After a two week stint in wee Krakow, Budapest felt like a huge city. With around 1.3 million residents spanning hilly Buda, distant ‘Old Buda’ and flat, stylish Pest it is a buzzing and busy center of Hungary.
Budapest is relatively spread out, and our Airbnb was at least a 30-minute walk from the center. So, for the first time on our trip, we decided to explore a sightseeing bus tour.
Choosing a tour
I’ll be straight up, I’m not usually a fan of sightseeing tours. They don’t encourage physical activity, they take ages and they’re often expensive. Sometimes the cost is so high because there is a monopoly – just one company who offers the hourly bus tour.
On the other hand, I can see the appeal for others. You pay a single fee, plug into a pre-recorded snippets of information an off you go. If you’re lucky you get to see a handful of photogenic spots, some important historical stuff and you take the weight off your feet for a while.
Budapest hosts a range of sightseeing bus companies, which proved confusing for some members of the tourist community. (To be fair, there are two companies who share the same colour bus…) It also meant the companies had to do something special to attract people.
We found a sweet 3 day pass with City Sightseeing that let us catch four different buses (2 with live people doing the talking!), offered not one but two cruises down the Danube, and a night tour by bus and boat. It was pretty appealing and after some number crunching and soul-searching we went for it. If you’re considering doing the same, our advice is to avoid the Giraffe Buses – they share the same colours as City Sightseeing and we heard nothing but bad things about them….
So, what did we love about the bus tour?
It took us up a hill we wouldn’t have climbed, orientated us well in the city and sheltered us from the first bitter rains of autumn. It also taught us a thing or two about Budapest and the rest of Hungary!
What did we hate?
Maybe hate is a slightly strong word…. One of the downsides of being on a tour like this is hearing the same stuff over and over again. You also spend lots of your time stuck in the traffic of a big city. On the upside, we got pretty good at working out the best points to hop off, see a few sights and then end up at a point to hop back on.
And what did we love about Budapest?
A big serving of Goulash
Our ticket included a free goulash each at a nice hotel restaurant. We were pleasantly surprised to find the portions were generous and the drinks were as cheap as anywhere else.
Budapest is full of stunning architecture, with contrasting styles sitting either side of the river. The Hungarian parliament buildings were styled on London’s Westminster and the view of the lights from the river at night are something to behold. If you only get the chance to do one boat journey on the Danube, go at night time. The lights of the city are spectacular and highlight all of the must-see buildings.
A good walking tour
As usual, we undertook a walking tour. This particular tour was taken by a guide who has grown up as the communist state had started to loosen some of the previous restrictions, for example, her father got the opportunity to work overtime to earn extra cash to spend as he liked – a luxury for families. It was interesting to hear her stories and a first-hand perspective.
A tonne of food trucks
The food truck revolution seems to have hit central Europe. Krakow had a few spots filled with a range of international treats served from trucks and we found some amazing food from trucks set in a community garden.
Exploring the castle
There was a wine and food festival on at the castle, which made looking around a little hard, but the views from up there are incredible all the same. We gave the funicular a miss and walked up the hill in the sunshine.
Citadella at night
This was a highlight of our bus trip – a winding drive up the hill in the dark to the citadella only to look out over Budapest in all its lit up glory. Absolutely beautiful. So much so that we went up again in the daytime and explored, enjoyed a coffee and walked back down the hill.
The largest synagogue in all of Europe this one is set out more like a church than a traditional synagogue. Built in 1859 its managed to remain standing despite everything that has happened in Europe since. It is spectacular both inside and out.
Just to add some balance, we also checked out St Stephans Basilica, equally impressive and shimmering in gold at every turn.
The Danube travels through three capital cities, Vienna, Budapest, and Bratislava. It is certainly the lifeline in Budapest. As the natural barrier between the Buda and Pest sides, it is a central meeting point for lots of activity and is a beautiful river for a boat trip!
Absolutely – you shouldn’t miss it. On top of everything above you can check out Margaret island, great for picnics and walks, the many local baths and a fair few booze cruises, if you’re so inclined!