The story of how we arrived in Budapest is a bit of a drawn out one.
Originally, a trip to Venice as a birthday present was on the cards. However, due to all the super-busy-ness of 2016, it ended up being delayed from Aug-Sept to later in the year. We then decided Venice wouldn’t be ideal to visit in the depths of winter. After looking at lots of pictures and blog posts about Budapest, I decided the pretty city needed to be next on my destination list. And then we ended up delaying the trip again, booking dates that were almost a year after my actual birthday.
Finally, we took an early flight from Stansted for six days in the Hungarian capital. And it was definitely worth the wait.
Our home for five nights was the Friends Hostel, tucked away moments from Oktagon Metro station. Two flights of stairs up, we discovered a lovely, welcoming reception with perhaps the most cosy looking sofa I’ve seen in my life.
I was expecting just a private room from the booking, but we were led across an external walkway to our own APARTMENT. Seriously, it was the size of most of the London one bedroom flats I’ve seen. We had our own sofa, kitchen…even a strange pair of red slippers on the shoe rack by the door. So homely. So perfect.
Friends Hostel and Apartments
Teréz krt. 4, 1066 Hungary
After settling in, we took a wander around the local area to get ourselves aquainted with District VII, aka the Jewish Quarter. That’s getting a whole post to itself, but let’s just say – we found cheap food, cheap beer, and ended the night going to bed with slices of pizza that cost less than a quid each. Best drunk food ever.
The next morning, we got out of bed and made our way to Vörösmarty Square to join Free Walking Tours for a bit of an orientation and introduction to the city overall. Some travel bloggers out there might sneer at these tourist-focused walks, but I personally find them really handy. The walks all started at 10am, which gave us something specific to get out of bed for – and allowed us to check out some of the places we wanted to explore in more depth later on in the day. The guides were also fantastic – Zoltan, who took us on our Original tour, was full of life, engaging and even took a few of us to a local canteen for cheap eats afterwards.
Zoltan introduced us to the Inner City area and some basic Budapest history a little, then we headed over to perhaps the most photographed and documented area of Budapest. The city is split across the two sides of the Danube river – the ‘Pest’ side, which we stayed in, and the ‘Buda’ side – home to some incredible architectures and hilltop views. In particular, Castle Hill, which is home to some stunning statues
We strolled across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, giving our first glimpse along the Danube as the Castle Hill buildings grew closer. Once we’d reached the other side and stopped for coffees and hot wine, it was time to make the trek up to the top. Which, honestly, isn’t a bad walk at all. If you’re not feeling like being on your feet, you could also take the Castle Hill Funicular – a short, steep railway that gets you up to the top in less than two minutes. But the walk up was easy, and didn’t actually take long.
At the top of the hill, we took in the Royal Palace/Buda Castle, which has stood on the site since 1265, albeit with multiple rebuilds and reconstructions since. Once upon a time, it was home to Hungarian Kings, hence the name. Nowadays, it’s home to the Hungarian National Gallery, Castle Museum and National Széchenyi Library. Admission to the Castle itself is free, but entry fees apply for the gallery and museum. Even if you don’t head into those attractions, there’s tons to see all around them, including lots of impressive, intricate statues.
Walking up, we discovered the beautiful Matthias Church, with its gorgeous colourful-tiled roof. I don’t think I could ever get tired of finding all the ornate, majestic buildings that Budapest has to offer. And that includes the iconic Fisherman’s Bastion.
Built in 1905, Fisherman’s Bastion wasn’t actually a working bastion. Instead, it’s a viewing terrace that offers probably the most amazing panoramic views in the entire city. As a reward for making your way to the top, you’ll be able to see all the way across the river to the Pest side and the absolutely stunning Houses of Parliament. Totally worth it! Also, it definitely has awesome fairytale castle vibes.
At the top, we took some time to stare out and listen to a spot of music, before heading back down to experience a bit more of Castle Hill.
Once the tour had ended, and Zoltan had taken us for a cheap and tasty dinner (all will be revealed on that in a ‘where to eat’ post coming soon!), we took a walk through the streets of Buda. With colourful doors, walls and shops all along the way, we found ourselves diverting down side streets, and stumbled across Labirintus – the Labyrinth of Buda Castle.
Inside, we found a network of castle cellars and caves, with medieval stone monuments, real caves to expore and a wax museum. There were barely any other visitors when we headed in, and it was fantastically creepy – particularly the wax figures. They tell the story of the ‘Black Count’, who made an alliance with robbers that they could live below his castle, in return for money from their illegal activities.
Possibly the scariest part for me was the ‘Maze of Darkness’ – a trail leading through, you guessed it, absolute pitch darkness. As in, the kind where you literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. All there is to lead you through is a small hand rail to hold – and your own nerve, of course. I went in alone, and the darkness and loneliness ensured I had my eyes pressed firmly shut the whole way through. In case a ghost appeared, obviously. One didn’t, but I got the fright of my life half way through – and so did the woman in front of me when I bumped right into her…
If you like your adventures a little unusual and creepy (and don’t struggle with claustrophobia/fear of the dark), Labirintus is a good place to drop by and explore the underground side of Castle Hill History. Entry is 2500 HUF (around £6.90) for adults.
Úri u. 9, 1014 Hungary
Once we’d finished exploring Fisherman’s Bastion and the back streets of Castle Hill, we headed back across the Chain Bridge to check out another sight we’d spotted earlier – Saint Stephen’s Basilica.
Having already been impressed by the exterior, we paid 200 HUF each (about 50p!) to look inside, and it’s by far the most breathtaking religious building I’ve ever seen. The level of detail was incredible – from the adorned altars to the dizzying blue dome ceiling. It did feel a little strange to be inside taking photos, as people were also there worshipping – so mostly, other than these two shots, I just drank it all in. Seriously overwhelming.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica
Szent István tér 1, 1051 Hungary
Our long day of exploring had definitely worn us out by then, so we grabbed some dinner, had a few drinks, then headed to bed early. Two days down, four more to go…
*Prices, conversions and info correct at time of posting