To-See and To-Do

At this writing, I’ve been in Budapest for about 8 months — and I’m still finding new things to see and to do. Although the city center of Budapest is quite compact (I can usually walk from one end to the other in under and hour), it is packed with interesting shops, gorgeous sights and fun museums. This list represents some of the obvious tourist-tastic “musts”, as well as a few other, smaller finds, but I think the best advice about the city comes from Jeanette, the ETA the year before me:  let Budapest unfold for you in its own time.

It is a city to be savored, for sure. I’m lucky in that I had a year to do so. For those with a little less time, however, I am sure you can still find plenty to do — and plenty to draw you back for another visit.

Sights

The Chain Bridge at Night
This is the big, light-covered bridge that appears in any Budapest postcard. Best viewing points are to get off the M3/Blue Metro at Ferenciek tere, walk down towards the big white bridge (Erzsébet Bridge) and then turn right to walk along the Danube, towards the big, lit-up bridge. In this route, you’ll also get to see the Parliament, and one of the most moving monuments to the Holocaust I know of, the Shoes on the Danube.

Széchenyi lánchíd

Széchenyi lánchíd

It also looks lovely from Castle Hill …

Castle Hill
Two options for getting up here: either take any Metro line to Deák Ferenc tér – when you get out, you will see signs pointing you to the chain bridge. Walk across the chain bridge, then you will see the huge hill with said Castle ahead of you. You can take the funicular, or walk up the hill.

Alternately, from Deák Ferenc tér, you can take the 16 bus. It will deposit you right at the top of the hill in about 10 minutes.

Castle hill is good for just walking around, looking at the pretty buildings and views. Be sure to visit the Fisherman’s Bastion, the large white stone walkway where you can get the best shots of the famous Parliament building.

Also, visit the Mátyás templom, or Mattias Church. It is my favorite church in the city, covered with the famous Zsolnay tiles and with fun painted walls on the inside.

Another great place to visit is Ruszwurm, a tiny coffeehouse that was a favorite of Maria Theresa. The cream cake (Krémes torta) is to die for, and all the pastries are wonderful.

The best time to go is either when it is a clear day, so you can get good pictures. I like to go up in late afternoon, get some lovely daylight pictures, see the church, take a walk, have a huge Ruszwurm goodie and then go back to the Fisherman’s bastion at sunset to get pictures of the chain bridge & Parliament all lit up

Szent Istvan
The main cathedral, located near Deak Ferenc ter or Arany Janos metro stop. It is a huge, imposing thing, with a separate chapel built for the “holy right hand” of Szent Istvan, the founding saint of Hungary. This is one of the more amusing relics to go look at (got to loves those Catholics and their relics…). Follow signs for the szent jobb kalpona at the back of the massive church, then pay the surly old Hungarian man guarding the hand 200 forint. He will light up the little relic-house, and you can stare in wonder at all the holy hand-ness.Szent Istvan

Grand Synagogue
Also known as Dohány Street synagogue, it is located, as one might guess on Dohány utca. Closest metro is either Deak Ferenc ter or Astoria. Additionally, you can take the 4/6 tram to Wesselényi utca and walk towards the Danube/small ring road – the street ends at the synagogue.

I think this is the most beautiful place of worship in the whole city. The striped exterior is lovely, and the rich colors inside are gorgeous. It also houses a small Jewish museum, and a memorial garden, each worth a look (especially the monument to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.) You can also get tours here in English, should you so choose.

Gellert Hill
Offers great views of the city.  There are buses which will take you up here, or you can climb the hill from the bottom, getting some great views on the way. Take M3/Blue Metro at Ferenciek tere, walk down towards the big white bridge (Erzsébet Bridge) and cross it. Turn left, passing by Rudas baths, and keep going till you see the steps and start climbing! (It is a hike, to be sure!)

On the way up, near the bottom of the hill, the cave church is also worth a look! (it is a church built into a cave in this hill, that was sealed up with concrete during communism)

City Park
Called Városliget in Hungarian, it is good for a walk around. Nice paths, a castle and ice-skating in the winter. Go check out the ducks enjoying the natural steam on the pond – it’s a duck spa! Get off the M1/Yellow like at Hero’s Square (Hosok tere) and walk behind the giant statue to enjoy a stroll here.

House of Terror
An interesting museum – right on Andrassy ut, one of the big elegant streets of the city – it was the former headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross and then the AVO (Hungarian Nazis and Hungarian Secret Police, respectively). It offers a good chronicle of the dark times in the recent past, and I think it can be useful for Westerners who don’t know much about this point in history (common, it seems, for Americans of a certain young age).
http://www.terrorhaza.hu/index2.html

Other Museums

Like any large city, there is plenty of art to be found. Depending on the weather or your mood, you could try:

The Fine Arts Musuem: http://www.szepmuveszeti.hu/ On Hero’s Sqaure (Hosok tere) on the Yellow line. The “old school” style of art – rooms upon rooms upon rooms of paintings. Oddly, tons of Dutch art …but also some great Impressionist stuff.

