Traveling to Budapest is enchanting and bewitching.
Traveling to Budapest was a whimsical and insightful experience. First, a long-standing question of mine was answered: “Budapest” is, in fact, pronounced “boo-duh-pesht”, with the soft “sh” sound at the end. Mystery solved! More importantly, I fulfilled my dream of traveling to Budapest, sparked an appetite for exploring eastern Europe, and realized how much my travel style has changed since I embarked on my last solo trip. For anyone interested in visiting eastern Europe, I highly recommend Budapest as a jumping off point. From Roman and Mongol rule through Soviet occupation and liberation, the rich history of the city and of the region are still highly present and tangible in the city´s culture, architecture and atmosphere. Budapest has only become a tourist destination over the past few years, so while tourism has been coordinated for visitors to see the main sites, the city maintains a distinctly Hungarian character and eastern European feel. I was completely spellbound by the bizarre and convivial, yet subtly dark, ambience of the city and cannot wait to return to explore more of the previous Eastern bloc countries. Traveling to Budapest is enchanting and bewitching, in the very best sense of the word, and a fantastic opportunity to experience a piece of history we all know so well, but rarely come face-to-face with. Check out my recommendations for Budapest and enjoy your adventure!
1. Walking Tours
Budapest is dripping with rich history, from Turkish invasion straight through to communism. Free Budapest Tours is a company that offers a range of walking tours, yes, for FREE! The Budapest Free Tour takes you to all of the main sites around Budapest, including St. Stephen’s Basilica, Parliament House, Buda Castle ,and Fisherman´s Bastion. The guide was very knowledgeable and I go a good workout for the day (be sure to wear good walking shoes!). The Communism Tour was led by an individual who actually lived in Budapest during Communist rule. The tour was fascinating and provides an insightful background to the communist history of the city, a history which is still tangible and deeply felt in everything from the architecture and infrastructure to social interactions in the city.
2. Andrassy Avenue and Heroes Square
I grabbed a large almond milk latte and spent an afternoon wandering the full length of Andrassy Avenue to its end-point at Heroe´s Square. Maybe it was my coffee-high, or my dreamy-vacation mood, but the entire experience had a deeply romantic feeling; and I mean romantic in the original sense of the word: deep, moving, mysterious and slightly melancholy. Grand, moss-covered buildings constructed of stone and dark wood line the street. Old Oaks frame the avenue from both sides. The street is thriving with visitors and shops, however many of the most prominent buildings are boarded up and falling into disrepair. The complex and turbulent history of the city permeates Andrassy and truly imparts a deeper understanding of Budapest. If you get tired during your walk, head to 360 Panoramic Bar for a beverage and a great view of the city!
The Citadella is a 19th century fort on top of Gellert Hill and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The climb up to the top takes you through beautiful tree lined paths and the view of the city is breathtaking. I recommend putting on your workout gear and making the climb early in the morning and then heading to the Rudas baths, located directly at the base of the path, to relax in the thermal baths.
4. Take the Metro
The Budapest metro is the oldest in continental Europe and feels like it hasn’t been updated since the mid-1900´s. It might not be a highlight of the city, but the old cars and intricate wall tile give you a unique feel for Hungarian culture and take you straight back to communist times. (Plus it´s a cheap way to get around the city)
Budapest has become a foodie haven. Along its winding streets the adventurous traveller can find everything from traditional food markets selling blood sausage and goulash, to artisan bacon-burgers, pork belly tacos and organic kales salads. In addition, Hungarian drinking culture has taken on a modern yet truly-Budapest character. The city is famous for its zany and outlandish ruins pubs located in Budapest’s 7th District which, true to their name, are actually bars built in the ruins of old buildings. It also hosts a plethora of hipster-esque outdoor eateries and bars. At night, the city really comes alive, with thin strands of colored lights illuminating courtyards and outdoor restaurants and bars where you can order cocktails out of an old VW van or enjoy a sausage served to you by a bearded man on a beach cruiser. Below are my recommendations for the best eating and drinking experiences in Budapest!
