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Budapest: the true Paris of the East

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"The Paris of the East."

From Beirut to Warsaw, the title has been doled out so liberally that it has become somewhat of a cliché. Budapest is often a recipient of the title and with its beautiful Baroque-style architecture, bountiful restaurants and sparkling lights; it is perhaps the most deserving.

The Hungarian capital has become a hugely popular European destination as of late, having seen an immense boom in tourist numbers in recent years. An upcoming and affordable city, Budapest should be on every backpacker’s checklist.

 

Budapest by night, credit: Wikimedia Commons

Most backpackers tend to stick to hostels but Budapest is incredibly affordable by European standards so do consider splashing out on an Airbnb or hotel if visiting for a few days.

Having met up with my girlfriend in Germany and catching an overnight Eurolines coach together from there, we managed to find ourselves a bright and spacious studio apartment in the centre of town just a short walk from the Danube for only £34.50 a night.

Compare this to the Paris of the West, the real Paris, where you could easily find yourself paying double or triple this for an apartment of a similar size and location.

 

Not bad for £35

It’s not just the accommodation that tourists will find cheap either; a meal for two at the popular Hummus Bar near Liberty Square came to just 5,000 Hungarian Forints (that’s £12!) including drinks.

Indecisive diners should pay a visit to Comme Chez Soi, located in the fifth district. Serving mostly Italian, but also French and Hungarian cuisine, Comme Chez Soi has something for everyone and is incredibly popular so book ahead if you plan on arriving at peak hours.

Despite the restaurant’s popularity, prime location and rave reviews, food is still surprisingly cheap with a three-course meal for two coming to a little over £25.

British visitors looking for breakfast should avoid fried options or be prepared to find antipasti, boiled eggs and side salad on their plate; not quite what most would expect from a full English. However, you will be pleased to know that the many café’s dotted throughout town serve up some pretty wonderful pastries, French toast and barista coffees.

A "traditional English breakfast"

But there’s far more reason to visit the Paris of the East than the low cost alone.

The city is truly beautiful and by night the views from the banks of the Danube River are simply breath taking. Taking a walk across one of the city’s many bridges after dark is a must do, or even better, buy a ticket for one of the many boat cruises. Evening cruises are available with Budapest Danube Cruises starting from 4,440 HUF (£10) for students and Budapest cardholders.

Cruises are just over an hour long and seeing the city’s biggest monuments illuminated by flood lighting on both sides of the river is truly spectacular. Evening tours leave every half hour to forty-five minutes starting at 20.15 in the summer months and passengers get a free glass of beer or champagne during the trip.

 

Sunset over the Chain Bridge, credit: Wikimedia Commons

For daytime activities, consider signing up for one the city’s many bike tours. Budabike run daily highlight tours at 10am and 3pm, beginning at St Stephen’s Basilica in District five.

The tour takes place entirely on the Pest (Eastern) side of the river and stops at some of the city’s biggest landmarks including Parliament, Hero’s Square and many remnants of the cold war.

The tour guides are wonderfully well informed about the city and have all kinds of interesting and quirky facts to share with riders, such as the fact that no building can legally be built higher than 96 metres, to commiserate the first settlement in the region in the year 896. I won’t giveaway anymore spoilers, but those who want to hear the rest can book highlight tour tickets for just €20. Budabike also run nightly evening tours for €25 and food tours starting at €65.

 

St Stephen's Basilica

For those who would rather traverse Budapest on foot, there are a few must see destinations. First on your list should be the gorgeous Hungarian parliament building, an imposing gothic structure consisting of 40 kilograms of solid gold.

Come at the right time and you might just get to see the changing of the guard, with plenty of pomp, ceremony and sword twirling it’s a sight not to be missed. For a little rest and relaxation, make sure to visit the Széchenyi thermal baths, the largest medicinal baths in Europe.

Finally, be sure to visit Buda Castle on the Buda side of the river. On a slight incline overlooking the Danube, the stunning castle is a great place to stand for breath taking views of the Pest side of town; especially by night when the city comes alive with romance and truly lives up to its name as the Paris of the East.

Széchenyi thermal baths

Coaches provided by Eurolines, passes start from €195 for 15 days and can be purchased from www.eurolines.com/en/eurolines-pass/ 

Budapest Card provided by Go To Hungary, passes provided unlimited use of public transport, free museum entry and discounts for over 100 attractions. Prices start from £11 at https://budapest-card.com/en

Bike tour provided by Budabike, prices start from €20 for a two hour tour. Booking at www.budabike.com/en/

Student Travel Writer 2015




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