The almost 7 hour train journey from Prague to Budapest may have been somewhat cramped (though there was some great scenery, particularly going through Slovakia) but it was worth it to arrive in what would end up being one of my favourite travel destinations ever. Budapest is an absolutely amazing city. I could have stayed there for weeks rather than 4 short days. It really is the city that has it all and is probably on a par with Rome for my favourite European city.
Unfortunately, I arrived on a Sunday evening when, it seems, the entire city shuts down. They obviously take Sundays pretty seriously so it was a bit of a struggle to find somewhere to eat or a shop past 9pm. Obviously we have Sunday hours in the UK but it’d still be pretty easy to find stuff open in London after it goes dark. As a result, I was boxed into having pizza and strolling along the Danube. But what a view I got!
Budapest seemed odd in that it didn’t really have a traditional promenade. The walkway along the river comes and goes (certainly on the West side), sometimes replaced by a busy main road. It’s still easy for pedestrians to manoeuvre though and take in the fantastic night time view of the city. Even though Budapest doesn’t have a Hong Kong-style skyline, it’s still incredibly captivating with the lights from the castle, the boats, the bridges and the Parliament contrasting the deep blue sky. I could tell already that my camera was going to be very happy here.
The city itself is split into two halves – Buda (the Western half – where the Castle is) and Pest (the Eastern half – where Parliament is) so it made sense to me to tackle each half in turn, especially as they’re both so rich in stuff to see and do. Luckily the weather was also mostly on my side in Budapest which probably partly accounts for why I enjoyed it so much. It was pretty hot as well but it compensates for that with its wealth of green spaces and chill out zones. My hostel, Baroque Hostel, was just across the road from City Park, a huge green space with some brilliantly quintessentially Hungarian architecture and a lake. It made for a brilliant breakfast spot. Also next to the park is Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) with its impressive monument to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary in 1896.
Although the hostel was a bit of a walk from the river (about half an hour), it was more or less down one very long and straight road so it was almost impossible to get lost, even for someone as hopeless as me. Budapest has also got a metro system, one of the oldest on the continent I think. You could tell the different lines were built at different times because some of them were pretty modern and others felt like you were travelling in the 1920s. It was a bit of an experience in itself.
Once you get to the centre, there’s just a bit of everything. There are huge streets devoted to shops, restaurants and bars (with Budapest being even cheaper than Prague) and then the river makes for a brilliant stroll on the Pest side. The skyline is incredibly green and almost fairytale-esque but you also get haunting reminders of Hungary’s past with memorials such as the shoes alongside the Danube. Walking along the Danube eventually got me to Budapest’s Parliament, a huge building modelled on Westminster. The whole layout of this area is very similar to London. In fact, a lot of Budapest felt like a sunnier, greener and cheaper version of London. Their equivalent of Parliament Square is a great place to chill, especially with the bright yellow trams constantly passing by.