Europe Hungary Travels

Budapest

August 6, 2013

Revisiting Budapest was almost as good as seeing it for the first time 11 years ago. The former Eastern Bloc had once been my home for 6 months during my studies and I feared its economic progress and admission into the E.U. would have damaged its unique character. I needed to go back to prove me wrong and rediscover what I consider to be the true jewel of all of Eastern Europe.

True, the city has cleaned up since and is a lot more tourist friendly but thankfully it still retains that edginess, the powerful if slightly painful links to the past, and let’s not forget the majestic buildings which have no equivalent in the region. It is as inspiring as ever. I started in my old stomping grounds near the inner city where the two focal points of my student life were based: school and the market.

Fővám tér, one of the most beautiful squares in Budapest, faces the market and university.
Budapest - Fovam Ter

The Grand Market Hall and its neogothic touch served as my very big grocery store and nothing has changed…
Budapest

Three floors and over 10,000 square meters offer anything you would need.
Budapest

Ground floor is for fresh groceries, highlighting Hungarian’s love for meat in all its forms.
Budapest

Pig is hugely popular here, especially the Mangalica breed which originated in Hungary. Hairy descendant of the wild board, the Mangalica is used mainly for sausages, not being lean enough for the usual cuts.
Budapest Great Market Hall

Produce stalls overflow with peppers, paprika, cabbages…
Budapest Great Market Hall

…and in season white asparagus which are very common in Hungarian cuisine.
Budapest Great Market Hall

Wild mushrooms (bigger than my fist!) are classically eaten in a soup.
Budapest Great Market Hall - Mushrooms and Flowers

The second floor is home to eateries and souvenirs and you can eat traditional food for a bargain here (insider hint!).
Budapest

Especially worth trying are the lángos, deep fried flat breads large enough to make a meal. You can pick any toppings you’d like, the classic one being sour cream and cheese (and usually eaten for breakfast).
Budapest

I sweetened mine with some strawberries…
Budapest

Next comes stalls of souvenirs mainly focusing on the country’s traditional craft of embroidery and lace. Everything from tablecloth, wall decor, and clothing is adorned with bright colors and folkloric details – a great place to buy a few gifts and avoid the touristy and more expensive shops outside.
Budapest

Right next to the market stands my old school, Corvinus University of Budapest, without a doubt the most historical and atmospheric building I’ve ever studied in. It is after all a UNESCO Heritage Site and was used as a military base during WW2.
Budapest

New buildings have popped up in recent years in the area, bringing a modern and playfully creative style like this close up of the CET, a spectacular whale-shaped glass building on the bank of the Danube.
Budapest

And just around the corner from there, my old street and flat at #11 Kinizsi Utca, totally untouched apart from the corner bistro which changed names.
Budapest

Pedestrian Raday Utca at the corner of Kinizsi was a favorite stroll and home to our go-to restaurants. They’re all still standing and they’ve added huge terraces to benefit from the city’s great summer weather and turn it into one of the most condensed and casual eating destination in the city.
Budapest - Raday Utca 2

The other quieter  side leads to a pretty and quaint residential neighborhood.
Budapest

A few minutes walk and you’ll reach one of the most important Jewish sights of Budapest – the Holocaust Memorial Center.

Budapest

The beautifully designed space hosts a permanent exhibition depicting the persecution, suffering and massacre of Hungarian Jews and Romas during The Holocaust.
Budapest

It is one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever seen on the subject and a must if you want to understand one of the darkest moments the city lived through. A synagogue and wall of victims in the courtyard further tells the story.
Budapest

Walking back towards the city center, there’s the Art Deco Corvin Film Palace where I used to catch the latest movies.
Budapest

The nearby unique Art Nouveau building housing the Museum of Applied Arts can be seen from far away.
Budapest

The Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest in Europe, marks the beginning of the Jewish Quarter and houses the Jewish Museum.
Budapest

Budapest

The neighboring streets are worth a stroll, mixing old buildings, recently opened hip boutiques, and a vast array of trendy restaurants and bars, including the famous ruin pubs which are Budapest’s latest entertainment trend. The charming retro pubs are housed in formerly abandoned buildings and makes the neighborhood the best bar-hopping scene of Budapest. You can take a peek into cute residential courtyards amidst the hustle.
Budapest

