Budapest and Prague: Two Gems of Eastern Europe

Once the capitals of powerful empires, Budapest and Prague contain so much character and splendor that when walking through its streets and corridors you are left humbled and in awe. This is the feeling I had this past May when I went with the College of Nursing to study Global Health in these two cities. I was able to experience several unique aspects these two capitals and cultures had to offer.
Our first stop was to Budapest the capital of Hungary. Years ago, the glorious Danube river split the city into two sides: Buda and Pest. The Buda side is a much more mountainous alternative to the flat plains of Pest. The Buda castle looking over the river once was the stronghold for powerful kings and queens in the middle ages. The Pest side contains the remarkable Parliament building which is two meters larger than the Parliament building in London and several times as big as the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C.. Due to the different nature of the two sides, together, Budapest, is a unique city that flows into one dynamic blend of beauty.


budapest river
The Danube River splitting Buda (left) and Pest (right)

Another aspect of Budapest is the lifestyle and atmosphere. Unlike many other large cities, Budapest has a very calm and family friendly atmosphere to it. The city is very easy to navigate as it holds four metro lines all connected at one point called Deák Ferenc tér (or as we liked to call it, “the hub”). Within this hub, there is a very nice park with several things to do. A large Ferris Wheel dominates the center while unique fountains and nice places to sit and relax surrounds. All of this is lightened up with colorful lights hanging above creating a wonderful relaxing atmosphere full of fun and laughter.

deak ferenc ter
Deák Ferenc tér

Along with the very relaxing atmosphere, the city of Budapest is home to several caves, bridges, and thermal baths. Budapest is known as the cave capital of the world as the city is built on several cave systems especially on the Buda side of the river. Our group had the privilege into going into one of the largest caves in Budapest called Palvogyi Cave. Besides the size of the cave, I was fascinated by the fact that the cave was right under a large residential area overlooking the city. It was truly only a couple minutes from the center of town. Along with the caves, Budapest is home to several bridges that connect the two sides of the city. Our group walked several of the bridges as we found that each one offers a different view of the city. Our group also was able to experience two of the several thermal baths in Budapest. These thermal baths are definitely part of the culture as several locals meet and socialize at these locations on a daily basis. Bathing in one of these natural baths is certainly an experience you won’t forget in a long time.

Gellert bath
Gellert Thermal Bath

Budapest is certainly a beautiful and unique city worth visiting. The city is filled with things to do and the atmosphere makes you not want to leave. I sure plan on visiting this captivating city in the future.

Our second and final stop was to the enchanted city of Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. Due to the situations during both world wars, Prague remained mostly untouched from bombs and destruction especially compared to its neighboring cities such as Dresden. The result of this is a photographer’s paradise as every turn you make is worth capturing. Several buildings from the 14th century and even from the 10th century remain. Since Charles IV decided to move the seat of the Holy Roman Empire to Prague in the 14th century, Prague became the site of culture and innovation as it became the fourth largest city in Europe at the time. Several of the buildings that Charles IV built still remain in Prague, such as the Astronomical Clock and the Charles Bridge. It is just so hard to grasp how old some of these structures are especially since it is in full function today such as the Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge
Sunrise over Charles Bridge

One day of our stay in Prague, I convinced several of my friends as well as the professor to wake up at 4:30am and walk to the Charles Bridge to see the sunrise. The Charles Bridge has always hundreds of tourists on it at any moment during the day; however, only a few are brave enough to wake up this early to witness one of the most beautiful sites in the world. Along with a few more early risers that joined us that morning, we were able to see a spectacular sunrise over a fairly empty Charles Bridge. The view was like something from a magazine. It surly was a memorable moment.

paddle boats
View from Paddle Boats

Another great experience our group had was paddle boating along the Vltava River. This was another memorable moment as we paddled under the Charles Bridge several times while watching the sun set over the Prague Castle. It was a great relaxing way to end our stay in Prague and it was definitely one of the most memorable adventures of the trip.

sunset prague
Sunset over Prague Castle

Besides gaining insight into the health systems of both countries, our group made most of our trip and truly got to know and enjoy both cities. Exploring the city that you are studying abroad in sometimes takes waking up really early and/or staying up really late, but you will never get a chance like it again. So remember, you can always sleep at home; go explore!