How to travel Budapest: a hidden treasure chest

New Years Eve is marmite! Some people love it, seeing it as a time for ringing in the new and reflecting on the old, and some people loathe it. Whether you're of the opinion it is a time for soul searching, a chance for a great big knees-up or a complete waste of time and better spent at home with a cuppa, there is no hiding from the yearly discussion about what to do for.

Myself and my other half have had some good NYE experiences and some anti-climatic ones, to say the least. Our firNYEst NYE together was spent at a country log cabin, in a hot tub, drinking champers and spotting shooting stars. I think that coloured our view of all NYE's to come and we haven't been able to beat it...until now!

Mulling over the possibilities, we considered many city breaks which would provide a party atmosphere and settled on Budapest, as it is somewhere we haven't visited before and had the mix of trendy bars, and culture we were looking for. It is a hotbed of cultural diversity, sharing influences from Germany, Turkey, Russia and even China.

We arrived a couple of days before the big event to familiarise ourselves with the city but also to get over the hustle and bustle of Christmas. We checked into the lovely Iberostar Hotel, although we quickly gathered that although some of the hotel had been refurbished, our wing had not, so make sure to check beforehand. We arrived to freezing conditions but beautiful clear blue skies, making for a day of sightseeing that blew away cobwebs and Xmas indulgences. The Danube river runs through Budapest with Parliament buildings on one side, high up on the hillside, providing a stunning view of the skyline on the other side.

Budapest is a relatively young city in Europe, with most buildings dating from the 18th and 19th century. This means it boasts some of the grandest architecture of of this era, as it suffered little damage during the war. The central station is a fine example of this and was handily just across the road from our hotel.

The yellow trams that run around the city reminded me of those I saw in the Autumn in Lisbon, Portugal and provided a handy way to get about. However, we decided to use our own two legs to explore the city, meaning we were able to take in a lot more. Plus, rather handily, there were outdoor bars situated along many of the streets, allowing us to grab steaming hot cups of mulled wine to warm us through on our travels. 

Much of Budapest was still festively decorated and covered in German markets, making for a warm and Christmassy experience. We paid a visit to the 'Rock Chapel' which is a 20th century place of worship inhabited by Pauline monks who favoured the toasty year round 20 degree temperature and fantastic acoustics.

We were even lucky enough to catch Santa Claus on his holidays after a very busy Christmas. It's nice to know he's got a bit of a naughty side to him as well. :)  

As we wandered the city over the course of our visit, taking in different vistas, we came across amazing views from Liberty Bridge and a castle on the south bank, or the 'Pest' side of Budapest, which were well worth a visit. 

As a light layer of snow dusted the ground and the temperature started to drop to around -11 degrees celsius(!) we decided to seek solice in one of Budapest's most famous attractions. Their abundance of geo-thermal pools are said to contain healing properties to cure many ills. We visited Szecheyni Baths, the largest and most imposing of all the public pools. It is situated in a grand 18th century building, daubed in bright yellow paint, making it hard to miss. With 18 pools inside and out, as well as a host of other spa facilities, we were very much looking forward to this part of our trip.

We spent most of our time running between the thermally active pools and a lazy river, which was teaming with hundreds of tourists and locals alike, hooting in laughter. At -11 degrees, running semi naked in bare feet, over frozen ground, was no mean feat. So we rewarded our bravery with a beer from the conveniently placed outside bar.

When NYE rolled around, we were well equipped with knowledge about the coolest bars to hang out in and found the burgeoning Jewish Quarter to be the hottest area in town. Full of hip hangouts that have that exposed industrial feel to them, and often coming complete with their own attached warehouse nightclubs! This is where we chose to oil the wheels for a lively night.

As the midnight hour approached, we made like the locals and hot footed it into one of the number of off-licenses that line the streets to grab some hooch to greet 2015 with. The public squares, of which Vorosmarty Square is one of the largest, played host to large crowds gathered to enjoy the big wheel, cosy spaces for friends to hang out, like the beautifully lit wood teepee, and of course, what would NYE be without an impressive firework display?

Overall, Budapest has the feel of a place very much on the rise, with all of the attractions of a European capital but without the price tag. We found our stay to be very affordable indeed, with a 2 course meal with wine for 2 costing around £20 and beer being around £1 a pint! Budapest is a place which could probably be visited comfortably in a weekend and being only 2 hours 20 minutes flight away from blighty, it is very doable.

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