If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’ll know it’s perfectly possible to have a day out in Europe, so long as you don’t live too far away from the airport and the flight schedules permit an early out, late back pairing. Following on from my days out in Amsterdam, Belfast, Bremen and Lisbon, the latest trip saw me heading to the Hungarian capital Budapest. The links to those previous day trips can be found at the end of this post. As with the others, I’ve been to Budapest before, but well over a decade ago, so I was keen to revisit what had been an enjoyable destination.
Arriving at midday local time after a civilised 8.30am flight, it was good to hear the famous Ryanair on time hurrah and even better to find that Hungary’s border police valued speed over anything else. An easy bus and metro ride got me into the centre of Budapest, giving me about six and a half hours in the city after the commute to and from the airport had been factored in. Once again, having waited for a flash sale, I paid less for my flight than I would have done for a train ticket into London, with my time equating to less than £5 per hour of sightseeing. I thought that was good value. The one day travel card, good for bus, tram and metro, was also excellent value at 1650 forints, about £5.
First stop was an old haunt: Cafe Gerbeaud. Located in Pest, this famous coffee house has been a fixture for well over a century and still knows how to put on the style. A cappuccino and some delicious biscuits topped up the massive breakfast of huevos rancheros I’d wolfed down at Stansted. The sun was pleasantly warm for October and so I decided to take a stroll along the banks of the Danube and over the city’s famous Chain Bridge.
With skies blue and visibility good, it was too tempting to take the funicular up Buda’s Castle Hill. The ticket wasn’t included in the travel card, more’s the pity, but it was 1200 forints for a single ride – hardly break the bank rates. The views from the top were as fine as any in Europe, with landmarks like Pest’s parliament building easy to spot.
The castle occupies a prominent position, as you might expect. There are wine tastings to sample and museums to explore, but one of the great pleasures is just to sit in the sunshine and admire that view over Pest. As luck would have it, the changing of the guard ceremony was about to start in front of the Presidential Palace just as I reached the top. A forest of cameras, phones, selfie sticks and mobile phones recorded the occasion, but there was plenty of room for everyone to get their shot.
The weather was just too good to resist and so I continued my stroll through Buda’s castle district to picture postcard Fishermen’s Bastion. It’s not a place to hurry, unless an out of control Segway rider is heading your way. There are loads of museums and plenty of cobbled streets, and as access to traffic is limited it’s easy to wander around.
The white domes of Fishermen’s Bastion have a touch of the Sacre Coeur about them. The place was constructed between 1901 and 1903, designed to complement the Church of Our Lady which dominates the square adjacent to it. There’s no need to pay to enter for the view, or to have a coffee in the expensive cafe in the ramparts, though, as you can enjoy the same splendid vistas for nothing if you walk a little further along.
Back on the bus, I headed down to the river to search out an old Turkish Bath I’d read about. Instead, I found what looked like an abandoned sanatorium but what was actually a working thermal baths. It turned out to be the Lukács baths, whose website provided a bit of background missing from other web posts about Budapest’s baths:
“The Lukács Thermal Bath has a rich historical background: monastery baths were built in this area as early as the 12th century, the first spa hotel was built in the 1880s, a drinking cure hall was added in 1937, and a daytime hospital was established in 1979. At the end of the 20th century, the thermal bath was thoroughly renovated and all facilities were modernised.”
Budapest has loads of them dotted about the city, including the swanky baths at the Gellert Hotel and the famous Széchenyi Baths in City Park. These were less well known, perhaps off the tourist track because it looked like no one had maintained them for an age. Undeniably atmospheric, I decided against a dip in case the building fell on me and in any case, it was late afternoon and getting a little chilly. Instead, I decided to go back to Pest instead for a stroll through City Park. The lake had been drained for cleaning, alas, so I cut my losses and caught a bus to the market.
I could wander around a market all day, and Budapest’s, housed in a glorious building down by the river, is no exception. Ropes of paprika hung like Christmas decorations from greengrocery stalls and rows of salamis adorned the butchers. I’d been tipped off about a cheese pastry, a kind of crispy rolled croissant filled with cream cheese and dipped in finely grated cheese. It was deliciously more-ish.
Temptation would have to be resisted though, for almost next door was one of Budapest’s newer architectural efforts. Known as Bálna or the whale, this modern structure connects several old warehouses with a confection of glass and steel. It opened, I read, in November 2013 after protracted disputes between the city and the developer, but not all of the units inside had been filled – a mix of shops, bars and restaurants – leading to some commentators renaming it the white elephant.
It was getting late. The sun had cast a pink hue over the Gellert and left the faintest of reflections in the Danube. There was just time for a light supper before heading back to the airport for my 9.35pm flight back home.
Previous day trips…