Because in 2014 I was in Prague and I enjoyed every minute of my trip to Eastern Europe. And I must say when I booked my trip to this fantastic city I was not prepared for what I was about to see and feel. If you have been there you will understand my feelings, and if you haven’t, you must go. Budapest is a city that overcome all expectations that you might have. And I can say with no doubts, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
In my opinion, 1 of the top 5. So yes, I fell in love with the city RIGHT AWAY. I was not prepared for the kind and strong people, the great food, the excellent beer/wine and the city itself. I arrived there in the middle of last December, and the first couple of hours were enough for me to be completely hooked on. Xmas, winter, Chain Bridge, the history, Danube, the traces of the II WW, the Iron Curtain, all that, right in front of you. And I must confess, I have a weakness for the old world. So take your time to read this article, it’s gonna be a long one…
The city: past and future present in everyone’s lives
Being part of European Union since 2004, Hungary was the first country from the old Sovietic block to become a democratic republic in 1989 after free voting. Modern, cosmopolitan and with an exciting nightlife, Budapest still shows the marks of its past as every big European city post communism. To get to know a bit of its important political past, you should visit the House of Terror Museum, one of the most important sites in the city.
Once, headquarter of the Nazi occupation in 1944 and, headquarter of the communists post 1945. The museum bares all. Almost in front of the main entrance, you can see the monument of the fall of the Iron Curtain, a mentally powerfull monument for the eyes. Within the grey walls, spread pictures of tortured people during WWII and in Communism; piles of documents that shows the political evolution during the last 40 years of communist oppression, from 1949 – 1989, until the fall of Berlin Wall. You will also notice the hardness on the architecture details of the building from 18th and 19th centuries contrasting with the colourful city that Budapest is today.
Not very far away from there, still in Pest side, it is located the Liberty Square, with its historical monument and surrounded by the Hungarian Television’s headquarters, the Hungarian National Bank and also by the US Embassy building. In the far north is the communist monument to soldiers killed during the siege of Budapest in 1945. Still about the Iron Curtain, one of the possible tours is the Memento Park, open daily from 10am until sunset, the place, which is about 10km from the city center, is known as Park of the Statues, and recalls the time when communism was present in Europe. There you can see an open gallery of 40 giant statues of communist propaganda (historical names like Lenin, Karl Marx, Engel). Besides the statues, there is still in the park a photo exhibition portraying the popular uprising of 1956 and the fall of communism in 1989. Guided tours in English have a duration of 50 min for those more interested.
Also, on the edge of the beautiful Danube, almost in front of the back of the Parliament, you can see a homage to the Jews killed by the fascist Arrow Cross during the WWII, the monument Shoes on the Danube Bank. The Jews, back then, were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river to be carried away. There are sixty pairs of iron shoes created by the sculptor Gyula Pauer. In my opinion, one of the most moving monuments within the city.
Pálinka, Wine, Beer and Food: taste it!
Whenever I arrive in a new city, I always, always like to taste all typical drinks and food (and I looove drinking hehehe). So in Budapest, I was introduced to a very heavy combination right away: the famous Hungarian Pálinka along with beer pints. Yes, each glass of pint, a new shot of Pálinka. As I said, a not very wise combination for those sensitive for drinking, but very common among the Hungarian people and also among the foreigns who lives in the city. Pálinka was invented in the middle ages, and it’s a fruit brandy, very strong (usually ranges from 40% to 70% proof) with different flavors, which the most famous ones are apricots, plums, pears, cherries and apples (highly recommend the plum). The word Pálinka derives from the Slavonic stem palet and it means burn, and it literally does.
In 2008, the European Union named the Pálinka as a Hungarian speciality. The fruits are from the Carpathian region and you can only find it in 4 more places: Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia and Romania. Also, the name Pálinka can ONLY be used if it’s made with 100% of fruits, no artificial flavors whatsoever. So I advise you to at least prove it once. If you’re a fan of Greek ouzo, Russian vodkas, Brazilian cachaça, Arabian arak, then you will like it. If you’re mostly a beer kind person, maybe not. Golden tip: the hangover can be quite something. And if you don’t want to try it, you can buy littles bottles of Pálinka as a souvenir. Pálinka is a must try and reason of national pride in Hungary.
Now that I had my time with Pálinka, I will tell you to try and savour the fantastic Hungarian wines. Hungary has a rich winemaking tradition, which dates back to the Roman occupation, in the 5th century. The most famous wine is the Tokaji Aszú, a dessert wine produced in the region of Tokaj-Hegyalja. It’s so important in Hungary, that the Tokaji is mentioned in the national anthem. The 22 wine regions of the country produce red and white wines of exceptional quality. Hungarians have the strictest control standards for the Eastern European industry.
