My time in Budapest was a mixed bag. I liked the Buda side and Margaret’s Island but was at a loss of excitement for the Pest side. I am not sure what it was. Maybe my expectations were too high? Of our Europe trip, I was most looking forward to Budapest. In fact, it wasn’t on our original itinerary, and I made Matt change everything to include it.
The Pest side is located on the east side of the Danube River. It is the modern side or the city side of Budapest. We stayed on the Pest side in the Inner City area in a rented room out of a couple’s home. The couple was lovely and welcoming. They gave us a list of things to do and places to eat. We were excited to dive in and fall in love with the entire city.
In Pest, we wandered the City Park, Heroes Park, and the Town Center. All were fine, but I just didn’t feel or see anything “special” or outstanding. I remember thinking I was in the middle of an industrial location vs. a historic city. After Matt had spent some time convincing me, we spent an afternoon at the Szechenyi Baths. Because I wasn’t feeling any excitement over Pest I wasn’t feeling excited to experience a Hungarian bath. Duh! It really is a must do. There are pools inside and out. We spent time at the outside pools. Spinning in the whirlpool, splashing under the fountain and lounging in the heated bath area. My favorite part was watching the older locals play chess in between their water dips. The entrance fee includes the use of the changing area, lockers for your personal items, shower area, and dry towels.
I quite liked the Buda side and Margaret’s Island. I had thought all of Budapest would be more like Buda. I found the castle area, the churches, the squares and lovely colorful buildings to be lively and inviting. We walked over the Chain Bridge to get to Buda. I recommend walking over because the chain bridge provides beautiful views of both sides of the river. It also takes you right to the funicular which is an excellent way to get up castle hill vs. walking up the steep hill.
The views atop the hill are beautiful. Be sure to walk to the west side of the hill to see the vistas of the valley. Also, you can find quite a few locals on the west side of the hill. We met a lovely couple walking their dog who pointed us in the direction of the remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church. Between the castle, the museums, the views, the churches, the cave locations, and restaurants Buda could easily keep you busy for at least two days. We only had one day. So we had to narrow down what we wanted to see. It was a beautiful day out. We used the weather as our excuse. We only picked outdoor and short indoor places to visit. We walked around the castle grounds and the Fisherman’s Bastion. We wander up and through the streets north to find some beautifully colored houses and wondrous old stone churches, Matthias Church and the remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church. On the way back we passed some tavern type restaurants and stopped for lunch.
Margaret’s Island was my favorite part of Budapest. It is a large park located in the middle of the Danube River. It was lovely and felt so familiar. The day we went the weather was gorgeous, so the park was packed with families, friends and lots and lots of dogs. We rented a bike cart and peddled around the island to visit the Margaret’s Island convent, the musical fountain, the zoo, and the gardens. We climbed trees and frolicked around like kids enjoying the local’s city escape. This was where Budapest’s heart started to emerge for me. Watching locals interact at a park on a beautiful day can divulge a lot about an area. Plus watching all the Frisbee catching dogs gets me every time.
Overall, I feel lost when it comes to Budapest. There was plenty for us to do and see. We had fun, but the experience felt empty. I missed the unique visual and atmospheric jewels that I had experienced in most other cities. During our time there, I didn’t connect. I will; however, give Budapest another chance and return someday.
- Hello – Szervusz (ser-vus)
- Goodbye – Szia (si-o)
- Please – Kerem (kay-rem)
- Thank you – Koszonom (keu-seu-neum)
- Where’s the toilet? – Hol a vece? (hawl o vay-tsay)
Orientation: Hilly Buda and flat Pest used to be two distinct cities with only the Danube River separating them. In 1873 east and west united and gave us Budapest. Buda has Castle Hill and the Royal Palace, but if you do any sleeping, eating or shopping it will most likely take place in Pest.
Arriving by Train – Budapest has three major train stations, all of which could be used for a train coming or going anywhere; so be sure to check your ticket carefully. Handy words are penztar=ticket window, vagany=track, indulo vonatok=departures and erkezo vonatok=arrivals. It is not recommended to take any of the taxis laying in wait for you at any of the train stations.
Keleti or Eastern Station is just south of City Park in Pest. Look for tracks 6-9 to find the exit, it will be a narrow passage marked by “Exit”, and this will open up into a hallway filled with ATM’s and WC’s. If you continue walking straight through an open air courtyard, you will find the entrance to the M2/Red line metro.
Nyugati or Western station is the most central of the three stations, residing on the northeast edge of downtown Pest. Most international arrivals come in on tracks 1-9 and if you walk straight ahead from then you will find the exit. If you are after the metro use the stairs just before the exit doors and use the underpass to reach the M3/Blue line. The ticket windows are across from track 13 and straight from the head of tracks 10-13 is an exit leading to Terez korut which will take you to Vaci utca.
Deli or Souther station is on the other side of Castle Hill on the Buda side of things. This station is much more clearly marked than the other two. Heading downstairs will take you to some shops, eateries, and the M2/Red line metro.
Arriving by Plane – Budapest’s Liszt Ferenc Airport (BUD) is 10 miles southeast from the city. Terminal 2 is the only passenger terminal, with 2A for EU flights and 2B for international flights. Taxies are the quick and easy way to get to Budapest with fixed rate pricing; average is about 6,000-7,000 Ft (~$27-32 USD). If you are after cheap public transportation catch bus 200E to the now closed Terminal 1 and transfer either to a train to Nyugati station or the Metro.
Hungary uses Forints (Ft or HUF). Roughly $1 USD equals about 280 Ft. Conversion and foreign transaction fees may apply to all your debit and credit card purchases. It is still recommended that you exchange your money via the ATM as opposed to visiting a currency exchange.
Tipping – As with most of Europe, if you get food to take away, you needn’t worry about tipping. If you have table service in the restaurant you are expected to tip 10%; however, most places include service in the bill. Look for service, tip, felszolgalasi or szervizdij on the bill and that will be your included service amount. Taxis receive about a 10% tip, although if you feel he went about and beyond in perhaps rushing you to the airport for a flight, feel free to include a little more. Most other services are tip free unless you have an especially helpful bellhop or concierge 200-400 Ft would be a perfectly acceptable reward.
- Most of Budapest’s museums are closed on Mondays.
- Synagogues are closed on Saturdays.
- Some shops stay open later on Thursdays but tend to close early on Saturday and be closed altogether on Sunday.
- Validate your metro tickets as they will often be checked. Tickets that have not been adequately validated will lead to a 6,000 Ft penalty on the spot.
Travel Warnings: Budapest’s biggest crooks are taxi drivers who take you for a ride, the best thing to do is get a taxi from a hotel not by hailing one from the street. Another area you want to pay attention to here and anywhere for that matter is, never enter a restaurant that doesn’t list its prices on the menu.
Recommendable: I don’t know. There is plenty to see and do when in Budapest. When we were there, it seemed to be down on personality and atmosphere. I plan on returning to Budapest because I feel I missed the boat on this city.