Monday, 1 December 2014

A long weekend in Budapest with the girls - part one: the sights and tourist bits

I must admit Budapest hasn't ever been on the must have travel list but having spent three nights there a few weeks ago, I absolutely love the place (we've even penned it as a hen do destination for when another one of us bites the dust). With a long weekend ear marked, we did look into going to Cardiff but when it was actually cheaper the go abroad to Eastern Europe Budapest won hands down (sorry Cardiff).

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and split in to two sides of the Danube river into Buda and Pest. Most of the things to see and do are based in Castle Hill and in Central Pest. Budapest is a fairly small city so it is pretty easy to navigate and you can see the main attractions over a weekend quite. 

they had the skinniest trams! 

We arrived Thursday night and had three full days there. Whilst this was enough time to comfortably see most things, I could have spent another night there easily. It is just a great little city! There is such a relaxed vibe to the place, we took it pretty easy and took our time wandering around - moving from coffee shop to restaurant, soaking in the atmosphere, people watching and keeping warm from the November chill with a cup of mulled wine. 

first mulled wine of the trip 

The tourist stuff 

There is so much culture and history to the city, it is perfect for culture vultures (it is filled with museums, statues, galleries and churches) and is such a pretty city with the neo-gothic architecture. You must remember to look up and see the beautiful buildings. The cathedrals in particular are worth a look - they look like they have stepped out of a Disney film! 

The hop on- hop off bus and river cruise 

For an easy way to see the city, we went for the classic touristy hop on-hop off bus. It cost about 30 euros and this gets you access to the river cruise, two days of the bus and entry into one of the spas (from a choice of 4). The bus takes you around the main sights of Budapest, including the Castle District, Hero's Square and Andrassy Avenue. It is an easy way to see the main sights, familiarise yourself with the city and as a mode of transport.

Shot from the river cruise 

Budapest loves a good statue! 

Chain bridge

This is the main bridge over the Danube linking Buda and Pest. Lit up at night it was so pretty! The bridgehead of Chain Bridge is guarded by two vast stone lions, and according to an anecdote, Janos Marshchalko, the sculptor, drowned himself in the river, heart broken because he forgot to give the lions a tongue. Turns out he had (we checked) they are just not that visible. Hindsight is a beautiful thing but he really should have checked before killing himself!

Chain Bridge 

Castle district

My friend is a geek for a castle or cathedral (she won't mind me saying this) and so we always have to engage in a bit of "castling" when we're anywhere. So of course a trip to the castle district was mandatory. 

This is home of the Royal Palace, Fisherman's Bastion and National Gallery (the girls went in but I just monged with a cup of mulled wine in the cafe at this point with Charlie).  If you don't have the hop on hop off bus and don't fancy the walk, then you can get the funicular up (although it wasn't working when we were there).
One of things we didn't get to see but sounds worth a visit is the Labyrinth of Buda Castle - this comprises of over 1,000 metres of complex caves, cellars, dungeons and spring under the castle. 

like a little Disney castle! 

loved the architecture! 

Vaci Street

This is their main high street that runs through district V in Central Pest. It is filled with restaurants, bars and shops. We didn't have time but it looked quite good shopping there with all the familiar high street shops from H&M to Zara.

Spa's and "sparties" 

I didn't realise that Budapest is famous for its baths and pools (which have existed since the Roman times) and is in fact one of the great spa cities of Europe.  Numerous natural hot springs pour out over 80 million litres of rich mineralised water every day, creating a relaxing warm water experience! We chose to go to the Gellért Baths, attached to the Gellért hotel, on the Sunday which was actually a great way to unwind before our flight home that night. It was also the experience we were after and completely different to the "sparty" (aka a spa party) that we went to on the Saturday night!!! 

inside one of the many spas at Gellert 

me (middle) & the girls enjoying a spa bath

We were expecting the sparty to be a cool pool-party but at the spas. What it turned out to be was one of the strangest experiences ever! It all went wrong when the mean taxi driver dropped us off in a dingy dark road and we wandered down the street to which looked like a derelict massive house, with the feeling that we were walking in to a scene from 'Hostel' or 'Taken'!!! Inside was pretty though with huge clouds hanging above the DJ box but with it being filled 95% with stag dos it weren't really for us. I won't give to much away but it you go take this caution - go in a large group if you're girls and stick together otherwise the "water goblins" might get you. Definitely in my top 5 weirdest things I've been to. 

St Stephen's Basilica 

stunning decorative walls and ceilings inside 

St Stephen's Basilica 

Staying just around the corner, we passed this beautiful vast building quite a lot (we actually used it as our navigation beacon for getting home). You can take a walk inside, which will only take ten minutes and is free, so definitely worth it as the inside of the building is beautiful. St Stephen's is a Roman Catholic Basilica named after the first king of Hungary. For a fee you can go up to the tower and if you time your stay right, you can join in the evening for a concert which I can imagine is a different way to soak up what Budapest has to offer. 

X x X 

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