My love for travel stems from my parents, I was lucky they were and still are travel mad. Growing up we travelled far and wide, every school holidays there was a new adventure that awaited us. That excitement never went away and still exists now but in a much stronger form… Sostravel! I still get to travel with my mum and dad now, we normally end the year together somewhere new as a family. Mum and I always plan girly trips and our next one is in September to the Seychelles, we can’t wait!! My dad and I on the other hand enjoy exploring, normally a city break or a cultured event. We meandered through Milan together, have a yearly trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival and as he was turning 70 this year we needed to come up with a trip to celebrate.
Rewind to earlier this year, after looking myself for the perfect present for my dad’s 70th birthday and not coming up with anything. I decided the best course of action was too book a trip. After coming up with many different options of where to go, I ran them past my dad and he didn’t seem fussed by any of them. Awhile back I do remember he said he wanted to see Budapest in Hungary, immediately I had his attention back. Budapest it was, now for the challenge of planning it. After a lot of research, googling and asking around online to other bloggers, we were booked! Surprisingly enough through the Daily Mail Newspaper, who are operated by Broadway Travel. With a package deal coming out at a far more reasonable price than booking separately, we had our trip to Budapest in early July.
Fast forward to July, as our flight was from Stansted Airport we drove down on the morning for our afternoon departure with Ryanair. A 4 1/2 hour drive with a breakfast stop en route saw us making good time. Too good to be true I hear you say? Correct. As we followed the sat nav directions to our pre booked car drop off near the airport, we ended up in Waitrose car park and nowhere near Stansted Airport… My trusty iPhone to the rescue we managed to reach the car park with enough time to spare, before jumping on the shuttle bus to the terminal. A stiff drink was needed in celebration of eventually arriving. With a short time in the airport, we boarded and two hours later we arrived in Budapest.
I had pre arranged a pick up transfer with our hotel via email, they were waiting for us in the arrivals hall with a sign with my name on. Within half an hour we were checking into the Soho Boutique Hotel, just off the Grand Boulevard in the Jewish quarter of Pest city centre. The hotel was perfectly situated and modern, with really helpful staff. After dropping our bags in our room, we headed out to get our bearings. A must in any new city. It was early evening mid week and it was very warm indeed. We stopped after awhile for a drink at one of the local bars, sitting outside and ordering two beers. They cost £1.11 for both, we couldn’t believe it when we converted the currency!! Cheers to Budapest and to the start of a great trip. We ate dinner and had a few more drinks before heading back to unpack and a good nights rest.
Up early, we had breakfast in the hotel which was included in our trip. A buffet style with plenty choice. Sitting outside on the patio area with our trusty map and pin pointing what was on today’s agenda. After navigating our way to the water we found one of the bridges. Taking our very first look at Buda, Pest and Margaret Island, which lies right in the middle of both. To which we would explore later. Parliament was in front of us and my dad wanted to take a tour, unfortunately I hadn’t been able to secure any tickets for us due to being all sold out online for the next month. However I did know that you could turn up on the day in person and see if they had any available. After exploring the outside and taking a picture or 10, we went to ask. We were in luck, with several choices available for later today. We chose 5.30pm as the guided tour lasted 45 minutes we had a nearby Danube River Cruise booked for 7.30pm. We were very happy!! It cost 10 pounds each for the tour and the staff were so helpful. Time to wander around this beautiful city, we had heard that the Shoes on the Danube were a short walk from here, so we headed left and 10 minutes later we came across them. Situated directly on the river front quite a few other people were already gathered, I felt a real sense of sadness come over me and I remained silent thinking about the importance of such a memorial and the meaning behind it. The idea for it came from the film director Can Togay and it was created by sculptor Gyula Pauer, to honour the Jewish people who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during the Second World War. I feel it is a must see for all visiting the city and it was a really sobering moment for me.
Due to the heat and strengthening sunshine, we decided to have a drink before walking over the Szechenyi Chain Bridge to Buda. Refreshed we strolled over this iconic bridge stopping to admire the views from both sides of the river. Arriving in Buda we stood in the queue for the funicular to take us up to the Buda Castle and more. What an experience this was and such fun! Taking 5 minutes to reach the top, we wowed at the views over the city, giving us a picture perfect look at the whole of Pest in front of us. As we wandered along past the soldiers standing guard, taking in the wealth of sights in front of us. We continued walking to Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion which stands in front of it. Matthias Church is very unique indeed, it’s roof design and colours are simply stunning to see. Being one of the oldest buildings in Budapest and named after the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus. It was a pleasant surprise to see so much on Buda Hill. Fisherman’s Bastion was my favourite place to see, this panoramic viewing terrace with fairy tale towers was such a pretty sight to see! Offering the best views by far… I can certainly understand how it is one the most visited attractions, it definitely let’s you feel the romance of the city. We spotted a bar/restaurant next to it and went to see if we could get a seat at the front to absorb all the lovely views that lay in front of us in. We got a prime spot and ordered some drinks, it was one of those moments you won’t forget. First impressions we were very impressed. As we walked further along the top we came into the town centre with shops, restaurants and bars alike. All I kept thinking was how beautiful it was, buying my obligatory fridge magnet and postcards for friends. We saw a sign for the Hospital in the Rock Museum, you take a lift down and walk along to it, this is a former secret emergency hospital and nuclear bunker, that was created in preparation for WW2. It is well worth seeing whilst over in Buda and very interesting indeed. There is so so much to see and do over on Buda, on the Buda Castle site alone I would recommend half a day at least to enjoy it all. On our way back to the funicular we spent more time just gazing over at those views and drinking it all in, before going down to enjoy an ice cream beside the bridge before plotting our next move.
