choose from.
Despite being the less fancy side of Budapest, the east bank of the river is home to arguably the most beautiful and impressive building in the city: the Parliament. The building is so massive, it’s astounding to see in person.
If you were like me, you may think that the building appears similar to the British Parliament in London. And in some ways, we’d both be right. The architect who designed the Hungarian building based it on the British Parliament. Except that this architect decided he would one-up Britain, making the Hungarian Parliament just one meter longer (268 m in total). This, at the time, gave Hungary the title of having the largest Parliament building in the world.
City of Spas
One of the main reasons Budapest was originally colonized by the Romans was the number of thermal hot springs in the region. Large baths were built during this time and in the subsequent Turkish period, which were used for both medicinal and bathing purposes.
A few of these original baths still stand to this day, and many new baths have been built in the interval. Budapest is now known as a “City of Spas”, blessed with numerous bathing houses. In fact, Budapest is one of only two capital cities in the world home to thermal hot springs (the other being Iceland’s Reykjavik).
Though there are numerous baths and spas to choose from in the city, we visited one of the oldest. The Gellert Baths were built in 1918, at the site of a previous Turkish bath house. The colourful mosaics, stained glass windows and Roman columns make the building feel even older than it is. When visiting you can choose from varying pools, at temperatures ranging from 18 to 40 degrees Celsius.
Many neglected buildings in Budapest, particularly those in the old Jewish quarter, have been taken over by artists to create an underground culture of bars, galleries and nightclubs. These have been affectionately termed “ruin bars”, where areas previously in disrepair are now full of eclectic furniture and art, and open for business. Some function as pawn shops during the day and night clubs by night, while others provide outdoor space for beer gardens and street food markets.
Hearty Hungarian Cuisine
Hungarian cuisine is overall quite hearty, focused on meats, stews and game dishes. The most well known is the country’s national dish: Goulash (“gulyás“), a thin brothed soup made with chunks of beef and seasoned with paprika. It was traditionally a peasant dish, cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire, which is often how it is still served today.
Apart from goulash, there is no shortage of other delicious foods to try in Budapest. Since we didn’t spend enough time in Hungary to appreciate the full gamut of the cuisine, we definitely had our fair share of goulash, stews, and paprika. Nothing quite like a warm of hot soup on a 30 degree day! We definitely got our sweat on.
In an attempt to find accommodation that exemplifies the eclectic and cultural soul of the city, we discovered a unique boutique hotel by the name of Brody House.
This hotel was once home to a physician and his large medical library, but was abandoned during the war. The building and its beautiful courtyard managed to survive the bombings throughout World War II, and was since purchased by a group of artists. Brody House is now a hotel of shabby-chic apartments with large rooms that act as mini art galleries.
Artists have separately designed each room, each named after and featuring the art of a prominent Hungarian artist. The rooms are furnished with reclaimed vintage furniture, yet retain all the luxuries of a great hotel.
The large and airy second floor is entirely open to guests for their relaxation and enjoyment, and also where breakfast is served:
We really enjoyed our stay here, and would highly recommend it!