It had been about eight years since I had visited the once communist city of Budapest, Hungary. On my earlier trip I remember feeling a sense of despair and darkness despite the sunshine and openness of the city. Nowadays, Budapest is a much happier place and while my Burger King combo meal has gone from a dollar to about $3 instead, the changes are worth the price tourists have to pay.
To begin, Budapest is actually two different areas with the Danube River breaking them up; these areas are Buda and Pest. For the best chance to get an overall view of the city take the Legenda sightseeing boat tour along the Danube and enjoy a narrated trip down the river with a female and male rendition of what is happening on both the Buda (female) and Pest (male) sides of the river.
One attraction that will surely draw you to Budapest is the taking of the waters. In fact, people have been visiting Budapest to take the waters since the 1500s. Visitors can still enjoy Rudas, a Turkish bath that was built around that time and still boasts some of the original fittings. While there are many spas in the city, Gellert Spa is one of the most pristine spas for the discerning traveling complete with bubble baths, an open air wave pool and thermal pools of varying temperatures.
Castle quarter on Castle Hill is a must-see stop and part of the World Heritage. It was, in fact settled in the 13th century after a Tartar invasion. It was at this time that King Bela IV decided to build his castle out of harms way above sea level. Miraculously the castle has survived and still has three churches, six museums and a number of historical buildings, streets and squares for visitors to enjoy.
From Andrassy Boulevard you can’t miss the high columns in the center of the Millennium memorial with a statue of the Archangel Gabriel holding the Hungarian Holy Crown and double cross. The Square also boasts statues of great people from Hungarian history commemorated for the entire world to see. There is also the tomb of the unknown soldier directly in front of the monument.
For those interested in Hungary’s communist era, or as locals calls it “the communist times,” there is a place called Statue Park. It is in this park where the statues from the communist era have been collected after being torn down following the political changes in the country in 1989 and 1990. Here you can find Lenin’s statue, the statue of Marx and Engels, which was once located in front of the headquarters of the communist party and the Red Army’s statues that once stood as monuments of supposed heroic military duty.
Shopping can be fun in Budapest and quite inexpensive along Vaci Street where jewelers give way to perfumeries and clothes shops. The Budapest Central Market Hall is a great stop inside a 100 year-old building holding every kind of food imaginable from garlic to fruit to vegetables and giving way to flower shops and typical Hungarian merchandise.
For a final stop drop in at the House of Hungarian Wines with 700 different types of wine from 22 Hungarian wine regions. While visiting you will have a chance to try a variety of 55 different lines from the various vineyards and your wine glass goes home with you when you’ve finished your sommelier duties.
Indeed, Budapest has made positive changes since those 15 years ago when the struggles to survive where still very real in Hungary. Hungary has recently joined the EU so while prices are still inexpensive be sure and make a trip to this Eastern European jewel before it looses its old world charm.
Hungarian’s National Airline Malev with flights from New York’s JFK airport
Where to Stay:
Kempinski Hotel Corvinus
Erzsebet ter 7-8
Budapest 1051 Sas u. 4.
Rita Cook lives in Los Angeles and is the editor of Premier Bride magazine. She also has a romance novel coming out this winter called “Angel’s Destiny”.
Photos courtesy of the Hungarian National Tourist Office
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