Our Grand European Tour- Budapest, Hungary
Note: This trip took 18 days starting in Prague and ended in Amsterdam. We have covered this trip over four different posts to make it easier to read in segments. Be sure to read all four segments which can be found by following these links:
- Praque: Czech Republic
- Grand European Tour – Budapest & Vienna
- River Cruising through Europe
- Amsterdam: Viking Grand European Cruise Finale
Prague to Budapest:
After a 7+ hour bus ride from Prague, we arrived in Budapest, Hungary, to start our Grand European tour aboard the Viking Mimir. Like Prague, Budapest is split by the Danube River, separating the hilly Buda side with its castle and cathedral from the Pest side, which is flatter and has more commerce. These two sides were at one time two separate cities that decided to merge in 1872 into one city, forming modern-day Budapest, also Hungary’s capital. One of the most prominent landmarks is the giant parliament building, which is over a football field long and sits along the Danube River.
First Steps in Budapest:
After checking in, we headed out and stretched our legs for a quick visit to the nearby famous Budapest marketplace. Food vendors line the downstairs isles with butchers, fresh vegetables, lots of famous Hungarian Paprika, wines, and Unicum & Palinka, famous Hungarian liquors. Upstairs we found dozens of souvenir vendors selling Hungarian linens, porcelain tiles, and other typical touristy souvenirs. Unfortunately, the market was closing soon after our arrival, so that we couldn’t spend much time or money there.
Outside the market was one of the four famous bridges which crossed the Danube, uniting both sides of Budapest. It was a beautiful evening as we headed across the green Liberty bridge towards the giant Parliament building on our left and an old fortress carved into the rock on our right as we turned off the bridge. We walked along the river on a busy bike and pedestrian path back over the Elizabeth bridge and back to the ship. Note: These are busy bike paths: pedestrians must stay to the right. Veering into the bike lane can lead to a messy accident and harsh words from locals. Our ship, the Mimir, was tied up next to two identical Viking ships, which we would often see up and down the rivers.
Budapest Parliamentary Building
Viking Tours in Budapest:
Viking offered four different tours in Budapest, but we chose the panoramic tour, which hit all the city’s highlights on both sides of the river. Our favorite, and by far the most prominent tourist attraction, was the Buda castle on Castle Hill, which contains a 200 hundred room 13th century castle built in the 12th century. This castle is still being restored after being bombed during WW II. However, much of the restoration has been completed, and today it includes the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, which we did not have time to visit.
We did get to view and enter the Matthias Church, completed in 1269. The church features impressive stained-glass windows and an altar. During its long history, it was taken over by the Turks and used as a mosque until it was taken back and restored to its baroque style in the 1700s.
Walking through the streets of Castle Hill, you can eat at many of the restaurants featuring pastries and Hungarian food or purchase souvenirs. It is a working residential city that has been impressively cleaned, restoring the buildings to their natural light limestone color. This part of the city is serviced by electric buses and service vehicles. Our tour also took us over to the Pest side of the town past ST. Anne in downtown Pest.
With only a day and a half in Budapest, we could not experience as much of this beautiful city as we wanted. However, we saw enough to make a note to return to see more of the city and possible countryside.
Hungary is slightly larger than Scotland, with a population of 9.8 million. Even though they are part of the European Union and Nato, they have not met the financial standards to use the Euro, so their currency is called the Forint or (HUF). There is no need to exchange your money for Forints. All places of business accept Euro and will give you change in Euro as well.
Although Hungary is a Parliamentary Republic that appoints the Prime Minister every four years, Viktor Orban has been Hungary’s Prime Minister since 2010. There has been much criticism of his continued rule and questions about the tactics used by the ruling Fidesz Party. However, we never witnessed or experienced any signs of police or military action during our visit. On the contrary, the Hungarian guides were all happy and very proud of their country and democracy, which they attained in 1989 with the fall of the communist bloc.