I love City breaks, it’s so nice to get away for a few nights and explore somewhere new. Our March destination was Budapest.
We live fairly close to Heathrow airport so we flew BA from Heathrow to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport which took us just over 2 hours.
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and is famous for its thermal baths. Modern Budapest is the result of a bringing the two separate cities of Buda and Pest together; and it is still typical to refer to somewhere being on the “Buda side” or “living in Pest”.
Where to Stay in Budapest
As we were travelling to Budapest in March we weren’t too sure what the weather would be like so we decided to book a hotel with a large Spa and Swimming Pool so we could explore the city but also have somewhere to relax.
We booked the Corinthian Hotel which is the downtown area of “Pest” close to Liszt Ferenc square and within walking distance of Andrássy Avenue and the opera house. The French Renaissance style evokes the grandeur of old European hotels with its sweeping staircase and six-story atrium preserved from the original 1886 building
The hotel has many different room options from Standard Rooms up to its Presidential Suite. We booked an Executive Room which gave us access to the Spa and a dedicated Executive lounge which served complimentary drinks and refreshments throughout the day.
Much to our surprise we received a free upgrade to an Executive Suite when we checked in. Our room / suite was very nice. The suite had a large lounge, separate bedroom, a walk-in dressing room and two bathrooms. We were totally spoilt and the room and décor were wonderful which made our stay even more special.
What to Do in Budapest
1. Exploring Budapest on Foot
Budapest is fairly easy to get around and we decided to spend a couple of mornings exploring the city on foot. We were very lucky with the weather and we had lots of pleasant warm Spring sunshine during our stay which was perfect for walking.
On our first morning of exploring we meandered our way across the city in the direction of the Chain Bridge, one of Budapest’s most famous landmarks. The Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone bridge connecting Buda and Pest. The iron chains, on which the road-bed hangs, are held by two 48-meter river piers and this is where the name “Chain Bridge” comes from. The chain-links are made of iron plates, its parts are connected by large rivets which allows it to act like a real chain. It was designed by an Englishman, William Tierney Clark and built by the Scottish engineer Adam Clark.
After we crossed the Chain Bridge which was adorned with padlocks that people had placed there as symbols of their love we took the Funicular Railway up to the Castle district. The Funicular Railway connects the banks of River Danube and the Buda Castle, the Funicular has been in service since 1870.
The ride is very short but it does save the steep climb uphill to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Castle District. You can only drive a car in the Castle district if you live there although there are buses that serve the area.
Buda Castle was first built in the 13th century but has been rebuilt many times since. It sits on the south tip of Castle Hill. On the north side is the Castle District, which is famous for medieval Baroque and 19th-century houses, churches and public buildings. We enjoyed wandering around it’s cobbled streets and Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style.
On our walk back to the hotel we came across various pieces of street art and sculptures. Budapest is a mix of wonderful architecture, newly developed areas and also areas of decay with crumbling buildings. It’s a city of many layers.
2. Budapest Food market -Central Market Hall
For me a city break isn’t complete unless I get to visit at least one of the local food markets. In Budapest, there are a few to choose from but we went to one of the largest, the Great Market Hall, also known as the Central Market Hall. It was built in 1897 but as with a lot of building in Budapest it was extensively damaged during the Second World War, the market was restored in the 1990s.
The Market has three floors and is a mix of local foods and wine including Tokaj wines, Hungarian paprika and lots of salami. There is also traditional street food available to eat and lots of souvenir stalls.
3. Music - Liszt Academy
When we were out walking, we came across the Liszt Academy which wasn’t far from out hotel. It was advertising daily tours with a short recital by one of the academy’s students at the end of the tour.
The Academy of Music was founded in the 1870s, enabling talented music students to receive higher education in Hungary, which until then was possible only abroad. One of the biggest supporters of the conservatory was Ferenc Liszt, the famous Hungarian-born composer. In 1873, the Parliament decided to create the institute, and Ferenc Liszt was elected as president.
We decided to take the tour on our last day, the price of the tour was HF 2,900 each. The building that the academy is in is quite amazing. We toured the building with an English-speaking guide and the tour lasted just under an hour and included the Grand Hall and the Sir George Solti Chamber Hall.
The Grand Hall decoration was stunning with its Art Nouveau style a shrine to the Greek god Apollo.
We finished the tour with a piano recital from one of the academy’s music students, Laszlo Varadi, and I must say he was amazing.
4. Thermal Baths and Spa
Budapest is known as the City of Spas as there is a network of natural thermal springs bubbling beneath it. In fact, Hungary, has more than 1,000 thermal springs.
The history of the first baths in Budapest dates to the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, then in the 16th century the Turkish people brought their own bath culture to Budapest during the occupation. These baths were beautifully designed and a few of them are still in use today.
The most popular thermal baths in Budapest are:
- Széchenyi Bath built between 1909 and 1913 as the first thermal bath in Pest. There are 18 indoor and outdoor thermal water pools, plus a steam room, saunas, Jacuzzis and various spa treatments.
- Gellért Bath at the foot of Gellért Hill – It has separate thermal water pools for men and women.
- Király Bath, Rudas Bath or Veli Bej Bath – traditional Ottoman-style baths.
We didn’t manage to make it along to any of the thermal baths but we did enjoy the hotels Royal Spa. The spa, originally named Körúti Bath, was built by Hungarian architect Vilmos Freund in 1888. It has been fully restored keeping its original architectural style and has a large swimming pool, Jacuzzi’s, steam room and sauna. There are also several spa treatments available from facials to full body massages and a lovely area to relax and unwind.
5. Budapest Cafe Culture
There has been a long tradition of cafes in Budapest and the coffee culture began as early as the 16th century during the Turkish occupation and it flourished during the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century, when there were over 400 coffee houses in the city.
There are still numerous cafes in the city and as we walked through the streets we came across many of them with their wonderful cakes. We stopped off for coffee and cake at the famous Café Gerbeaud with it’s huge counter of fancy cakes and pyramids of pretty coloured macarons.
Eating Out in Budapest
Eating out in Budapest is very easy as there are plenty of good restaurants and they are all reasonably priced. We ate out in a couple of restaurants serving local food such Goulash, Ox Cheek and had some very nice Hungarian wine. The Bock Bistro next to the hotel was very nice.
My favourite meal of the holiday had to be when we ate at Caviar and Bull The restaurants Head Chef is Marvin Gauci and I must say the food is stunning and the service was superb without being stuffy. We had the tasting menu and also sampled some of the caviar to start with.
Although I enjoyed the caviar I’m still not overly excited by it. However, the tasting menu was gorgeous. We had plump juicy oysters, house smoked salmon carpaccio, octopus with potato foam, prawn and salmon tortellacci and mouth-watering popcorn lobster. We chose a Hungarian White wine, Kreinbacher, to go with the food. It was dry and crisp and slightly aromatic and paired very well with the food.
At the end of the meal when we being served dessert we were invited by the waiter to go into the kitchen and finish our meal at the chefs table which was a lovely surprise and a great end to the evening. We even got to sign our names on the kitchen wall!
I would highly recommend eating at Caviar and Bull and it has superb food, a nice wine list, great service and a wonderful ambiance.
Overall Impression of Budapest
We thoroughly enjoyed our 4 days in Budapest and loved the mix of things to do and see. There is some wonderful architecture to see but there are also some very run down areas that still haven’t been developed. It’s incredibly cheap and the food we ate was always good. There’s a very lively nightlife, we could hear it when we had our windows open and there are lots of great cafes serving wonderful coffee and cake.
We will certainly be making a return trip to explore more.