Essential Budapest: Budapest for First-Timers
Budapest has been one of my dream destinations for the past several years for no other reason than its mystery, exoticism, and location in the heart of Eastern Europe. In reality, I knew nothing about the city or the country of Hungary before going there. Much to my surprise and delight, Budapest turned out to be, I believe, one of the most underrated European capital cities. Inexpensive, delicious food, safe, tourist-friendly, incredibly gorgeous, Budapest was once the second capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
First things first, I admit that relying on a taxicab to transport me to my hotel after a midnight flight made me nervous. As I already stated, I knew next to nothing about this city. To my surprise, the airport taxi system is incredibly organized. I walked up to a window, told the attendant my destination, and he ordered me a cab. All of the cab’s are numbered and this car was specifically assigned to me. Then I was given a printed ticket with the cab number and a quoted price for the ride. Next, a roadside attendant flagged down the proper cab for me and I was off. My driver already knew my destination and a load of anxiety was off of my mind.
Buda and Pest, originally two cities combined to make the massive Budapest in the late 1800s, deserve two full days (preferably three) at the very minimum for exploration. For your first time, there are a few things you need to make sure you do!
Arguably in possession of the most beautiful Parliament building in Europe, Budapest owns so many different vantage points from which you can see Parliament. This photo was taken from the top of Castle Hill. Suggestion: Go at night when it’s completely lit up.
Walk the Chain Bridge to Buda
Crossing over the Danube with beautiful views in every direction, the Chain Bridge is your gateway into Buda. And Buda is magical.
Climb Castle Hill
I had absolutely no idea what was in store on my first day in Budapest or what I was getting myself into by climbing this massive hill. Though there is a trolley that you can pay to take up the hill, I definitely recommend walking. You are brought through beautiful arches, by incredible architecture, and around so much history.
Walking through Buda’s Old Town felt like stepping into a fairytale. The bright colored building-fronts, ornate doorways, secret archways and shop entrances are enchanting. The grassy green next to Matthius Church has a lovely outdoor food stand/grill with free wifi. I watched them sauté my vegetables and sausage while pouring me a huge draft beer outdoors (!!).
Go to the Thermal Baths
The “City of Baths” is one of the few places home to original Turkish thermal baths from the 16th and 17th centuries. It was not long after my arrival that I heard about Budapest’s thermal baths. Truthfully, I may not have spent my last day at Gellért Baths if a local shop owner I met hadn’t convinced me that I absolutely needed to go. After two days of endless walking and climbing, I enjoyed a nice 60 minute massage upstairs in the VIP rooms and spent the day relaxing in the baths.
(I was all smiles after ending two days of walking in 100 degree weather in the spa)
Wander and Meet Locals
Aside from Gellért Baths, I discovered every single place I saw solely because I wandered. Wandering aimlessly is the best way to find hidden gems and make your own memories. I met a German who attempted to explain the German education system to me, a Hungarian who lived in Manhattan for four years, and an Austrian who told me the must-see locations in Vienna the day before I was leaving to go there! Budapest has a general vibe of happiness visible in everyone there and I love it so much.
Have you been to Budapest? Share your experience!