Austro-Hungarian Tour, Part Two – Budapest
It was 5:30 am and we were driving over the Chain Bridge (seen above), en route to the train station. The entire Buda side of Budapest was aglow in the most stunning rose gold morning light. Within a few seconds we were in a tunnel and I missed the moment to pull out my phone to take a photo. But I will never forget that image.
When I was booking the trip, I was worried that 4 nights in Budapest would be too long. The morning I was leaving, I was wishing I’d stayed longer.
Budapest is a stunningly beautiful city. Two sides of the city, Buda and Pest, are divided by the Danube River. The Pest side is flatter, and home to the commercial area – so restaurants, shops, traffic and general busy-ness.
The Buda side is on the hill, and it’s where you’ll find the Castle district. There are hotels on the Buda side as well but I would recommend staying in Pest, where you’re closer to restaurants and other amenities.
And while Budapest may not be as clean or perfectly maintained as Vienna, there is something more here. A touch of Eastern European grit and character that I really enjoyed.
The Prestige Hotel is a new 85 room hotel, reconstructed from a former 19th century townhouse on the Pest side. In terms of location, it can’t be beat. It’s a couple of blocks from the river and close to a large number of restaurants and sights. Rooms were quiet and well-appointed. My one beef was with the Nespresso coffee makers in the room. A nice touch yes, but only your first few pods were free. Then you had to pay to replenish them. Buck up Prestige!
EAT AND DRINK
If you’re craving a more traditional North American breakfast, try A La Maison, a pretty little cafe on the Pest side and very close to the Prestige hotel. They serve traditional eggs and bacon, eggs Benny and waffles and pancakes with all sorts of delicious toppings.
There are many fine dining options to choose from in Budapest, including a number of Michelin star restaurants that you’ll need to book in advance. I quite enjoyed Cyrano where I had quite an unusual appetizer – grilled goat cheese with a lavender cream on a toasted brioche. (Safe to say, I’ve decided I don’t like lavender in my food.) However the prawns on squash pasta were very good.
One of the trip highlights was having a glass of wine at open air restaurant/bar at the Fisherman’s Bastion and enjoying the spectacular views of the city.
I also recommended popping into the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, at least for a drink. The hotel was recently, and exquisitely, refurbished. I couldn’t get over the beautiful bar and lighting fixtures.
I did have one traditional Hungarian meal but unfortunately made a bad restaurant choice. The goulash was lukewarm, the Chicken Paprikash unremarkable and my dinner date’s steak was chewy to the point of inedibility.
My favourite way to soak in a city is to walk, walk and walk. (One day I logged 24K steps!) I recommend strolls along the Danube, especially in the summer. It’s a good place to pray for a breeze.
Take in the absolutely magnificent Parliament building below, which is featured in pretty much every Budapest travel brochure, though usually from the river side. The “land” side is just as impressive.
Explore the quiet and quaint streets of Buda.
Visit the Great Hall Market, a good place to buy souvenirs, if you can make your way through the crowds. It’s also a traditional market, with fruit, vegetable and meat stalls and plenty of packaged paprika to take home as gifts.
And hike to the top of Gellert Hill, the perfect place to take in the city’s vistas and get the heart pumping!
One thing I didn’t do was “take in the waters.” Budapest is known for its communal baths. Here’s a look at the pools at the Hotel Gellert. Next time. (While I didn’t see the rooms, the hotel’s public spaces definitely needs need an update.)
We love Budapest is a great site for keeping up-to-date on the city’s attractions, restaurants and goings-on. One thing’s for sure, I will be back!