Of all the destinations we visited on Scenic’s Iconic Danube itinerary, Budapest is the most perfect for a river cruise. It’s a city defined and divided by its waterway, having started life as three cities: Buda and Obuda to the west of the Danube and Pest to the east, becoming Budapest in 1873.
Unlike Vienna and Bratislava, many its most famous landmarks line both sides of the river. It means we arrived on Sunday morning, the final day of the cruise, greeted by grey skies and lashing rain – but the most spectacular of views. Scenic has acquired itself best parking space in the city: directly opposite the gothic revival Hungarian Parliament, easily one of Europe’s most impressive buildings. So good is the view, in fact, we were told that tourists regularly request (and are denied) temporary access to the ship so they can get a picture of the parliament from it.
We had been looking forward to Budapest more than any other stop, and the city didn’t disappoint – and, of course, neither did Scenic. In fact, our day in the Hungarian capital reinforced everything we’d come to love about life on board Scenic Pearl. From the quite magnificent docking point, to our shore excursion to one of the city’s thermal baths, the evening meal and night cruise up and down the river, the day was perfectly planned and executed.
Having enjoyed a light breakfast, we hopped on one of Scenic’s spacious coaches – which followed the cruise alongside the Danube from Passau – to the Szechenyi Medicinal Bath. The journey first to took us on a detour to Gellért Hill, which offers incredible views of the city and its seven bridges; Heroes Square, a monumental tribute to the city’s founders; and Pest’s prettiest street, its answer to the Champs-Élysées.
The bath is remarkable. Sourced from two thermal springs, its 18 pools are housed in a gorgeous 103-year-old neo-baroque complex, along with saunas, a gym, massage rooms, a café and more. Its two largest pools are outside and set at temperatures of 34c and 38c, so, on a cold day, like it was on Sunday, you can see the steam rising high. Within moments of stepping in, I felt relaxed, refreshed and re-energised – you can understand why the city’s doctors prescribe the facility as a treatment for any number of ailments.
When we finished, a mini-bus ordered by Scenic was waiting for us and took us back to the ship, where other guests were arriving from different shore excursions, with lunch due to start in five minutes. It’s something that we’d got very used to over the last week: everything on Scenic is timed to perfection. It’s a faster-paced holiday than an ocean cruise – with a busy schedule on each of its six full days – but was relaxing because of the way it was managed.
The staff are incredibly diligent and helpful: if you want something that’s not on the menu, a query answering about a port of call or a problem resolving, there’s always someone to ask and a resolution within moments. Of course, knowing that, because Scenic is all-inclusive, you don’t ever have to worry about extra costs (entry to the Szechenyi Baths, for example, or that second or third cocktail), means you can simply sit back, enjoy your holiday and overindulge as much as you like.
After lunch we ventured out into the city, although didn’t last long, the cold winds battering us as we crossed the iconic Chain Bridge. We decided to stop for a pint and some goulash, the country’s most famous dish, here soup-like and flavoured with paprika, before heading back to the ship, a quick tour of Buda completed.
We had planned to sample some of the city’s famous nightlife, but didn’t want to miss what Scenic had in store for us that evening: a night cruise through Budapest, departing just as we sat down to dinner. If the city is beautiful by day, it’s breathtaking by night. With its bridges, art noveau buildings and Buda castle all lit up so majestically, we braved the cold and heading up to the pitch-black sun deck at about 10pm. After we docked again, we took residence at our usual spot at the bar, the glow of the Hungarian shimmering on the water, reaching towards the ship.
It was a fitting end to a truly special week.