Budapest is the ideal city for the Turkish travelers looking for a weekend away in Europe. The first Turkish Airlines Budapest flight on Saturdays leaves Istanbul at 07:30 and arrives in Budapest at 08:35, giving you the whole day to enjoy the city. Our return flight was at 20:05 on Sunday, so we had 2 full days to enjoy the sights of Budapest.
Since we had our kids with us, for the first time in a Europe trip, we arranged a guide and transfer service. Though it was only a one-hour flight, the kids had their share of sleep and were in high spirits when we arrived in Budapest. Not being met by anybody, we kind of felt neglected and disappointed, but when we discovered that the tour would start from our hotel, we chilled out and took a cab to our hotel.
Our hotel was Millenium Court Apart Hotel which is just by the Danube River. It’s a hotel I will highly recommend to anyone traveling with their kids. They reserve suites with two bedrooms for families like us. Plus, the hotels location in the center is very advantageous.
As soon as we had settled down in our hotel room, we went down to the lobby to meet our guide. Luckily we had remembered to take our winter gear (scarf/mittens/hats) to protect ourselves from the cold December weather. After all the introductions were completed, we started the tour with our guide Murat.
Our first stop was Budapest’s most famous street: Vaci Utca. The street is a fully pedestrianized area with souvenir shops on either side of the street. As we walked along the street, our guide got started giving us information about the history of the area.
Buda, which is one of the sides of the city that the Danube River divides into two, is relatively hillier than the Pest side of the city, and the city’s fortress is located on this side. Sightseeing around this area of Buda gave us a kind of feeling like we had travelled back in time. The other side, Pest is flatter and visitors who enjoy seeing the more modern side of the city prefer that part.
Strolling around Vaci Utca, we came across a big old building that looked like a train station; to our surprise it turned out to be an indoor market where you can find everything from food to clothes to souvenirs.
We added that building to our list for the following day and planned to spare some more time and shop there. To get a little warmed up and grab a bite we went to a very small shop which is famous for its cups of soup. With our cups of soup warming our hands, we started walking to our minibus which would take us to the Heroes’ Square, Gellert Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Chain Bridge.
As we reached our first stop, The Heroes’ Square, Asian sculptures took us by surprise. We were told that the seven Asian statues represent the seven Uighur tribes that the Hungarians originate from. There are also statues of important kings and commanders from Hungarian history. According to the information we got from our guide, one of those important commanders was Hunyadi Janoş. He was a Hungarian king who was famous for his strong defense against the Ottoman siege. When he won his last victory in defense, it was midnight. In honor of this victory, an order was issued that all the church bells should be rung. From that day on it became a tradition that the church bells are rung every day at midnight. So, if you suddenly hear the church bells ringing at midnight during your visit, don’t worry, they are ringing for you.
We wondered why the square was called the ‘Square of Heroes’, and our guide told us a very sad story about 17 thousand Hungarian youngsters who were killed in just two days when they rebelled against Russians in 1956. To break the resistance against Russian occupancy, the Russian Army killed 17 thousand young men that they collected from their homes within two days. This turned out to be one of the bloodiest slaughters to be found not just in the history of Europe but in the history of the whole world.
On the square just above the depiction of the seven Uighur tribes, on the top, the double cross was really interesting to us. We learned that when the Hungarians converted to Christianity, the king at the time, told the Pope that he wanted to choose the religious leader of Hungary and the Pope agreed to that. The cross represents the kingdom and the religious leadership.
It didn’t take us long to realize that we had made a huge mistake when we took our mittens off to take some photos of the square. We were fooled by the bright weather, it was freezing. After a few shots, couldn’t stand the cold a minute longer and left the square running to our warm shuttle that was waiting for us nearby.
Behind the square there is a big park and a zoo. If you’re visiting Budapest with your kids you can also try to spare some time to drop by the zoo. We didn’t have the opportunity because we were told that due to the cold weather the animals were kept in their shelters. Traveling on our bus in the same area, we came across the biggest ice rink in Europe. Since the freezing process was still going on, it wasn’t open. That’s why, we just peeked at it and continued our tour. During summer the rink becomes a lake and is used for little boat trips.
