Four Days In Budapest, Hungary: Pest
Our Airbnb in Buda was only a 10-minute walk to Budapest’s renowned Chain Bridge; we got lots of use out of the bridge as we crisscrossed from Buda to Pest and back all weekend. St. Stephen's Basilica, a commanding Catholic church completed just 112 years ago, is just over the bridge on the Pest side. Check out the 360-degree views from the top of the tower and be sure to walk around to the beautifully curved back of the church.
The Hungarian State Opera House is not far from here and while we didn’t go inside (they offer guided tours in addition to, as you’d expect, regular concerts), we appreciated the architecture from the outside. The House of Terror is a bit further down Andrássy út. The museum chronicles the impact of the Nazi and Soviet occupations, and while the content is quite interesting, we felt that the layout of the space was far from optimal.
You’ll find Heroes Square and City Park at the northeast extreme of Andrássy út. The square is crowned by the Millennium Memorial, constructed in 1896 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the Hungarian state, and flanked by a contemporary art museum and a neoclassical fine arts museum. The park is a pleasure to stroll and is home to Vajdahunyad Castle, a faux castle also built in 1896.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the star of the show in this area of the city. Lurking below the ground of Budapest and across Hungary is one of the largest systems of thermal springs in the world. Hungarians have taken advantage of this for hundreds of years and today there are dozens of thermal baths across the city. Széchenyi is one of the most famous and also one of the most accessible to tourists. The whole procedure around visiting baths can be intimidating and confusing, but Széchenyi’s website covers everything you’d want to know in an FAQ and even offers online booking! It was a bit chilly outside the morning we visited, but the outdoor baths were hovering around 90°F and there were even warmer baths indoors for those seeking to turn up the heat. Rejuvenating in one of the city’s many thermal baths is without a doubt a must-do!
The southeastern corner of central Pest is home to the Palace District, an area where many wealthy families built grand residences during a period of rapid development in the latter half of the 19th century. It’s a small area worth a wander and we stumbled on some real gems, for example the leafy courtyard of Almássy Palace tucked away on Ötpacsirta Street.
This area overlaps with Budapest’s Jewish district and the striking 19th century Dohány Street Synagogue, Europe’s largest synagogue, is only a few steps away. Our visit coincided with Passover which injected a bit more meaning into our time there, but you can appreciate the immense beauty of the interior any time of the year.
Nearby Kazinczy Street is the center of the Jewish district and is also home to some of Budapest’s most popular ruin pubs. What is a ruin pub you ask? The idea is: take an abandoned building, clean it up but keep it dirty enough to retain its beaten charm, install a bar, fill it with quirky furniture and artwork, and let the crowds pour in! This isn’t really our scene, but we did walk through Szimpla Kert during the day and could appreciate how cool and unique of a space it is. Back in the core of Pest we found our souvenir from Folkart Kezmuveshaz, a handmade embroidered pillowcase (and check out the larger Magma—noted in our last post—location while you’re in the area).
Our luck with delicious food continued in Pest. We shared loaded lángos (think fried dough pizza) from one of the upstairs stalls at Great Market Hall. More lángos was had from Karavan Street Food Market on Kazinczy Street, but this time we finished it up with chimney cake (spit-cooked flaky sugar- and cinnamon-covered dough). One of the many remnants of Budapest’s time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is the city’s thriving cafe culture. We grabbed lunch one day from Két Szerecsen by the Opera House (lamb in yoghurt sauce, fried goat cheese, spinach cream with ham, aubergine spread, fresh juice and lemonade). And strawberry kiwi and blood orange tea flowed at unique Sirius Teaház—you can enjoy your tea on the padded floor of the main room (take your shoes off!), or venture up into a hangout by the ceiling, or even crawl through a mirror-covered hallway to get to another cozy hangout. This place is a must-visit!
We have so many good things to say about Budapest itself, but one of our favorite parts of the weekend was our half-day trip to charming Szentendre which we’ll cover in our next post!