Easter in Budapest: alongside Christmas in New York, this has been something that has lingered around the top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember. In the midst of my solo European travelling, I researched the best places to spend Easter on the continent, and Hungary was a clear recommended winner – a fact that finally lured me to the country back in 2018.
Early on the morning of Easter Sunday, I was stirred from my slumber by the merry sound of church bells ringing out across the city; a delightful spring awakening.
For budding culture vultures, Easter in Budapest is a treasure trove of authenticity.
The entire weekend is celebrated in devoted fashion. Appealing traditions are sprinkled throughout the capital, from themed markets and mass wooden egg painting, to folk dancing and street food.
At the foot of the famous Buda Castle, a four day festival took place, and the set was flagged by three huge, wicker Easter eggs. A live band played joyously into the afternoon, and visitors were invited to add their own paintings to a giant egg in the centre.
The city was strewn with brightly coloured bunting fluttering high above, and the trees were wondrously topped by an assortment of vibrant lanterns.
The loveliest thing about Budapest is the fact that it has not yet been hit by the bomb of mass tourism, which is something I wasn’t expecting, given the amount of people who rave about it endlessly. Throughout my time in the Hungarian capital, I was pleasantly surprised to find the city relatively quiet, with minimal queuing times for all of the major attractions. In fact, there seemed to be more locals then tourists milling around.
Tourist traps simply do not yet exist in Budapest, so don’t feel as if you will be subjected to Barcelona/Rome style interference every time you walk down the street. There is nobody stalking the hotspots trying to flog selfie sticks, roses and fidget spinners.
Bearing in mind that my trip fell over the Bank Holiday weekend, I saw just one group of British stags/hens. Despite being the place that everyone is talking about, Budapest seems to remains slightly shy and unassuming in comparison to some of its European siblings.
To further my point of a lack of tourist disruption, the streets are the definition of pristine, and maintain a classy and elegant vibe at all times.
I was fortunate enough to experience Budapest in three very different types of weather, all of which enhanced the landscape.
Through lashing rain as I’ve never seen it before, wind that howled through the ancient city’s many grand streets, and a balmy spring sunshine of fairytale quality, I saw the city in a different light every single day.
There is something quite striking about the diversity of Budapest's modest skyline either side of the River Danube, and this is only heightened in the pouring rain. The Parliament Building – which makes our very own Houses of Parliament look like an average corner shop – is bathed in a dazzling glow; a sharp contrast to the disorientating rain.
One late evening - lured out by the view from my hotel room - I made the crazy decision to head across the river to the Parliament Building. I walked for three miles in a particularly treacherous downpour, before abandoning all attempts to stay dry. I strode forward determinedly, hair plastered to my face, while it become apparent that the rest of Budapest was hibernating.
My ill-timed adventure turned out to be so worth the broken umbrella and running mascara, because I was the only one stood outside the Parliament Building. I felt as though I was alone with the city as it winked its spectacular lightshow across the water.
There was something brilliantly spooky about listening to the wind whip in and out of the turrets of the Fisherman's Bastion in the pale moonlight.
A city studded with old-fashioned street lamps, Budapest illuminates its many backstreets and winding stairwells in the most fascinating way in the rainfall, casting shadowy patterns and blotted beams of light onto the cobbles. It could almost be the set of a glamorous 1950’s mystery movie.
A broody European city with a moody grey palette worn across its sky like a shawl, Budapest defines what I love so much about our intriguing continent.
While in Budapest, I actually stumbled across what has since become my favourite place in the whole of Europe. Vajdahunyad Castle is located on the outskirts of the Pest side of the city. I stumbled across it quite by chance, whilst musing the majesty of Heroes Square. Set behind the square, the castle is a hidden gem across a small river, shrouded by its rolling grounds.
There are no words to sum up how astonishingly beautiful this place is. Visible through a curtain of towering fir trees, Vajdahunyad Castle truly does look as though it has danced straight out of the pages of a mystical fairytale.
A baby blue and slate stature made up of various sized charcoal turrets, wild vines pounce manically across the brickwork, and an air of magic whispers across the grounds.
Googling this castle does it no justice whatsoever – one has to thoroughly inhale its vicinity to be enveloped within and captivated by the extent of the crystallised wonder.
During my time travelling Europe, I have encountered great handfuls of places of worship in many different countries, from a breathtaking ‘musical’ church in Messina that actually reduced me to tears, to a teeny-tiny but unbelievably intricately decorated white-washed chapel in the hills of Santa Eulalia in Ibiza. However, the depth of exquisiteness that graced St. Stephen’s Basilica in the centre of Budapest really shook me to the core. Every single patch of the building’s interior is decorated in the most stunning art-work, and is like nothing I have ever seen before. The whole vicinity boldly impresses in gold, and compromises the definition of grandness with unknowing beauty. My visit to St. Stephen's fell during the local Easter Monday service, which was moving in ways that I can’t even explain. I felt quite misty-eyed, and I wasn’t the only one weeping. The whole place just panoramically ebbed with such compelling emotion – something I will never forget.
Fiercely proud heritage is flaunted like no other up at Buda Castle, and watching the changing of the guards is another must-do experience. Fringed with flags of monarchy, and set regally at the very top of the entire city, Buda Castle still exercises the age-old tradition of changing guards – an event that is welcomed in by intense drum beats that almost make one feel quite patriotic.
I don't usually do this, but I do have one slight complaint from my trip to Budapest...
Truth be told, I had been warned about the ‘joys’ of Hungarian delicacy long before my visit, but nothing could have quite prepared me for the horrors of some of the dishes I painstakingly endured.
Okay, so I'll hold my hands up - I'm a fussy eater, and also vegetarian. I snack on dry cereal in the same way that normal people eat crisps, and Marmite soaked pasta is my favourite meal - I'm well aware that I have no right to judge, BUT I thought I'd mention some of the foodie frights I fell victim to...
Upon arrival in Budapest, I hungrily grabbed a bite to eat at a sweet little stall overlooking the Matthias Church. My first meal for hours, I was immensely looking forward to it, albeit a little anxious to put my eager taste buds of trust into a local cuisine I knew nothing about...
Fried bread. Fried bread, topped with overflowing sour cream, fistfuls of garlic and mounds upon mounds of grated cheese. I love cheese as much as the next person, but I draw the line when it comes to combining it with a bread so sweet it might as well have been a donut.
During my last afternoon, I ‘indulged’ in a spot of street food and gave one the country’s famous dishes another try. Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with a concoction of vegetable noodles, but slopping them on top of giant, greasy hash brown is a method I really do question!
Where I stayed:
Hilton Budapest, a five star property for an affordable price, via Jet2 City Breaks. The hotel was positioned in the heart of the Castle District, and I am confident in stating that you will be hard pushed to find a hotel with a better location. Neighboured by the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, the hotel is set high up on the banks of the River Danube and sits proudly opposite the Parliament Building. My room overlooked the river and the Parliament Building, with views of the Bastion to the left.
The hotel in itself is highly authentic affair, with olde-worlde decor to suit its surroundings.
One things for sure – you will certainly leave Budapest a lot more toned than when you arrived if you opt for this hotel – it lies at the top of the Buda side of the city, reachable via numerous sets of steep steps!
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©