On the way we learned something very interesting about the buildings in Budapest. In the past, the first floor of the buildings had balconies and one family, the home owners, would live on that floor, the second floor was reserved for guests and visitors, the third floor used to be rented out, and the top floor was for the servants. Think about it, the floor with the view and today generally the most valuable one used to be for the employees. Bear in mind that back in those days there weren’t any elevators, so going up and down the stairs all the time was probably very exhausting for the servants.
We passed through another square which is called Oktogon, and continued on our way after learning that the buildings surrounding the square line up forming an octagonal that originates the name.
On our way, we saw the Chain Bridge and we listened to the sad story of its architect. The British architect of the 380m long bridge, William Tierney Clark, said that if anyone found any mistakes on the bridge, he would commit suicide. The outline of bridge was completed without any mistakes. Nevertheless on the opening day, a little kid told everybody that the lion figures at the entrance of the bridge didn’t have tongues, and the architect with the burden of his words kept his promise and committed suicide.
We put an end to the sad stories at the hill where the Fisherman’s Bastion is. From this spot the largest building of Budapest, The Parliament Building, can be seen with all its flamboyance. According to what we had learned from our guide the Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in Europe, after Germany’s and UK’s. The 96 meter high building is so large that people say fifty five-storied buildings could fit into it. Out of respect to the mighty building, there are no buildings higher than 96 meters and they won’t build any.
On this hill, which is called the Fortress Region, you will also find the Mathias Church named after the most famous Hungarian King, King Mathias. The church was used as a mosque during the Ottoman era.
We continued our tour with the Gellert Hill. It’s an amazing hill amongst green facing the Danube River. We listened to one more sad story there. According to the legend, Bishop Gellert was put in a barrel and rolled down into the deep from the top of the hill by the pagans who didn’t want to convert to Christianity. The hill was named after that incident. There is also a monument for St Gellert at the foot of the hill. We listened to our guide’s advice and posed for a photo and shared it on the social media (the Demir Family on a cruise of the Danube River).
After sunset, it got dark and cold, so we called it a day and returned to our hotel, finishing the first tour with our guide. After resting a little at the hotel, to have dinner and enjoy the famous Xmas Market, we hit the Vaci Street.
At Vaci Utca we walked among lots of gift shops and very elegant stores and reached the market. It was very crowded so we held the kid’s hands very tight. After strolling around buying souvenirs we went into a restaurant that the kids chose to grab a bite to eat. After dinner and a tour of the market, it was time for kids to go to bed, so we headed back to our hotel, but out of the blue a nice smell tempted us, they were cooking something interesting on a coal fire. I think I won’t be able the spell the name of it right, but the smell was out of this world. We preferred the one with chocolate. If you go to Budapest, I strongly recommend you to try it.
It was our second day in Budapest. After a good night sleep and breakfast we wore our warmest outfits and hit the road. We headed to that building we saw the day before, the one resembling a train station, the 3 story market. It was a fabulous place, we listened to the advice of the friends who had visited Budapest before and bought hot pepper/tomato paste and again a few souvenirs and proceeded.
We wanted to walk on the Elisabeth Bridge and watch the Danube River but the weather was so cold that we could hardly take a few shots before turning back to the Vaci Utca. We came across a small park and as the kids played there and had fun we enjoyed watching them.
On the way the kids found a very interesting place called Icebar. To our surprise it was a small entertainment park, and we couldn’t help but go and take a look. The entrance fee was 8 Euros (children under 6 enter free of charge). Before entering they make the kids wear a poncho to protect themselves from the cold weather. The kids were grinning from ear to ear when they got out. According to what they said, everything inside the park was made out of ice.
Our second day in Budapest was quite steady. Until we felt too cold and took shelter in the cafes, we strolled around the alleys. That was how we spent the whole day. Our last destination was decided by a unanimous vote: of course it was the Hard Rock Cafe. We had huge and delicious burgers with fries which we polished off competing with the kids. After that we got on our minibus which took us back to the airport and said goodbye to this beautiful city divided into two by the Danube River.