The collapse of communism gave Hungary the status that once they were known as one of the finest wines of East. Hungarian winemakers working in countries like Italy, Spain and the United States have returned to their homeland after the fall of the communism. Investments in modern equipment were made. Good harvests are repeated since 1998. And the wines today are even better in this country of long tradition in the history of wine. Besides Tokaj wine region, other Hungarian regions produce quality wines. The largest is Kunság. But the best are Eger, Somló, Sopron, Etyek-Buda, Csongrád, Villányi, Ászár-Neszmély, Balatonfüred-Csopak and Szekszárd. As the Hungarian people say: Egészségedre (cheers)!
Beer. Who doesn’t love beer? Hungary is not famous for their beer, but even so, they have very good options as Fóti Pills, Dreher (I liked this one), Borsodi and Soproni. And if you enjoy beer as much as me, I have here a few very good places that you may want to visit if you’re in Budapest: Belga Söröző, a Belgium place in the heart of Budapest?! Yes, excellent choice on the edge of Danube, close to Chain Bridge, Buda side, with more than 70 sorts of bottled and 8 sorts of draft beer, really worth the visit; also: Polo English Pub, English style, with several types of Hungarian and Czech beer, and Guinness on tap, plus bottled and draught beer (oh, really good Hungarian food here); Csak a Jó Sörök, beers from all over the world, best beers made by Hungarian microbreweries and if you’re lucky, you get the chance to meet the owner and get a few advices.
And here is a mini dictionary that may help you on this matter: Beer (Sör); Bottled beer (Üveges sör); Craft beer (Kézműves sör); Dark ale (Barna sör); Draft beer (Csapolt sör); Glass (Pohár); Pint (Korsó); Wheat beer (Búza sör); Cheers (Egészségedre, as mentioned before). But to pronounce correctly is another thing…
Talking about the strong and tasteful food, it was in Budapest that I had the best goulash ever. They put paprika in everything, maybe it has something to do with the very good taste of every food, which is really good, but the thing is, get ready for the heavy and strong Hungarian food, you gonna love it. So here is a list of what you must taste there and eventually will, since some foods are part of almost every famous dish there: Gulyás, the famous goulash known and eaten in most parts of Europe, is a soup with vegetables, beef chunks, potatoes, plus paprika, that special spice that is sooo good, homey, hearty and hot!
They also eat goulash in summer, so get ready for it; Nokedli, delicious small dumplings that looks like noodles usually served as side dish in almost all stews and meats; Paprika, the delicious Hungarian red pepper, which makes any food better, one of the best spices ever, you must give a bow!; Palacsinta, also known as the Hungarian version of crépes, they have 2 popular ones, Hortobágyi, filled with ground meat, fried onions, and on the top of it, sour cream and/or paprika sauce and Gundel, filled with ground walnuts, rum and raisins, and on the top of it, dark chocolate… it’s delicious; Halászlé, aka the fisherman’s soup, the traditional Hungarian soup of paprika-spiced broth and thick cuts of river fish, looks like simple, but in fact, this soup is cooked over the fire through several hours preparing the fish broth from scratch and, the fishes are from Danube and Tisza rivers; Töltött Káposzta, the typical stuffed cabbage with meat and rice cooked and smothered with sour cream and, the plus is, the Hungarian cabbage is often preserved in vinegar, which gives an special tangy flavor to this dish; Pörkölt, meat stew, often chicken gizzards or beef, tomato, paprika, and onions, usually served with Nokedli, cooked outside over the fire in a bogrács, the traditional Hungarian metal pot, and add to it bread and wine, the perfect Hungarian combo!
And they have many others very typical dishes: Rétes (Hungarian strudel), Paprikás Csirke (chicken paprikash), Túrós Csusza (cheese noodles), Lángos (fried dough), etc.
Places I recommend there:
- Cafe Kör, little restaurant, cheap, good Hungarian homemade food, found by accident, and still got to see actor Guy Pearce there, just behind me! Yes, a real gem in the Pest side;
- Gianni Ristorante & Bar, for those who want to flee a bit of Hungarian food, this cozy Italian restaurant is a very good choice, with an excellent Tiramisu as dessert, Pest side, good prices;
- Klotild Bar and Lounge, inside Buddha-bar Budapest, posh option, gorgeously beautiful, nice for who wants to have a few drinks then go party, pricy for those who don’t want to spend that much on dinner;
- Csendes Vintage Bar & Café, very unique place, cheap drinks, different vibes, as almost in all places in Budapest, arrive early, small tables and the place gets full quickly.
