We arrived after a smooth flight from Edinburgh with Jet2 on Thursday lunchtime. Passport control at the airport was a bit slow but generally transit was okay and we had a quick snack and purchased a 72 hour Budapest card in the airport. The card gives free public transport of all kinds – train, tram, bus, boat and metro and also entrance free to some museums and reduced to others. In addition you could get discounts on tours and at some restaurants. I felt we did not really get sufficient out of it as we walked a lot rather than using the transport – the maps for the transport and those for the city did not correlate very well and it all seemed a bit uncoordinated with long gaps between stops.
After checking in at our hotel, the Danubius Gellert on the banks of the river ( see separate review) we went for a walk down to the wonderful market hall – gorgeous architecture and cheap fresh fruit and also tourist goods such as paprika and lots of embroidered items. Embroidery is an art in Hungary and much of it claims to be hand worked but frankly it would need every member of the Hungarian population to be sewing nonstop to produce the amounts they claim are hand embroidered so I suspect much of it is hand embroidered by machine! Walking a little further we came across a vegan cafe, Zen, purely by accident so that was our evening meal organised. The food was sold by plate size and it was both tasty and inexpensive.
After eating we meandered back and had an early night as we had not slept well the night before at the airport hotel and had to get up early for the flight. We did not have any more success that night due to the intense heat in the room as the air conditioning was not efficient and was far too noisy.
The next day we got a short bus ride to the base of Castle Hill in old Buda and then got the funicular up the hill to the Museum of Budapest History ( not very exciting) and the fabulous National Gallery of Hungarian Art – both free with our Budapest Card but also reduced for anyone between 62 and 70 and free after 70. We had a not very exciting salad lunch at a restaurant in Old Buda which was a lovely area to walk around. We visited the Fisherman’s bastion (nothing to do with Fishermen, just a fanciful piece of architecture and had coffee and cake overlooking the Danube and the Houses of Parliament on the other side of the river. Cakes are very plentiful in Budapest, generally very good and not too expensive compared to our own cafes.
After descending from the hill we got the public transport boat back to our hotel which was fun, helped by the brilliant sunshine and warm temperature. In the evening we visited Karpatia which gave a discount to Budapest card holders and had been recommended by a friend. The decor was stunning, lavish and beautiful and there was some lovely live gipsy style music but the menu left a lot to be desired for us vegetarians as there was very little choice. My other half Tom had a not very exciting pasta dish and I had some gorgeous mushrooms in a very small dish with a tiny piece of bread and nothing else. We also had dessert – a crepe for me and strudel for Tom which was a big improvement. We found generally that Hungarian dishes were not very vegetarian friendly unless you wanted soup which is not that appetising when the temperature is 26 degrees. If we mentioned we were vegetarian at most Hungarian restaurants we were just offered Greek salad or a plate of vegetables! Fortunately there were plenty of other cuisine’s as Budapest is very cosmopolitan. We stopped for a drink on the way back at Fat Mo’s bar where I tried a cherry palinka ( traditional Hungarian fruit brandy) but I was dismayed to find that although it was very strong and extremely expensive it did not taste in the slightest of cherry!
Saturday started very well as we went down to the Thermal baths which were connected to our hotel but not part of it. It takes a lot to get me into a swimming costume but it was worth it – fabulous tiled pools with temperatures of 36 and 40 degrees respectively – my other half would have been happy to stay there all day. We then went on to explore Pest on the other side of the river, catching a bus to Andrassy St. We found this to be disappointing, full of designer shops but still scruffy and we had lunch at one of the worst Italian restaurants I have ever eaten in – I went for a mushroom tagliatelle after the waitress assured me that it had no garlic in it. When it arrived it smelt and tasted of garlic and we raised this with her – at first she denied it completely but had to backtrack when one of her colleagues tried it and confirmed it was full of garlic. We said we were not happy to pay the service charge as we had none but they were very stroppy and said it was not their fault what the kitchen did! – very poor customer care indeed. I think this one was the Millennium da Pippo mentioned on Trip Advisor. After lunch we visited St Stephens basilica where there was a wedding in progress and viewed some lovely architecture around Liberty Square. We then got the tram back to the national museum of Hungary which was excellent and very well laid out. Again though customer care was poor – I wanted to buy a necklace and waited patiently at the desk only for a Hungarian lady to just jump in and be served immediately. Needless to say I did not bother with the necklace. After a short rest we went over to Vatci Utca, a much nicer shopping and eating area just over the bridge from our hotel. Here we had a really lovely meal at Cucina and my husband had the best Minestrone soup he had ever tasted.
On Sunday we were free most of the day as our flight was not until 8.00pm so we left out luggage at the hotel and headed to the Museum of Applied Arts – an amazing building which seems to be in the process of restoration as very little of it is open. We did see some lovely examples of Zsolnay pottery however and it was worth the visit just for the building. We followed this with a visit to a new shopping arcade with a modern art gallery on the top floor – this was definitely not our style, rather Tate and pretentious. Lunch was again at Vatci Utca where I had a pleasant pasta dish with pesto and my other half tried a different but not as exciting minestrone. Back to the hotel for a final tea and cake session then we were off to the airport and our flight back home.