At the heart of the ancient city of Budapest are some truly amazing sites like the Buda Castle, Imperial Palace or Houses of Parliament. Yet dig a little deeper with your kids and you might find history under your feet or along the snaking passages of the Danube that divides the city centre. But although it's history is inescapable, Budapest is now a vibrant, modern city that certainly rivals what we've seen this week in Prague, Vienna or Bratislava.
Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, is both charming and nostalgic. But is perhaps more importantly a compelling city for young explorers. It's positively brimming with things to do that we simply couldn't feature in this blog post due to the time & budget we had given over to visiting the city. So if you're looking for a more complete 'Top 10 Activities to do in Budapest with Kids' - then this might give your few ideas (click here). But if like us, you're trying to see a city on a budget (ike our Berlin or Stockholm articles) or you have children who are happy to walk the city & love finding interesting free things to see, then read on...
To start with, maybe I should explain our European Roadtrip budget. We've tried to keep to 50 Euros a day, which when you're visiting a major city with kids is hard to do. So sometimes we go a little over (see Vienna) and sometimes we dip a little under. So what did this visit to Budapest cost us to see these sights? £10 (family travel card for the day), £9 (lunch), £2 (ice creams) & £19.70 (accomodation at a campsite in Budapest). So a total of £40.70 or 46 Euros
As you can see from the architecture, Budapest has an amazing mixture of histories..... dating back over 1000 years... So did you know that Hungarians come from a nomadic base in the Ural Mountains? Or that Hungary was founded by St Stephen (his basilica is behind those ice creams above!) but later invaded by the Mongols (1241). Further on in its history, the Ottoman/Turkish Empire's invasion (1546) led to 150yrs of reign until the Hungarian people secured their freedom was secured in 1711.
As like most European nations, its history includes revolutions in the mid 1800s and it suffered greatly in both WW1 & WW2 due to it's alliances. This led to a Soviet occupation that lasted 44 years until 1989. Since then it's gone from strength to strength and took it's place in the European Union in 2004. If you get a chance then head for Memento Park to see the 40 or so statues that hark back to a bygone Soviet age. (10km south west of the city)
With views like the above of the Danube drifting slowly past Buda Castle, or imposing Basilicas rising up above 'dome shaped' synagogues... it has so much to see without paying a penny. Yes, the castle and synagogue can be toured, but in truth, you could easily spend an hour or two walking the streets from the Old Jewish Synagogue towards the river and the famous Chain Bridge. (Tip - if you love ice creams, save your pennies for the main square under St Stephen's basilica, as the artistic 'flower shaped' icecream was amazing!)
The main metro lines (M1 & M2) takes you straight into the centre and if you fancy alternative means of transport, there are city bikes to hire or even electric cars (by the hour (25 euro)) from this central square in Deák (above left) or you can try the synchronised water fountains at Liberty Square. Or like us, you love a market to browse (see our Valencia post), then head for Nagycsarnok . A place you could lose yourself for hours, either on the ground or first floor!!!
Another free event that's worth seeing, especially as Hungary has such a proud military history, is the changing of the guards at Buda Castle. We loved learning more about the Hungarian Hussars and how proud they were of these fantastic regiments. But we'd argue that the best walk of the whole day came from the cobbled streets that lead up to the Buda Castle (not the funicular railway).. as it allows you who walk the castle ramparts (see below) with some of the best views we've seen across the entire European Roadtrip (see a video here for some highlights)
Once across the Danube, there's a great little place to eat between Buda Castle and Matthais Church.... the views again are spectacular, as too is the church with it's bright decorative tiled roof... a feature that is a showstopper against the pristine white church towers. You might even get lucky and meet the chap with the bird of prey.... a whacking great bird that was almost as big as Libby when it unfurled it's wings!
We've certainly only scratched the surface of this wonderful city, and would definitely look to return in the near future to see other highlights in Budapest including a closer look at the Houses of Parliament (only finished in early 1900's, its eclectic style is best seen from the ramparts beside Matthais Church)
But after another city visit to add to our collection of European Cities (over 30 more here), we're now heading off to find the 'Real Hungary'... taking a trip south to see what rural Hungary is like, perhaps even taking in a thermal bath if we can find on enroute!!
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