Highlights come thick and fast on a Danube river cruise. There’s opulent Vienna, with its palaces and coffee houses; sleepy Melk, home to a Benedictine abbey and baroque monastery; pretty Linz, where you can sip local wines and sample rich Linzer torte. But one of the most special stops is Budapest.
The Hungarian capital is a joy to explore – so we include a day here on the majority of our Danube cruises. While it might not be long enough to see everything the city has to offer, it’s perfect for ticking off a few of Budapest’s best bits. Read on for our top tips on what to see, what to eat and what to bring home as the perfect souvenir.
What to see
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s most recognisable sights. This neo-Gothic building sits right on the eastern (Pest) bank of the Danube, squeezed between the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge.
Its striking architecture is even more impressive after dark, when spotlights illuminate the arches and spired towers. If you’re lucky, your captain might treat you to an evening ‘sail by’ so you can see it in all its glory.
Shoes on the Danube
This poignant World War II memorial is incredibly moving, and highlights a dark time in Budapest’s history. Between 1944 and 1945, many of the city’s Jewish residents were lined up on the banks of the river and shot by firing squad.
‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a collection of 60 pairs of cast-iron shoes, depicting all ages and occupations, scattered along the riverbank in memory of those who died. You’ll find them in between the Parliament Building and Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
Buda is the hilly side of the city, climbing up from the west bank of the Danube. It’s crowned by Buda Castle, an opulent castle and palace complex that sprawls across the hilltop. The castle and surrounding area (known as Castle Hill or the Castle Quarter) are part of Budapest’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, and are full of history and character.
Wander through the Castle Quarter and you’ll find quaint cobbled streets, baroque buildings and Gothic arches galore – plus, perfect views back down the hill and across the river to the Parliament Building.
The warm, mineral-rich waters that bubble away beneath Budapest have led to dozens of thermal baths opening up in the city. In some of the older bathhouses, the buildings are as much an attraction as the baths themselves, with neo-classical and art nouveau architecture.
Széchenyi is one of the most famous, with indoor and outdoor pools to wallow in, but there are plenty you could choose from. An hour or two is usually sufficient (unless you’re opting for a treatment as well), so can easily be fitted in to your day in Budapest.
State Opera House
Another example of Budapest’s spectacular architecture is the State Opera House. Built in the late 1800s, its neo-Renaissance exterior features limestone arches, marble carvings and statues of 16 composers. Step inside and you’ll discover grand staircases, frescoed ceilings, chandeliers and plenty of glittering gold detail.
Memento Statue Park
This one’s a little way out of the centre, but you can easily reach it by bus during a free afternoon in Budapest. It’s an open-air museum filled with Communist statues and plaques. Removed from their previous homes in 1989, they now stand together in this quirky park. A must-visit for those interested in Hungary’s more recent history.
What to eat
While lunch is always included on our Danube river cruises, if you fancy trying some of the local cuisine you’ll find plenty to make your mouth water. For mains, there’s goulash (of course), with tender, slow-cooked meat and fluffy dumplings to soak up the flavoursome broth. Or chicken paprikash, spiced with a generous helping of paprika.
In terms of snacks, you might like to munch on crispy rántott sajt (deep-fried cheese) or langos (deep-fried dough smothered in cheese and sour cream. And for pudding, there’s nothing better than a slab of esterházy, a layered concoction of buttercream, chocolate and walnuts, topped with thick fondant icing.
What to buy
Hand-embroidered linens make a great souvenir from your day in Budapest. Intricate folk-art patterns cover table cloths, pillow cases, handkerchiefs and clothes, and are perfect for bringing a bit of Hungarian colour back home with you. Some are also edged with handmade lace, another local craft tradition.
Not got much room in your case? Opt for a little cloth bag of paprika. There are a few different varieties to choose from, depending how sweet or strong you like it. Pick up a couple and perhaps try recreating chicken paprikash once you get home.
For something a bit quirkier, how about a Rubik’s cube? They were invented in Budapest by a Hungarian sculptor and architecture professor. You’ll see them for sale in shops and stalls all over the city.