We went back over to Pest to rest our legs and people watch on one of the many benches provided along the water front, before taking our tour of the Hungarian Parliament. After a quick security check, we were given head sets and tuned into our guide. What an informative tour of a truly wonderful building, it’s official name is Orszaghaz. The highlight was in the crown room where no photos or video could be taken and you were watched by the staff intently, we witnessed such beauty and grandeur it took my breath away… One fact that stood out the most to me was that the ceiling inside parliament was actually pure gold, it was mesmerising. You got access to a lot of the building and it gave you a great feel for your surroundings. It was amusing that one detail had never changed, the cigar holders were still there from days gone by when MP’s would come into vote and leave their smoke outside on the holder to pick up when finished. We greatly enjoyed this tour and left on a real high, off to find out boat on the Danube. After slight confusion we came across our meeting point and boarded with a welcome drink, taking our seats outside on the top deck. The next hour was truly terrific, with a full boat, a little background music, a celebratory beer and the sun starting to set. The cruise cost us under £8 each through Viator, which was great value for money. It was the end to a perfect first full day in Budapest, I smiled to myself 12 hours exploring we had sweated to death, walked miles and made many new memories. Dad was flagging yet happy and dinner beckoned us. We had made no plans to eat as it had been such a fun packed day, so we quickly stopped by the hotel and asked about where they could recommend. Chess Restaurant was the answer we got, no time to change as it was after 9pm we used the last of my iPhone battery to guide us around to the restaurant and our table that had just been kindly booked for us by reception. The setting was in a courtyard, with lovely lighting and perfectly set out to dine. We ordered a bottle of Hungarian rose and perused the menu, I opted for roast duck with chickpeas and red cabbage which was divine and my dad had the beef goulash. Both dishes were delightful and we finished off the meal with dessert, a panna cotta and a chess mousse which I had. It was a chocolate lovers dream… This restaurant was absolutely fantastic, recommend for good food and great service. Our bill was £40 total and what a bargain it was too. It didn’t take long to drift off that night!
Waking bright and early, we ate our breakfast and set off to find City Park. As we wanted to see Heroes Square, we had also pre booked the famous Szechenyi Thermal Bath and thought it would be nice to explore more of it as we had heard there was much to see here. It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the park from our hotel and we went straight to Heroes Square. Stopping to buy some cold water on the way to keep hydrated in the intense heat. This square was on our list of things to see whilst in Budapest, we were not disappointed. Being the largest and most symbolic square in the city, this main landmark in Budapest certainly makes an impact on you. Housing the Millennium Memorial, these statues commemorate the leaders of the 7 Hungarian tribes who founded the country. It was an honour to be able to witness it with our own eyes. We walked past the City Lake and Vajdahunyad Castle both stunning sights to see on our way to Szechenyi baths, as we had pre booked through Viator we entered at ease and showed our print out to receive our bands to enter plus access the private cabin we had in the deal. It again was a great price of £16 pp which allowed you to stay as long as you wished between 9am and 6pm. Arriving late morning we found our cabin and changed, leaving our belongings in there and going to rent towels downstairs for our duration. It was a show stopper, what a beautiful baths, busy but not too packed to be able to enjoy the thermal baths. There are 18 baths in total, 15 inside and 3 large ones outside. As it was a wonderfully sunny day we opted for outside and went straight into enjoy the therapeutic waters. Which were warm but not too hot to relax in! You can buy food and drink inside but only with a debit or credit card, no cash is permitted. So dad went to buy us beers to refresh us whilst we chilled in this gorgeous environment. We felt wonderful and it certainly was one of the highlights on our trip. After a few hours of relaxation we decided to leave to go explore more of the city, if you are sitting there reading this thinking is it really worth going I would say YES most definitely.
