Budapest is one of those places you always dream to visit, and expect to be charming and magical… Well, let me tell you… “It is all that and a bag of chips!”
George Ezra said it best comparing this city to a “Hidden Treasure Chest!” Yes, there were plenty of people there, but it didn’t matter because as you walk from your hotel down the little cobblestone streets you can smell the traditional Hungarian Kurtos Kalacs wafting through the air, just out of the oven and sprinkled with cinnamon. Walking along you hear the sound of church bells ever so slightly chiming in the distance, kids playing ball in the street and vendors going about their day. All of a sudden you feel like you are all alone with this city and that you have been given the key to a secret “Treasure Chest” that has been passed from generation to generation.
How we got to Budapest.
We started our journey in Brasov Romania ringing in the New Year in the mountains surrounded by snow! We took a 13 hour overnight train to Budapest (I will be posting all about our magical harry potter train experience very soon!) Chugging along through the Romanian countryside past the cutest little villages and then into the Hungarian countryside so similar, yet you can tell by the different architectural styles that you are in a different country. After a long night on the train, we finally pulled into the station in Budapest, stepping off the train we were dazzled by the tall ceilings, arches and of course, the main attraction, the clock helping all travelers, locals, and tourists alike stay on time.
We only got about 5 hours of sleep on the train because the beds were not the comfiest, and it was just one of those nights… 🤦🏻♀️ But, at least we had beds. Am I right?!
Regardless of the lack of sleep, we managed to get up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ready to see the new city we have so long been awaiting!
We thought the clock on the inside of the train station was impressive… Until we went outside and saw this bad boy lighting up the early morning darkness. This train station, which is Hungary’s busiest transportation hub, was just jaw-dropping from every aspect. From the detailed glass climbing up and down all sides to some of the most beautiful statues guarding the gateway to Budapest. It was constructed in 1881 after being destroyed and rebuilt after many wars. Today it stands in all of its glory as a landmark to the Hungarian people.
There were not any cabs out front of the train station, so we walked out to the main street and were amazed by this effortless ballet of car after car. Finally interrupting the flow of this dance, we got a cab and begin the journey to the hotel! We were all snapping pics of the city, in awe of the gorgeous buildings, and the lighting happened to be perfect as the sun was just beginning to rise.
Where we stayed.
Have you ever felt like royalty as you pull up to a hotel? At the Ritz-Carlton they make you feel so special, they ran up and got all of our doors before we had a chance to open them, took our luggage to our room and offered us drinks and cookies while we checked in.
Being only JAN 2ND all of the Christmas decorations were still up everywhere, which made everything 10x more magical than it was already! Walking around the beautifully decorated hotel was an experience in itself, every corner was decorated in such detail. Like this tree for example, as you can see it is full of sparkly blue, silver and pink ornaments each placed perfectly, it really tied into the colors of the hotel as well as creating a nice place to gather and hang out in the lobby.
Walking into the hotel felt like I was getting a warm cozy hug!! Outside it was about 38 degrees and inside was about 78 degrees and soooooooooo cozy after being so cold! And since we were traveling in the winter all I packed were these boots… Now don’t get me wrong they kept me warm and comfy, but sometimes I really wanted some stylish sneakers or sandals!!! But when you only have a carry on you have to compromise more shoes for bringing all my big coats, which I am glad I brought the warm coats because it was FREEZING in the mountains.
Before exploring the city, we went upstairs to the club lounge for some breakfast. The club lounge is so pristine and beautiful, I felt like we were walking into a museum with food as the artwork! They had full on breakfast, everything from an omelet station to chia seed pudding. (which I LOVE) So we ordered some omelets with the chef and I also had some yummy Bulgarian yogurt with nuts and berries.
After eating, I explored the lounge a little more and discovered the balcony that has the most INCREDIBLE view!! You can see the town square and the big Budapest Eye!
I never knew that Budapest has a Ferris wheel called the Budapest eye just like London Eye. I can only imagine the view from the Ferris wheel way up in the sky! As I stood there looking out over this city, there was almost a familiar feeling to me. Since this city has so much influence from all around Europe. You see little cafes like in Paris, beautiful renaissance architecture like in Italy, and grey skies that took me back to London.
Our bellies were full and we were ready to explore the city. We started by strolling down the streets, some still cobblestone and some paved. As you walk down each street you get to see all the bakeries, barber shops, restaurants and people who make this city what it is.
