We visited Budapest in July 2012, staying at the Corinthia Hotel as part of a Jet2 city break. I thought it might be helpful if I offered this trip report to give an idea of some of the things that this fascinating city has to offer. (Warning: it’s quite long).
Monday 16th July
Our flight from Manchester landed a little ahead of schedule just before seven in the evening. We followed the forum advice and didn’t use public transport for transfer to our hotel – the Corinthia on Erzsebet Korut. We took a taxi; with a heavy suitcase and at that time in the evening it seemed the best option. The Corinthia Hotel was excellent. It deserves all the great reviews to be found here on TA. Once checked in we settled for a snack in the hotel bar before bed. The trip report really begins on the Tuesday morning.
Tuesday 17th July
We decided to walk from the hotel down Andrassy Ut to the river. Our first stop was almost by accident. I happened to see the name Parizsi over a shop doorway and thanks to research on TA recognised this as the entrance to the Alexandra Bookstore. You could easily walk straight past, but you would miss a real treat. The café on the upper floor is situated in the most elegant and ornately decorated salon. We had a drink there so that we could linger and enjoy the surroundings. This little gem is located between Oktogon and the Opera House, on the opposite side to the Opera House.
Once on our way again, we looked into the foyer of the Opera House. The foyer gives an idea of the opulence of the place, but you would really need to see a performance here to get the full experience. Perhaps a reason to return to Budapest at a different time of year?
The next building to attract our attention was St Stephen’s Basilica. We wandered around the grand interior before taking the lift to the dome. It provided us with fine views of the city, although it must be said the panorama from the Buda Castle area is much more dramatic. Before leaving we picked up a leaflet advertising a concert in the Basilica that evening, which we thought we would try to fit in if we could.
After a quick lunch in a trattoria just off St Stephen’s Square, we eventually reached the Danube right by the Gresham Hotel and the Chain Bridge. The entrance lobby of the Gresham was well worth a look, particularly for the beautiful chandelier and the wrought iron peacock gates.
Next we wandered across Szechenyi Bridge, stopping to take lots of photos. This is surely one of the classic Budapest viewpoints. As we didn’t want to rush our visit to the Castle area, we decided to save that for tomorrow, and set off to walk along the river towards Margit Bridge. It took a bit longer than we expected, but the unfolding views of the parliament building on the opposite bank more than compensated. Whilst crossing Margit Bridge we saw the most bizarre sight – what appeared to be a motor coach sailing up the Danube towards us. Apparently a company called River Ride runs tours of the city streets and the river without the need to change vehicles. The people inside looked happy enough, but from where we were standing it looked a little precarious.
Once over the bridge we made our way to Kossuth Lajos Ter right outside the entrance to parliament. We wanted to be able to check this out as we had tickets for a tour of the parliament building at ten the next morning.
The Marco Polo map of Budapest which I had bought back home now proved to be exceptionally useful. It showed all the public transport routes, with different colours for metro, tram, bus or trolley bus. Careful scrutiny showed that we could catch the 70 or 78 trolley bus from Kossuth Lajos Ter right back to our hotel. The timing was now just right for us to buy a 72 hour travel pass from the metro station. So, onto the number 70 trolley bus, not the preferred mode of transport for that many tourists, but very convenient for us.
After a rest, a snack and a chance to freshen up at the Corinthia, we were ready for the concert in the Basilica. We walked down to the Oktogon metro station where our travel passes were checked, as they were at every metro station, and we rode down to Bajcsy-Zillinsky Ut on Metro line 1. We hadn’t bought tickets for the concert earlier in the day just in case our plans changed. There were still plenty of seats to be had. We chose seating area B. (There were four choices: VIP, A, B and C. VIP and A were in the wooden pews closest to the altar. Area B was directly behind these using chairs with a thin cushion and C was quite a bit further back in the nave). The area B tickets cost us 8500 ft each. The programme was made up of classical favourites featuring soprano, tenor, solo violin, solo trumpet and of course the organ (Bach and Widor Toccatas). The organ provided accompaniment for each of the soloists. The concert lasted just over an hour, and we were thrilled with the performances. The reverberation and echo from the loudest organ passages was quite stunning.
