Up early for another long day of sightseeing. I head over to the New York café, billed as the most beautiful café in the world. Chandeliers, gold ceiling with paintings, red velvet seating.
I am able to have a quick look inside, but the menu is a little out of my budget! This is where I catch the Hop on Hop Off bus, a most brilliant way to see the city. The route covers all of the major sites, and provides commentary about Budapest’s history and fun facts. So far, the sun is out and it is quite warm compared to yesterday – perfect sightseeing conditions!
I take the bus over the Danube River to explore Buda. While Pest is flat, Buda is built up on a large hill. I take the funicular (a cable railway elevator) up to the top, and the view is fantastic.
Once I arrive at the top, I head to the left and enter through the ornate Habsburg Gate to explore the area around Buda castle. It was first built in the 1200’s, and it went though destruction and rebuilding over the years. I decide not go inside; the castle houses the National Gallery, Budapest History museum and library. I’m not in the mood to explore museums today so luckily there is plenty to see while wandering the castle grounds.
A large statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy , one of the most successful military commanders in modern history, keeps watch over the castle on the Danube terrace. The mythological Turul bird, a national symbol of Hungary, is perched atop a stone column holding some type of sword in its talons. I exit the castle grounds and walk the cobblestone streets over to Matthias Church, a stunning white Gothic style church with colorful roof tiles.
Beside the church is the Holy Trinity Statue, in the center of Trinity Square. It is dedicated to the people of Buda who died of the Black Plague. Interesting Fact: people believed that erecting a column of this type would keep away the plague. Once fully completed, the plague never did return. Hmmmmmm.
Also in this area is Fishermens’ Bastion, which is one place I remember visiting 20 years ago. It is a large viewing terrace with 7 lookout towers. It resembles something out of a fairy tale, and has a magical feel despite being crammed with tourists. Bastions are meant to be for defensive purposes, but this one is as beautiful as it is defensive.
I will say this is probably the most visited place in Budapest. I take some time to walk along the bastion, admiring the views of the Danube and all the sights across the water in Pest. In front of the bastion is a massive statue of Stephen I….and of course, he is on a horse.
On my way back to the funicular, I pass by a doorway leading to a stairway deep into the ground. It’s called the Labyrinth Caves. It looks interesting, so I go down to see what it’s all about. There is no one down here, and I wait 10 min for the guy to come back and let me in. I’ll set this up for you…I’m completely alone, left to wander the dark tunnels by myself. No other tourists. Originally, it was a natural cave system which was then expanded into tunnels, cellars, dungeons, storage areas. I have read that this labyrinth was used as an escape from natural disasters, wars, and was used as a prison and torture chamber. Yikes!!! So you can imagine there is a chance it is HAUNTED!
First off, it’s a bit dark, as expected. There is creepy classical/opera music blasting through the tunnels. As I wander through, I see mannequins dolled up in period costumes; behind bars…they seem to be having a good time despite their seemingly dire situation.
Trying to trick me into thinking this is a happy place!! I arrive at the Maze of Darkness – even with my cell phone light, it’s still dark. You’re expected to hold onto a rope to guide you through. And on the wall beside the maze is a plaque mentioning something about ghosts and such. NO THANKS. Luckily, there is another way through the tunnels and I pass by relics, an abandoned fountain and another plaque on the wall talking about Count Dracula. Yes folks, he was imprisoned here back in the day! Great. Small arrow signs on the wall tell me which way to go. As I go further, it becomes darker and foggier. The air is damp, and I’m stepping through small puddles. It is so dark and foggy I can’t tell where I am and I’m starting to go into panic mode. No joke. I don’t scare too easily, but this is the real deal. I come to a dead end and there is a mannequin with a head on a stake. Seriously. I frantically look for an arrow telling me where to go and I can’t find one. So I run(literally)back in the direction I came from (or so I think). Somehow, I end up finding the correct path out of the tunnels. Phew! I head up the stairs back into safety and sunlight. Even though this place scared the shit out of me, I still highly recommend visiting this attraction!
I head back to the funicular to see if I can upgrade my one way ticket to a return ticket to get back down the hill. The ticket lady doesn’t seem to understand what I’m asking…I want to pay the difference for a return ticket. She says that doesn’t exist. I try to explain to her again, and she storms out of the booth rudely pointing to the sign for my options, her frizzy 80’s hairstyle bouncing around. Not too happy with me! Soooooooo I decide to take the stairs back down to the bottom of Buda Castle Hill, walking past the gardens, pathways and terraces to catch the bus to go to another hill – Gellert Hill. This is where the Citadel is located.
The Liberty Statue stands atop the hill, representing freedom, independence and prosperity. The bus only goes in one direction, so I have to come up here regardless. I skip exploring the citadel, and just take a few pics of the great views overlooking the city below.
Back over the bridge into Pest, and my next stop is Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest of its kind in Budapest. You can get everything here. Meat, fish, fresh produce, spices, paprika, and endless souvenirs. I really want to have lunch, but all of the eateries are so busy and there is nowhere to sit. I buy as much as I can carry, and hop back on the big red bus.
I arrive at the Hungarian State Opera House, a beautiful neo-renaissance building. A statue of Franz Liszt greets you as you walk inside…he is the most famous Hungarian composer, after all!
It is considered to be one of the finest opera houses in the world, because of the quality of acoustics. I take the guided tour which takes me through the ornately decorated hallways and into the main hall. In the middle of the ceiling is the large bronze chandelier, and it is surrounded by a fresco that depicts Greek gods on Mount Olympus. After the tour, we are treated to performance from an opera singer in a pretty white gown.
I exit the opera house and walk up Andrassy Avenue where I find a cute restaurant with an outdoor patio. I finally try goulash – a meat and veggie stew flavored with paprika and spices. Also langos, which I’d never heard of until this trip. It is round deep fried bread – almost like a pizza – with varied toppings. I go for the sour cream and shredded cheese. Such a great lunch!
I make a quick stop at the House of Terror – a museum dedicated to the fascist and communist regimes in Hungarian history, and also serving as a memorial for victims of these regimes. The building itself was once used by the Arrow Cross Party, and as a prison and torture venue. I show up with only an hour left, so there isn’t enough time to do the audio tour and get the full experience. But luckily, in every room there are paper handouts to read about the history of the exhibits. Some of it is pretty disturbing.
My final stop of the day is Heroes Square, a major square of the city featuring a large statue of the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars.
I have a quick look around because I need to catch the last bus and I am exhausted! I even fall asleep on the way back. We were supposed to take an overnight train tonight into Serbia but it was cancelled until tomorrow morning. I’m glad, because this gave me more time to explore this incredible city. I did a lot in 2 days but I think that 4-5 days is a better option. For anyone traveling to Europe, Budapest is a place you must see!