Straddling the River Danube, the cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda were joined to become the nation’s largest city in the eighteen hundreds and over the centuries this culturally diverse and fascinating capital has been home to the Celts, the Romans, the Magyars and the Ottomans.
I first visited the city on an end of season football tour. The destination filled the necessary pre-requisite of bars, clubs and restaurants – as well as a very good local football team – that ensured the weekend was a success.
But I left feeling that there was plenty more to experience. And so it was, just a few weeks ago, I booked two cheap flights, found myself an ideally located small hotel and suggested a weekend away with my wife.
I then set about researching the city further and planning our trip. A must – especially for my wife – was the hot springs. With dozens of thermal baths to choose from, many dating back to Roman times, it was high on our list of priorities. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any trunks but a quick online search using the term swim shorts for men lead me to a website where I was able to purchase a pair for a price even I was happy with.
With the city also boasting more than one hundred museums and galleries, we were going to be hard pressed to fit everything in, but with a good guide book in hand and a flexible itinerary we set off as soon as we’d checked into our rustic hotel.
Our first stop was the historic Castle Hill. Just five minutes walk from the hotel, it’s a maze of cobbled streets, lined with cosy bars and restaurants all offering local fayre at reasonable prices. A cold beer and a plate of Chicken Paprikash could have seen us spend the rest of the afternoon people watching, but Fisherman’s Bastion awaited. Hurried on by the wife, we made our way up the hill through picturesque streets, with their baroque architecture and gothic arches. The view from the top was spectacular, so we took our time to enjoy it before heading on back down via Trinity Square and Matthias Church.
It would have been easy to have spent the whole weekend lost in this World Heritage Site, but the rest of Budapest had so much more to offer visitors. The following morning saw us taking the obligatory Danube cruise with a knowledgeable guide pointing out the many historical buildings that lined the river. A walk across Chain Bridge, the city’s first connecting Buda and Pest, saw us arrive in Heroes’ Square. Another coffee stop and then we were off to the 16th century Király Baths where I was more than happy to pose in my new swim shorts. A massage followed and we were done for the day.
Sadly, our flight out was early the next morning so after another wonderful culinary evening in a local restaurant (I had the goulash, she had the fish and the Hungarian wine was also excellent) we made our way back to the airport, sad to leave, but eager to return.
Budapest was a treasure trove of secrets and surprises, and I know we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.