Budapest

Statues and street art are fairly common around here and shown in very creative forms…don’t forget to look up when you walk as the best is often above ground level.
Budapest

Budapest

While there are plenty of good and cheap eateries around, it’s worth seeking out Bock Bisztro on Erzsébet körút, a fine Hungarian wine restaurant that’s part of the new ‘modern food’ movement. I had only known menus filled with creamy soups and meaty stews back in the days and my biggest discovery of this trip was to see how the new restaurants were turning towards a lighter and brighter cuisine. There’s still a lot of that comfort food around though, the butter coming with my bread basket being laced with pork fat and crisp skin bits…
Budapest

Set within the prestigious Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal, the bistro style interior is light but elegant, suitable for a casual lunch as well as a formal dinner.
Budapest

The dishes are traditional Hungarian with a modern edge such as this Cold Stuffed Paprika.
Budapest

I couldn’t resist getting a filling soup, this time called Salad Soup which was topped with a huge slice of foie gras, hmmm…
Budapest

Continuing west, we get into the center of Budapest’s cultural life with Andrássy Avenue, their equivalent of Broadway. The large boulevard links some of the best places for classic entertainment such as the Opera House (below), the Liszt Ferenc Music Academy, and the Operetta Theater.
Budapest

Andrássy Avenue is also home to another important museum related to some of the country’s darkest hours – the House of Terror. It is dedicated to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th-century Hungary, two very bloody periods in the country’s history.
Budapest

It’s also a memorial to the victims of the fascist Arrow Cross Party and communist AVH (similar to the Soviet KGB), especially felt when visiting the basement’s torture cells which were used to break the will of their prisoners.
Budapest

On a lighter note, the nearby pedestrian Liszt Ferenc tér, named after the famous Hungarian composer, is the perfect place to hang out and grab a bite in the shade.
Budapest

Budapest

Menza restaurant is always packed, especially its outdoor terrace, and offers a cool retro vibe with its mid-century inspired design.
Budapest

The inside was inspired by socialist-era workers canteen.
Budapest

The menu is made up of Hungarian classics and the portions are fairly generous. I couldn’t come to Budapest, especially in this beautiful summer weather, without a bowl of cold cherry soup which used to be one of my favorite dishes (and definitely only to be found here!). The edible flowers were the icing on the cake…
Budapest

A carpaccio with pine nuts and Parmesan was the perfect complement to a ‘light’ summer lunch.
Budapest

Back to the starting point on Fővám tér, the Danube calls for some exploration with a lot of the best sights waiting for us on its banks. The famous Gellért Hotel with its Art Nouveau thermal baths is right across the river.
Budapest

Take the green Liberty Bridge to cross over to the Buda side (there are several bridges you can use to cross, but this one is particularly beautiful, and it’s also the shortest!).
Budapest

Facing you is Gellért Hill which offers some of the best panoramic views of the city as well as a fortress (the Citadel), the Liberation Monument, and at the top the Gellért statue.
Budapest

You are now on the Buda side of the Danube and want to head north, following the river, to reach Buda Castle after a short walk up.
Budapest

You can roam the grounds of the palace complex of the Hungarian kings and take in the views of the Buda hills dotted with colorful mansions.
Budapest

The main building houses the Hungarian National Gallery which is well worth a visit.
Budapest

The view of the Danube, famous Chain Bridge below and Parliament in the distance is classic postcard scenario.
Budapest

Before heading down, take some time to explore Castle District north of the Castle with its Medieval, Baroque, and 19th-century houses and churches.
Budapest

An old lady playing an antique music box added to the old world charm.
Budapest

As far as street food goes, I’m partial to getting a warm Kürtőskalács (also called chimney cake), which is a spiral-shaped pastry usually dusted with cinnamon. I just love to walk while I unfurl and take a bite of the sweet, crispy exterior and soft interior.
Budapest

Walking in the Castle District, you won’t be able to miss the tall tower of Matthias Church which can be seen from pretty much everywhere. The 700 years old gothic church is one of the most well known landmarks in the city.
Budapest

Budapest

Surrounding the church you’ll find the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion, a panoramic viewing terrace with fairy tale towers overlooking the city.
Budapest

Fairy tale indeed with Cinderella paying a visit…
Budapest

It’s also the best place to get a good look at the Parliament building, the breathtaking icon of Hungary. One can’t help but marvel at the Gothic Revival style and sheer size of what is still the largest building in the country.
Budapest

