Experience the magic of the Hungarian capital.
It’s hard to not fall in love with the genuine grace, grandeur and beauty of Budapest. The capital of Hungary is the result of three towns – Buda, Pest and Óbuda – unifying in 1873 to form the metropolis that we know today. From underground ‘ruin bars’ hosting live music, to a thriving contemporary art scene and internationally renowned restaurants, Budapest is the perfect destination for anyone seeking a contemporary European city with an edge
No visit to the Hungarian capital is complete without a dip in the warm, mineral-infused waters of their famous thermal baths. Drawing naturally hot H2O from deep within the earth, Széchenyi Thermal Bath (pronounced Say-chain-nee) is open year round, even when it snows, with indoor and outdoor pools between 30-40°C.
For a truly unique experience, immerse yourself in a bath of beer while drinking beer. Yes, you read that right. Thermal Beer Spa offers private bathtubs filled to the brim with freshly brewed ale. This warm frothy mixture of malt, hops and yeast is said to leave your skin fresh and rejuvenated, though we think it’s just a bit of fun. While you soak, help yourself to as many pints of icy-cold beer as you wish from your own beer taps. After soaking your worries away, take a leisurely stroll through City Park to see the impressive Heroes’ Square and Millennium Monument depicting the founders and national heroes of Hungary.For a different bathing experience, visit the gorgeous Gellért Thermal Baths. Part of the opulent Art Nouveau Hotel Gellért, which inspired Wes Anderson’s movie masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel. The grand entrance hall, domed ceilings, iridescent Zsolnay ceramic tiles, stained-glass windows and elaborate mosaics make the baths a wonder to stroll through. The beauty of your surroundings are matched by the dreamlike expressions of happy visitors soaking in the delightfully-warm waters. A word of caution, it’s a little too easy to stay here all day.
Favoured by locals and tourists alike, the Great Market Hall’s sheer size and splendour make it one of Budapest’s must-see attractions. Work up an appetite by visiting the stalls on the ground floor first – which specialise in pastries, sweet treats, spices and traditional spirits – before working your way upstairs to the various eateries and souvenir shops. Don’t miss your chance to try delicious Hungarian street food such as Lángos (deep fried dough pizza covered in sour cream and cheese), hearty goulash or sweet chimney-shaped Kürtőskalács pastries covered in cinnamon and sugar.
Hungarians love sharing a stiff drink, and the drink of choice for special occasions is a traditional fruit brandy called pálinka. Popular flavours include pear, apricot, cherry and plum. Looking for something more adventurous? Hungary’s national drink is the famous herbal liqueur Unicum, which was created in 1790 by the Royal Physician to the Imperial Court, Dr Zwack, as a remedy for indigestion. Legend says that the king exclaimed after his first sip ‘das ist ein Unikum!’ (meaning that is quite unique), hence the name. Touring the Zwack Museum and Unicum factory is a fascinating insight into spirit production, as well as life under communist rule. Try the bitter Unicum for yourself and try to guess which secret herbs and spices are used to make it: there are more than 40 ingredients. Strangely, the museum also hosts Europe’s largest collection of mini-spirit bottles.
When walking along the banks of the river Danube, it’s impossible not to marvel at the grand Buda Castle high up on the hill. Once the home to Hungarian Royalty, the castle now operates as a history museum, National Gallery and has one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.
A popular way to reach the castle is by funicular from the famous Chain Bridge. If you are in no rush and feeling reasonably fit, the steep walk through Castle Hill’s narrow streets is interesting, with plenty of cafes for a refreshing cold drink (or energising coffee) along the way. Day or night, you will be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Budapest. At night the palace complex and bridges are illuminated, so bring a charged camera battery to take that perfect shot on your way home.
A short ride out of town, Memento Park is a surprising and engaging experience which aims to depict tyranny through the eyes of art. Communist dictatorship and propaganda statues removed from the streets of Budapest live here. Staff encourage photos next to the gigantic depictions of Lenin, Marx and Engels, as well as a six-metre tall, hammer and sickle flag-waving Liberation Army Soldier. For many foreigners, the idea of dictatorship is merely something you may have read about, so these enormous reminders of Hungary’s troubled past are a fascinating insight into what life was like under Communist rule.
Whether you’ve come to marvel at the stunning architecture, learn more about the cities fascinating history or soak your aches and worries away in the geothermal baths, there really is something magical about Budapest.
Experience beautiful Budapest and more on a luxurious river cruise. Journey from Amsterdam to the enchanting Hungarian capital along the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. Bonus flights offer out now; call RACQ Travel on 1300 188 713.
Story: Tomas Zagoda. Photos: Getty Images, Elelicht, Chenyu Jiang, Alana Harris & Joachim Lesne.