Budapest Travel Guide
The sun was just beginning to rise as we began our early morning approach to runway 31 right at Budapest's Ferihegy airport in Hungary. The forecast fog had been a concern on departure from Shannon, Ireland some three hours earlier and I had increased our fuel load by 2000 pounds to compensate in case a diversion to Bucharest in Romania became necessary. Fog can be a bit of a culprit in most of Europe during early morning flight operations and it pays to be cautious, but the gods relented and the visibility had been just adequate enough to allow us to begin an approach.
The Boeing 757-300 I was flying was almost brand new; differentiated from the 200 series with the addition of a 20-some foot fuselage plug that allowed my airline to carry an additional 30 passengers. That day my passengers were bound for Kuwait City in the Middle East and a fresh crew was awaiting our arrival in Budapest so that they might continue their journey. Until recently the trip from the United States into Kuwait City necessitated a rather circuitous route that involved flying south down the length of Italy, turning left at Sicily and making a beeline for Cyprus overflying the Greek Island of Crete on the way. A crew change would occur in Larnaca, Cyprus and the flight would then continue south bound for Egypt. From over Cairo we would follow the Nile south. A short time later we would make another left turn, cross the Red Sea and enter Saudi airspace for our west to east transverse of their country. Finally approaching the Persian Gulf near Bahrain one final left turn to the north and the friendly Kuwaiti air traffic controllers would carefully sequence us in for a safe landing on the massive runways at Kuwait City. This routing had been necessary for many years because the Gulf War of 1991 effectively ceased civilian overflight of Iraqi airspace. American fighter aircraft were shot at daily as they patrolled the northern and southern Iraqi no-fly zones and for obvious reasons, even though Iraqi overflight would have been much quicker, it wasn't an option.
The date was June 2nd, 2004, the Iraqi airspace was now free from hazard due to the American operation there, and as such, airliners bound for the Middle East from Europe were free to navigate the cradle of civilization's airspace thereby shortening the trip by some 4 hours! And instead of Cyprus layovers, it was Budapest.
This was the situation as I caught sight of the familiar approach lights burning through the morning fog at 300 feet and proceeded with an uneventful landing at Budapest. It was to be the first of many over the next few years!
During my many layovers in Budapest-some lasting 5 and 6 days-I explored the city and all it has to offer. It is one of my favorite places in all of Europe and it is my hope that you might be able to experience some of the fun I had there through my words and images. Its been almost 2 years since I have been back now and I miss it. Enjoy my Budapest Travel Guide!
Maps of BudapestClick thumbnail to view full-size
Required Electrical Plug For Hungary
History and Demographics
Bordering Slovakia in the north, Ukraine and Romania in the east, Serbia and Croatia in the south and Austria in the west, Budapest's 1.7 million inhabitants make their homes on both sides of the Danube river as it winds it's way through their city. It is Hungary's largest population center and it serves as the governmental capital for the Hungarian people. Hungarians are by far the largest ethnic group with smaller populations of Germans, Croats, Romanians, Serbs and others. The primary religion in modern-day Hungary is Catholicism. As of this writing 1 US Dollar buys 230 Hungarian Forints and the electrical power standard is 230 volts.
Prior to the late 1800's, Budapest was actually comprised of two separate entities. Pest consisted of that part of the city on the east side of the Danube and Buda the hilly west side; thus you will occasionally hear and read references to the "Buda Hills". When you visit I highly recommend the view from the Citadel on the Buda side! It is quite remarkable and some of the pictures you see here were taken from that site.
As with most cities in Europe, modern day Budapest can trace a rich history from the Romans and the Magyars to the ransacking Mongols and more recently the Ottomans. It was also one of the capitals of the now defunct Austria-Hungary which ceased to exist in 1918.