We spent the afternoon enjoying afternoon tea at the New York Palace Cafe with bubbles, a perfect idea to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Dubbed the ‘most beautiful cafe in the world’, we were lucky to get a seat as we hadn’t reserved a table and it was busy. As soon as we sat down I was in love… It is STUNNING, with such flair and the attention to detail was amazing, you really feel like you are dining in your very own palatial setting. I felt way under dressed haha! Our New York Afternoon Tea arrived along with chocolates and fresh orange juice, plus our fizz, toasting to a terrific trip and Dad’s milestone birthday. It was incredible and I am so glad we came for tea. If you too are celebrating or want to treat yourself whilst in Budapest the New York Palace Cafe is a brilliant idea and a fabulous experience. Where do you go after this?! We chose the House of Terror, a museum that commemorates the victims of both the Communist and Nazi regimes in Hungary. You can’t take any photos or videos whilst inside but you don’t need too as you are too busy taking in all the information in on offer. I truly think everyone should take a trip here. It’s a real eye opener, I felt saddened but informed. What made it more real for me was this was the very building the victims were brought too, especially when you go down to the cells in the basement and the holding rooms. I got the chills but it must be seen to realise the horrors that happened and occurred to these defenceless victims at the hands of pure evil. I still think back now to this visit and remember reading the stories of the victims. My dad received free entry to the House of Terror due to being over 70. We wandered back to our hotel after a pit stop for an aperitif in the sun, before getting ready for our Ruined Bar Crawl we had booked yesterday by the river. This was on my dad’s own to do list, see ruin pubs in the city, his wish was my command! Arriving at our meeting point at 9.30pm, we met Peter our guide and a lovely group of people from all around the world. The plan was to see three bars of interest in the Jewish Quarter and then go onto a club. Dad and I enjoyed two of the ruin pubs with the group before bidding everyone a fond good night as it was nearly 1 am by this point, we were knackered and in need of some food. It was lovely to connect with others but it was absolutely delicious enjoying a late night burger and fries at Dirty Burger with Dad. I love my food… Bed beckoned and boy we slept well!
We aren’t ones to waste our last full day, so we got up and had breakfast around 9 before heading straight to Margaret Island. Desperate to explore this island in the middle of the Danube that intrigued me so much… After walking over the bridge and down onto the island itself we managed to hop on the island train for free, it dropped us nearby the baths and leisure area. From here we walked to the Japanese Garden, enjoying seeing the tiny turtles floating in the water, then onto the Water Tower which is situated inside the Open Air Theatre area. We decided to climb the tower for a small fee, to seek the views from the top of Buda and Pest either side and take in more of the island. If you wish to walk Margaret Island it takes 45 minutes to wander on foot or you can use the free buses or trains that regularly run back and forth. It was getting warm by this point in the morning around 11am, so I suggested we go to the baths for a few hours to relax, dad agreed and we went to queue as it was Saturday and the locals had the same idea as us. After a short wait we paid to enter and got a cabin again for £20 total, the baths were enormous. Such a grand scale, pools all over, hot and cold, kids slides and plenty places to eat and drink too. Again no cash is taken inside only card payments. We went for a swim and it was just lovely, I thought how lucky the people who lived in the city were to have such great places to visit on their time off or holidays. After getting some drinks we enjoyed the sun and swam some more before leaving to explore more of the island. Next we went to see the Musical Fountain, which is actually situated near the entrance, it was wonderful and such fun. We got an ice cream and sat with our feet in the fountain, with others. Watching the water show unfold in front of us to music such as The Beatles hits, it was impressive. I had to be dragged away as I was in my element. We then left the island with the biggest candy floss I have seen and were thrilled to have discovered this gem in the middle of the river. Margaret Island you are truly marvellous and I would return in a heartbeat. Spending our late afternoon walking over to see the spectacular St Stephens Basilica, it was made more special by the fact a large wedding was happening to on the steps as we entered. We paid a small donation of 200 Hungarian forints each to go inside and we were so glad we did!! WOW WOW WOW, that was my first thoughts on entering. It is fabulous, a real head turner for all, beautiful details and absolute elegance is the only way to describe it. Please go and see for yourselves. We decided to take the trip to the top of the basilica too, a good few 100 steps but well worth it as you can walk around 360 once on the roof. Viewing the whole of Pest and over to Buda. We felt the walk up in our legs but we made the right decision, it was a real MUST! The thought of walking back down was not haha, we managed to get a lift some of the way which was great. Once down we needed a sit down and a drink as it was searing the heat and we were feeling the miles of walking in our limbs… As we took in the last of Pest wandering the streets whilst the Pride Festival was on, we found quite a few were closed so manoeuvred our way back to nearby the Grand Boulevard to go and enjoy some well deserved dinner.
As we picked up our bags and waited for our late evening transfer back to the airport, we reminisced over our time in Budapest. We both loved our time together, it gave us some quality time to chat and reconnect as at home everyone is always busy and we don’t get to truly spend as much time as we like catching up. I would say that was my highlight and my dad was just over the moon at this city break was his present. He thanked me many times for a lovely trip and I thanked him for great company. We made many new memories and I look forward to our next travels to Edinburgh in August. Never take your family for granted, grab every opportunity to spend time with them as we never know how long we have together. I am super thankful for mine!
Budapest overall was incredible, beautiful and bursting with so much to see and do for all. It’s very reasonable to eat, drink and get around the city which is a real plus point for the savvy traveller in us. If you haven’t been yet, why not??! Book now…