Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Traveling to Budapest for the weekend? 7 sights to see in Budapest

In my opinion, Budapest, Hungary, is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

On the flight in, you see the parliament building dominating the metropolis’ landscape. On the ground, you’re surrounded by extraordinary feats of architecture — from arching bridges to the apartment complex by your hotel. Everything is worth putting your eyes on, if only for a minute.

But it can be intimidating to fly into a new city without a plan of attack. When you’re studying abroad, you rarely spend more than a weekend at each destination, so there’s a lot to cram into your short stay.

If you’re planning a trip to Budapest, here are a few must-see places (in order) to help make the city a little more navigable.

First, a little geography and a talk about money.

Budapest is actually two separate physical bodies — Buda and Pest — divided by the Danube River. Most hotels in Budapest are on the Pest side, but a lot of the older architecture is situated across the bank in Buda.

While some places in Budapest accept euros, dollars aren’t exactly in fashion, so you’ll want to stop by a nearby ATM for some spending money. You shouldn’t need more than $150 for this itinerary, unless you decide to go rogue for a shopping spree. However, you may want to withdraw a little extra if you plan to travel by car, as taxis can be surprisingly expensive.

1. The Hungarian National Gallery in Buda Castle: about $6.50 USD

Start your day in Buda at the 13th-century palace-turned-art-museum in 1957. Doors open at 10 a.m. Tuesday through Sunday, so you have just enough time to grab breakfast before (maybe a pastry at Central Café, an eight-minute car ride away).The museum sits high above Budapest, and the view is stunning. It’s also a nice place to get your bearings. The climb isn’t as bad as it looks, but there’s also a tram service that can take you to the entrance of Buda Castle for about $3.50, or 1000 forints.

While Hungarian art may seem a bit obscure, the National Gallery’s collectio is pretty impressive. The modern art on the top floor is the perfect way to begin to grasp Hungarian reactions to Nazi and Soviet occupation in the 20th century, as most of it has an overtly political focus. And some of the more famous European artists are represented as well — El Greco, Titian and Peter Bruegel, to name a few.

2. Matthias Church: about $3.50 for students

After you leave Buda Castle, take the 12-minute walk to Matthias Church, a 14th-century masterpiece influenced both by Christian symbolism and Islamic geometric aesthetic after Turkish occupation. The Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral has a gorgeously tiled roof in vibrant oranges and greens, and the interior is just as whimsically bright.

3. Fisherman’s Bastion: free

From there you can meander around the adjacent Fisherman’s Bastion, where violinists and accordion players provide mood music for visitors. Check out the view of Pest; you’ll have already experienced a similar eyeshot from Buda Castle, but it’s worth a second look.

4. Parliament: about $18 to enter

Once you’re done taking in the sights, start the quick jaunt downhill to Pest via the Chain Bridge. About 10 minutes later (if you don’t get lost), you’ll find yourself in front of the second largest parliament building in all of Europe. Take a gander at the guards marching in their futuristic military outfits; they’re definitely worth noticing.

Feel free to go inside, or don’t — after all, the building itself has been crumbling since the ’20s, and bricks are constantly being replaced. You may be better off enjoying the exterior.

Go down to the riverbank and get a front view of parliament — you’ll feel very small beneath its towering mass. Then, head towards the docks.

5. The Shoes on the Danube

On the way to the docks, you’ll run into the Shoes on the Danube Bank, conceived of by filmmaker Can Togay and created by Gyula Pauer in 2005 to commemorate the deaths of innocent Hungarian Jews who were asked to strip before being shot into the Danube River in 1944-45. The memorial is a shocking and poignant reminder to be good to our fellow man and not to repeat the mistakes made in the 20th century due to political extremism.

6. Boat Tour: about $15 depending on the boat company

Tired yet? Take a little break on a boat tour, where you’ll be served drinks while sailing around the smooth Danube. You also see some of the less central parts of Budapest, like industrial work complexes, so you get a real sense of the city in its entirety. Plus, if you choose the right boat line, champagne will be included.

After you disembark, grab some dinner nearby. The food in Budapest is relatively cheap (you can get what would be a 5-star meal in the States for about $30) and to die for, and you can’t really go wrong. But if you’re already by the docks, you might as well check out Paris Budapest Restaurant and Bar. Their chocolate mousse is about $5, and you won’t find anything better at the fanciest restaurants in New York City. Alternatively, the duck at nearby Borssó Bistro will make you only want to eat duck.

7. The House of Terror: about $7

If you’re lucky enough to have a late-afternoon flight, get up early and try to make it to the House of Terror, Budapest’s political museum that tells the story of Nazi and Soviet occupation in Hungary. It’s a haunting experience — one that will give you pause — but it’s also one of the best curated exhibits I’ve found in the Western world. The commentary on torture, paranoia and corruption really makes you think about what you want your own country’s political legacy to be (and what you definitely want to avoid).

Once you leave, take a few minutes to continue down the street past “little United States” — a sad barrio of Starbucks and Burger Kings — and to the long stretch of shops, which is frequently touted as Budapest’s Champs-Élysées. Louis Vuitton may be hard on a student budget, but it’s always fun to look.


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