Grand European River Cruise Part 2 – Budapest, Hungary

French macarons
Authentic French macarons are divine

With our cruise running Oct 7-21, we maximized our first European visit by adding extra days to explore our embarkation city, Budapest. We were glad we did, since our 6AM connection in Amsterdam had been canceled due to bad weather and we lost the rest of the day waiting for another flight.  Fortunately we had booked our air travel through Viking Cruises and they had done the rebooking for us.  We were eventually rerouted through Paris and arrived in Budapest at midnight instead of 10AM.  How awesome that our Viking driver was still at the airport waiting for us!  Although we lost a day of exploring, the episode gave us our first good impression of Viking’s first class service (here is the first installment describing our cruise).  Advice to cruisers – ALWAYS add at least a day to the beginning of your cruise in case this happens, or your stress level will be through the roof as you start your cruise.  And if everything goes well you’ll have a day or two to explore a new city in relaxation!

The Danube River runs through Budapest; across the river to the east is Pest and the foreground on the west is Buda

Budapest is Hungary’s capital city, truly a riverside beauty and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It straddles the banks of the Danube River, making it a combination of two cities, Buda and Pest, united into a single city in 1873.  Buda is the historic half, sitting on the hilly west bank, and the livelier and more modern Pest (pronounced “Pesht”) covers the plains on the east bank.  The two halves of the city are connected by 15 bridges, several of them very beautiful and architecturally interesting.

Chain Bridge, Budapest
The iconic Chain Bridge was the first span to connect the two halves of the city when it opened in 1849
Budapest Bridges
Looking south at the slender white Elizabeth Bridge with the green Liberty Bridge in the distance
 Margaret Bridge
Looking north at the yellow Margaret Bridge

Our first day of exploration began right next door to our digs at the very nice Hilton Hotel.  The Hilton stands within the walls of the historic Castle Hill district on the Buda side, which we realized during breakfast when our window seat view was one of the turrets of Fisherman’s Bastion.  Along with Buda Castle and Matthias Church, it comprises the castle complex that resides on a large hilltop that was once home to royalty here.

Breakfast with a view of Fisherman’s Bastion
St Mattias Church
Colorful rooftops of Matthias Church, the coronation church of Hungarian kings of the past.  Folks here take their roofs seriously, and there are many beautiful ones on display
Fisherman’s Bastion with Matthias Church in the background
An honor guard ready to strut their stuff on the cobblestone streets

From Castle Hill we ambled down to the banks of the Danube River, walking through several residential streets.  We crossed the Chain Bridge and continued onto the Danube Promenade, feasting our eyes on the multitude of riverfront attractions.

Walking across the Chain Bridge.  A bit chilly on our first full day, as you can see
Shoes of the Danube River
Shoes of the Danube River.  This display commemorates the local victims of the Holocaust, who were lined up and shot into the Danube River after being ordered to take off their shoes, valuable belongings at the time
Castle Hill in Buda
Calvinist Church
A Calvinist church.  Churches here exist at an architectural level far above most in the states
Church of St Anne
Church of St. Anne
Peter Mansfeld
A statue of a falling man commemorates teenage martyr Peter Mansfeld of the Hungarian revolution.
Colorful residential facades
So many colorful and unique designs of front doors!
House of Parliament
The House of Parliament on the bank of Pest is the iconic attention-grabber here, day and night
Hilly Buda

Our first included excursion was a guided panoramic tour of Budapest, beginning along elegant Andrassy Avenue.  It is recognized by UNESCO World Heritage, and is the reason why Budapest is often called the Paris of the East.  The entire stretch is filled with luxury shopping and culture such as theaters, the Opera House, villas and mansions, embassies and dozens of cafés and restaurants.

Heroes’ Square
Spacious Hero’s Square is a tribute to Hungary’s national identity
The equestrian statues of the seven Magyar (Hungarian) tribes’ chieftains encircle a column

A sampling of eclectic architecture:

We also booked an optional guided walking tour to get a taste of the city on foot.  We were taken inside the pompous interior of Hungary’s largest building and the third largest parliament in the world, the Budapest Parliament Building.  I took hundreds of pictures of this building, let’s see what’s inside:
House of Parliament as my background

The inside was as impressive as the outside.  It houses one of Hungary’s greatest and most closely guarded treasures, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen (no photography allowed of the crown, orb, sceptre and Renaissance Sword display), which is more than a thousand years old.  The docent shared that this was the coronation crown used by the Kingdom of Hungary for most of its existence, and in Hungarian history over 50 kings were crowned with it.

The imposing grand staircase is encircled with 16 statues of Hungarian leaders

We were led on a short walk from the Parliament building to Liberty Square, where our guide pointed out buildings of architectural value that flank the pleasant green area.

This tired tourist doesn’t look so happy to pose at Liberty Square
President Reagan on his way to the U.S. embassy.  Hungarians like him so much that he has a statue on the square 🙂
Abracadabra, let me out water ! At the interactive fountain on Szabadság Square
We stopped and browsed the produce at Bejaras Market, where we tasted local sausage and “pogacsa”, a salty scone.  We finished our tour with a bowl of goulash soup and a delicious strudel.