Walking down Castle Hill will bring you to the foot of yet another famous landmark: the Chain Bridge. The first permanent bridge to connect Buda and Pest, it bears as much significance here for the advancement and culture of the city than my beloved Brooklyn Bridge back home…
Budapest

Now back on the Pest side, you can have a good look at the Castle Hill with the church and Fisherman’s Bastion prominently displayed.
Budapest

Walking along the Danube towards the Parliament, you’ll pass a moving memorial on the riverbank honoring the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. 60 pairs of iron shoes have been placed there to represent the shoes left behind when they got shot at the edge of the water to spare the party the hard work of burials…
Budapest

Now you can finally take a closer look and gaze at the Parliament, which clearly does not fit into your vision span. Though I prefer its look from across the river, a close up reveals stunning details and the feeling of being infinitesimally small.
Budapest

Leaving the riverbank and going back in, there’s still plenty to see. Nearby Liberty Square, the largest in Budapest, is a true oasis and has one of the loveliest parks in all downtown where you can sit back and relax on a bench and admire the beautiful surrounding monuments and buildings. You can even freshen up in the interactive fountain if you’d like.
Budapest

Don’t miss the lovely architecture of the National Bank building on the Southwest corner of the square.
Budapest

Walking back south towards the old town, you’ll soon spot another impressive landmark – St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in Budapest.
Budapest

One of the streets leading up to the Cathedral, Sas utca, has become somewhat of a foodie destination.  Award winning Café Kör sits at number 17 and Borkonyha Winekitchen at number 3. I paid a visit to the latter and highly recommend you do too! Borkonyha has the best wine selection I’ve seen in the city with over 200 listed, all from Hungarian wineries both large and small.
Budapest

This was my best meal of the trip and proof that Budapest has really turned into a foodie destination. My student days had been soaked in beers and cheap red wine (Egri Bikavér which means Bull’s blood!) and here I was, 11 years later, savoring a 5-star meal with glasses of local Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay that could rival the old world’s top sellers – definitely impressed!

Pan Fried Duck Breast with Polenta and Peach
Pan Fried Duck Breast with Polenta and Peach

Raspberry Variation with Red Onion in Honey and Cheesecake
Raspberry Variation with Red Onion in Honey and Cheesecake

The Inner City is part of the historic old town and where a lot of the action is concentrated as most tours will depart from here. While it’s mainly a commercial and tourist hub, you can take the side streets and see the contrasts in the old buildings and the newer ones, the pastel colors and decrepit facades, etc.
Budapest

Deák Ferenc street delimits the north part of the Inner City and is a popular shopping destination.
Budapest

Some classic institutions deserve a visit even if only briefly such as Centrál Kávéház (known as Central Cafe). Opened in 1887, it’s one of the oldest Vienna-style café-restaurants in Budapest and is great as a pit stop for coffee and desserts. The elegant room feels like it hasn’t changed in a century.
Budapest

Budapest

Károlyi-kert is another place in the Inner City where you can rest your tired feet. The oldest garden in Budapest has a French romantic air with beautiful flowers and little pathways.
Budapest

When you’re ready to shop again (!) you can’t miss the most famous pedestrian street of Budapest, Váci utca. About a mile long, it is filled with gift shops, fashion stores and street artists.
Budapest

As you would expect, Váci utca also has the typical ‘tourist trap’ restaurants which is why you should definitely venture elsewhere in the side streets to find the hidden gems. One of them is Borssó Bistro, a corner bistro serving delicious French-Hungarian cuisine in a modern setting. The terrace set in a quiet little street is reason enough to visit and the cooking is of the highest quality, and very reasonably priced too!
Budapest

Fish of the day with homemade pasta and aioli
Budapest

Rich chocolate cake with whipped cream for dessert
Budapest

And when in Hungary, one must indulge in dessert wines… A glass of Tokaji is the perfect way to end the night.
Budapest

When you’ve covered up most of downtown, it’s time to head up Northeast to City Park and experience the Budapest Metro. It’s the second oldest in the world and it shows – tiny stations, vintage wagons and wooden ticket booths are as charming as it get and makes you feel like you’ve shrunk into a kid’s toy box. Even better, the main stations are all filed with the smell of freshly baked pastries which are sold 24/7 to hungry passerby. I can’t tell you how much we got to love these coming back from a late party night as the sun was getting up…bliss!
Budapest

