After a wet Christmas, we were looking for winter and we certainly found it in Budapest. The temperature steadily dropped to about 0 degrees (not counting wind chill!) by our last day. There was a dusting of snow one day so we’ll count that as finding winter success 🙂
Once we started telling family and friends we booked a trip to this Eastern European city, a common question was ‘what side of the river are you staying on?’. We were not sure (fine, Corey wasn’t sure) what they meant until we started researching more. Once, there were actually 2 separate cities Buda and Pest on either side of the Danube River. So now we can say we stayed on the Pest side of the river looking directly out towards Chain Bridge and Buda Castle. This incredible view from our hotel room came in handy when it was 0 degrees on New Years Eve 🙂
The Castle Hill district was one of our favorite parts of the city (except for the hike up). There were incredible views (both day and night) of the Pest side from Fisherman’s Bastion, originally built to ‘class’ the area up, and from the top of Matthias Church. We ended up getting quite a few photos from the top of the church from an overeager tour guide who could probably tell we are suckers for tipping good service! The views across the river to Parliament and beyond were magical in the reflection of the Danube. The inside of Matthias Church was just as impressive and one of the most unique churches we have been in (we have been in a LOT of churches here), as rich in history as it is with frescoes.
While most of the Hungarian food was a bit heavy for our taste, we did have one fabulous meal at a local wine bar. We also visited the great market hall with hundreds of vendors selling local goods, food and specialities. Jon was particularly intrigued by the thousands of chili peppers hanging on every stall.
We had to visit the iconic Parliament building, which is breathtaking from both inside and out. The most sacred of Hungarian treasures housed inside is the Holy Crown, believed to be worn by King (Saint) Stephen himself and forged by the Byzantines in Constantinople. For a time the crown was safely kept from the Soviets in the US at, where else, Fort Knox.
One attraction that Corey did NOT enjoy was Dracula’s Lair. Part of the city’s ancient underground tunnel system, the Labyrinth was dark, damp and creepy. At a certain point Jon went ahead in the pitch black to see ‘Dracula’s Tomb’ while Corey stayed in the dimly-lit part of the tunnels.
Other (more well lit) highlights included St. Stephen’s Basilica, where we cringed at the relic (HAND…dead HAND) of St. Stephen, the beautiful strength of architecture at Heroes’ Square and the huge public space at Varosliget park. Corey even spotted a George Washington statue in the park! Another one of our favorite sights was the Hungarian State Opera House. Considered one of the finest in the world, the interior boasts one of the best acoustics in Europe. We wish we saw an opera here!
In sharp contrast to our last New Year’s Eve in Belize, we spent most of this one eating BBQ street food from food trucks and huddling inside our hotel room with a bottle of champagne enjoying the fireworks over the Chain Bridge (props to Jon on the fantastic hotel room). There was even an opera performance on our floor overlooking the lobby for the hotel party below.
Looking for warmth as the temperature dropped below 0, we explored the museum inside Buda castle. After learning a lot about the (depressing) history of the city, we climbed lower and lower until we got to some of the original castle foundation from the 1400s.
Budapest was beautiful…we just wish it was bit warmer when we visited!