My wife and I spent a few days in Budapest this past month. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Hungary but by the end I was pleasantly surprised.
Quick History of Hungary
Hungarians were nomads from the eastern part of the Ural Mountains (deep in current day Russia) who settled on the Hungarian steps around 895 AD. Legend has it that the leader of the Hungarian tribes had a dream in which eagles were attacking their horses but a Turual came to save to them. This dream symbolized that they had to migrate. When they did, the Turual led the nomads to the land that eventually became Hungary.
In 1000 AD, Saint Stephen (aka King Stephen) founded the state of Hungary and accepted the Catholic religion. They were one of the latest European nations to adopt Catholiscism. And then from then WWI, Hungary was pretty much the victim of a lot of invasions starting with the Mongols to the Turks and then finally the Hapsburg.
In the first world war, Hungary was an ally to Germany and Austria. Then they allied with Germany in the second world war only to switch to the Soviets when they say the writing on the wall. The communist rule lasted until 1898 when Hungary finally became an independent democracy.
Things to do in Budapest
My wife and I spent about 6 days in Budapest for a conference. We both worked for half that time, which gave us 3 days to enjoy the city. Given the history of the city/country, it wasn’t surprising to see that there wasn’t a whole lot to do, but here is a list of things we did.
Budapest sits on a patchwork of thermal springs. That combined with the Turkish influences gives Budapest its famous thermal baths. We spent an afternoon at the Gellert Baths, a part of Budapest’s luxarious Gellert Hotel.
First thing to note is that despite the term bath, everyone is required to wear swimsuits as all the baths and saunas are not segregated by sex. ALso, while not required, I would suggest you bring a pair of flip-flops for walking between the different pools.
There were 7 baths located throughout the building that we wandered around in. The coolest bath was a cool 36 degree celcius and the hottest was at 42 degrees celcius. The coolest part is the art nouvaeu style the bathouse was built in. It definitely felt like you were swimming in a cathedral!
Overall, I was bit underwhelmed because I kept comparing these baths and saunas to what I was used to (the Korean equivalent — Jjimjilbang).
Castle Hill is a great area on the Buda side of the city and hosts a number of sights that you wouldn’t typically find in a European city.
There is the Matthias Church which was built in 1505 (it was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241 and then built again). While it is a Catholic church, it has clear Islamic influences in his architecture.
Directly next to the Matthias Church is the Fisherman’s Bastion which was built in 1895 (finished in 1902). The seven towers you can see represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895.
House of Terror
The House of Terror is a memorial to the victims of the communist and facist regime of the 20th century. The exterior was built to stand out on the main street in Budapest as it stands as a stark reminder of Budapest’s past. It should also be noted that the building was used by the Arrow Cross Party, Hungarian Secret Police, and the Nazi party leading up to and following World War II.
Inside we saw exhibitions detailing the persecution by first the Nazi regime and then the Soviet regime. It starts on the third floor with the Nazi regime and the Arrow Cross Party and we made our way down through the second floor where they covered the Hungarian Secret Police. The exhibition ends in the basement where they kept the cells that were used to hold and break prisoners during the communist regime.
Throughout the museum, there is an abundant amount of information in video footage of interviews with Hungarian people. Also throughout the rooms, we saw printouts of extra information detailing the history in depth. The only downside was there was a lot of reading and no sitting room, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes when you visit!
One of the coolest part of Budapest was its nightlife in the Ruin Bars. These bars were started in the historic Jewish Quarter. When the buildings were deemed too unsafe to live in, a couple entrepeuners set up a bar in an abandoned factory that was set for the wrecking ball. Since then the popularity has spread rapidly and the entire Jewish District comes to life at night.