Coming out of the metro at the Hősök tere station, your first sight upon exiting is the famous Heroes’ Square and its Millenium Memorial erected to commemorate the 1000-yearl old history of the Magyars.
Budapest

Make your way towards the extensive green space that is City Park, but not before a stopover at what is the most well-known restaurant in all of Hungary, Gundel. A meal in this classic Hungarian venue is an experience you won’t forget though expect to pay the price.
Budapest

If a lavish meal is not in the cards, you can always stop at their patisserie next door which sits right next to the zoo and enjoy a coffee and a sweet.
Budapest

Budapest

The menu is quite extensive though a few Gundel creations are an exclusivity you shouldn’t miss while you’re here and I’m talking about the Gundel pancake. Rumored to be the most famous Hungarian dessert, the crepe-like pancake made the restaurant famous around the world. It is filled with a finely ground mixture of walnuts, raisins and lemon zest, flambeed, and then served topped with a warm and sweet chocolate rum sauce, truly amazing!
Budapest

After such a rich treat, you’ll be grateful for the nice walk in front of you through Budapest’s biggest park. Loads of attractions and museums can make a day out of it, though none as indulgent as spending a few hours at the sprawling, baroque Széchenyi Baths. Budapest’s most famous baths gave me unforgettable memories of running outside in sub-zero temperatures to jump into the outdoor heated pool, encircled by thick steam clouds and surrounded by locals playing chess in the water…can hardly find a more genuine experience than this!
Budapest

The park itself, stretching over 200 acres of land, is constantly filled with events, circus, and fairs. If Gundel didn’t fill you up, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to eat more simply walking around here.
Budapest

Budapest - Marzipan

Budapest

Strudels originated in Hungary and are hugely popular here, especially the traditional fillings of walnuts and cherries.
Budapest

The Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the main landmark of City Park, and yet another fairy tale construction.
Budapest

Budapest

The intriguing statue of Anonymous in the castle court – the 12th century writer of the ‘Deeds of the Hungarians’ has never been identified.
Budapest

The sheer size of the park means you can wander around the green paths, sit by the water, and enjoy a bit of quiet time in this bustling city.
Budapest

Saving the best for last, no doubt that Budapest’s exquisite beauty is centered around the river and nothing will beat a walk along the Danube at night when everything is glowing and reflecting on the water. The Chain Bridge is especially spectacular.
Budapest

The castle seems bigger than ever, towering above the city.
Budapest

The river is lined with boats, most of them turned into bars or restaurants offering magical settings and views.
Budapest

Budapest

And we conclude back at the starting point, Fővám tér with views of the Liberty Bridge, more stunning than ever, and the Gellert hotel in the background…
Budapest

Budapest has just gotten better and is so inspiring I really look forward to see what else she has in store…check back in another decade? 😉

 

You Might Also Like

4 Comments

  • Reply Jura August 7, 2013 at 4:49 am

    Fabulous photos. Love your combination of food and architecture – two of my favourite things. Really makes me want to go back as I was last there 13 years ago. What I did watch though when I was there was a fantastic film – just released at the time called ‘sunshine’ well worth seeing if you have just been and like history. It is with Ralph fiennes and covers 3 generations of a Jewish family in Budapest during the turbulent 20th. Century fantastic but underrated I think as it is quite long….

    • Reply Sandra August 7, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Thanks! Hope you’ll be able to make your way to Budapest soon, you’ll be amazed at all the changes. And thanks for the tip on Sunshine… had heard of it but never managed to watch it, will seek it out now!

  • Reply Sam Archer August 7, 2013 at 7:52 pm

    Thanks Sandra!! As always a beautifully written, informative, inspiring read. Makes me want to go there. Your photos are stunning (again, as always) and I appeciate that you cover a range of sights to see. I too love architecture and food so love your posts.
    Sam

    • Reply Sandra August 9, 2013 at 5:56 am

      My pleasure Sam! I refrained from adding a lot more photos of buildings but I think I’ll be more generous with those in the future seeing as a lot of people seem to like architecture…and it’s a good way to discover a city you’ve never been to!

    Leave a Reply