A Cocktail of Past & Present

Namratha A. Rai
Published: February 2018

Hungary is a destination that calls to those who want to experience the best of Europe

Europe has always been a fascinating destination for many. The continent being diverse in history and culture, food and language among other things, has much to offer in terms of travel and experience. Lying in the Carpathian Basin, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, the Alps and the Dinaric Alps and seven countries, namely Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia & Montenegro, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine, is Hungary, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With its cobbled streets, thermal bath houses, galleries and museums, stunning landscape, idyllic countryside setting, vineyards, numerous castles, architecture and buildings steeped in history, night life and clubs, this country is truly a cocktail of the past and present.

Its capital, Budapest was formed in 1873 by unifying the three cities – Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. The River Danube bisects the City into two main parts – Buda and Pest, which are joined by the Chain Bridge or Széchenyi Lánchíd. Budapest is known as Little Paris of Middle Europe and Paris of Eastern Europe or Paris of the East for a reason. The City has everything for everyone – from picturesque sights to the culture and culinary delights.

There are plenty of ways to take in the beauty of this place. One can take a boat down the River Danube and get lost admiring the buildings that vie for your attention. There are companies that offer day trips as well as night trips; with the buildings lit up in the night, a trip down the river after sunset would only make it that much more mesmerizing. Some of the magnificent sights are Buda Castle, Fishermen’s Bastion, Gellért Spa, Gresham Palace, historical bridges and churches, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Margaret Island, Matthias Church, the National Theatre and the Parliament Building, among others. Besides taking a leisure trip down the river, one can walk into the several shopping malls, savour traditional Hungarian food, or watch a performance at one of Europe’s finest opera houses – the Hungarian State Opera House.

To get a feel of the nightlife here, a visit to a ruin bar is a must. Held in dilapidated or abandoned buildings, or in the courtyards of such places, these ruin pubs are the best places to meet the locals, enjoy good music, food, the ambience and décor. From eclectic, old and colourful furniture, tapestry and paintings on the walls and ceiling, interesting pieces like bicycles hanging from the ceiling to the music, food and laid-back atmosphere, one can feel the excitement in the air. These places are also known to conduct workshops, gigs, exhibitions, musical and cultural events. Szimpla Kert, Instant, Fogasház, Corvin Teto and Grandio are just a few of the well-known ruin bars in Hungary.

It is said every place has character that is its own. So it is with Buda and Pest. The two have distinct personalities – Buda, on the Western side of the Danube, has an old world charm with its hills and caves. It is also home to Castle Hill also known as Castle District, a UNESCO World Heritage site. With the Hapsburg Palace, Roman ruins and thermal spas like the Gellért or Rudas Baths, Buda offers breathtaking panorama.

Pest, on the Eastern side of the Danube, has a cosmopolitan feel. Here, one can find flea markets, an array of bars, eateries and Michelin-starred restaurants, antique stores, old buildings in varied styles like the Great Synagogue (Romantic), the Opera House (Renaissance), the imposing Parliament Building (Neo-Gothic), St. Stephen’s Basilica (Neo-Classical) and the House of Terror, which is now a memorial museum. The district also houses the famous Váci utca or Váci Street, a street in Central Budapest that has a number of restaurants and shops primarily for tourists.

Hungary has been through quite a bit – invasions and occupations, destruction during World War II and the 1956 Revolution have in certain ways left their mark on Hungarian culture. The crumbling old structures that are left tell us of the glorious past that was. While preserving these remnants of history and culture, the country has undergone a makeover in terms of architecture, cuisine and lifestyle. You can have the best of both worlds here in Hungary with beautiful contrasts on either side of the Chain Bridge.