Too tired to stop off in any of the attractive looking bars around the Basilica, we headed straight back to the metro for a quick ride home to the Corinthia. Not bad going for the first day in a new city!
Wednesday 18th July
After an excellent breakfast we were ready for a new day. About a week before leaving home I had emailed the parliament in Budapest at email@example.com . I asked if it would be possible for two of us to visit parliament on any day between the 17th and 20th, wanting to give them a wide range of possibilities. Within a 24 hours I had obtained a confirmation that a “group of 2 people will be welcome to the Parliament building for a guided tour in English on Wednesday 18th July 2012 at 10.00am”. Brilliant!
Trolley bus 70 took us to Kossuth Lajos Ter in 15 minutes. On arrival at the parliament building, it turned out that we had to show our letter of confirmation to obtain an admission ticket, but the letter allowed us to go to the head of the queue and directly into the ticket office, where we showed our UK passports and received a ticket for two for the grand price of 0 ft. It has to be said that the letter of confirmation looks much more impressive than the little till slip!
I could go on at length about the Hungarian Parlament Building, but it has been described in all the guide books and here on TA too. Suffice to say it is all true: a magnificent and sumptuous building with the most ornate decoration throughout. Highlights include the grand entrance staircase, the crown jewels with their sword wielding guards and the upper house hall.
Our tour lasted about an hour, and afterwards we visited the café in the Ethnographical Museum opposite before dropping down to the Danube and walking towards Szechenyi Bridge. A little way along the bank we encountered the shoes memorial. This commemorates Budapest’s Jews who, before being shot on the river bank by the Arrow Cross during the Second World War, were forced to remove their shoes. This simple yet most poignant memorial makes you stop and reflect in a way that perhaps a more substantial memorial might not. Very moving.
As we crossed Szechenyi Bridge we could see that the Siklo funicular up Castle Hill had built up a very long queue, so we opted for the number 16 bus. After a few moments uncertainty about which bus stop to wait at, we hopped onto a little bus which took us rapidly to the foot of the Fisherman’s Bastion. After several flights of steps we arrived directly opposite Matyas Church with its colourful tiled roof absolutely gleaming in the sunshine.
Up here the views are absolutely stunning and there is so much to see and explore. I won’t try to mention everything; it would just turn into a list. However before going too far we felt we needed some lunch. We weren’t sure where to begin looking, but as we walked along towards the castle we found the Var Bistro: clean, bright, self-service, very reasonably priced and decent food. Ideal.
After lunch we walked down to the Castle area, past the parade ground and into the courtyard admiring the splendid buildings along the way. We cut through to the terrace to take in more splendid views of the city before turning back towards Matyas Church and the Bastion. Two different worlds exist almost side by side here on Castle Hill: at one end the grandeur of the museums and galleries, at the other the ancient and charming residential streets with their shops and restaurants.
By now we were tiring, so we took the 16 bus down to Szell Kalman Ter below the Northern end of Castle Hill, where we able to connect with the number 4 tram which whizzed us back to our hotel in next to no time.
A little later in the evening we strolled just around the corner to Liszt Ferenc Ter, where we were overwhelmed by the choice of restaurants. We were very happy with the one we chose in the end -Café Vian. After the meal we decided to walk up Andrassy Ut to Heroes’ Square, admiring the many fine villas, some of them obviously embassies. Heroes’ Square was quiet as we got acquainted with the Magyar warriors and Prince Arpad. They certainly looked a tough bunch. We saved our legs by taking the metro the four stops back to Oktogon and the Corinthia. Another very satisfying day in Budapest.
Thursday 19th July
We started today with a trip to a place well off the normal tourist beat: the Railway History Park. Trolley bus 70 and then ordinary bus 30 took us to Rokolya Ut in the North-western part of the city. If you have no interest in steam locomotives you can safely give this one a miss, but if you do have, then this is a place to put on your list. Just a short distance from the entrance you will encounter twenty steam engines arrayed around a central turntable. They seem to be placed in chronological order from left to right, beginning with some obviously very elderly locos and ending with a group of relatively modern freight and express locomotives. A little further into the site there is another turntable with the roundhouse building intact: one half contains historical carriages and the other is still in use as a maintenance area. Add to this collection several model railway layouts, a miniature railway you can ride on, a selection of diesel locomotives and unusual rolling stock such as snow ploughs or even adapted cars. You can take a ride on a diesel shunter or you can propel yourself along the track on one of those pump action trolleys. There’s also a little café where you can buy drinks and snacks. This fascinating visit took much longer than we had expected and was great value for money.
