Travel: Budapest, Hungary
When you don’t have the time to go on long holidays, planning the perfect weekend get-away becomes of crucial importance: the ideal spot should be far away, but easy to reach; warm, but not too hot; big enough to be entertaining, but not overwhelmingly; and affordable, without being dangerously deprived.
For a bank holiday weekend, Budapest ticked all those boxes. It is located far enough south to be summery in May, but close enough to fly from Stansted in two hours; it is big enough to keep you entertained for three days, but compact enough to navigate without constantly consulting a map; and the cost of living is so low that you can enjoy the weekend without having to watch your purse too closely.
And so my boyfriend and I flew out to Budapest for a long weekend. Impressed by how quick and easy it was to get to the city centre from the airport, we were greeted by the owner of the our rented apartment. After providing us with plenty of travel advice, the friendly woman poured us a shot of Palinka – Hungary’s famous fruit brandy.
We hadn’t planned out a holiday itinerary, apart from one thing: a trip to the Széchenyi thermal baths (pictured). Completed at the end of last century in neo-baroque style, this bath complex is located right in the heart of Budapest’s beautiful city park and features at least 15 indoor pools – most of them warm – plus a range of saunas, a cold plunge pool, and three outdoor pools, two of which are warm.
Equipped with plenty of snacks and drinks, we spent a relaxing afternoon dipping in and out of the water and lounging in the sun. At just over £10 a head for a full day, the experience was excellent value for money and, judging by the multitude of languages spoken around us, loads of tourists (though few Hungarians) thought the same.
Less touristy was our trip into the Buda hills, which are divided from the city centre – Pest – by the river Danube. Sitting in the chairlift, we were amazed by the sudden tranquillity and the wonderfully clean and fresh air. From the lookout tower on János Hill, the highest peak in Budapest, we enjoyed a great panorama of the whole city.
Back at the bottom of the hills, we rented a bike and cycled around the sights of the city – the parliament, whose design was inspired by its London counterpart; St Stephen’s Basilica; a string of beautiful squares; and Margit Island, which is basically a park floating on a river.
Throughout the weekend we were pleasantly surprised by the absence of the thunder, storms and rain which the forecasters continuously and confidently predicted. It seems that their prognosis was correct, but their aim was off: the weather spent the weekend sitting over the UK instead, leaving us to enjoy Széchenyi’s warm waters whilst our home city took a rather chillier bath.