Before heading from home to start our cruise, I’d scoured Google to create a “what to do” list of things in Budapest. After all, we were adding a two-night extension to our river cruise in Budapest and I was curious what the city offered (and, I learned, those in the know definitely pronounce it as ‘Budapesht’ so don’t say I didn’t warn you).
I looked at CruiseCritic, TripAdvisor, Rick Steves’ site, tourist websites and oodles of blogs. One activity that rose to the top in every list was “seeing the lights” along the Danube at night. Okay, duly noted and added to the list: I’d make sure we book an evening cruise along the banks of Budapest (there, did you say it with the “sh” sound???) while we were there. It didn’t seem too pricey (about $26). Not that we wouldn’t have already been traveling on a river for a while, but, still…everyone did say it was a “must do.” We’d do it.
But we didn’t need to.
That’s because the Atla entered Budapest at about 10 o’clock on our next to the last day of the cruise. That’s at night. At night, you know, when the lights are on.
And yes, “they” were all correct: this is a sight you don’t want to miss.
While Budapest has its share of grey, smoggy skies in daylight hours (or at least it did while we were there), its nights belong to golden lights and inky skies. While our tour guide told us the next day that the economy is pretty tough and unemployment is much higher than they’d like, you wouldn’t guess it from the light show this cosmopolitan puts on each and every night.
Buildings glow from thousands of globes placed below and shining up into the sky. The Parliament building (second in age only to the parliamentin London), the Fisherman’s Bastion, Chain Bridge, the castle and the cathedral all are luminscent in golden light. Birds dipped and circled in a spinning dance over many of the buildings, drawn to the bugs which had been attracted by the light.
Almost every passenger stood on the top deck as we glided into the city’s center. It was beautiful—and bittersweet, our last docking on this itinerary. But the lights dispelled any sense of sadness. How could you be sad when the world around you looked like a fairy tale and morning would bring another city to explore?