As the afternoon had become very hot, we returned to our hotel for an hour or two, and then took the metro to the Szechenyi Baths station in the Varosliget Park. We had a quick look into the baths which seemed to be very full; there was also a long line of customers waiting to enter. We turned away from the baths and walked over to the entrance to Vajdahunyad Castle. It was too late to go in to the castle but we wandered through the grounds, saying hello to Anonymous as we passed by. The castle is a real fairy tale confection; apparently based on an amalgam of several different architectural styles. It certainly looks very photogenic when seen from across the boating lake.
For our evening meal we decided to return to Café Vian as we had both been very satisfied by the food served yesterday. It was only early evening, but the place seemed even busier than the previous evening: surely the sign of a good restaurant.
After another very pleasing meal we took the metro all the way to Vorosmarty Ter, intending to check out the possibility of an evening cruise on the Danube. Fortunately Mahart Cruises had space on their nine o’clock sailing, so after buying tickets we made our way down to the landing stage, not wanting to find ourselves at the back of a long queue. At nine o’clock precisely all the floodlights came on, picking out the castle, Matyas Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion and Szechenyi and Ersebet Bridges. Beautiful. However, as we waited for our boat to arrive we could see that a storm was brewing. The sky over the Castle and the Citadel was darkening rapidly and flashes of lightning were streaking across the sky. A sudden strong gust of wind left us in no doubt about what was coming; in fact some people rather nervously bailed out of the queue. We just hoped that the boat would arrive before the storm, as we had no coats or umbrellas. We were very fortunate: the boat arrived just as the first heavy drops of rain began to fall. We managed to get seats on the lower deck right at the front with a clear view up the river. Within five minutes the storm broke with torrential rain and forked lightning; and we had a perfect view of all of this as we sailed past the beautifully lit parliament building and then turned down river as far as the Petofi Bridge before returning to the landing stage. Amazingly, as we disembarked the rain stopped and we were able to walk through the still dripping streets to Vorosmarty Ter metro without getting wet. We knew when our luck was in, so we scurried back to the hotel for the night.
Friday 20th July
This was our last day, but as the flight home was not until 8 pm, virtually a full one. We checked out after breakfast, leaving our suitcase in secure storage at the hotel. We rode the metro to Vorosmarty Ter and then took our time wandering around the square and along Vaci Utca in the general direction of the Great Market Hall. Some of the art nouveau buildings, such as the Turkish Bank have the most striking facades. The Market Hall shows you another side of Budapest shopping, at least on the lower level where all the food stalls are situated. The rather cramped upper galleries seemed more aimed at the tourist trade. After all the hustle and bustle of the market we felt we needed somewhere quiet for lunch. As we looked at the river from the Szabadsag Bridge we decided to investigate the Gellert Hotel on the far bank. To our delight their brasserie had reasonably priced meals, so we settled down on the terrace to enjoy a delicious and relaxing meal.
Feeling very contented after our meal, we crossed the bridge again and boarded the number 2 tram for a scenic ride along the river to Parliament. We took the opportunity to look around Szabadsag Ter, being particularly taken with the bees climbing up to the hives on the upper sections of the Post Office Savings Bank.
Time was catching up with us. We needed to be back at the hotel fairly soon, so transport wise we finished where we started on the number 70 trolley bus. From the hotel everything ran smoothly. Our flight was on time and by 9.45 UK time we were back in Manchester, and by 10.45 we were home.
We felt that in our four days we got a pretty good look at Budapest and something of the feel of the city, although there is obviously still a lot for us to see and do. We really liked the city and the Corinthia Hotel. Exploring by public transport was fun and very cheap. The 72 hour pass cost 3850 ft each (somewhere between £11 and £12). We made something like twenty journeys, some quite lengthy, others just moving quickly from one part of the city to another. It would be good to return at a different time of year so we could take in a performance at the Opera House.
If anyone wants to add: “I can’t believe you didn’t see…” please feel free to do so.