This trip began with the Danube River and it’s only fitting that we end with it.
After nearly 3 weeks traveling through The Balkans, arriving for a night in Budapest was like waking up from a long wistful slumber and descending into another. Far from the dreary summer heat and empty streets of Tirana at night, my overnight layover in Budapest was anything but, filled with a kind of soulful magic straight out of a fairytale.
The last time I was here was when I was 9 years old, but all I can remember from the dregs of my childhood memories is an image of the Marriott Hotel across the riverbank. That’s it. And there’s also an entry I wrote in my first diary.
And yet, all I can think about after tonight is the burning desire to return here on an official monsoon with a group of like-minded weekend warriors — this city has everything you need for a perfect and affordable 2-3 day getaway.
The remaining monsooners headed out in the morning for Tirana International Airport, where despite its spartan layout, had a pretty decent business class lounge — although there was little to no wifi access here.
Freak thunderstorms delayed our flight from Tirana by an hour, and coupled with an extremely tardy airport pickup we didn’t end up starting our exploration of Budapest until 9pm at night.
If you want to do this twilight walking tour right, start at the top at Heroes’ Square. Part UNESCO World Heritage site, this square features statues of the 7 tribal leaders who founded Hungary.
Head south from here along Andrassy ul and pass by House of Terror, a museum about life under Nazi and Soviet occupation in Hungary. In front is another piece of the Berlin Wall.
The Hungarian State Opera House is about 5-6 blocks further south along the same street.
The impressive Saint Stephen’s Basilica, is another 3min walk southwest:
From here, walk along the lively souful streets of Muzeum krt. for a glimpse into what a Tuesday night (or every summer night for that matter) can look like:
Take a slight detour along Dohany Street for Dohány Street Synagogue, a moorish style synagogue that houses a cemetery, Holocaust memorial and museum inside.
Return onto Muzeum krt and stay on it to get to massive Central Market Hall — a 19th century market hall still in use — as you approach the Danube River (where we were also at only 3 weeks earlier at Belgrade!).
The nightlife continues as you cross Szabadsag Bridge to the west side of the city. Tons of teenagers were on the scaffolding, playing music and drinking the night away.
If you’re feeling up to it, start the 20 min climb up the 235m high plateau of Citadella, which remains open to explore in the middle of the night.
On your way up, don’t miss Gellért Hill Cave, a grotto church that also formerly served as a monastery and a WW2 field hospital.
Don’t miss the views either:
Once you’ve reached the top at Liberty Statue, recharge with the restaurants, shops, and cafés that stay open for the insomniacs.
Head back down the other side back to the bank of the Danube River for views of 19th century Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
While by the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular, you can either take the funicular, continue climbing up by foot, or just say screw it and hire a cab to take care of the rest.
For art lovers, the Hungarian art collection reside in the stately venue of Buda Castle:
And then a little to the north, the next place to get a sweet view of the city is Fisherman’s Bastion, a 19th-century fortress featuring 7 turreted lookout towers that deliver panoramic views of the city. There’s also a sweet café here.
Right by the fortress is 14th century Matthias Church.
Afterwards, head back down to sea level and head back across to the other side of the river to check out the immense Gothic-style Hungarian Parliament Building:
A few meters south facing the water is the poignant Shoes on the Danube Bank sculpture piece commemorating those 3,500 vitctims — 800 of them Jews — who were killed at the river by the fascist Arrow Cross party during WWII.
Further south is the playful Little Princess Statue, the first to be erected after Hungary’s regime change.
And that’s it! All of this took about 4 hours to see everything, which can also be done by taxi for about 9,000 forints. Celebrate with a pint and shisha at legendary nightclub/pub/café/bar/lounge hybrid Szimpla Kert.
I’m pooped — tomorrow morning, I return home. Another monsoon in the books!
EDIT: So after sitting through an unexplained 6+ hour delay at Budapest airport with EasyJet (NEVER AGAIN!) that would cause me to miss my Norwegian Air Shuttle Paris-NYC flight home, my only option to make it back in time for work tomorrow morning was to purchase a separate flight home that would be leaving within the hour.
Initially I tried to use miles on multiple carriers, but that failed multiple times: American Airlines couldn’t get me this British Airways flight back to NYC because they needed at least 2 hours to make it work (that flight was leaving within the hour). I then called Chase Bank to immediately transfer an emergency 70,000 Ultimate Reward miles to United Airlines so I could snag a SWISS Airlines flight, but that itinerary frustratingly disappeared as soon as I tried booking it online (only to be confirmed when I tried booking it again with United by phone).
So I bit the bullet and purchased a last minute $1600 USD Lufthansa flight from Budapest – Munich – NYC 45 minutes before it departed. It was either that or miss work, which I’ve never done, and I was not about to ruin a perfect record during residency.
Then while in Munich, we were delayed another 2 hours on the tarmac because of “coolant malfunctioning”, causing the cabin to heat up to 80F inside. When I thought things couldn’t get any more unlucky for today’s bouts of flying, the plane got fixed and we flew out to NYC.
Two good things are that my last minute seats got me an aisle seat with tons of legroom and Lufthansa’s onboard WiFi is surprisingly fast and reliable for an airplane.
Anyways, this marks the most I ever paid for a single flight, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
– At time of posting in Budapest, Hungary, it was 62.6 °F – Humidity: 70% | Wind Speed: 2km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear, perfect