1. Ruins Pubs
Szimpla Kert: I recommend going to Szimpla Kert, the largest and most famous ruins bar in Budapest. The city is full of amazing ruins bars but Szimpla is truly something special. The bar is two stories and comprises and labyrinth of indoor spaces with different types of bars (wine, cocktail, craft beer) and a magical outdoor courtyard full of twinkling lights. The whole space has a truly authentic feel and is full of random collections of objects from old bicycles to dolls and tea kettles. Ruins bars actually serve as community spaces during the day, so check out the schedule online to catch everything from poetry readings to film showings and concerts.
In addition, Szimpla has a farmer’s market every Saturday morning. For 12 euros, you get an absolutely fantastic, all you can eat brunch, that offers a huge variety of dishes all made using the market’s organic produce and meats. Brunch at Szimpla was one of my favorite experiences in Budapest and one of the best brunches I´ve had in my life so it’s a definite must!
2. Eat Goulash
Nothing says Hungarian like a big pot of goulash, so trying this quintessential Hungarian dish while in Budapest is a key part of experiencing the city. A local Budapestian recommended Cafe Intenzo for an authentic Hungarian eating experience. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, however the eating patio in the garden out-back is charming and peaceful and the food was amazing. The patio was also full of Hungarian people (not tourists) which is usually a good sign of a local-eatery.
Budapest has developed a booming coffee culture. Think, a mix between your average hipster coffee bar (clean lines, iron and copper fixtures, smooth white stone surfaces) and a gritty, underground counterculture scene and you’ll have it pegged. The city is full of cool coffee shops, however my favorite was a quaint walk-up coffee bar called My Little Melbourne Coffee and Brew Bar. Their coffee was rich and smooth and they had every type of milk imaginable.
4. Gozsdu Udvar
An expansive courtyard full of restaurants and bars located in the 7th district. Is it touristy? Yes, but you’ll also find local Hungarians here, as well as delicious food and great drinks. Gozsdu Udvar has a great ambiance and is twinkling and full of life at all times of the day, so definitely head here for lunch or dinner and drinks.
Tip: Skip the local liquor: Palinka is the traditional Hungarian spirit. The smell alone made the hair on my arms stand straight-up. Unless the idea of downing rubbing alcohol appeals to you, skip it.
Bath culture is big in Budapest. The city is located on top of a network of natural warm springs and so is home to many thermal baths, the most famous of which are Szechenyi, Rudas and Gellert. Bathing in Budapest is a very unique experience and a way to take part in the local culture. In addition, it´s very relaxing and provides and the mineral content of the thermal water has numerous health benefits. Make sure you plan some time to take a dip while visiting the city!
1. Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Szechenyi Bath is truly a sight to behold. Its yellow and white exterior and intricate spiraling baths are stunning and offer a perfect setting to relax and enjoy the sun. Check the schedule for operating hours (especially in the winter). During the summer, Szechenyi also holds a bath party on Saturday nights. I attended and would recommend skipping the party and visiting the bath during the day. Especially for the ladies out there, the vibe at the bath party started out fun but I was forced to leave early because it quickly became very…creepy, to put it lightly.
2. Rudas Baths
The Rudas Bath is located on the Buda side of the Danube River. It hosts newer facilities and an absolutely amazing outdoor, rooftop bath and lounge area. I recommend going after visiting the Citadella to soak your muscles and take in the amazing view of Budapest from the rooftop bath.
1. Wander the 6th and 7th Districts
The 6th and 7th districts of Budapest are full of cool, funky clothing and antique shops. Spend an afternoon wandering both districts to for some fun pieces and eclectic finds. I also encountered an organic, Hungarian beauty products pop-up while wandering these districts that was full of great, natural make-up and body products, so make sure to wander off of the beaten path and keep your eye open for pop-up shops!
2. Antique Market at Gozdsu Udvar
On Saturday morning, there is an antique market that opens in the primary walkway through Gozsdu Udvar. Venders were selling everything from novelty coffee mugs to ornate antique jewelry and trinkets. Everything was extremely inexpensive and the local Hungarian venders were fun to interact with (most didn’t speak English) so I recommend checking out the market for steals on genuine antiques and a little local interaction.