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Winter in Budapest – Boat Trips on Danube and Thermal Baths

The week before Christmas last year, we visited the capital of Hungary. It wasn’t the first time when we came here, but we really like the city and revisit it periodically.

Due to (or thanks to 🙂 ) modernization works at the Airport in Târgu Mureş, Wizzair has redirected the flights to Budapest from Cluj, so we took advantage of this opportunity and went by plane. The flight takes about 40 minutes, and once you arrive at the destination, from the airport to the city center you have to take the bus and then the subway. There are also trains and buses from Cluj to Budapest, daily, the trip takes about 7-8 hours, and if you prefer to drive there, you can reach Budapest in about 6 hours – usually, the customs office is not crowded.

We stayed at a hostel in the center of the city, which also had some regular rooms (i.e. for 2 people with private bathroom and everything), so we paid very little, otherwise, there were only some pensions in the periphery areas at this price. We also had breakfast at the hostel – a Swedish buffet, with almost the same food every morning, but also really cheap.

Budapest is a truly European metropolis, fortunately not destroyed by communists. Unlike Romanian cities, there are very few apartment buildings in the central area, you have to go far to the outskirts of the city to get to the workers’ quarters. The architecture of the central areas is superb, especially along the Danube, around the parliament.

During our vacation, we went on two boat trips on the Danube: the first one by day and the other one by night. Both rides were awesome, it’s a great way to see some of the city’s most exciting areas, and the pictures are really cool when taken from the middle of the river. However, during winter the wind is very cold on the upper deck, so you can enjoy the views from the covered cabin downstairs, which is quite ok, especially when you’re watching the city lights through the window while having a nice cup o mulled wine.

You can, of course, walk along the river and admire the beautiful view, but in December the ice cold wind gets to your bones and urgently sends you to hide in a coquette bar and indulge yourself with a hot beverage to warm up. During summer, there is a lot happening on the two islands: lots of joggers, bikers, people just relaxing on the grass, music festivals, sports competitions and so on. But even in the winter, we could see courageous people sailing in small, open boats on the blue Danube waters.

We got the boat cruises, alongside numerous discounts and free entrances for various venues, by buying tickets for the Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus, the double decker that takes you to the most important areas of the city and tells you, in the headphones, about the sights you are passing. In this case too, it’s kind of hard to stay out in the open air on the top of the bus, but inside is warm and you have good visibility from there too.

We’re not going to tell you much about the most famous sights now because we’ve seen them before and did not come back to them this time. Nevertheless, we recommend to visit them all if it’s your first time here. What we did differently in 2016, was checking out the thermal baths of Budapest.

If you never heard of them, you need to make a visit. There are over 30 thermal baths in the city, and about 7 of them date back several centuries. Some are almost the same as a century ago. It’s nothing like in Romania, where most of such places are poorly kept and frequented mostly by the elderly. In Hungary things are very different.

First of all, they are all renovated and look impeccable. Secondly, it is full of young people inside, especially foreign tourists. Thirdly, many of them are located in historical buildings with a superb interior and exterior architecture. You feel like an ancient emperor or a medieval king in there. And when it’s cold outside, it’s great to spend a few hours in hot water. Budapest is the capital of thermal waters, and the Turkish and Roman influences can be observed in the way they are designed.

We visited two such baths during our holiday at the Hungarian neighbors. The first one was Rudas Baths, located on the right bank of the Danube, at the foot of the hill. It should be noted that the city is divided in two parts: on the right side of the river is Buda, a hilly area with houses, villas and the old palace, and on the left side is Pesta, with modern and historical buildings alike, on a flat surface.

The building that houses the Rudas thermal baths is not so impressive from the outside, but looks very good inside. There are several pools with thermal water of different temperatures. Everything is clean and arranged. There is cold drinking water, available for free to visitors who want to cool off when they get out of the hot water (this is customary in all Budapest thermal baths). What we really loved about this place was the outer rooftop pool located on a round dome from where you can see the Danube with its beautiful bridges as well as a large part of the city on the other bank. It is a great experience to sit there in hot water, see how the snowflakes meet and look at the metropolis at night!

Also, we found out later that, at Rudas, on certain days, when the baths are open to men or two women only, the place is an informal meeting place for gay people. We thought we should mention this, in case someone is interested.

The other thermal bath we visited was the famous Gellert, located in the hotel with the same name dating back to the 19th century. The design is superb, everything looks like in movies about the life of the pre-war millionaires. You feel pampered here and you can taste a piece of Imperial atmosphere from the time of the Habsburgs. Gellert has an uncovered pool above too, but the view is less spectacular.

The entrance fees to the thermal baths are not very high. It’s even cheaper than at Therme in Bucharest. We strongly recommend you to go, we can’t wait to try other baths when we come back here!

Besides having long hot baths in amazing locations, we walked a lot on the many pedestrian streets of the capital, where there are the ideal conditions for unlimited shopping if you are passionate about it. We also visited the Christmas fairs, organized in several areas and squares of the city. We saw some traditional goodies there, such as different types of langos pies, huge pretzels, goulas soup and much more. We entered several shops with hundreds of types of paprika and have sinned at Burger King (because it is no longer in Romania).

A very interesting place that we recommend to visit is “Hospital in the Rock,” a system of caves and tunnels under the castle on the Buda hill, where in the Second World War a hospital was protected from allies bombing, transformed later in an anti-atomic bunker. The museum is arranged in the form of a hospital from the past, includes medical equipment from back then, mannequins and scenes from medical interventions. The guide walks the groups of visitors through the narrow hallways, stopping and describing in detail the exhibits.

The central market of the city is another interesting place to see. It’s probably the most impressive peasant market we’ve ever seen. Located in a historical building, it has now become more of a place for foreign tourists than for locals eager to shop, so it’s better not to expect low prices.

We also went to the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, a place that hosted Vlad Tepes (the legendary Romanian Dracula) for a while. It’s worth paying a visit there, there are some dark medieval tunnels that translate you into another era. The labyrinth can also be visited in the dark with torches, which is a special experience.

The citadel is a great place to take pictures with a wide and beautiful panorama over the city. In the past, it was an imperial fortress, built by Austrians two centuries ago, after the Hungarian revolution. We couldn’t enter the Castle because it was under renovation, and the Military History Museum was inexplicably closed. But we saw the Fishermen Bastion and the Mathias Church (where Matthew Corvin got married).

Our amazing 5 days in the Hungarian capital flew really fast. Budapest is a place where we always want to come back, because we feel like there’s never enough time to see and do everything we plan. If you never visited this beautiful place, you just have to. If you’ve been here before, it’s worth to come back. Szia!

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