Sitting in a shabby room in the ‘House of Houdini’, situated in the Buda Hills that make up the western half of Hungary’s capital, my initial thought was ‘How did I end up here?’. Yet, the captivating charm of the magic show we were watching was, for me, representative of the city as a whole, with unexpected and unique treasures dotted all around this fascinating city.
Budapest is a city of increasing popularity and it’s easy to see why. Even before landing, a look out of the plane window rewards you with the impressive sight of the commanding Buda Castle on one side of the Danube and the ornate Gothic architecture of the parliament building on the other.
Once you make it off the plane, wandering the bustling streets of Pest on foot is the best way to explore the city. Walking around, without any particular destination in mind, is a great way to immerse yourself in Budapest’s warm, friendly atmosphere and take in some of the sights, including the striking St Stephen’s Basilica and the Great Market Hall, where you can buy an array of local foods and souvenirs at very low prices.
Heading to some of the less typical tourist spots is also rewarding, with Memento Park, in an outer suburb, particularly worth a visit. The quiet park, which feels like a different world to the buzz of the city, houses a collection of propaganda style statues, serving as a fascinating and poignant insight into Budapest’s communist history.
Once you’ve done enough exploring for one day, Budapest’s numerous thermal baths are an excellent way to relax and are a unique experience for a major European city, with the rejuvenating hot springs set in the ornate landscape of Bath houses, making for a surreal occasion.
When night falls, Budapest’s illuminating lights create a magical glow, that brings the city to life. In terms of nightlife, Budapest has a lot to offer, with ruins bars a particularly appealing and unique venue. Set in previously abandoned buildings, decorated with a range of quirky items, they make for a particular vibrant and lively atmosphere. It’s also easy to see why the city is popular with students, as alcohol, just like accommodation and flights, is abundant and cheap. I managed to purchase a beer from a local shop for 280HUF; the current conversion rate is £1 to 341HUF, so you do the maths!
Budapest really does feel unique. Its distinctive blend of history, culture and unexpected gems really draws you in, setting Budapest apart as one of those cities that, particularly when you are half way through a 9am lecture, you think back to, and immediately start planning your next trip.