The exquisite architecture of the city
In every corner of the city you can see marks of a city that more than once was dominated by war. Still, Budapest is known for having one of the most beautiful architectures within Europe. With Art Nouveau details in many places, being called as Paris from the East by many, I chose here the monuments that amazed me the most.
The Parliament in Budapest
Located on the Pest side, at the Kossuth Square, and on the edge of Danube river, the Parliament is huge, and impress EVERYONE. Built in 1884 with different architectural styles (mostly neo gothic outside), it was inspired on the British Parliament. Has 691 offices (but it’s said that only 10% of its area is used), 268 metros and it’s the third biggest Parliament in the world. Along the external walls, you can see the remembrance of monarchs and military Hungarian commanders shown in 90 statues. Inside, elements of Baroque and Renaissance along with 40 kilograms of gold used on its ornaments.
Guided tours of 50 minutes are offered in English and several other languages. Make sure to photograph it and to see the change of guards. I was luck enough to see it on a beautiful blue sky winter day. If you are on the Buda side, photograph it during the night to capture the amazing light that falls upon it.
The Castle is part of Unesco for its cultural and historical meaning. The first castle was built on the hill around the year 1200, as protection from the Mongols attacks. Over the centuries, several other castles were built to serve as residences or fortresses of the rulers, but were subsequently destroyed by oppressors, during the attacks of the World War II and the Hungarian Revolution. The reconstruction took place during the second half of the 20th century and created the current structure of 300 meters. Besides being home of the Royal Palace, also places the History Museum and the National Gallery.
I visited both and I must say it’s quite interesting. Inside the museum, you can see caves from medieval times, a bit claustrophobic… Walk around the surroundings to see the gardens, the statues and the neighborhood that still retains traces of the Middle Ages. One of the highlights is the view of the Danube River, which runs through the city, and the beautiful Chain Bridge in front of the luxury hotel Four Seasons. From there you can walk to the Gellert Hill, to see Citadel and all its splendor, which I’ll tell you in the end of the article.
To get to the Castle, you can go walking, and then you will be losing some pounds due to the heavy food you’ve been eating since you arrived at the city, or, take the charming cable railway, right in front of the Chain Bridge. I did this ;p
The Fisherman’s Bastion was built between 1895 and 1902, as a tribute to the tribes that conquered the country in 896. The tribes are represented by seven stone towers located on the hill of Buda Castle, near the Church of Mathias (beautiful). The monument name was chosen in honor of the fishermen for defending the city walls during the Middles Ages. After World War II, the bastion was completely destroyed and its reconstruction was coordinated by the son of the original architect, Frigyes Schulek.
In the square between the Bastion and the Mathias Church there is the statue of István I, the first king of Hungary, who reigned from 1000 to 1038. If you have time, go have a beer at The Fisherman’s Bastion Restaurant, there you can calmly appreciate the amazing panorama from all Budapest.
St. Stephens’ Cathedral
First king of Hungary, István I (or Stephen) devoted himself to the Christianization of the Magyarab people (people who lives along the Nile River in Egypt and Sudan). He founded several monasteries and was sanctified. This is his Basilica. Huge, with capacity for over 8000 people. The most important church in Budapest (along with the building of the Hungarian Parliament) is also the tallest building in the capital (96 m). The number 96 symbolizes the arrival of the Hungarians in the Carpathian basin in the year 896.
The church was built in the 19th century in neoclassical style. Although it’s called as Basilica, it’s more like a Greek church in a cross shape. It offers a beautiful view from the top of its dome. In recent years, the Basilica has another function as well: nowadays St. Stephen Basilica is also the Budapest Cathedral.
The Bridges of Budapest
The bridges of Budapest are simply wonderful, a beautiful work of architecture. It’s impossible not to be mesmerized by it. So to say, The Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd) over the Danube is one of the most famous images of Budapest, not to say an icon of Hungary. This bridge between Pest and Buda offers the spectacular view of the city. On the Pest side, the pointed towers of the Parliament Building cut the Danube, while the Buda Castle stands on the other side.
The suspension of the bridge is quite impressive, especially at night when the heavy chains sparkle with thousands of lights. It was completed in 1849 and the first bridge to connect the cities of Buda and Pest. At the time, it was an extraordinary architectural masterpiece (and still is in my opinion), 375 meters long, one of the longest suspension bridges in Europe. Large stone lions guarding the bridge on both sides, and the impressive pillars bearing the coat of arms of Hungary with the crown and a wreath of leaves. The imposing lions have been carved by sculptor János Marschalkó. Luckily it survived the destruction of World War II.
