Budapest: The Pearl of the Danube

It was a long trip and border crossing from Zagreb, Croatia to Hungary, however, Budapest was one of the cities on my European bucket list and I was eager to explore it.

The Pearl of the Danube

Buda and Pest used to be separate towns until their unification in the 1870s. The city has a storied past that includes stories of kings and queens, conquests, defeats, humiliations, and the coming together and falling apart of an empire (Austro-Hungarian). All of these stories collide with the modern façade and history of the city. The old and new intermingle to create a vibrant cityscape and interesting culture for all sorts of travelers.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most remarkable structures in the city.

Whenever I travel to a new city, I either take long walks or take public transportation, both of which are viable options whenever one explores Budapest. The trams and metro connect visitors to different parts of the city, whether they want to see the Buda or Pest side. Since attractions are within walking distance, visitors can buy a 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for the metro and trams. The 24 hours pass costs 1650 Hungarian Forint and the 72 hours pass costs 4150 Hungarian Forint as of this writing.

Pest looks pretty

To explore the city, it’s better to group attractions in Buda and another one in Pest to get around Budapest. I decided to stay somewhere in the Pest side so walking from there to the city provides you with a slow and steady way of experiencing and admiring the city’s architecture.

Fisherman’s Bastion is a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

The most attention-grabbing structure is the Hungarian Parliament Building that opened in 1902. Its striking Gothic style features made me stop and stare and visit the building multiple times both day and night time. As a result, I took multiple pictures of this magnificent piece of architecture.

Budapest has plenty of small and large churches scattered in different parts of the city. One you shouldn’t miss at Pest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. The church got its name from Hungary’s first king, Stephen. Coincidentally, Stephen is also my first name, but I barely use it; only for official documents. I’m not a king, though I would’ve like to be one in a past life.

Buda Castle, now a museum, is a centuries-old complex that used to be the home of Hungarian kings. Walk around the city and admire Budapest’s unique and beautiful buildings.

The Central Market is a popular stop for visitors who want to try local food or shop for souvenirs. There are plenty of food kiosks and some restaurants where you can try langos (deep fried bread with toppings) and of course, Hungarian sausage.

If you don’t feel like entering another church or museum, Budapest is a great city to just walk around in. For the untrained eyes who can’t tell the difference between Art Nouveau and Baroque, one can just simply admire the random buildings and take a picture of anything that looks pretty.

Eat dessert or dine in one of Hungary’s most beautiful cafes, the New York Café. Visit Central Market Hall to taste various Hungarian dishes or buy souvenirs.

Speaking of pretty, the cafes in the city stand out. One of the most famous cafes I included in my itinerary was the New York Café. I was able to walk in without a reservation; the perk of traveling during the winter and a pandemi). I immediately noticed the artwork depicting angels and people on the ceiling and the elaborate interior design. The café looked like an art gallery. Again, for untrained eyes like mine, everything just looked pretty. Already full with dinner, I settled for dessert and had some ice cream and it was not cheap. It costs as much as a meal served in a restaurant in the Philippines.

Buda is pretty too

After exploring the Pest side of the city, make your way to Buda. Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and Buda Castle are some of the destinations you can visit. The castle has a history that dates back to the 13th century. However, the complex that visitors see today was constructed in the 18th century. Matthias Church is both striking and historically significant; one of the kings crowned in its premises was Franz Joseph I. Just a walking distance from Matthias Church and Buda Castle is Fisherman’s Bastion. The latter is an ideal spot for overlooking views of Pest and its landmarks such as the Hungarian Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica.

Matthias Church was the location for some of Hungary’s ceremonies, one of which was the coronation of Franz Joseph I and Elisabeth. St. Stephen’s Basilica was named after Stephen, Hungary’s first king.

After a few days in Budapest and I came to a realization that it is indeed the Pearl of the Danube. The historic sites such as St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and Fisherman’s Bastion among other places, add to the richness of the city. The cafes are great places are remarkable because of their ambiance and desserts. The “walkable” city with its beautiful pieces of architecture can’t be condensed into a few hundred words, it is best experienced.

Image credits: Joshua Berida