Friday, 19 February 2016

A Weekend in Budapest

(CW : Zoos, War/Murder)

Hello all! Last weekend, I took a trip to Budapest for 3 days with my family. I don't travel nearly as much as I'd like to, but I do love weekend city breaks exploring new places. My best friend visited Budapest back on October, and upon her recommendation, we set out to find a cheap weekend deal. Here's everything we got up to...

The Liberty Bridge, one of many bridges connecting the two sides of the city.

The city of Budapest was originally two cities divide by the Danube river. Each side of the river is referred to as their old names (Buda and Pest) although they are now officially one city. We stayed on the Pest side, the North, which is the more lively, build-up commercial side, while Buda is much more rural, hilly and residential. Both sides are very well connected through through bridges, trams and buses. Even taxis are really easy to get and very cheap too.

On our first day there, we visited the Great Market Hall, the oldest and biggest market hall in Budapest packed full of three floors selling fresh fruit, meat, street food, souvenirs, crafts, local produce and traditional Hungarian gifts. The building itself is so beautiful and I absolutely adore strolling round markets when away, they're always so unique and interesting. 

After that, we crossed the river to Buda and walked right along the river side til we got to Budapest Castle District. We rode the funicular railway up the hill to Buda Castle, the most gorgeous building sat high up on a hill overlooking the Danube and the city below. Round about it, a lovely little village with a sprinkling of quant old building, churches, houses and restaurants. 

There are a number of souvenir and craft stalls in the courtyard of the castle, as well as a cafe that sells by far the best hot chocolate I've ever had in my entire life!

The next morning, we got up early to a lovely sunny day to stroll up the Andrássy út to Hősök Tere (English : Heroes Square) at the top and Városliget park (English : City Park). The Andrássy út is a beautiful picturesque boulevard, lined with amazing buildings, fancy designer shops and foreign embassies as well as the famous Budapest Opera House. So fancy in fact that it's worth more per sq. foot than any commercial street in the whole of Great Britain! It also has the House of Terror museum, which I promise you, isn't as scary as it looks or sounds! The museum houses contains exhibits relating to the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes in 20th centuary Hungary as well as a memorial to those interrogated, tortured and killed in the very building. All along the outside of the building are photographs of the victims.

We stopped at the Mag Haz Etterem Es TeaHaz cafe for some breakfast and soaked up the only sun we got all weekend in their beautiful courtyard. 

Heroes Square at the top of the Andrássy út is a huge open island in the middle of the road with statues of historical Hungarian figures.

Throughout Winter, there's a huge outdoor ice rink in the park. We'd planned to revisit at night to skate but ended up doing other things. We strolled through the park and ended up at the back of it where Budapest Zoo is. 

Despite recommendations on Twitter to visit the zoo, we hadn't planned to. We didn't even know that that's where the zoo was until we stumbled across it! Unlike most zoos, you can see a lot of the animals from outside and as soon as I saw they had elephants, I had to go in.

Normally, I don't like to visit zoos as I find them quite upsetting places to be. However, I do know they also do a lot of good work in terms of conservation, research and accessibility and visibility of animals to children. I've loved elephants all my life and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see them properly for the first time.

The zoo is amazing, I saw so many animals I've never seen before (rhinos, hippos, hyenas, crocodiles, bears, koalas, kangaroos, the list goes on and on!) and for only 2500 HUF (approx. £6) I'm so glad we went. 

After that, we thought we'd try out the Budapest underground and take a trip down to the iconic parliament bulilding in the banks of the Danube. 

The stop nearest to the parliament took us out by a local farmers market. All the food looks so amazing that you'd just want to sample one of everything, there was music from a local jazz band and there were even live pigs available to buy right then and there!

The parliament building itself is absolutely stunning, even by the standards of Hungarian architecture which is all incredible. We were even lucky enough to be there to see the guards taking down the flag. 

Opposite parliment on the very edge of the river is the Shoes on the Danube Bank monument, a row of cast iron shoes. During the war, Jews were lined up by the river, stripped naked and shot in the back so their bodies fell into the water and floated away. The memorial is so intricate and a beautiful tribute to such a tragic event.

Although we were only there for 3 days, we did and saw everything we'd wanted to. Budapest is famous for its outdoor thermal baths (in particular the Szechenyi baths) which we'd like to have tried too, but time (and weather!) just weren't on our side. Here's some more pictures from exploring the city...

Although it might seem like a random, unlikely choice for a weekend away for some, I had a much better time than I expected in Budapest. It's a really easy city to find your way around, very flat for walking, the people are so welcoming and friendly and there's so much to see and do for free or very cheap. The cost of living is much lower than the UK, so eating and drinking is really affordable too. I had a wonderful time and my family did too, but I'd love to revisit with friends at some point in the future as the nightlife looked amazing too - 30p for a tequila shot anyone? £1.20 for a mojito?