Having had a fantastic day yesterday in Buda it was on day two that we decided to repeat our adventure but on the Pest side of the river. Once again we found ourselves walking along Vaci street – our destination today was St. Stephen’s Basilica. Other than the usual shop and restaurant owners which we had seen yesterday, we also met several individuals who were asking about collecting food/donations for the homeless (we had managed to veer around them yesterday whilst outside Buda Castle). Sometimes such individuals can be a little persistent but we found that if you explain you have no cash and then take a picture of the website they are asking you to visit (to show you have made a note of it), they soon leave you alone.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is named after St Stephen, the first King of Hungary. An interesting fact is that his hand remains inside the Basilica to this day. For a small price (it seems you can make money out of anything – even seeing a dead hand!) the ornamental housing will even light up giving you a slightly better view. If you want to see this but are on a budget then just hold back as if you wait long enough someone will come along and pay the price. Once inside the Basilica just head to the back left hand side through two lots of double doors and it can be found in its own chapel.
Having walked round the interior ground level (donations only, no entrance fee) and taken some impressive shots of the inside dome (which we instantly added to instagram) we headed for the panoramic experience. This section did come with a cost but the 1100 HUF per person was well worth it. You can climb the stairs – a great way to keep fit or can take the lifts most of the way (at no extra cost!) On the way up you get a pretty good appreciation of the internal structure of the Basilica and from the top have breathtaking views of Pest and out towards Buda. A top tip here is to take a map/guidebook up with you as then you can orient yourself and use it to work out what you can see in each direction as this isn’t clearly explained at the top.
After a quick drink (to warm up) and bite to eat at the Californian Coffee Company – to abuse the free WIFI – we headed towards Andrassy ut 60 to visit the House of Terror Museum. This museum is well worth the visit but you need to leave a good couple of hours if you want to take it all in without feeling rushed. A few things to note are that bags are not allowed inside the museum and although there is a cloakroom this is not of a particularly high standard in terms of security – just a woman sitting at a desk with an open room behind her full of coats and bags. Furthermore, there are a lot of information sheets – around one per room so you need to be up for a fair bit of reading. Failing this you can opt for an audioguide but this will increase the entrance cost. Once inside though, the history buff or keen learner will have plenty to get their teeth into. You will learn about both the fascist Nazi and Soviet communist regimes that were enforced upon the people of Hungary. The museum also serves as a memorial to all those who were victims of being detained, tortured and often killed within the building. We left the museum with minds reeling, eyes a little tired from reading but better informed about the role that Hungary played during the 20th Century, particularly with respect to World War Two.
In need of a complete detox, we wandered around until we stumbled upon Cafe Vian – the perfect place to discuss what we had seen, wrap up in the provided blankets beneath outdoor heaters and order what turned out to be a delicious cup of hot chocolate. As the night drew colder and those looking for a location for an evening meal started to flood into the establishment, we gathered our belongings, donned our warm clothing and headed back towards Vaci street. It was here we spotted the Hard Rock Cafe and were pulled in by the strains of Bon Jovi’s “It’s my life” playing each time the door opened. It wasn’t long before we ended up in the bar, one Hurricane and one Drum Solo cocktail ordered, and were humming along to some classic rock whilst gazing around the room at the displayed memorabilia. We left slightly tipsy on our one cocktail each (!) having not eaten and being complete lightweights (we rarely, if ever drink!) and headed in search of food.
One of the great things about Budapest is that even in October, at the end of the main tourist season, there are still plenty of places to eat late at night. Now, it may be because we were famished having not eaten for a fair few hours, or it may have been the effect of the cocktail on an empty stomach but the location we ate at has to be a contender for the greatest food establishment in Budapest. The location: Old Street Cafe on Vaci Street. Not only were the staff friendly as we giggled our way up the steps and through the doors, and not only did we get to listen to some Hungarian music as we dined, but the food was exquisite. So much so that I wanted to return here the following night after only one mouthful (we didn’t though as we always try to explore as much of a place as we can). I’m not very good at describing food and hope that I don’t put anyone off but we ordered the Chicken with Spinach and Cheese sauce (for myself) and the Goose with red cabbage and mash (for Anthony).
If you want to walk off your dinner a little before retiring for the evening then I can highly recommend a walk along the lit Danube riverfront that runs parallel with Vaci street. There are a number of statues that look great in the amber glow of the lights plus you get to watch the boats on the river sail by with Buda as a backdrop. The various bridges that cross the Danube are also alight and full of people still walking, cycling and watching the world go by.
Yes it’s another full day but if you only have one day to explore Pest on a budget then there is plenty to do and yet still have time to relax.
For tips on planning, transferring to the city centre from the airport or what to do in Buda then please see our “Budapest: Day 1 in Buda” post.