I have to admit today’s destination isn’t one that had been on my radar until George Ezra’s eponymous song hit the charts. The former soviet city of Budapest, capital of land-locked Hungary might seem like an odd choice for a city break, but it’s rich history and culture, beautiful architecture and cuisine are, by all accounts, not to be missed! Add the fact that it’s not yet part of the Eurozone (they still use their own currency, the Forint) and this city makes a blow-out trip all the more affordable – as photographer Cat Ekkelboom-White and her husband found out when they planned a luxury weekend break in Budapest.
Destination: Budapest, Hungary
Travel Time: 2.5 hour flight
My husband and I chose Budapest for a long weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Not only is the city beautiful, but luxury and indulgence comes pretty cheaply too. We only had 2 nights, but we still managed to see a lot in that time, and fit in some pampering too!
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in the 4* Continental Hotel Budapest, which is situated downtown between the railway station and the Great Synagogue in Pest. The hotel was once one of Budapest’s thermal spas, and the grand lobby with it’s art deco feel is warm and welcoming. The hotel had a real luxurious feel to it and we felt really taken care of during our stay from their outstanding team. The ARAZ restaurant served top quality food, and was able to provide me with a selection of options for my rather difficult vegetarian and gluten free diet. Our favourite feature however was the rooftop swimming pool!
WHAT TO DO
Cross the Danube river via the “Chain Bridge” and head over to Buda. On this side of the river you’ll find some of the oldest parts of the city. Take the historic funicular tram or walk up the hill to the romantic Buda Castle District and wander the courtyards of this UNESCO world heritage site. Follow the old streets through the city and visit the underground Labyrinth if you dare. It’s dark, damp and spooky but we loved it! Our favourite location was the Fisherman’s Bastion. This terrace has stunning panoramic views across the Danube of Pest and the Houses of Parliament in one direction, and the ornate Matthias Church in the other. The streets and passageways are brightened up by street artists and performers.
Make sure you take stop off at a cafe and enjoy some Limonádék. Although I’ve been told by Hungarian friends that this is nothing typically Hungarian, we found so many places that were selling this homemade lemonade around Budapest. Especially in warm weather, it’s so delicious and refreshing. My favourites were with fresh strawberries and with fresh basil and elderflower.
Back over in Pest, make sure you visit the the inner city district. Nestled amongst boutiques and cafe’s you’ll find the magnificent St Stephen’s Cathedral and the Budapest Opera. Although beautiful from the outside, both of these grand structures need to be seen from the inside to be truly appreciated. The ornate details of the interiors are really quite stunning. From the Opera House, take the historic underground down to the Hero’s Square and surround yourself in the greenery of Budapest City Park.
For something completely different, head over to the indoor markets, where locals and tourists alike flock to see the enormous selection of local produce, arts and crafts.
Make sure you’d don’t leave without taking some down time in one of Budapest’s thermal spas. I’d recommend going at the end of your trip, and finishing the weekend on a very relaxing high. We visited the Gellért Thermal Bath on the bank of the Danube in Buda. The indoor pools range from a cold plunge pool to a 40° hot bath, and outdoors you’ll find other smaller pools and a large wave pool. You can even treat yourself to a massage for a small supplement. Which of course I did! On our journey home we felt so relaxed, even though we’d spend two days seeing the sights and exploring the city.
On our first day we decided to walk everywhere, but our tired legs on day two persuaded us to purchase day tickets for the Budapest metro. The metro is really easy to use, and includes the underground, buses and trams. We loved taking one of the old yellow trams down to the indoor markets. The underground itself is also something to experience. With only 4 lines it’s simple to use too. Line 1 (or the yellow line) was built in the 19th century and many of the original features are still there today. In complete contrast, Line 4 (the green line) is the most modern line in the city, which opened in 2014, which has some really cool modern stations.
We took the overnight train from Innsbruck, via Vienna, but there are many budget airlines that fly to Budapest’s Franz Liszt International Airport, including Ryanair, EasyJet and Jet2 from the UK.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
Although a member of the EU, Hungary is not in the Eurozone. Although some places accept Euros, the local currency is the Hungarian Forint or HUF. We found the cheapest way to get currency was to go to one of the main banks and use our bank cards in the cashpoints to withdraw cash. For larger purchases we used our Visa card, which is accepted widely.