With spring blooming into summer across Europe, we set off to explore somewhere a bit different. Hungary’s beautiful capital Budapest provided the perfect base to cycle city and country. As it turned out, some unpredictable Hungarian weather gave us the opportunity to test out our kit in every condition; from baking sun to thunderstorms, on city tarmac, country roads, and gravel paths…which transformed into total mud baths.
We had three days to get to know the city, ride out into the surrounding countryside and villages, ride, shoot, chill and discover. The team was made up of myself, Vulpine’s newest recruit Eloise (hi!), photographer Alexander Rhind and cycling completist Jon Woodroof, our veteran Vulpine shoot attendee.
With early flights booked, we made a plan to spend the two flight days exploring the city, and make the most of the full day we had to head out of Budapest and see what lay in the surrounding countryside.
BUDAPEST CITY: DAY ONE
Terrain: City roads
Distance: 14.3 miles
Climbing: 625ft (‘Pest is totally flat!)
Weather: Hot sun, rain and chill winds. A real mix.
We land late morning, grab the bike boxes, and head to our AirBnB apartment in the Uklipotvaros district of Budapest. It’s on the Pest side of the Danube, close to the impressive parliament building. Luckily it’s huge. There’s more than enough space to get out all of our kit and start putting together our bikes. Jon’s arrived from Amsterdam with a stunning ride from mywild.love; a vintage Columbus steel frame sporting an awesome electric neon pink and blue paint job.
Alex seasons his espresso with salt; signs that we’ve been up since 4am are showing! As we set the bikes up, the weather breaks and the balmy sun that heralded our arrival disappears behind dark clouds. Thunder cracks, and the rain begins to come down. Luckily, it doesn’t last too long. Vulpine cycling jackets on and bikes ready, we head out. There’s no real plan, other than to explore and find somewhere to eat – no one has had anything since the early breakfast at the airport!
Urban Pest is on the Eastern side of the river. It’s dense grid layout, noise, trams and traffic give it a totally different identity to the historic Buda side. We spend the afternoon exploring this area, following the Danube north before turning back into the city, following tunnels under the train tracks, cycle paths (we found there is a really good network across Budapest), smaller cobbled streets lined with graffiti and busy main roads, passing blocks of art nouveau buildings, churches and houses with gargoyles and sculptural facades, an intriguing and even a quite bizarre ‘robot garden’.
We turn onto Andrássy út, a main avenue lined with spectacular Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses, which has segregated cycle lanes on either side, and brings us out at the Hősök tere, or Heroes’ Square, which we pedal around, dodging tourists and school parties. Suddenly realising it’s gone 4pm and we still haven’t eaten, we park our bikes up at the Varosliget Cafe just off the square, and make ourselves at home on the terrace – the waiter warns us it might rain, but for now the sun’s back out and we want to make the most of it. Coffee and goulash all round – and it’s delicious. Inside the cafe there are amazing views of the City Park, lake, and Vajdahunyad Castle too.
After eating, we cross the bridge over the lake and through the lovely City Park, before following the border of the park round, past the Transport Museum (which is unfortunately closed for renovation but still has an amazing old train and Antonov An-2 aircraft outside it) to the impressive Budapest-Keleti station.
We follow the Rakoczi Ut from here in a straight line West towards the Danube, crossing to Buda via the Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge). As we cross, the storm clouds roll in again, and the rain begins to pelt down on us. Gusts of wind from the north propel me sideways – to use American Jon’s favourite British word – it was a little grim.
We follow the cycle path along the river, past the art gallery and funicular which causes a somewhat geeky debate between Jon and Alex over whether funiculars are water powered or not (note: they can be, but not all are). We cross back to Pest over the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, as the sun is disappearing below the horizon. Jon introduces us to #HardStyleWednesday in front of some slightly bizarre giraffe sculptures, which leads to the discovery of the absence of a giraffe emoji, and another dad debate about whether a dromedary camel has one hump or two… (note: dromedaries have one hump, bactrians have two).
Continuing North, we arrive at Budapest’s most recognisable landmark: the parliament building. By now the rain has eased off again, but we have almost lost the light. Alex grabs a few pictures of us riding around the square, racing the yellow trams while being watched by a bemused group of policemen. Heading back towards our apartment, we stop at a restaurant outside the Comedy Theatre on Szent István Körút. Though it’s only been a couple of hours since our late lunch, Jon dives right in for another helping of beef stew. We discover that surprisingly beef stew and goulash are totally different – despite goulash being easily described as a beef stew: it has a soupy sauce, with more veg and seasoned with paprika; beef stew has a thick sauce and no veg. Dad facts abound…
We spin round the corner back to the apartment, and plan the route for the following day: riding out of Budapest into the hills. More on that next week…
BUDAPEST CITY: PART TWO
Terrain: City roads
Distance: 13.5 mi
On our final day in Budapest (day two in the countryside next week), we’re up with the sun to make the most of the glorious morning and our last few hours in the city. In search of coffee and breakfast, we dodge the rush hour traffic riding through the wide tree lined avenues of the Terézváros district, and the densely packed historic Jewish quarter Erzsébetváros. Today, we follow the Andrássy út cycleway in the opposite direction from Heroes’ Square all the way down to St. Stephen’s Basilica, where we discover the Gumball Rally is taking place. We have breakfast on the square, watching the hyped up cars and celebs with amusement.
Stomachs filled with omelette and coffee, we head over the Chain Bridge to Buda, and climb up the hill to the Fisherman’s Bastion and the gothic Matthias Church in the castle district, to enjoy the incredible view over the city for the final time. This side of the city is a total contrast to noisy, urban Pest; it’s historic, grand and well kept, with quiet streets and few cars. Yes, it’s full of tourists – but it is beautiful, and nothing beats looking down over a city at sunrise.
TOP 5 BUDAPEST EXPERIENCES:
1. The cycle-way which follows the Danube on the Buda side, and leads to Obuda (or Old Buda) – a pretty and historic area of the city which is much less touristy than the Castle District
2. The panoramic view across the city from Fisherman’s Bastion at sunrise/sunset
3. Bridge hopping across the Danube
4. Goulash – we ate a lot, and my favourite has to be the first version we had from Varosliget next to Heroes’ Square
5. The ‘Robot Orphanage’ at ZipCity for pure bizarreness