Is Budapest worth visiting?
After a week of hearing from pretty much every traveller I met that I absolutely HAD to go to Budapest, I came with big expectations. To my big surprise, I am now leaving quite unimpressed by Budapest.
It feels weird to not have liked a city so beloved by many, but I just didn’t fall for it.
I thought it was pretty, I kept thinking that to myself. But pretty buildings alone did not do it for me this time. I think my expectations of the city were too high, built by an overflow of positive information that I did not take the time to think that not everyone thinks the same way and travel is experienced by everyone differently. So I ended up disappointed.
Budapest Is Beautiful But…
More than many other European cities, the city of Budapest has enough sights to keep the most curious of explorers wandering around the city for days.
The views from both sides of the Danube river are as astonishing as they are gorgeous to look at, especially at sunset.
The buildings are majestic and I had perfect sunny and warm days, so WHY IN THE WORLD DIDN’T I ENJOY BUDAPEST???
It was just too perfect….
I found that the Inner City center was too aimed at tourists. A stroll through Veres Pálné will having you looking at more souvenir shops and Thai massage parlours than you would ever want.
There are so many western coffee shops and fast-food stands in the city center that I did not feel I was thousands of kilometres from home but rather in my own backyard. The many restaurants promoting a “Tourist Menu” are also all over the place.
Even the thermal baths of Széchenyi and Gellèrt thermal baths were so filled with tourists that it was hard to even consider going in.
Overall, I did not feel I was in Hungary at all, but I could have easily been in any other capital in the world.
Getting Away From The Tourist Traps
So on my second day I tried as much to stay away from the tourist area and hiked up to the Liberty Statue of Budapest on Gellért Hill.
It is a quick but strenuous hike of about 15 minutes to the top, and it actually offers amazing air view sights of the city.
Even though the top was crowded, it offered some peaceful spots where I was able to enjoy myself. I actually spent the entire late morning and early afternoon just walking and wandering around the Citadella that surrounds the statue.
Then I took a walk by the Danube river and ended up at the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Pest side of the city. It also offered some insane views of the Budapest Parliament building where I had been the day before, so it was nice to see this impressive structure from a different angle.
And yet, here I was with a meh swirling in the back of my mind.
So I Took A Day Trip
After much walking around Budapest and discovering its artful displays and structures, I decided to spend the day far from the capital. So I took a day trip to Szentendre, a small county about 1 hour from Budapest.
I visited Szentendre on a Sunday, which meant I was right on time for (what I think was) the Sunday market (it could very well be the weekend market).
Sztendre was exactly what I needed to feel that small-city feeling again. A stroll down through its colourful streets and central market, the vendors selling local food and products, were really what I needed to really connect with the country. Zipping down a pint at a hole-in-the-wall bar where no one barely spoke any English was something I had missed dearly and even though I only spent a day in the city, it by far outweighed all the time I spent in Budapest.
Back in Budapest
Once back in the city I kept thinking why I hadn’t enjoyed my time in Budapest. After all, apart from the tourist area the city did offer some very nice architecture, green spaces, and some of the best views I had seen in a capital city so far.
So is Budapest worth visiting? Yes it is.
So, what was the problem……
It would take a few days for me to find out that the city had changed much in the last couple of years. During my first few days in Romania I spoke with a traveller who had been may times to Budapest in the last couple of years, and she spoke about how the city went from being an authentic capital a few years back, to being overwhelmed by tourists in the last few years.
As for me, I really did not have the feeling of being in Hungary…..I could have been anywhere with a big tourist trap really…..I would have loved to spend more time in Hungary, to see more of the REAL Hungary. Maybe next time, because there will be a next time.
Have you ever felt underwhelmed by a city you knew you should have liked? What was that like?