Hungary’s capital city Budapest is often called the Paris of the East. Eager to discover it for myself, I booked a ticket and got ready to explore this beautiful city so rich in history and culture. My travel savvy step-sister joined for the adventure and we planned our short visit strategically. After a festive evening of Christmas markets and mulled wine, our morning was spent crossing from Pest to Buda. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the first permanent bridge to connect both sides of the city via the Danube river.
From the end of Chain Bridge we rode the Buda Hill Funicular, in service since 1870 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All the way up to Buda Castle Hill we enjoyed stunning views of the city, with plenty of photo ops.
Views of Budapest are even better seen from 100 year old Fishermen’s Bastion. With a fish market nearby, this bastion was built to commemorate the fishermen who protected this part of the city. Each of the seven tent-like turrets symbolizes one of the seven Hungarian tribes that arrived to the Carpathian Basin in 896.
Nearby Neo-Gothic Matthias Church is considered one of the most beautiful churches in Budapest, as well as the most unique in Europe. Built in 1015 and inspired by orientalism, it’s colorful interior is breathtaking!
Back on the Pest side of the city, we stopped by the memorial ‘Shoes on the Danube River’ to pay our respects to the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II.
The Hungarian Parliament Building is without a doubt one of the most regal buildings in Budapest, also the third largest Parliament building in the world. We took a tour of the interior as well, worth the visit.
That night we booked a tour of Budapest by night and enjoyed a history lesson as the city lit up before our eyes.
Day two was dedicated to bath houses and spas, beginning with Budapest’s most famous Széchenyi thermal bath. The largest medicinal bath in Europe, its water is supplied by two thermal springs, with temperatures of 74 °C and 77 °C. What an experience, bathing with tourists and locals alike.
Our next stop was to Gellért, an art noveau thermal bath opened in 1918. Another must do in “the city of spas”. Here we soaked in indoor hot springs and I braved a few dips in the cold pool and indulged in the steam room.
Our last visit was to the Harmony Spa at Aria Hotel located in the city center. Where music is the theme throughout the hotel, we relaxed at the hands of skilled masseuses, the perfect ending to a day of wellness.
I couldn’t very well leave Budapest without a visit to the elegant New York Café. Often considered the “most beautiful coffee house in the world”, this is where writers and editors would meet to drink and dine. In 2006 it was restored to its original splendor, offering some of Budapest’s best cakes. Another top address for homemade cakes and chocolate is Gerbeaud, opened in 1858. The perfect spot to pick up a few sweet souvenirs. As for dining, our favorite gourmet restaurant was 10 year old family run Mák Bistro. Michelin star level!
Thank you Budapest, for the many memories of this Paris of the East! Aside from some of the taxi drivers who try to take you for a ride (not just in the literal sense), best to order a taxi online, it was a trip to remember!