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Budapest: Rich in history, culture, and cuisine

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December 18th, 2015
Budapest's famous Chain Bridge at night
Budapest's famous Chain Bridge at night

You might not think of Budapest, capital of land-locked Hungary, as a cruise destination, but because the city is divided by the romantic Danube River, cruise ships ply those waters on a constant basis, with a stop in Budapest being one of the highlights.

As with any major European city, Budapest has a long and storied history, beginning, surprisingly, with Celtic inhabitants. It, like all of Europe, became a part of the Roman Empire; when Rome fell, other tribes arrived, including the Hungarians in the ninth century. The list of battles where the Hungarians either held control over their country or lost it goes on and on. But the joy of traveling is to discover the history of a place while standing in its midst—you’ll be doubly rewarded when visiting Budapest because your eyes will get to feast on its great beauty while your mind soaks in its history. (Not to mention that your body will absorb some fine cuisine, starting with goulash but extending to so many other notable local dishes imbibed with wonderful Hungarian wine.)

Buda and Pest

Budapest was two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube. It was united in 1873 when it became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And there are amazing sights on both sides of the river along with graceful bridges such as the famous Chain Bridge, so that if your viewpoint is a boat in the middle of the Danube, you can admire the Hungarian Parliament on the Pest side or the Buda Castle on the Buda side. These buildings are all lit up at night making them appear even more magical. 

Budapest has been recognized as one of the world’s most livable cities, which makes it great for visiting. Many streets are closed to traffic so you can wander around freely. And while Hungarian is not a widely spoken language, these days, most people in the tourist trades all speak English, so you really don’t have to worry about feeling like a stranger in a strange land. 

Tourist-friendly

While there are plans for Hungary to replace its currency the Florint with the Euro, so far that hasn’t happened. That means prices tend to be a bit lower than in the Euro zone, so eating out and shopping are more appealing. If you like porcelain and dinnerware, the two main Hungarian manufacturers are Herend and Zsolnay, and you can find both pretty much everywhere, as well as lots of folk pottery with colorful flowers. But Budapest is a cosmopolitan city, so there are antique stores (many gathered together in the northern section of town) and used book dealers as well as all the latest fashion shops, many with familiar brand names.

The big chain hotels are all represented. If you’re looking for something a little different, the Aria Hotel is only a few blocks from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, one of your must-sees, on a pedestrian-only street. It’s a boutique hotel themed around music, so your room might be dedicated to Beethoven, Miles Davis, or the Beatles. They serve their guests free wine and snacks from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and the rooftop bar offers great views of the city. 

If your arrival into Budapest isn’t on a cruise ship, there’s a modern airport not far from downtown, and transportation in Budapest is excellent with a subway system as well as buses and taxis, which are pretty easy to find even on a rainy day.

Budapest has a lot to offer tourists. It’s a culture you may know little about, but if you’re the curious type, you’ll come away having expanded your horizons. And as for eye candy, few cities can boast as much architectural splendor. You’ll feel welcome wherever you go and your appetite will be sated in a most pleasing manner in just about any restaurant. And if you do arrive by boat, when you sail away, either up or down the Danube toward your next destination, you’ll find yourself wishing you could have stayed just a little bit longer.

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