The Mucsarnok: http://www.mucsarnok.hu/. Directly opposite the Fine Arts Museum, hosts more avant-garde stuff. It is interesting because it is a huge baroque building, which then has these weird modern exhibits – a cool contrast.

Museum of Applied Arts: http://www.imm.hu/ In the IX District (Ferenc Korut stop on Blue line metro or 4/6 tram). This has all the china and furniture and clothing and everyday stuff. The exhibits are interesting, and most are translated into English, but what really makes this place worth visiting is the GORGEOUS building itself: green and yellow tiled roof, inside all white in a very cool Turkish style. Check the website for their evening programs (on Thursdays, I think?) which are often quite cool.

Operahaz

Opera House Ceiling

Opera House Ceiling

The state opera house of Budapest is gorgeous! You must go inside and at least peek at the lobby.

Tours are also offered in English daily. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to see it, however, is to get tickets for a show. They start as cheap as $2 (granted, you can’t actually see much form said seats…but they are $2!!!) and even the most expensive seats top out at maybe $50-70.  You can buy tickets online or see the schedule at the link below, then go and buy tickets at the Opera House yourself.
http://www.opera.hu/index_e.php?lang=en&module=main_eng

Central Market House
The biggest market in Budapest, this is where I do my weekly shopping and I love it—for about 4 US dollars, you can get pounds and pounds of fresh veggies and fruits and such. It is really cool to look at – all the vendors downstairs selling produce and meats, then upstairs, there are stalls filled with every kind of kitsch (where to go to get your Budapest shot glasses) and some great food stands. Try the lángos, which is a deep-fried Hungarian flatbread. Be sure to add sour cream and cheese to be super-Hungarian about it, or visit the rétes (strudel) stand on the first floor and get a sour-cherry or poppy-seed one.

The address is Vamhaz korut 1-3 – it is walkable from the Kalvin ter metro or take the 49/47 tram from Astoria metro and hop off just before you hit the bridge.

Baths

The bathouses are a must at any time of year. There are tons to choose from, at http://www.spasbudapest.com/tartalom.php . (Also check there for closures and hours. Budapest has a habit of just closing things sometime … with no explanation).

My favorite is the Széchenyi bath. Gorgeous at any time of year, it is truly a wonder in the winter, when you can sit in the big, steamy outdoor pool while waves of steam roll into the frosty air. It is super-cool when it is snowing. My favorite time to go is right around twilight. The Hapsburg yellow palace against the deep purple sky with all the steam is magical. There is a stop for this bath on the M1/Yellow line metro (Széchenyi Fürdő, second or third to the end of the line).

Szechenyi Baths in Springtime

Szechenyi Baths in Springtime

Another good bet is the Rudas Baths. This is the old Turkish-style bath, with a big dome overlooking its main thermal pool. If you can get a sunny day (ha!), it is particularly cool because the light streams through the colored glass in the stone dome, making everything look all cool and mystical. The bath is just across the Erzsébet hid (take M3/Blue Metro at Ferenciek tere, walk down towards the big white bridge, cross it, and turn left) Name on the building is Rudas Gyógyfürdõ.

Shopping

For whatever reason, tour books always recommend going shopping on Vaci utca. I can’t figure out why – all the stores there are just international chains, and you won’t find anything really interesting there. It’s the same stuff you could get on M Street or in whatever European city you are in (Zara, H&M, etc.).

Instead, if you need retail therapy, I’d recommend a few more unique, cute places:

Rododendron Design:  Lots of interesting accessories and arty stuff – I got one friend a wallet made out of a page from a Hungarian Richard Scarry book, for instance. All done by young Hungarian or nearby Eastern European designers. The girls who work here are very sweet and helpful, too.

Located very near Deak Ferenc ter metro stop, at Madách Imre út 3.

Retrock: Young Hungarian designers who make edgy clothes, often by sewing up vintage stuff with new bits. Also carries some great vintage stuff. Lots of ugly stuff and lots of cool stuff too – so it is a great place to poke around for awhile if you need a break from sightseeing.

Located at Ferenczy Istvan utca 1, very near to the Astoria Metro stop.

Just around the corner, on Henzelmann Imre utca, you can find Retrock Deluxe, which is sort of like the classier big sister of this store – has designs from Hungarian designers who are actually making headway in other countries as well like Nanushka and Use Unused and Je Suis Belle.

Eclectick: Also a collection of about 5 to 6 Hungarian designers – you’ll see some overlap in the accessories departments with Retrock. Eclectick’s clothes, however, tend to be more of a bright, basic style over Retrock’s more vintagey vibe. Not cheap, but some very cute t-shirts and such.

Located at Iryani utca 20, right near the Central Kavehaz.

Magyar Pálinka Háza: Should you find you like palinka, it makes a good gift. This store has tons of varieties at all price levels, and also a good selection of little mini-bottles, if you want to bring a few home to friends.

Located just down from the Blaha Luzja metro/tram stop, at Rákóczi U. 17

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