The city of the mighty Danube. The city of Buda and Pest. The city where Western and Eastern influences collide shaping its food, culture, history and architecture. Remnants of past Turkish rule and the bygone Austro-Hungarian empire are all too apparent in the many thermal baths and Vienna style cafes or Kavehaz.

Budapest for me was as much about long walks, street food and chilling in its many bars as it was about its monuments, museums and history. That it was springtime helped, of course. From the more laid back Buda to the quirky Pest, a few things stood out and defined this vibrant city for me.  

Hungarian Parliament
This iconic structure, overlooking the Danube, was my favorite in the whole of Budapest. No matter the time of the day, its red and cream color theme, neo-Gothic towers and majestic dome lend a magnificence to the building. No wonder I kept going back to it for another view.

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Morning views
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As seen from Buda castle
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Twilight views
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From across the Danube at night

Street food
Budapest has some amazing open markets to sample the wide variety of street food. Pure bliss. Hungarian food tends to be quite heavy on bread which meant I ended up stuffing myself on just street food. I can’t really recall going to any sit in restaurants while I was there. A glimpse of what’s out there on the streets:

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Ghoulash soup of course, Hungary’s national dish
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Chicken paprikash in bread bowl – Tried this at the central market hall
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Langos – Thick bread that has been deep fried and topped with garlic and lots of cheese
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Kürtoskalács or Chimney cake (Made from dough rolled over a rolling pin, which is then baked and dusted with sugar)
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Too much goodness in these open markets
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Budapest’s fetish for orangeade

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Hungry in Hungary (There, I said it)

Some of the markets to visit are:

1) Central Market Hall on the Pest side is one the oldest indoor markets of Budapest. It has many stalls offering fresh produce and local products such as paprika and Tokaj wine. On the top floor there are also stalls serving local food. Try the ghoulash and paprikash

2) Karavan street food in the Jewish quarter. Located right next to Szimpla Kert, there is a wide variety of food including burgers, sausages and local dishes like ghoulash

3) Open market in Vörösmarty Square. Look out for this square which lies in the heart of the city. It usually hosts spring, summer and Christmas festivals. There was a spring festival on during the time I was there, and a couple of my evenings went by soaking in the colorful festivities

Quirkiness of Pest
Buda and Pest developed independently of each other and the distinctiveness of the two is all there to experience. Pest is the cultural center of Budapest with cool bars, cafes, a hip Jewish quarter and an active nightlife. Undoubtedly, this was my favorite part of the city and where I spent the better part of my days walking around aimlessly. A few paragraphs wouldn’t do justice, so a follow up post shall come up soon with all that is fun about Pest. And here it is.

Budapest Cafes or Kavehaz
The influence of Austro-Hungarian empire is all too evident in the many historic cafes around the city. Probably not as opulent as Vienna’s cafes, but still grand enough, Budapest’s coffee houses or Kavehaz are great for a cup of coffee, a slice of cake and taking a break from all that walking. Spoilt with tons of bars and street food markets, we didn’t get to visit many, but here are some we did.

1) Cafe Ruszwurm. Located in the Castle district on the Buda side, Cafe Ruszwurm is a cozy place with a wide selection of cakes, and a nice place to chill after all the walking in the Castle district. Admittedly, I am not much of a cake person, but can still vouch for their super yummy cream cake and dobos torta.

2) Művész Kávéház located on the Andrassy avenue opposite the Opera House. Another classic coffee house to chill and watch the many shoppers and people in general go by along the Andrassy avenue, which is one of the major boulevards in the city. Didn’t find the food too great but the location is pretty decent.

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3) Café Gerbeaud located in the heart of the city in Vörösmarty Square. It is one of the oldest cafes around and again quite popular for its vast selection of cakes. We did sample the Gerbeaud cake, though I found the place a bit too expensive. In hindsight, I can say it can be skipped unless one has a thing for institutions.

The Buda side of the city
Whereas Pest is a lot about bars, museums and nightlife, Buda in comparison is associated more with history, Turkish era baths and panoramic views of the city. We spent a day walking about lazily in Buda exploring Castle district and later Gellert hill, taking in some brilliant views of the Danube and Pest side. More on that in a later post.

Budapest at night
I loved the city in night as it took on a completely different character. All its important monuments are brilliantly lit up, and the best views are experienced by taking a walk along the Danube. Well, some would say the best way is a night river cruise on Danube. I disagree. A walk is almost always better than anything else.

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Chain bridge
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Buda castle
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On the Chain bridge
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Serene waters with Elizabeth bridge and Liberty bridge as seen from Chain bridge
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Fisherman’s bastion

Spring festival
I know there is one glaring piece missing from here: thermal baths. How can a visit to Budapest be complete without taking to the waters, right? Well, it is possible if there is an outdoor spring festival underway. With rows of stalls selling local wares, colorful baubles, vendors selling langos, sausages and beer pints, lively music and kids dancing to that music, it became rather difficult to tear ourselves away from there. Thermal baths will have to wait for another time.

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Finally, it was the underlying vibe of the city that got to me. Everything about it is delightful, be it the walks along the Danube, its colorful streets, its architecture or the food. There never really is a dull moment here.

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