4 Day Trip to Budapest - 17-20 Feb 2003
Ever since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s, I had wanted to visit many of the countries that used to be known as “being behind the Iron Curtain”. It’s hard to explain to young people nowadays just how little contact we in the West had with the affected countries …and how segregated the world was. In 2003, I got the opportunity to holiday in Budapest, capital of Hungary, with my buddies from work, Ailish and Aideen. My bucket list blog this week covers our trip.
Our four day trip started on Monday, 17 Feb 2003. We knew it would be cold there at that time of year…and indeed there was snow on the ground when we arrived. So why go to Budapest? Well, the central area of Budapest is divided by the beautiful blue Danube River and is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has several notable monuments of classical architecture, including the Hungarian Parliament and the Buda Castle. The city also has around 80 geothermal springs, the largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building in the world. Budapest attracts around 12 million international tourists per year, making it a highly popular destination in Europe.
We flew with Malev, (Hungary’s flag-carrying airline which went bust 9 years later). Our 7:30 am flight took 3 hours from Dublin to Budapest. Budapest is 1 hour ahead of Dublin so we arrived mid-morning and took a taxi to our hotel.
Our hotel was the 4-star Danubius Thermal Hotel Margitsziget (now known as Ensana Thermal Margitsziget Health Spa Hotel). It is situated in a park on beautiful Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube in the heart of Budapest, a stone’s throw away from all the sights. As part of our triple room rate we had an included buffet breakfast, a gala dinner, a free massage, and a free 3-day transport card.
8 Things To See and Do in Budapest
Hungary’s capital city Budapest is actually made up of 3 unified cities, with Buda and Óbuda on the west bank of the Danube (the hilly part) and Pest on the east bank (the flat part). Much of the city has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, and many visitors consider the city to be amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe. I think Ailish, Aideen and myself would agree with this 😊.
The city successfully mixes its fascinating history with a brilliant, laid-back contemporary artistic style. There are a wide range of different things for visitors to see and do, from museums to thermal spas, so everyone should be able to find something that tickles their fancy, day and night.
1. Margaret Island
As our hotel was located here, we only had to step out the door to enjoy Margaret Island. This is a 2.5km long island which sits in the middle of the Danube, which is covered in parkland and recreational facilities.
During warmer weather it’s worth noting that there is a rubber-coated 5.5 km running track which encircles the island, and is a popular jogging spot for runners who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. One of the most famous features of the island is the “music fountain”, from which water regularly “dances” in time to classical music.
2. City Park
The City Park is a wonderful leisure facility for the citizens of Budapest, and includes sports facilities, swimming baths, and a boating lake.
During the winter months, the boating lake is transformed into one of Europe’s largest ice rinks. The park is also home to the Budapest Municipal Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the Budapest Circus and the Vajdahunyad Castle (housing the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture).
3. Hungarian Parliament Building
After the City Park, we headed to the nearby Hungarian Parliament Building. Tours of certain areas of the building are available daily, and run in different languages. We needed identification to get in, and your bag may be searched on entry. It was really lovely inside and the three of us agreed that it was well worth a visit.
The Hungarian Parliament Building, which was designed and built in the Gothic Revival style, is one of the largest buildings in Hungary, and is home to hundreds of parliamentary offices. Although the impressive building looks fantastic from every angle, to see the whole building in its full glory, it is worth viewing it from the other side of the Danube also….which we did above.
4. Central Market Hall
The Great Market Hall in central Budapest is Budapest’s most famous marketplace. Whilst many locals still use the market hall as a place to buy their groceries, the market is incredibly popular with the tourists too.
Locally grown fruits and veg, and locally sourced meats are found on the lower floors, and souvenirs including lace, chess sets and leather goods are available in the upper floors. As well as individual ingredients, it is possible to pick up homemade local delicacies like goulash from the food stall upstairs.
5. Buda Castle Hill Funicular
On the Wednesday we went on this Funicular, which first opened in 1870, and is the second oldest funicular of its kind in the world. A system of weights and counterweights is used to help to raise the carriages up and down the hill. The funicular is the fastest way to get to the top of Castle Hill, and is exceedingly popular because of its panoramic views out across the Danube. So of course we had to experience it - here is my ticket:
The speed of ascent was actually slowed down as of 1988, to give passengers more time to enjoy their ride. The track is open daily until 10pm, so it is also a great way to enjoy views of Pest at night.
6. Castle Hill
At the top of the Funicular, we explored the historic castle district of the Hungarian capital. We saw the Buda Castle, a palace razed to the ground and rebuilt over centuries, now home to the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. We also enjoyed the breath-taking views from the Buda Castle Hill ……especially sitting beside the turrets and terraces of Fisherman’s Bastion which offers gorgeous views over the Danube.
We toured inside the beautiful Matthias Church.
7. Andrássy Avenue
We walked back down this wonderful boulevard takes which visitors from Erzsébet Square in central Pest, out to the City Park. Due to its interesting cultural heritage, it was declared a World Heritage Site in 2002, just before we visited.
Taking a walk down Andrássy is a great way to see a number of Budapest’s different architectural styles, including the Hungarian National Opera House, neo-renaissance townhouses and mansions, and a number of different national embassies.
If you do not fancy promenading down the boulevard, the metro line which runs underneath the Avenue is the third oldest underground railway in the world.
8. Hungarian State Opera House
This Neo-Renaissance building was first opened in 1884, following a commission from Emperor Franz Joseph. Outside of the building, you can see statues to Ferenc Erkel (composer of the Hungarian National Anthem) and Franz Liszt (Hungarian composer).
Though none of the three of us are big opera buffs, we couldn’t resist attending the 1200 seat auditorium on our last night in Budapest. It is considered to be one of the best in the world for operatic performances. We paid 3,200 Florints each (about €9) to see the Mozart Opera Titus Kegyelme (La Clemenza di Tito or The Clemency of Titus). Definitely an experience.
Ticket prices can start from as low as 500ft. If you cannot find time to see a show, guided tours of the Opera House are available during the day, although these usually need to be booked in advance.
Although it was a short trip for us, it was thoroughly enjoyable. We really only got a taster of the city and the people. I would return to Budapest in a heartbeat 💖.
Bucket List Items Ticked Off in the above Blog 50
Number 57 - Travel - 7 Continents
Other Blog Posts
Blog 11 - Sydney, Australia
Blog 12 - Hong Kong, China
Blog 17 - Beijing, Xi'an & Shanghai, China
Blog 19 - California, USA
Blog 27 - Scotland
Blog 28 - Barbados
Blog 29 - Canada
Blog 30 - Alaska
Blog 31 - Everglades, Florida
Have you ever visited Budapest? Tell me about your experience in the comments section below.
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My name is Mary and this is my bucket list blog ...having survived a near-death experience. I hope it encourages you to "live your best life". See how I'm completing my own bucket list items. And let me know how you're getting on with yours!