Note that my trips are paid for by me, myself, and I, so the opinions are my own and I'm not being sponsored by anyone.
Little know fact: The largest population of Hungarians in the USA, settled in my hometown of Cleveland. I learned this during a tour in Budapest. The tour guide was pleasantly surprised when she learned that I was from Cleveland, and I do recall having a lot of classmates with Hungarian last names.
This was my second attempt at visiting Budapest. In 2021, I booked my flight, Airbnb, Budapest Pass, Parliament Tour, etc., and I was excited for my trip. At the airport, the lady at check in asked, "Are you vaccinated?" I replied, "Yes." Then she asked, "Where were you vaccinated?" I said, "Here, in Qatar." She then informed me that the Hungarian government only recognized vaccinations from the EU, United Arab Emirates, USA...countries that weren't Qatar. Therefore, I wasn't allowed to board the plane. There was no statement, that I found, on any official or unofficial travel websites that stated travelers to Hungary had to be vaccinated in certain countries. The ticket agent said that I could cross the land boarder into Hungary, but I could not arrive by plane. I, highly annoyed, decided to go to Vienna instead. Regulations can be so ridiculous sometimes. Fast forward post-COVID and I was finally able to cross another country off my bucket list.
Budapest is an amazing city with a rich history. Once called the “Queen of the Danube,” Budapest has long been the focal point of the nation and a lively cultural center. Although Hungary was a Soviet bloc country, "soft" Communism or Goulash Communism was practiced following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was a less restrictive version of socialism. Unlike their counterparts in other Soviet bloc countries, Hungary was the easiest country to get permission to travel abroad. Policies at that time had the goal of creating high-quality living standards for the people of Hungary. There were economic reforms with elements of regulated market economics as well as an improved human rights record, which represented a quiet reform and deviation from the Stalinist principles applied to Hungary in the 1940s.
Street art of Time Magazine's 1957 Man of the Year: The Hungarian Freedom Fighter
Given the rise of extreme right wing rhetoric in Hungary, some of my friends expressed concern about me going there. My response was: "You can't compare New York City to East Texas." Budapest is a major city with a history of diverse populations and tourism. Like most major cities, it tends to be more liberal than smaller towns. As a black woman, I had no issues in Budapest. I was even invited to coffee by a local woman.
The most interesting experiences that I had in Budapest were visiting: A ruin bar, an apartment building that protected and housed Jews during WWII, a train graveyard called Istvántelek Train Yard, some Roman ruins in a metro station, and a graveyard for Soviet statues called Memento Park.
Ruin bars were an experience. They are dilapidated houses converted to bars. The city deemed them unsafe for living, but okay for drinking. Each section of the house had its own independent bar. My tour guide recommended that I try a local fruit brandy called pálinka, It was good, but one was enough. I'm a lightweight.
Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar
The tour guide from the Alternative Street Art Tour - Budapest Free Walking Tour had permission to take guests to one of the Jewish safe houses during WWII. A Swiss diplomat put a number of properties under foreign jurisdiction in order to protect the Jews from persecution and deportation. Unfortunately, the city plans to sell the property once all of the tenants either die or move out. Most likely, it will be converted to luxury apartments. I hope that the building is given a historical heritage designation and is preserved as a museum or cultural center given its historical importance.
Jewish safe house during WWII
Memento Park is a graveyard for old communist statues. All but one Soviet monument was removed from the city of Budapest with the most impressive ones relocated to Memento Park. The outdoor museum also had authentic communist memorabilia and a old training film from the Hungarian secret police. Memento Park was a bit of a hike. There was a bus that stops across the street, but it only runs once an hour. It was easy to get a taxi to the park, but it was hard to get one back to the city. Like most museums in Budapest, Memento Park gives discounts to teachers and students. Unlike all other museums in Budapest, it would only accept a paper copy or card of your student/teacher status, nothing in an app or on your phone is accepted.
Thermae Maiores: Roman ruins in an underpass
Istvántelek Train Yard
A car wasn't necessary. Public transportation was excellent. You can purchase a travel card valid for multiple days at the airport.
THINGS TO DO
Shoes on the Danube: A sobering monument to the Jews who faced the Nazi firing squad along the Danube.
Terror Haza: The building was used by the Arrow Cross Party and ÁVH (Hungarian KGB). The basement was a prison and beating rooms were scattered throughout. No photos were allowed, but take my word that it's worth visiting.
Szabo Ervin Library: Most of the floors looked like a regular library, but the 4th floor retains the original exquisite 19th century palace fixtures.
Hungarian Parliament Tour (book in advance)
Memento Park: The final resting place of Soviet statues.
Hospital in the Rock Museum (closed Mondays): A hospital created in the caverns under Buda Castle in the 1930s in preparation for the Second World War. Definitely worth visiting.
Gellert Hill (for the view)
District VII: The former Jewish ghetto that lay derelict until 2002. Now it's filled with cool street art and vibrant nightlife.
St. Stephen's Basilica: Go to the top for the best view in Budapest.
Thermae Maiores: Roman ruins in an underpass.
Istvántelek Train Yard: A train graveyard.
Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar
Szabo Ervin Library
New York Cafe: Expensive, but ranked as one of the most prettiest cafes in the world.
Cafe Central: I liked it better than the New York Cafe. The decor wasn't as fancy, but it still had classic early 20th century fixtures.
Könyvbár & Restaurant: Amazing!
Drum Cafe: For Flódni, which is a Hungarian Jewish confection consisting of a layered cake with walnut, apple, plum jam, and poppy seed fillings.
Hungarikum Bisztró: This is considered one of the best for local food, but, unfortunately, was booked solid during the week I was there. If you go during Christmas, reserve two months in advance.
Shoes on the Danube
Bush Sr. and Reagan statues near the U.S. Embassy. According to the tour guide, Reagan is giving the side eye to a nearby Communist monument, which is the only such monument that's still in Budapest.