When I went to Budapest, I (sadly) only had a weekend (wedged between two other trips) to taste the Paris of the East.
My hotel room was on the Pest side of the Danube River, a niche in a fortified building, a pock-marked veteran of the 1956 revolution. Outside my window, clotheslines hung above city traffic and constructions.
What do I recommend one do with only a weekend at their disposal?
Ok, so in this regard I’m biased. I will always choose eating and drinking local fare as my number one unless I’m in England (sorry UK!) It’s a great way to chat with locals and get a genuine taste of the flavors of the culture. If you can find an underground spot where steamy aromas fill the dimly lit eatery, you’re sure to enjoy.
In Budapest I enjoyed a slew of delicious treats from trout with almonds, potatoes and green beans to Goulash to thyme roasted chicken with goat cheese mashed potatoes. There is a fabulous array of beer, as well. It’s the birthplace of the Vienna lager. Delicious pilsner-style lagers and double bocks abound.
2. Go to City Park
When I arrived at the park, there was a wine and beer festival taking place and for a minimal fee I was sipping local libations and meeting lots of interesting people. Booths lined the walking path run by locals as well as traveling nomads selling hand-made crafts to the tune of live indigenous drum beats. I thought I’d lucked out, but no, a glass-working German couple informed me that the park is hopping nearly every weekend with some sort of festivity.
Around the corner a massive gate, modeled from a castle in Transylvania, guards the statue of Bela’s chronicler, Hungary’s first historian, book and pen in hand. Touching the quill means you will be documented in future annals history. Apart from other interesting sculptures, a common addition to almost all buildings in this stunning city, there was a Hungarian trio playing the fastest violin I have ever heard in my life.
3. Check out the Architecture
I’m totally not the bus tour type, but if you’ve got uber limited time, it’s a nice way to see the city’s famous architecture and pinpoint which things you’d like to go back and see in detail. The quantity of unique and impressive sculptures adorning regular buildings is amazing to say the least. If the idea of a bus tour makes you want to vomit (which I believe is a reasonable reaction), these are a few of the gems.
Heroes Square is filled with enormous statues that honor the founding fathers of the seven tribes of Hungary. Nearby, the Museum of Fine Arts contains an immense art collection, over 100,000 international pieces. The building itself is a work of art. The Hungarian State Opera House, St Stephen’s Basilica, and the Museum of Applied Arts are also impressive sights.
4. Stroll along the Danube river
Both sides of the river are beautiful: Pest with its urban flatness and Bud with its hills. On the Pest side you’ll encounter the strange androgynous bronze creature “The little princess” who I had a strange affinity for. Crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge with lions guarding both sides will take you across the Danube to Old Buda. An anecdote about the bridge is that the sculptor forgot to put tongues on his lions. They lions do have tongues, in fact, but they can only be seen from above. Legend says the sculptor threw himself into the Danube in shame. On the Buda side, the famous baths and caves at the base of Gellért Hill are well-worth a visit.
5. Hunt for street art
The streets of Budapest are filled with artists dabbling in everything from portraits to spray paint. Take the time to walk around keeping an eye out for them and checking out their work. If anything you’re sure to strike up some interesting conversation and get an authentic sense of the context from which these people come.
Weekend over? You should feel satisfied and ready ...to plan a longer return trip!