2 days in budapest


DAY 1

We start off our first day in Budapest with a nice breakfast in the Terézváros area, before visiting the nearby House of Terror. The latter was once used by the fascist Arrow Cross Party and AVH (the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB), but has since been converted into an establishment dedicated to exposing the aforementioned 20th century fascist and communist organisations, as well as remembering their victims (many of whom were interrogated, tortured and sometimes killed the the building itself). With its stressful soundtrack and stern staff, the museum is truly a somber place. The basement features reconstructions of cells that the AVH used to keep their prisoners. While I find the visit informative, I tend to agree with critics of the museum who have argued it minimizes the Hungarian people’s role in the crimes committed under their previous administrations, and leans more towards blaming its foreign occupiers instead.

After our visit, we take the bus to the city’s Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok), built in 1897 in the neo-gothic style. While locals do seem to shop there, the Great Market hall has essentially become a tourist attraction — just spend ten seconds on the tacky souvenir-filled upper floor and you’ll know what I mean. Still, the ground floor has some beautiful produce on display, and you can find loads of paprika to bring home.

We grab lunch at the Indian vegan restaurant Govinda Veggie Corner, which has some tasty combo meals for very reasonable prices. We spend the first half of the afternoon shop-hopping from one design store to another. Here are a few I’d recommend:
  • Printa Budapest – Nice concept store that doubles as a print/design shop and cafe. It has a strong eco-friendly focus, which I really appreciate.
  • MONO art & design – Cool, more upscale concept store.
  • Paloma – Located in the courtyard of the Wagner house, this renovated space is now a coworking showroom filled with over 50 local designers (some better than others...).
  • Rododendron Art & Design Shop – Fun concept store that leads into a cute alleyway. Great for buying unique postcards and concert prints.

And because shopping can be tiring, we stop for a pleasant break at Kontact Coffee, whose main philosophy is “No sugar” (in fact, it’s engraved on every single of its wooden tables). Don’t expect to find a frappé here!

Next, we visit the Dohány Street Synagogue. The only thing I’ll say is that the synagogue is beautiful on the outside — if you want to hear my rant about why the inside made me very, very upset, feel free to reach out, hah.

It’s quite hot outside and our legs are beginning to tire, so we decide to stop at a nearby cafe to get refreshments. On the terrace of Csendes Társ, we each sip on a delicious lemonade: I get the strawberry basil, my dad gets the peach, and my gran gets the classic. Csendes also has a little shop adjacent to it, filled with ceramics and other curated goods. Adjacent to that shop is Lollipop Factory, a colorful boutique that features a selection of clothing and accessories made by local designers. Expect hoodies, fanny packs and funky neon jewelry!

After passing through Liberty Square (Szabadság tér), a public square in the Lipótváros neighborhood, we stop to admire the former Postal Savings Bank (Postatakarékpénztár). Located east of the Liberty Square, this stunning building was designed by Ödön Lechner, a pioneer of the Hungarian Art Nouveau (known as the Secessionist movement). Completely in 1901, the building features an extraordinary roof, decorated with a colorful combination of brick, mosaics and ceramics. Its unique look is the result of mixing the Art Nouveau aesthetic with traditional Hungarian style.

Before heading back to Andrea’s house to have dinner with our cousins, we pass by two notable buildings: one is Parisi Udvar, whose Art Nouveau architecture is really beautiful, and the other is the tourist-infested St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent István-bazilika).


DAY 2

First thing after breakfast, our cousin Andrea drives us up Gellert Hill, from which we get an amazing view of the city. If you don’t have an easy way to get there though (i.e. a distant Hungarian relative with a car), then I recommend just skipping this. You can get a very similar view from the Buda Castle, which happens to be our next stop. Unfortunately, the Buda Castle is just as crowded as Gellert Hill, but at least the crowds dissipate once you start walking around.

My dad and I first venture inside the National Gallery, which currently has a Frida Kahlo exhibit on display. The exhibit is more about Kahlo’s life than a retrospective of her art pieces (the ones shown are not as plentiful as I had hoped), but it’s interesting nonetheless. Turns out Kahlo had a fling with a Hungarian lad, so that’s her tie to the country.

We also visit a handful of rooms of the National Gallery’s permanent collection, which have a few good finds (not the Met, but that’s a tough standard to beat). After leaving the museum, we walk along Castle Hill’s quieter, shaded battlements, whose benches are a good space to sit down and take five. I recommend walking along Úri utca, a lovely street filled with quaint, colorful houses.

Back on the touristy side, I can’t help but admire the colorful tile roof of Matthias Church (Mátyás-templom), which was restored in the late 19th century.

We have lunch at a restaurant called Baltazar, where Dad gets a classic chicken paprikash dish, while I get a surprisingly delicious veggie burger. On our way down from Castle Hill, we pass by the Fisherman's Bastion, from which there is also a nice view of Pest. A couple of flights of stairs later, we arrive in Vizivaros – literally “water city”. This peaceful, mostly residential neighborhood is perfect for an afternoon stroll.

For a snack break, make sure to stop by Franziska, a cute café that’s perfect for sitting down for a nice cup of tea and some sweets. Dad and I share Franziska’s yummy vegan chocolate cake, whose crunch texture comes from either puffed quinoa or cashews.

Not too far from Franziska is Corvin Ter, a little public square that features a pretty yellow house. We also walk by the historic Király Bath (Király fürdő), whose green (semi-decrepit) façade is hard to miss. First built in the 16th century during the Ottoman rule, the thermal bath offers four different pools, each between 26 and 40ºC (please don’t ask me what that is in Farenheit). While Király doesn’t look at its best on the outside, locals love it for its historic design elements, such as its Turkish dome and octagonal pool.

As we continue our walk, we end up in Rózsadomb (Rose Hill), the wealthiest area in the city. Interestingly, the area features a contrasting mix of luxurious habitations and dilapidating buildings.

During the Turkish occupation of Hungary (1541-1699), most Turks lived in this neighbourhood. The many urban myths about them planting roses on these hills explains the name Rózsadomb. In fact, several vestiges of the Turkish occupation remain in the area, including the Tomb of Gul Baba, our next stop. It’s a pretty steep climb up to the site, but it’s worth it. The tomb has had a rather complex history since its completion in the mid-16th century, and is now the property of Turkey. It is surrounded by peaceful terrace gardens from which there is a great view of Budapest.

After carefully making our descent from the Tomb, we venture inside Lukács Thermal Bath (Szt. Lukács gyógyfürdő), a historic thermal bath spa that is naturally heated by hot springs. The vast spa features a number of pools, 9 saunas, an igloo (??), and ice cooling pool (*shivers*), and much more. If you, like us, are just stopping by to taking a look, at least remember to fill your reusable bottle with the damn good water from the lobby fountain. And before you go, also don’t forget to check out the plaques that were sent by satisfied (i.e. cured) patrons of Lukács from all around the world.

We decide to end the day a Varosliget, Budapest’s City Park. To get there from Rózsadomb, we take one tram, then the metro. Fun fact about this peaceful park: it’s one of the first public parks in the world. What’s more, there are beautiful works of architecture within the park itself, such as the Ják Chapel and the Hungarian Agricultural Museum, both located inside the walls of the Vajdahunyad Castle.

We walk by Budapest’s important Heroes Square (Hősök tere), but barely get to see it because there’s some kind of horse-racing event going on. If you’re there on a regular day, make sure to admire its iconic statue featuring the Seven chieftains of the Magyars (whoever that is), and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art surrounding it.