Military conflict is no stranger to Budapest. The 1848 revolution ultimately led to Hungary's autonomy in the Habsburg empire. The short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 was the first Communist government in all of Europe after the Russian revolution and it fell apart when the Romanian army occupied Budapest. When the Romanians finally left the Kingdom of Hungary was formed. In 1944 Hitler was worried that Hungary was about to surrender to the Russians as they moved ever closer, and that this would cut off his soldiers fighting in the Balkans. Hitler's Operation Panzerfaust used tanks and solder to lay siege on Hungary's acting regent in Budapest and was successful in installing a pro-German government there until the Russians drove them out in 1945. This Russian siege of Budapest in the dying days of World War Two was savage and bloody. Post war Hungary was solidly under Soviet influence and it came to a head in 1956 when a spontaneous public uprising against Soviet policies was brutally crushed when Soviet troops invaded Budapest. Finally with the death of the Soviet Union, the modern Hungarian Republic was born in 1989 and is the current governing authority today.
Budapest and It's SightsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Very Nice Budapest Compilation
Room and Board
Budapest is large city and has much to offer for the traveler by way of room and board. While both are available on the "Buda hills" side of the Danube, the majority of the "action" occurs on the Pest side and no matter where I stay in the world, this is where I prefer to be; if for convenience alone.
The first thing you must consider is the location of the airport. It is located about 10 miles south and east of the city center and is accessible by public bus, mini-bus limousines and, of course, taxis. Even though it is only 10 miles from the downtown area, the trip time can exceed 45 minutes and I have seen it take more than an hour in heavy traffic which is prevalent at the usual rush hour times we all know. Keep in mind that this time references Pest and not Buda on the far side of the Danube! Occasionally my airline would house our crews in the northern section of Buda and it wasn't uncommon for that ride to take upwards of an hour and a half at the wrong time. Just one more reason to make Pest your "Hub" of operations if you will pardon the pun.
Hotel quality varies from the very cheap to the very expensive as the do in all cities. I have experienced both and it really depends on what the individual traveler's likes and dislikes are. Most of the time I stayed at the Corinthia Grand Hotel on Erzsebet Korut and Kiraly Ut a short 15 minute walk east of the city center. The Grand is an upper scale hotel with large clean rooms, great restaurants, a friendly staff and a great location central to many of the sights Budapest has to offer. I can highly recommend it! On the way into town from the airport there are quite a few other hotels to choose from but I would avoid those simply because you will be dependant on public transportation to get you into the city center. Now this isn't a bad thing at all, but its my own preference to be located such that I can take advantage of my very own bi-pedal locomotion at the drop of a hat! I think you will find that it's a benefit to be as close to the city center as possible during you stay in Budapest.
If you are a restaurant coinnesseur and enjoy exploring the cuisine offered by your travel destinations you will absolutely love all that Budapest has to offer! Everything you can imagine is available and in all the times I have been there I found only a single eatery that I wouldn't return to. There are German, Italian, Indian, steakhouses, Turkish, American style fast food and many native Hungarian style restaurants. Not to mention Chinese, French, and Pakistani as well. Its a true food-lover's delight to dine in Budapest.
Many restaurants offer the standard European style outside dining that we lack in the United States and my favorite area is a pedestrian street just one block west of the Corinthia Grand Hotel that runs the full length between Kiraly and Andrassy. There must be 20 establishments on that single stretch all offering fantastic culinary delights and the beverage of your choice! Of course, in door dining is mandatory during the winter, but very early in the spring the tables and chairs find their way out of hiding and stay until late in the fall. There is nothing better and more relaxing than to enjoy a meal at any one of these places on a warm summer evening while watching the people stroll by. In case you were wondering, Hungarian winters are generally very cold and damp. Snow and ice is the norm. Plan your visit during the summer months!
What trip to Hungary is complete without trying some of their famous goulash? For lack of a juicier description, goulash is a delicious beef stew and its attraction-other than taste-is the myriad of different versions that you can experience all over the city. One particular unique spot is the Communist bar and restaurant located just west of Vorosmarty Square in the city center. Its unique atmosphere is worth a look and the goulash is worth the taste! The bottom line is that you must take advantage of all of the great restaurants in Budapest. You'll love them and to top it off, prices are reasonable and not at all like the ridiculously high cost of dining out in much of western Europe!
See and Do
Just like restaurants, Budapest has something for everyone to see and do. Whether its sightseeing landmarks, appreciating the finer arts, or staying out until 5am in the clubs; you can do it all. And there is no better place to start than the Danube.