Budapest, formerly known as Buda and Pest is today joint by the Chain Bridge stretching across the Danube River. I never knew until visiting Budapest that it wasn’t always “Budapest”. These two cities Buda and Pest once were very separate and unique places, without even a bridge linking them. The famous Chain Bridge linking the two sides today wasn’t built until 1873 when the merger between the two very different cities took place. Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the bank opposite. Ever since the two sides exist in harmony with each other, yet they still carry on with their unique traits. When Buda goes to sleep Pest is just waking up, Buda holds the Palace and Pest houses the Parliament building and they both share the chain bridge in all of its glory!!
Sometimes referred to as “The Queen of the Danube,” Budapest has long been the star of Europe when it comes the rivers and impressive bridges. I think this is definitely Europe’s most underrated big city, it is both as charming as it is challenging. But past it all, it is truly just a time capsule taking you back to the beginning of it all.
After a long day of exploring, it was time for some traditional Hungarian food!
We always ask locals for recommendations when visiting new places, we find the best authentic food this way! Every person we asked, What is the best & most authentic restaurant in Budapest?” they all said “Dunacorso.” So after hearing so much about this restaurant, we called and made reservations for dinner at 6:30 pm and we couldn’t wait!! We walked around the streets a little more, just exploring and taking in all Budapest has to offer.
And finally it was time for dinner, we headed to the restaurant with our tummy grumbling and ready to eat!
As you step inside the restaurant, you feel like you are entering someones home/palace that is beautifully decorated in gold and warm tones, lit by cozy twinkle lights and lamps on the walls, it was a very welcoming room.
As soon as we were seated, they had musicians starting to perform for the restaurant. They were fiddling and singing traditional Hungarian tunes from the Countryside. As you know, we were quite hungry and wanted to order asap. We took a quick scan of the menu and a little help of the waiter we chose some Hungarian classics to try.
I think they must have been able to tell we were HUNGRY because they did their best and rushed our starter soups out to us, which was great to curve our hunger.
Let’s talk about the goulash first, this is a staple in Hungarian cuisine and definitely, a must try when visiting Hungary. When taking your first sip, your palette is hit with the sweetness from the paprika and the bitterness from the onion and garlic, but after a minute of a wrestling match it all ends with a smooth dance and it leaves you wanting more!
I also ordered the fresh sea bream from the Danube paired with boiled potatoes and onions. I wasn’t so convinced about the sea bream, as I have never had it before… But the waiter told me it is an absolute must try and that it is very delicious, so I agreed and ordered it. It came presented beautifully with pesto butter resting on top slowly melting from the heat of the fish as the minutes roll by, potatoes tossed in oil and parsley seasoned to perfection and sautéed onions and mushrooms almost crispy and yet still soft to the palette.My first bite was a success and I absolutely loved this fish! It is a very succulent, white flesh fish that just melts in your mouth if cooked properly!
So our first meal in Budapest was a success. I would definitely recommend this restaurant, the atmosphere and food were great!!
After our dinner full of new foods and fun gypsy music, we decided to stroll the streets some more and even walk along the Danube for a bit. It was only around 7:30 pm so the city was very much still awake and busy. As we were walking along the Danube we passed multiple night river cruises and they were all trying to sell us tickets to their last night cruise on the Danube. At first, we were mostly ignoring them, but then we thought it would actually probably be pretty amazing to see all the buildings from the water all lit up at night. So we gave in and got tickets, and we boarded the long river cruise boat. And that’s when it started to pour rain, and they quickly covered the boat and the show went on.
They served wine, beer, champagne and water of course. As you sit in a big rocky boat on a river in the dark in the pouring rain, you really look at the city differently. Imagine looking out a rainy glass window through the darkness at buildings that have been there for century’s all lit up and standing tall and proud of their city. It was such a magical experience and I definitely recommend it!!
We all had headphones for the cruise, so they were explaining each building and all the history of the city as we sailed on!
After a long night of traveling and then a full day of exploring the city we were so ready for bed! When we got back to our room they had left us some macaroons and special cards thanking us for spending our vacay with them! The macaroons were delicious, they had the perfect richness and flakiness.
We woke up early the next day super excited to see the city, so we got some breakfast in the lounge and headed out to explore this treasure chest of a city. We had the most beautiful weather and the crowds weren’t too bad so we were actually able to enjoy walking around and we got to soak up the culture.
Day 2 in Budapest.
Matthias Church, Buda Palace, and Fisherman’s Bastion.
We made the jaunt from Pest across the Chain Bridge to Buda. Right when you reach the foothill of the Buda palace, there is a little cafe next to the Buda Hill Funicular. This being the closest cafe to the castle, the line was out the door, but the smell of the Kutos Kolacs that they were baking right outside the door made the wait more fun for sure! After you wait in the line for a coffee from the cafe, you are left wanting a hot and doughy Kurtos Kolac after being tempted for so long in line. So yes… We ended up getting a steaming hot, freshly sprinkled in cinnamon Kurtos Kolac.
