We took the train from Prague to Budapest, out of a bit of a romantic notion of getting to travel across the countryside and while the ride was decidedly long it was still much more enjoyable than stuffing ourselves into tiny budget airline seats (especially when sometimes it feels like the crew might just push the plane off the runway in an attempt to save some fuel).
It was well into the evening when we arrived and after doing a quick currency exchange (from Czech koruna to Hungarian forint) we caught a taxi to the Airbnb we would be staying at on the Buda side of town, just across the river from the beautiful parliament building. We could see it shimmered a brilliant gold above the dark waters of the Danube and even though it was freezing we huddled out on the apartment balcony taking in the view. Finally though, it was time for rest as we had an early morning planned the next day, a one on one tour of the city with a local.
The next day Brian and I bundled up and got ourselves ready for 4 hours of walking around and exploring the multifaceted history of Budapest. We met up with our WithLocals guide Andras the next morning at Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square), which was honestly a pretty perfect place to start a tour. Andras was an incredible guide, both for his knowledge of the city’s history and his insight into more modern topics- as a local journalist it was fascinating to get his opinions on local politics and some of the governments most recent controversial laws that had been passed (less than a week after we had visited, massive protests brought much of the Pest side of the city to a standstill).
Andras took us to countless places, starting on the busy metropolitan side of Pest and then over to the more quiet Buda side where we parted ways near Matthias Church.
Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square)
Interior Details of the Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Interior Detail of the Hungarian State Opera
Ruin Bar (near Dohány Street Synagogue)
View from across the river of Buda Castle
Várnegyed (Castle Quarter)
Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church)
The Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion)
The sun was setting by the time we parted ways with Andras, with him wishing us the best of luck on the rest of our trip and us thanking him for a lovely time. I can honestly say we wouldn’t have seen half of all the places he took us to and it was invaluable to get the opportunity to explore the city with a knowledgable local, so thank you Andras! After saying good bye, Brian and I stayed in the area a little longer just enjoying the amazing view over the city and wishing we had more time to spend here.
After heading back to our Airbnb apartment to drop off the bag of souvenirs I had picked up and also some groceries, we took a breather and then decided to head back out into the city again, crossing the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge for the second time that day, back over to the Pest side of the city to do some utterly touristy things like ride the Budapest Eye, check out the Christmas market by the incredible St. Stephen’s Basilica and share a yummy kürtőskalács (chimney cake).
Eventually even the temporary sugar high wore off though, and our sore feet reminded us we’d basically spent the whole day walking. We had plans to wake up early the next day to head to Vienna for a day trip so it was definetly prudent to head back and get some rest but we did get some lovely views of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge as we walked across it one last time and in the near distance, the positively glowing Parliament building.
An almost completely perfect day in Budapest even if our feet were pretty much killing us by the time we made it back to our apartment. There is a mysteriousness and almost dark elegance to Budapest that’s hard to describe but, I can honestly say I don’t think any city has enthralled me more. All it’s hidden areas, the deep history steeped into it’s buildings, the unexpected Art Nouveau touches in the architecture amid the more gothic of structures, the modern clash of political turmoil atop the ancient history of this city by the Danube… even just the intensely different vibe from one side of the city to the other, it would be hard for anyone not to fall in love with Budapest, even just a little.
If you’re interested in having your own local guide when you visit Budapest, this is the WithLocals link you can use to get $15 off any private tour you book through them. And nope i’m not sponsored by them, I just honestly loved being able to use them and legit can’t praise the guides I had enough.