Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
One of my uncles on my father’s side of the family goes to Budapest regularly for business. I don’t quite understand precisely what it is that he does, but I think he’s a property broker of sorts, helping wealthy Chinese buy properties in Budapest to kick-start their applications to become citizens of a European Union country. Whether or not that’s the right thing to do is irrelevant, it’s just something that will continue to occur as the size of wealth grows in China.
Anyway, he always raves about Budapest and Hungary but I’d never given it much thought as he does tend to speak in hyperbole most of the time. He’s entirely correct though, Budapest is a fantastic holiday destination. It really does have everything to offer: 1) old castles; 2) great river views; 3) surprisingly good and cheapish food; 4) a spa and public bath culture; 5) a fantastic city park; 6) amazing stories from their cultural history.
The real highlight of Budapest city is the old Jewish Quarter. Formerly the Jewish ghetto during World War 2, it’s now a very cool enclave of hipster stores and great street food as I’ve previously mentioned. It’s hard to forget the history though – we joined a very sobering tour of the Jewish District where we learnt about the fate of the Jewish population during the Holocaust amongst other facts.
The same company does a few other great free (tip-based) walking tours which we joined. The Original Tour visits many of the key sites around Budapest and covers some local history and cultural talking points as well. The Communism Tour is less of a walking tour of sites, and more of an oral history of life during the Communist era of Hungary.
We were particularly lucky with the tours that we joined as the guides were perfectly suited – an older lady who had lived through the Communism years ran the Communism Tour, a guide from the Jewish museum ran the Jewish District tour, and a born-and-bred Budapestian ran the Original Tour. I’d definitely recommend joining some of these tours for an understanding of Budapest, its people, culture and history!
Other highlights of our stay in Budapest included a visit to their Cat Cafe! It was a real treat for me to be surrounded by cats again, as I had been missing my own cat back home. Seven months is much too long to be separated from one’s pet! I also enjoyed the afternoon tea we had at the Book Cafe in Lotz Hall. They do great hot chocolate and cakes, but the real highlight is its location in a former pre-war ballroom which is a fantastic example of ornate Neo-Renaissance gold-gilded decor.
We had meals at Belvarosi Lugas Etterem and Ket Szerecsen, but I think the real highlight in Budapest is its street food. I loved our visit to Street Food Karavan in the Jewish Quarter, as well as the snacks of langos (deep-fried dough with sour cream and cheese!) and the kurtosh chimney cakes along the way.
I’m going to join my voice to my uncles’ – visit Budapest! It’s like a less touristy version of Prague, but even that is going to change soon as more and more travellers visit Budapest for their cheap prices, great food, and variety of different activities. Get in now while you still can.