Not your usual apple strudel, this is a variety of yummy Hungarian strudels
Outside the city limits we were driven to Szentendre, a colorful village of galleries and artists.  The guide informed us that what we saw today was the foundation that the Hungarian-Serbian community laid down in the 1500’s.  Churches, museums, galleries and cafés in Baroque settings symbolize this lovely town.  We walked along narrow, picturesque streets and browsed galleries that displayed folksy souvenirs and the works of local artists.
A local shows what he made out of a mushroom – a purse and a placemat
Hungarian sweet paprika – yum!
Narrow cobbled and colorful street
Finally, we explored Skanzen, a reconstructed version of an old Hungarian village.  Here we learned to prepare goulash, the most celebrated dish in Hungary.  I discovered that paprika is considered the national spice of Hungary and is the main spice in goulash.
Racka Sheep
Getting friendly with a Hungarian Racke Sheep, check out his horns!

Some facts we learned here – Hungary is part of the European Union but does not use the Euro as its currency (they use the Forint).  Budapest was also our initiation to paying to use restrooms in Europe (called toilets or water closets here), between 50 cents and 2 dollars Euro.  A Euro was $1.18 U.S. during our visit.

On embarkation day, we noticed that our ship, the Viking Bragi, was docked side by side with another Viking riverboat.  The guests of the other ship had to access by walking through ours.  In terms of security it seemed like an odd arrangement, but it was used several times during our journey where 2 or even 3 ships were moored at a single dock.  We looked at it as yet another way to meet new folks!

Bragi is on the left
We thought the two extra days we included would be enough to explore one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, but we could have easily spent a week here!  With so much to see and do it was Steve’s favorite stop on our itinerary.
Finding our way along the Danube Promenade
Striking bridges, a majestic Parliament Building, spectacular Art Nouveau palaces and picturesque castles are some of the sights to see by day.  But when nighttime falls Budapest comes alive with lights and color, turning it into a romantic city of lights where all of the monuments and bridges shine:
Fishermans Bastion
Fishermans Bastion at dusk
Chain Bridge, Budapest
Lighted Chain Bridge
Buda Castle
Buda Castle at night.  It houses the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum
House of Parliament, Budapest
The House of Parliament turns a glistening gold
Mattias Church
Mattias Church shines bright on Castle Hill
 Elizabeth Bridge
Looking north at Elizabeth Bridge
Full moon over Budapest


  1. What a fabulous tour! Your photos are gorgeous, and I enjoyed reading about all that you discovered. I spent a week in Budapest back in the early 90’s and loved it, but you saw much more than I did (or at least more than I remember, haha!). My most vivid memories are of the farmers market (with huge barrels of pickled vegetables), and the hot springs baths in the beautiful ancient Roman bathhouses. You’re making me want to go back!

    • The farmers market was one of the stops but it was a Sunday 😦 And yes I wanted to to the bathhouses but it conflicted with another excursion 😦 Two days was not enough!

  2. Wonderful tour ! Love your pictures , they are spectacular! I was so looking forward for this post, and very glad to hear you enjoyed “my city” I was born there. Zsuzsa

  3. Thank you for such a wonderful tour!!! We felt like we were right there with you. I passed up an opportunity to go there on a short work assignment. I can’t believe I missed it….and now I know what I missed.

  4. Really good advice about scheduling. Thanks. Your view out your breakfast window is spectacular. Love the colored roof tops. You are certainly right about the architectural level of the churches being far superior to those in the States. The city is so colorful. I didn’t realize that Buda and Pest were two sides of the river. Very interesting. The shoes of the Danube is very powerful. Your pictures are just spectacular Mona Liza. How did you get those wonderful night shots. I think I need your camera and your wonderful artistic eye would help me a lot too.

    • It is so colorful out there, my camera was in a frenzy and I had a difficult time choosing which one to post. For the night shots, I placed my camera on the railing and held it down so that there will be not movement.

  5. Wow!! Drop dead gorgeous. Your photography is amazing, ML. I knew you took wonderful nature shots but I think European cities could be your specialty! Thanks….

  6. Budapest has long been on our travel list. Your gorgeous photos really make me want to change our travel plans for next year and book a flight to Budapest. I think a river boat cruise is in our future. 🙂

  7. Thanks for taking us along your tour of Budapest and adding lots of history:) I love all the colorful roofs, buildings and doors. The city at night is spectacular! Hungarian paprika (both sweet and hot) is my favorite spice. I use a ton of it. Love those horns on the sheep!! Please make sure we get a tour of the boat:)

  8. Adding at least a day prior at the point of embarkation is smart advice. We’ve only ever flown to our embarkation port the same day once … never again has been our motto since.

    I love the Shoes of the Danube exhibit … very moving. You sure had a busy time sightseeing in Budapest. I like all of your photos, but the one of the Fishermen’s Bastion @ Dusk, is really special.

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