One thing I highly suggest is an evening cruise along the river. The are several to choose from and they are reasonably priced. All of the hotel concierges and tourist centers will be able to provide you with ticket sales options. Keep in mind that Budapest is beautiful at night and exceptionally so while cruising up and down the river! Most have an English recording that talks about Budapest and it's various structures that you encounter along the way. You will also be able to listen to some pleasant music and enjoy a glass of wine as you relax and unwind on the Danube. Don't miss it!
A coach tour of greater Budapest might be the best way to get your first feel of the city and I recommend starting your visit this way. Once again the concierges are more than willing to point you in the right direction. They tend to last a few hours and the guides will regale you with the history of Budapest as you drive by and stop at some of the more popular sights in the city. Those that spark your interest can then be visited in more detail on your own when you can stay as long as you wish.
One of the most popular sights in Budapest is Hero's Square. A short 20 minute walk from the Corinthia Grand Hotel at the end of Andrassy Avenue, the square is one of the largest and is a World Heritage site. The Millenial Monument celebrates the arrival of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin and is filled with the statues of important figures in Hungary's rich history. It is here that you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and both the Museum of Fine Arts and the Gallery of Art.
Just behind Hero's Square you will find the Varosliget park and the Budapest Zoo. The park is wonderful if a long walk is your game. If you are a zoo connoisseur, however, you will most likely be disappointed with Budapest's offering here. But the entrance fee is only a few dollars and if you are an animal lover you will enjoy it! Margitsziget Island in the middle of the Danube in the northern part of the city is a vast green getaway popular with the locals on the weekend. Its a great place to walk, run or to just enjoy a drink and sit back and watch the people come and go.
Baths of Budapest
Budapest is famous for its baths! Hot water and massages in these Turkish gems is a must. You won't want to leave! The architecture inside is usually exquisite and very pleasing to the soul as you relax and recharge your tired body. It's no wonder that the local population regularly spend time here. The locals tend to use the Szechenyl Baths while a more touristy destination is the Gellert Baths and as you can imagine you will pay more at Gellert. There is a new-albeit smaller-bath below the Corinthia Grand Hotel as well. I highly suggest experiencing a Budapest Bath at least once during your visit. Believe me, nothing takes the stress out of a long flight like a Turkish bath!
A Great View
Another must is the view from the top of the Citadel and Fisherman's Bastion. Both are on the Buda side and provide a remarkable view of the Danube and the city if it's not too hazy. If you feel physically inclined you can get a reasonable workout in by walking across the Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda and hiking the trails up to the top of the hill where the Citadel is located. At the top you can tour the citadel itself and relax with a coffee or a Hungarian beer while taking in the great view before making the hike back down again! Of course, it is completely reachable by taxi as well. It really should be included during a visit to Budapest. Its something I used to do on every layover!
I have only discussed a small portion of what Budapest has to offer in this short travel narrative. There is much more to see and do including shopping and an exciting nightlife. Live music and concerts are abundant and many headlining acts include Budapest on their itinerary. There is something for everyone in this gem of a city. Enjoy!
Useful Budapest Traveler Sites
- Budapest Airport
Everything you need to know about the Budapest airport. A valuable resource.
- Hungarian Translation and Dictionary for Travel
Basic words and phrases for the traveler translated from English to Hungarian.
- Budapest Public Transportation
A Basic description of trains, trolleys, and buses in and around Budapest and how to use them.
- Weather and Time in Budapest
Check local Budapest time. Current and forecast Budapest weather.
- 1956 Hungarian Uprising
1956 Hungarian Uprising. A short history of one of the most important dates to Hungarians.
- Budapest Hotel and Accommodation Guide
Find hotels of all types for your stay in Budapest.
- News Item About The Corinthia Grand Hotel
Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal voted Budapest’s ‘Best Luxury’ hotel
- Budapest Ferihegy Airport Guide
Comprehensive Budapest Ferihegy Airport guide with info on facilities, restaurants, shopping and local transportation into the city.
- Popular Budapest Baths
A listing of just some of the many baths around Budapest. Very popular with locals and travelers alike.
- Rubiks Cube
An introduction on how to solve the Rubiks Cube. Who knew that this challenging puzzle was invented in Budapest?
- Should you ever find yourself in Budapest. . .
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