There was a stand right by the cafe selling passes for the hop on hop off buses, and they were saying it is much easier than the Buda Hill Funicular because they have more stops that make getting around the city in a short amount of time much easier. So we opted for the hop on hop off tickets and hopped on and headed up to the Buda palace and of course, snacked on the Kurtos Kolac on the ride up!🙈
Once you get up to the top, you can feel the history all around you. The Buda palace was first constructed in 1265 and was destroyed in a war and restored in the 1700s 🙈 Isn’t that so incredible? Can’t you imagine this castle back in the 1200s gleaming with life and political and social events! I always try to imagine the places we visit as if I were there at the beginning, although it isn’t possible to know exactly how it was, it is still pretty incredible to think about it and how different life is now.
Today the Buda Palace is a museum of Hungarian history because most items from the Royals were destroyed in the war, and today it displays historical pieces from all around Hungary.We decided to take a tour of the museum to learn some more about Hungarian history and see the artwork we heard was amazing! It took only 30 minutes to see it all and it was actually all artwork and no other historical items like we had thought.
The beautiful baroque architecture of the gateway to the palace as well as the palace looked it best in this gloomy lighting. Some say that visiting castle hill is overrated and that they would rather skip out on the crowds and tourist prices… But I have to say it is an experience you definitely don’t want to miss the city’s crowning jewel and all there is to discover down the cobblestone streets in the historic district.
Another thing you would miss is this breathtaking view of the Danube from Castle Hill. As you stand there and look out over pest, the chain bridge and the business of the city, you can’t help but feel butterflies inside like you’re in some sort of fairytale!! 🙈😍
At the top of Buda hill stands the Matthias Church that has been serving the citizens of Budapest since 1015. This church was used as a coronation church for Hungarian Kings for centuries!
The diamond-shaped roof tiles add so much color and character to the church!
Just a 2-minute walk from the palace is the Matthias church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, I absolutely fell in love with the architecture of this building! The details and swirls all over are so fairytale like! I am so glad we decided to explore castle hill, yes it was busy and full of tourists and locals alike, but it was worth it all. From the Matthias Church to the national Hungarian museum and the Fisherman’s Bastion to the view of Pest, it really reveals how special this city really is!
This was hands down my favorite spot in the whole city! The Fisherman’s Bastion, built-in the 19th century to as a lookout spot to see the best panoramic views. During the middle ages, this spot was defended by the guild of Fisherman who lived at the foot of the hill, thus the name.
The beautiful arches and domes reminded me of the castle from the Walt Disney logo that is at the beginning of every Disney movie!
Walking through the historic district in Budapest is a must. Imagine walking down a cobblestone street, it starts to lightly drizzle, and you can smell fresh pastries wafting through the air!! This part of town was so fun to explore and you can imagine what Budapest was once like.
We wandered around Pest for a while not looking for anything specific but just taking in the city. We stumbled upon the Budapest Opera House, built-in 1884 and still stunning audiences regularly! The design was actually commissioned by Emporer Franz Josef. I am a singer, and I have been training in Opera, so a dream of mine is to perform in this opera house one day! 💕
As the evening fell the weather became crisper, yet you did not want to go inside because all of the Christmas lights around the city were turning on and it made it feel even more magical than it already was! This the big fashion street in Pest, full of the designer shops and of course it was decorated to the nines!! I am a December baby, so Christmas decorations always remind me of my birthday and celebration!
Dinner time in Europe starts at about 7 pm and goes until about 12 AM!! In Europe, people eat much later than America because dinner is an experience, and a party almost. We researched on Trip Advisor for a great restaurant for dinner near us, and we discovered a restaurant with great Reviews called “Hilda.”
The restaurant had a super cool and fresh vibe! I loved this beautiful mosaic art on the wall representing their restaurant!! It is a classy, yet relaxed place perfect for an enjoyable dinner! They are known for their rotisserie chicken, hence the art with chicken!! 😉 They have a pretty simple menu with only a few choices, so we opted to try a few different things. We couldn’t go wrong with some classics, so we ordered the rotisserie chicken with potatoes (which they are known for), goulash, and beef with crispy cabbage.
They brought all the food together and we dug in! I really enjoyed all of the food, I thought the flavors were quite unique and definitely unlike anything I have had before. The chicken had a seasoning that was so delicious, it had a little spice to it.
Overall our experience at Hilda was amazing and I would reach giving it a try when in Pest!
Saying farewell to Budapest was a bittersweet sort of goodbye. Sweet in the fact that we were headed to Prague to explore a new country, and bitter because of the bond I had just made with this gem of a city. But now I know I will return one day and see this beautiful city again!
Until the next adventure,