After a lovely seven-hour bus ride through the Tatra mountains of Slovakia and down into Hungary, I finally reached the capital city; Budapest. I prefer bus travel through Europe because it’s more convenient, cheaper, and usually concentrated on students which give you a chance for more interaction with people of your own age. The bus drove us right through the heart of the mountains, too. I would’ve paid $7 for that seven-hour ride even if it was taking us nowhere, much less taking me to what ended up being one of my favorite European cities (yes, bus travel can be that cheap if you find the right deals).
A little more about Budapest, Hungary. . .
Budapest, like mentioned above, is the capital city of Hungary. It’s also one of the largest cities in the European Union. It is home to over 1.7 million inhabitants, although, the surrounding metro is home to over 3.3 million people. Originally, the city was split in two between the city of Buda on the west bank of the Danube and the city of Pest on the east. It was not until 1873 that the unification of Budapest created a single city.
Dubbed as one of the European Union’s most beautiful cities, Budapest has around 4.4 million tourists come visit per year. It has been named Central and Eastern Europe’s most livable city as well as even being touted as high as the second-best city in the world by some publications. Budapest is definitely a student or young adult city with four universities and a bunch of international nomads (that means there is a lot of English being spoken).
It is the second fastest developing economy in the European Union and one of the most innovative cities in the world. Its architecture, whether it be glamorous castles or fascinating bridges, is second to none.
First Impressions. . .
After arriving in Budapest, I met with Kaddi; a friend I had made in Malta. We hit it off well and decided we would meet up in Budapest and see a few concerts together.
We went to a party on Freedom Bridge connecting the Buda side of the city and the Pest side of the city. It was the coolest environment I could have imagined and this was not even 20 minutes after I had arrived in the city. I couldn’t believe where I was at that moment. It was beautiful beyond comparison and I was meeting other international students by the dozens it seemed. I fell in love with Budapest that first night.
I would’ve been satisfied to end the night right after that, but instead, we decided to check out one of Budapest biggest infamous ruin bar which is Instant. This place was unlike any bar you have ever been in, guaranteed! With several stories of wide open rooms and a different scene and music in each room, it must be impossible to not be able to find a place in Instant that fits your likings.
The next day I took the opportunity to do some of my own explorings. I went on a free walking tour of the city. The tour starts at 10:30 or 2:30 and meets at Vidado Square. It dragged on far too long (almost three and a half hours) but I saw almost the entire city in one afternoon. Free Walking Tours are available in almost every large European city you visit. Often times the first thing I would do when arriving in a new place is finding out when and where the free tour begins. Be well organized – most tours require you to reserve a spot online!
Pro Tip: Everyone focuses on the view atop the front side of the Mafyar Nemzeti Gallery, but head to the back of the building for unparalleled views of the hillside homes of Buda.
The next day, again, I did some afternoon exploring on my own. I ended up in the Great Market Hall which is a huge market that was built in the late 19th-century. I was able to try a traditional Hungarian Langos found on the top floor of the market; it is pizza-like food (not really pizza, but it is hard to compare to anything) topped with just about anything from sour cream to chocolate to jam. It was extremely hard to eat as I piled it high with toppings and had no technique for eating it, but it was tasty regardless.
I checked out the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial. This memorial is dedicated to the lives lost in Hungary’s dark period following World War II. Citizens were lined up and shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross military men. This is a dark time in Hungarian history. I also decided to walk through the House of Terror, which was a museum with more Hungarian history post-WWII. It was hard to find English translations in most of the museum. I wasn’t able to get all from the experience that I could have had there been translations. But the parts I did understand were really interesting. If you are going to go, then invest the extra money in an English headphones tour; I wish I had.
More International Meet-Ups
In the late afternoon, I met Guillerhme at the gorgeous Parliament building on the Pest side of the city. Guillerhme was one of the guys I met in Sofia, Bulgaria two and a half months prior only briefly. I had mentioned that I would be in Budapest in the near future and there was always an un-set plan that we were going to meet. I was happy it actually worked out and we took a stroll across Margaret Island in the Danube. Margaret Island is much bigger than I anticipated. It hosts numerous concerts and festivals every year and you could easily soak up an entire afternoon walking its entirety. It is also fun to watch people doing almost any activity imaginable.
After I left Guillerhme, I rushed to grab my camera so I could make my way up to the Citadel. The Citadel offers the best view of Budapest at sunset. It didn’t exactly feel like an escape from the city. It was still bustling with tourists and the distant sounds of traffic could still be heard. When it gets just dark enough at dusk so all those bridge lights can mix with the headlights of the traffic driving along the river, the view is untouchable. I can’t fathom a city with a better view than that at night. If I go back to Budapest, I will make my way up the Citadel every single night.
Pro Tip: For a really nice night, bring a bottle of wine and maybe some snack food and spend the evening up there.
The next day, I took some time and tried to get lost on the Buda side of the city. It didn’t work as the city is too well laid out and it is fairly simple to navigate. I ended up half way up the Citadel, taking in the city in the daylight one last time.
Budapest is a city of my soul. I certainly will return one day hopefully to live in and learn even more about the place. There’s too much about Budapest not to return.
Other Attractions, Bars, Restaurants. . .
- Buda Castle – Castle home of Hungarian art collection
- Szechenyi Thermal Bath – or any thermal bath for that matter
- Fisherman’s Bastion – fortress with excellent city views
- Chain Bridge – iconic stone suspension bridge
- Caesar Söröző – the cheapest bar on Király utca (busiest street)