An unexpected love for Budapest (and 5 tips to make your visit shine)

The Danube, Budapest

I’m a contrary type. Tell me I’ll love something and I’ll think, really? Love for a place is so personal, one person’s favourite leaves another cold. I was curious about Budapest, but I didn’t expect to love it. It’s in a land-locked country, the buildings I searched Google images for looked solid but uninspiring, a typical Central European style. My single point of reference for Hungarian food was goulash.

If nothing else (and there was so much more), Budapest opened my eyes again to the fact that travel is there to challenge your preconceptions.

Budapest is an ideal city-trip destination, full of things to do by day and buzzing at night. Winter can be freezing and summer scorching, so Autumn seems like an ideal time to visit. Here are five of my favourite things from Budapest.

1. The churches in Budapest are stunning…gorgeous even. I’ve seen many, many churches on my travels and it’s easy to have church fatigue (temple fatigue if you’re in S.E. Asia!). On our first morning in the city the weather was damp and uninspiring, so we hopped on the (really cheap) Metro to St Stephen’s square. St Stephen’s basilica reminds me of one of the churches in Rome from the outside, but is less O.T.T. than you’d expect inside. That’s not to say that it’s doesn’t have plenty of gilded panels, marble and decoration. But somehow the colours seem quite restrained, less showy. The effect of the warm, soft colours makes it a welcoming space.

My favourite has to be the Matthias church up on the hill in Buda, by the Fisherman’s Bastion. The roof is colourfully decorated with mosaic tiles, unlike anything I’ve seen elsewhere. Step inside and the church is incredible, every surface painted in intricate patterns and, again, warm colours.

Matthias church, Budapest

Matthias church, Budapest

Matthias church, Budapest

2. Soak in the beauty of the Gellert spa

Gellert spa, Budapest

Spas in UK cities are often in modern, soulless buildings. Step inside a Budapest spa and you’re part of a culture that’s been going strong since the early 20th century. The Gellert spa, which is part of a larger hotel on the banks of the Danube, has a lovely indoor pool surrounded by colonnades, jacuzzi baths and hot and cold pools to soak in. But I loved the outdoor pools best; imagine soaking in a warm pool outdoors when the ground is covered in snow.

The Gellert spa is relatively expensive by Budapest standards (around £13), but you can stay as long as you like and explore the ten pools. You need to take a swimming hat, or buy one for about £2 to use the main indoor pool.

Tip…if you don’t feel like swimming in the thermal baths, you can visit the café inside the main entrance to enjoy the Art Nouveau ceilings and stained glass.

3. Street food in Budapest is made for autumn. From cinnamon-dusted chimney cakes to soup or goulash in a hollowed-out bread bowl, there’s plenty of warming food out there. Street sellers were already selling mulled wine at the beginning of October, despite the 20C temperature!

Budapest street food

4. Taste the flavours of Hungary at the Faust wine cellar….wine isn’t my drink of choice, to be honest, so I was a little unsure about this when my husband booked it. It turned out to be a great way to spend a couple of hours, squirrelled away in an atmospheric wine cellar under the Budapest Hilton. We went for the longer tasting menu for white wine, which came with 6 bite-sized, feather-light cheese scones each.

Faust wine cellar

5. Take a tour of the parliament building

I admit I’ve never visited the Houses of Parliament here in the UK, but this was fascinating. It pays to book online before your visit if you can, as all the English guided tours were sold out on Saturday. The most interesting part of the tour is the chance to see the Hungarian ‘crown jewels’. which are guarded by two soldiers who change positions every so often. (No photos allowed).

And one bonus tip…

You can’t (or shouldn’t) come to Budapest without taking a cruise on the Danube, but if you can, take a night cruise. The chance to see all the buildings and bridges lit up is truely special and the Parliament building is so striking it almost seems like a mirage.

Budapest at night

There’s so much more I could say about Budapest, from the epic views over the Danube from Buda to the simple pleasures of enjoying a perfect mojito in a late-night bar.

Budapest also pushed me out of my comfort zone to try something I’d never consider back home –  a night at the opera! Look out for a post on that soon.

Have you been to Budapest? What were your favourite places in the city?

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Esther says:

    If you liked the roof of the Matias church, did you check out the museum of applied art. I have been in Budapest both in autumn and in summer, and I must say…. I have a bit of a preference for summer. Though I would never discourage anyone to visit the city in the winter months.

    1. Claire says:

      I don’t think I saw that one. I’d happily return to Budapest!

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