What’s most striking when travelling from Reykjavik (see earlier post) to Hungary’s capital is most certainly the shift from stunning natural landscapes to majestic architecture. A grand city tour of Budapest’s major attractions includes: the monumental Parliament, a panoramic view from the Citadel in Gellért-Hill, the State Opera, Heroes’ Square, and St. Stephen’s Basilica. Even better, a boat tour by night along the Danube River is a wonderful way to see the illuminated Buda Castle and the many historic bridges.
Budapest is both the City of Spas and the City of Caves, the latter having been formed by the same mineral springs that today supply the thermal baths. Though most are protected, several are open to the public. A winding trip deep into Szemlőhegyi cave, also known as ‘the underground flower garden’, reveals steep walls decorated with minerals that look like cauliflower or bunches of grapes. As thrilling as an hour-long tour in a cold, cavernous space may sound, the real highlight of Budapest are its world-renowned thermal baths, particularly Széchenyi Medicinal bath in the City Park and the Gellért Baths complex (photos) with its open-air wave pool, main hall topped by a vaulted glass roof, and wealth of original Art-Nouveau furnishings, artistic mosaics, sculptures, and stained glass windows.
In waters ranging from 26-38 Celsius, there’s a lot of swimming and soaking to be done: effervescent, thermal and sitting pools filled with calcium, magnesium, and sulphate; steam rooms with eucalyptus, a Swedish and an infrared sauna, and ice cold soaking tubs for the ambitious.