Still about the lions, there is a legend in Budapest that the lions don’t have tongues. From below, it’s true, you can’t see it, but people say that the lions have tongues, however, the tongues can only be seen from above. Well, I didn’t notice that until I was told, and the fact is, I could not see the tongues.
Besides Chain Bridge, there is also:
- The Elizabeth Bridge, the most elegant one, named after the ruler of the Austrian Empire and Queen of Hungary at the time, Sissi.
- The Liberty Bridge, more to the south, also connects Buda to Pest, and on its ends you will find the Gellért Hill and the Great Market Hall.
- Margaret Bridge, the most different one and the second oldest, is a three way bridge in Budapest. It’s different because it has two road lanes that connect its middle point to the Margaret Island. It was under full reconstruction from 2009 to 2011.
- There are others bridges in Budapest, but I named here the ones I find more interesting.
To walk at Andrássy Avenue and its surroundings it’s part of your must do things in Budapest. With a beautiful architecture of the late 19th century, the avenue was named in 2002 as heritage site of UNESCO. With international brands and luxury boutiques, it’s also there the National Opera and the Museum House of Terror. Andrassy Avenue has 2,3 km and ends at Heroes Square, with its astonishing Millennium Monument, built to celebrate the thousand years of Hungarian homeland.
In this square is also the Museum of Fine Arts, the largest in the country. On the opposite side of the square is the Palace of Art, dedicated to temporary exhibitions. Behind the square is the city’s largest park, the Városliget (literally ‘City Park’). Not only nice green area, but the place accommodates stylish buildings among wealth residential houses. This area also houses the largest thermal spa of Budapest, Széchenyi. Talking about thermal spas…
Hungary Water, magical?
The tradition of hot springs date back more than 2 thousand years ago, since the Roman Empire. But only in the 16th century it flourished in Hungary, with the Turkish occupation. So, famous for its volcanic origin, medicinal hot springs and thermal baths, Hungary is known for having the biggest system of source of natural heated groundwater and the second largest thermal lake in the world, the Hévíz Lake. This means that all the land is of volcanic origin. Its water can reach from 21 to 78 degrees Celsius, extremely hot.
These magical waters are highly recommended against diseases such as rheumatism, stomachache, helping the body’s circulation, and there are even hospitals and hotels that offer water to treat metabolic disorders and other diseases. The thermals of Budapest are also famous for its wild parties in high summer. There are many options, 15 public, not counting the private ones within the hotels, and all have incredible architecture. Some of them will make you feel like back in time. Check the list here: www.spasbudapest.com
Also, according to the Hungarian legend, the water helps to rejuvenate anyone! True or not, the tale of being more young by using the hungarian water date back since the time of Queen Elizabeth of Poland (1305-1380), where she used it as a fragrance, but also as remedy. Based on flower products and herbs, the ancient recipes advise the user to wash with it and drink it in order to get the most benefit. The Hungary water was known as the first European perfume until the show up of eau de cologne in the 18th century. Nowadays, one of the most expensives brands in Europe, OMOROVICZA, is known for selling cosmetic products by using the natural minerals of Hungary water.
Citadel was part of my plans while in Budapest, and my mistake was that I left it for my last day and unfortunately, the city was completely covered in fog 🙁 And to go to Citadel, you must have a clean view, since its location is on top of the city, precisely on top of Gellért Hill. It was final December, winter, and while I was there, I got only one day completely sunny…But from what I’ve researched, and one of the reasons that I wanted to go so much up there is, Citadel offers the best view of the city.
Back in the 19th century, Citadel was a fortification built by the Austrians Habsburgs in order to control the Hungarian people. After the World War II, the communists added an statue up there: The Liberation Monument. Leaning out over the Danube with the description: ‘To the memory of the liberating Soviet heroes [erected by] the grateful Hungarian people [in] 1945′. The statue of 14 meters is made of bronze and stands on a pedestal that is about twice the size of the statue. The figure holds a large drop palm leaf, symbolizing peace.
Soon as the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, the Hungarians regained control of the city and of the country. And they quickly changed the description of the statue to reflect the latest developments. You may notice the difference in the current application, which can be translated as: ‘In memory of those who sacrificed their lives for independence, freedom and prosperity of Hungary’. It’s no surprise that, in 1987 UNESCO named Gellért Hill, along with the view of the Danube embankments and the Buda Castle District World Heritage sites.
Why do we all need to come back to Budapest?
Budapest is every photographer’s dream. A city that transcends time. It’s bloody gorgeous, and I will ALWAYS come back there. And why? BECAUSE what every city means to each person is something that we can only try to make you feel a bit of what we felt, but never really measure what we lived once we were there. But I think Budapest must be a place on your ‘must go list’. You will be mesmerized 😀