After visiting some of the more popular European destinations, we decided to change it up on our next family vacation and spend a week exploring Budapest, Hungary. It was an excellent decision. I highly recommend exploring Budapest if you haven’t already been to this incredible city.
Buda + Pest = Budapest
Budapest has two sides – Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Historically, a seasonal pontoon bridge or ferries were the only way to travel between the cities of Buda and Pest. In the winter months, it was only possible to cross if the Danube River froze.
In 1820, István Széchenyi was forced to wait one week for a ferry across the Danube River in order to attend his father’s funeral. The status quo was clearly unacceptable to István, and he got to work constructing the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest. The construction of the Chain Bridge was time-consuming and tumultuous. By the 1840s, the Chain Bridge was complete. Buda and Pest continued to develop separately until they joined as Budapest 1873.
We booked a suite at the luxe Four Seasons Gresham Palace for our six-night stay. Gresham Palace is a gorgeous historic hotel, located on Széchenyi Square, directly across from the Chain Bridge. Our luxury suite was perfect for a family of four – two queen size beds, a cozy sofa bed in the living area, writing desk, dining area and large spa bathroom. I love a luxury hotel with a good pool, and the indoor pool on the top floor of Gresham Palace was perfect for the kids.
Our suite faced the Chain Bridge, and we enjoyed watching the boat traffic on the Danube River. There was what seemed like an endless parade of river cruises traversing the Danube and on occasion, docking next to the Chain Bridge.
Gresham Palace is in a convenient location and we were able to walk to many sites right from the hotel.
After reading about the history of the Chain Bridge and its close proximity to the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, this was our first stop. The Chain Bridge is less than 500 m long, and it is an easy walk from one side to the other. We crossed from the Pest side to the Buda side and took the stairs up to Castle Hill.
Castle Hill is an interesting place for exploration – colorful mailboxes, cobbled streets, Buda Castle, gorgeous Matthias Church and beautiful views across the Danube River to Pest.
Castle Hill Funicular
The boys had their eye on the funicular that runs from the base of the Chain Bridge on the Buda side to the top of Castle Hill. Unfortunately, it was extremely hot and busy the first time we visited Castle Hill so we opted for the stairs. We selected the funicular another day, and it was a lot of fun.
Central Market Hall
The Market Hall is a large, multi-story structure with typical market offerings such as produce, meat and spices on the main floor. The upper floor contains food stands and a huge selection of Hungarian-themed souvenirs. It is easy to spend a few hours exploring the Central Market Hall. The roof of the Central Market Hall is covered in colourful Zsolnay tiles; these Hungarian tiles are also found on the roof of Matthias Church.
Hop-on hop-off buses can be touristy, and we have had our share of interesting experiences on the buses over the years. That being said, when you travel with children, it is a great way to get your bearings in a foreign city. We enjoyed the hop-on hop-off city tour and hopped-off the bus for a much-anticipated visit to the New York Café (see more under Eat).
We were excited to visit Margaret Island, a large park located very close to the city centre. It was once known as the “Isle of Rabbits” in the Middle Ages when it served as a royal game reserve. We took one of the Legenda sightseeing boats to Margaret Island and enjoyed stunning views of Budapest from the Danube River. The park is extensive with beautiful gardens, swimming pool and an outdoor theatre. There are various transportation rental options on the island, and we chose a four-seater pedal-car as our preferred ride. Whoo hoo!
We hired a tour guide for an amazing walking tour of Budapest and a number of the historical sites. The Hungarian Parliament Building is a spectacular landmark on the banks of the Danube River. When constructed, it was the largest parliament building in the world. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tour the inside of the Parliament building, but it is supposed to be magnificent.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
From the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, it is only a short stroll through a pedestrian zone to the glorious St. Stephen’s Basilica. The interior of St. Stephen’s is stunning – gorgeous marble, beautiful mosaics and ornate gold detailing.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Based on previous reviews and photographs, I had high hopes for our visit to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Perhaps my expectations were too high, or my timing was wrong because I was incredibly disappointed. The buildings are lovely, but the baths were incredibly crowded, and the changing facilities were not at all what I was expecting. I realize my perspective on the Széchenyi Thermal Baths is different from most visitors, and perhaps an early morning visit during the low season would be a completely different experience.
We enjoyed delicious meals in Budapest, well beyond what we were expecting. We started each day with a beautiful breakfast buffet at the Gresham Restaurant. The cappuccinos were especially impressive, with different coffee art each day.
I love the name of this restaurant – Borkonyha Winekitchen. Who wouldn’t want to visit a wine kitchen? I had high expectations for the wine list and high hopes for the food. I was impressed with both; we enjoyed a few delicious meals at the Winekitchen and drank some amazing Hungarian wine.
Located near St. Stephen’s, Café Kor was the perfect place to finish our walking tour of Budapest. Café Kor is a quaint bistro with great food and lots of local patrons – always a good sign! Book well in advance.
New York Café
I had read that the New York Café was reputed to be ‘the most beautiful cafe in the world’ at one point, and I wanted to check it out. New York Café is incredibly opulent with gorgeous crystal chandeliers and magnificent frescos. The champagne and desserts were fantastic.
We had one of the best meals ever at Tigris Restaurant. Delicious food and the most incredible ile flottante ever. Tigris Restaurant was incredible value for such an elegant dining experience.
Located around the corner from the Gresham Palace in a pedestrian zone, TG Italiano was a convenient family dining option. We were impressed with the local wine offerings and the child-friendly pizza and pasta.
Would Luxe Travel Family return to Budapest?
Absolutely. Budapest is a great city to visit for a number of reasons – amazing architecture, beautiful scenery, delicious food and rich history.