Feast your eyes on incredible architecture
Budapest is a city with a varied and fascinating past, and that is reflected in the buildings. While architectural buffs could tell you much more about all the incredible places you could discover, my favourite was this little gem peeking out of the side of the Gellert hill, keeping watch over the Danube.
Explore a fairytale land – the Fisherman’s Bastion
As you walk up the staircase to the 19th-century fortress, you will be unprepared for the spectacular fairy tale castle that awaits. The Halászbástya has huge turrets, colourfully tiled roofs, and beautiful arched windows where you can look out over the city. There are cafes (and most importantly people selling ice cream) and on the sunny Saturday afternoon, more than one wedding taking place (which meant we got to play with the discarded rose petals). This place was pure magic.
Experience total darkness in the castle labyrinth
The labyrinths in the Buda castle hill are also well-known and while I tend to be keen to check out caves and tunnels under cities, this attraction had the added bonus of offering a cool refuge from the heat-stroke inducing summer sun that I am unaccustomed to, as I have been spending my days in the much cooler Sweden. We headed down into the caves. While the rest of the experience was interesting, the part that totally stole the show was the “maze of darkness.”
“Let us descend into the blind world.” (Dante: Canto IV)
Part of the labyrinth is kept in total darkness, and you feel your way along following a cave-damp, cold chord attached to the wall. The darkness was so thick, I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Within a few steps, you felt completely disoriented, and my eyes kept seeing waves of light, I think in disbelief that there was a total absence of light. It was so discombobulating, scary, thrilling, and amazing.
The darkness was so thick, I literally could not see my hand in front of my face. Within a few steps, you felt completely disoriented, and my eyes kept seeing waves of light, I think in disbelief that there was a total absence of light. It was so discombobulating, scary, thrilling, and amazing.
Eat a book (and other delicious things)
Budapest is littered with delicious eateries, but the best dining experience of my trip was at KönyvBár. Each week, the chef creates a menu around a book. You can choose to consume the entire 5-course tasting menu or choose from the a la carte options. They were cooking the book “Chess Story” by Stefan Zweig, which I have not read, but sounds like a fascinating and unusual story of a chess master to attempts to divide his psyche into two in order to play chess against himself, unsurprisingly eventually descending into madness. Even without knowing much about the book, the food was inventive and delicious and the book line shelves and beautiful setting made for a magical experience.
Splash around in the thermal baths
I know, I know. Every single “what to do in Budapest” mentions the thermal baths, but that is because they are AMAZING! We headed to Széchenyi thermal baths, which was the original Budapest bath house, first opening in 1913.
We started our day with some light lazing in hammock chairs whilst sipping on cucumber water and snacking on fresh fruit plates. This was followed by deep tissue aromatherapy massages and a few turns through the termal baths (warm pool, steam/sauna, cold plunge, and relaxing in one of the hot tubs). The baths are fed by two thermal springs which are rich in minerals calcium, magnesium, sulphate, floride, and metaboric acid), which are said to be rich with mineral water which has “healing properties.” I think they may work magic on joints and muscle pains for sure, although they weren’t strong enough to knock my nagging summer cold out.
When you step out into the courtyard, your senses are overwhelmed by the stunning yellow buildings contrasted against the vibrant blue pools.
In addition to these standard attractions, we also indulged in the Beer Spa experience at the end of the day, where you sit in wooden “keg” tubs filled with hops, bath salts, and other beer ingredients, whilst pulling pints of cold beer.
In all, we spent nearly 8 hours there and could have easily spent more time.
Sip the best coffee in the shadow of the synagogue
If you are looking for the best cup of coffee (and apparently one of the certified kosher coffee shops in the area), look no further than the Bluebird Roastery. Doing only coffee, they do it so right. When you walk in, you are greeted by the smell of coffee roasting that they do on the premises and you get to select from 10 single origins and a few custom blends of beans to make your perfect cuppa. The barista was incredibly knowledgeable and pulled the perfect americano for me. It doesn’t hurt that the cafe is also really charming and colourful. A delight for all of the senses.
Stroll down the Danube at night.
One of my favourite moments of the weekend was also one of the simplest – taking a quiet walk along the river through the warm summer air. It was so beautiful. Alternately, for a more educational experience, you could take an evening boat cruise. While it lacks the peaceful tranquility of the former, you can learn things about the city while watching the sun set over Buda and the architectural gems begin to light up along the shore.