Budapest: ideal city for a solo trip
Once in the bucket list of backpackers and budget travelers, the Hungarian gem on the Danube River is experiencing an explosion on the luxury market and a well-deserved reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world as well as the second fastest growing urban economy in Europe. Budapest is the result of a merger in 1873 between two distinct cities with two very different personalities: Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the eastern shore. The two sides offer a range of very different activities, from the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Buda to the trendy bars in the Jewish Quarter of Pest. One thing they both have in common: the city can fascinate for a weekend and beyond, and is beautiful if explored both on foot and by public transport. Being a solitary traveler, I found Budapest among the best in safety, luxury, activities and cuisine. And here are some tips for the solo traveler who wants to enjoy a fantastic experience in Budapest.
Probably, there is no better sightseeing in Budapest than walking along the medieval cobblestone streets of Castle Hill. Considering the beautiful sunny day I decided to walk up to Castle Hill, but there is also a funicular near the Chain Bridge. The castle dates back to the 13th century, when citizens sought refuge after the Mongol invasion. The area enjoyed a golden age until the 15th century until Budapest was occupied by the Turks and much of the architecture was destroyed. Subsequently, the city was rebuilt in the beautiful baroque style which remains today as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Castle Hill is also an elite residential area, with houses dating back to the 14th century. Some of Castle Hill’s must-see attractions include Trinity Square, Matthias Church, one of the best examples of 13th-century Gothic architecture and Fisherman’s Bastion, an ornate, multi-terraced structure with spectacular panoramic views of the Danube as far as Pest.
Great Market Hall
There is no shortage of markets in Budapest, but the most famous is the Great Market Hall near the Danube on the Pest side. It is sometimes called Central Market Hall and is a five minute walk from the city center. All types of goods are sold here, divided into a mega warehouse on three floors. Several goodies lined up and ready for sale such as sausages, fresh bread, cheese, vegetables and Hungarian paprika. It is also the best place to find souvenirs, from cheap kitsch to expensive embroidery. After shopping, make sure you see the other sights of Pest, such as the St. Stephen’s Basilica containing the allegedly mummified hand of the saint, the Heroes’ Square, the Hungarian State Opera House and strolling along the beautiful Andrássy Avenue.
After a whole day of sightseeing, I really enjoyed the relaxation, a glass of champagne in hand, a romantic cruise along the Danube, where I saw the division of the city in Buda and Pest. The ship slipped through incredible architectural beauties, from the Chain Bridge dating back to the 19th century and gradually to five other bridges. I watched the sunset behind the hill of the Buda Castle with its enchanting castles and churches lined up on the shore. As night fell, the magnificent view of the illuminated Hungarian Parliament was breathtaking, all with Pest’s clubs and bars in the background.
Since Budapest was built on a network of nearly 125 thermal springs, “taking the waters” has been a pastime since Roman times. Whether you are looking for a cure, relaxation or just like me, just as fun, there are two dozen thermal baths to suit all tastes. One of these spas is truly the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Built in 1923, the Széchenyi Baths is a sprawling neo-baroque palace with 15 indoor thermal pools ranging from warm to super-warm, three impressive outdoor pools, fountains, Turkish baths and a spa.
The Hungarian goulash is without a doubt the most famous dish of Hungary, and perhaps also of Eastern Europe. While the European version of goulash can be considered a melting pot of appetizer, in my opinion the Hungarian / Magyar version is much better than the one found in Romania or the Czech Republic. It is more tasty, has more spices and is not so thick, making it more a soup than the classic stew you’ll find in other countries. It is a good peasant style dish, with abundant pieces of beef, potatoes and vegetables.
To cross the Danube, the Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone bridge connecting Pest and Buda and the most famous of many bridges in the city. The name derives from the iron chains connected by large rivets that make it a real mobile chain. The bridge features stone lions placed on a sentry on each side. Night lighting is brilliant. The pillars are illuminated by reflectors and light paths along the upper chains to accentuate the shape of the bridge.
Just the name intrigued me. Located in the old Jewish quarter, these bizarre pubs are essentially abandoned buildings and unused outdoor spaces, and offer cheap beer, music, and sometimes a limited menu. A glance behind the doors reveals unsuspected creativity and originality. The decor is decidedly eclectic, even chaotic, with mismatched furniture, bizarre sculptures and unusual works of art. Despite the trendy trend, the ruin bars are frequented by locals and tourists of all ages.