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Budapest

April 2019

Stunning contrasting architecture, clean streets, brilliant nightlife, a hipster vibe, and hopefully some sunshine. 

Quick Bites

Currency: HUF (Hungarian Forint)
To do: Roam the streets and thermal baths
To stay: Hostels over Airbnb here for sure
How long to stay: 2-3 days
Food: Lángos and kürtőskalács
Vibe: Hipster
Why to go: Walkable destination with plenty of character and sights
Transport: Walk when in the city, bus to and from airport
Best of: Picturesque and clean with a chill vibe
Worst of: Very busy during Easter holidays!
Go with: Small group of friends

Why go to Budapest

Communist era building in Budapest
Communist era buildings make an interesting contrast to the city’s other architecture

Budapest is a popular destination for young adults in Europe looking for a quick break, mainly because it is accessible and cheap. These are the main reasons I went too. A couple of friends and I wanted to get away together but we didn’t have a lot of time and wanted to keep things relatively inexpensive. None of us had been to Budapest before so it seemed a perfect fit. I’d say the main reasons to go aside from the above are its beautiful architecture, the famous thermal baths, ruin bars, and the ease with which you can see the place walking around. Most city breaks involve a good street roam (which I love as this is the best way to get a sense of a place), but Budapest is truly the perfect size to see in a couple of days without getting too exhausted and experiencing the different sides of the city. What you get is stunning contrasting architecture, clean streets, brilliant nightlife, a hipster vibe, and hopefully some sunshine. 

What to do in Budapest

The stunning Hungarian Parliament Building from the riverside
The stunning Hungarian Parliament Building from the riverside

Budapest is perfect for a short visit full of busy days. One of my favourite ways to start a city trip is with a free walking tour. Budapest has numerous companies which offer these in various languages so you’ll always find something that suits. Aside from the standard tour they also have street art and communist history tours if you fancy it. Take money out in advance to tip the tour guide at the end if you are travelling reliant on a Revolut or Monzo card to not get caught out like we did, having to take out cash at the end at the only ATM close by which had a charge!

We only did the standard tour which takes you to all the main sights with a good lowdown on the history and culture of the city. We roamed around the rest of the city in our own time. Definitely check out the Jewish Quarter to see some awesome street art and the ruin bars. We didn’t have too long so we didn’t sample many of the ruin bars but we did make a point to go to Szimpla Kert which is one of the most popular and a nearby ruin bar/cub called Fogart. I loved the labyrinth feel of both bars as there were so many rooms to discover and all with different themes. I wish Szimpla had more of a dance floor as I love a dance on a night out, but its was still my favourite as the decor varied so much from room to room (think hipster paraphernalia all around with different themes in each room). The downside at Szimpla was that you couldn’t use card at some bars which in this day and age is a bit of a deal breaker, but either way it’s definitely the kind of place I’d want to go with a group of friends to get some pints in. Next to Szimpla we also found a mini street food/beer garden setup which was amazing called Karaván. It was super chill and a great place to start the night before going for a dance and if you have the stomach, a shot of pálinka.

The National Gallery has a nice collection and has reduced entry for young people which is always a plus. Out of all the options, we chose to visit the famous Széchenyi baths, as it boasts outside baths which were certainly a pull considering the amazing weather we had when we were in Budapest. We also went to have a look at the Parliament up close which is absolutely regal. We didn’t go inside but there are tours you can take (book in advance during busy times). One of my favourite things was walking along the markets on the Buda riverside to get to the Gellért Hill. We walked up (feel free to take your time as after a full day walking it is quite tiring) and found a spot to play cards with some music whilst the sun went down. Once the sun had set all the lights came on and it was impressive to see the Parliament and Fisherman’s Bastion all lit up against the Danube.

How long to spend in Budapest

View from Gellert Hill
Views from the top of Gellért Hill

We spent two full days in Budapest, arriving at around 10pm on a Friday and leaving early morning on the Monday. Frankly, this was enough for me. I think it’s always a good idea to keep a city trip short as you can usually see the sights relatively quickly and discovering more of the charm tends to require living there for several months. Everything is walking distance and unless you really want to do all the tours and see all the museums etc. I think you can enjoy a full but not hectic itinerary for two days. Had we stayed longer maybe we would have entered more of the monuments such as the cathedral and the parliament building as well as exploring more of the famous thermal baths, but to be honest I don’t feel like I missed out by not seeing them. It is definitely a hen/stag destination too if the turnout at the Széchenyi baths was anything to go by.

What baths to go to in Budapest

The Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The Széchenyi Thermal Baths just before they closed to prepare for their spa party

The Széchenyi baths are famous for being the largest in Europe and as they have outdoor baths, these are the ones we decided to visit. To be honest, getting in wasn’t straightforward. We arrived at around 2pm to find a huge line which began to disperse as people were turned away. They were saying they were at full capacity so we started to walk around the complex and found another entrance which appeared to be the main entrance. People still seemed to be getting in here which was quite confusing. We approached the ticket office where we were told that the lockers were sold out but that we could get entry with a changing cabin instead as it was all that was left. It came to around 5800-6000 HUF each, as they charged us one cabin and two lockers, which wasn’t too bad. It was quite busy but there was no escaping this considering the weather and the fact we’d decided to visit during the Easter holidays but we still managed to roam around and let me tell you, the place is HUGE. We spent all our time in the outside baths (one had a whirlpool which was ideal) and didn’t regret it one bit. Although we didn’t have time to visit other baths, here are some that were recommended to us: Rudas Baths (rooftop jacuzzi with views over the city) and the Gellért and Veli Bej Baths (tour guides favourites as they tend to be quieter).

The vibe of Budapest

Roaming around the streets of the Jewish Quarter
Roaming around the streets of the Jewish Quarter

Budapest definitely gets the title of a “hipster” city with all the street art, the laid-back vibe, and the fashionable locals. However, one thing I loved was how clean it was. Returning to London to the sight of trash on the streets after this trip was actually quite sad. Funnily enough, although the city has a relaxed feel, Hungarian is the fastest language I think I’ve ever heard! Honestly, it sounds like breaths are not a thing they take between sentences.

What to eat in Budapest

The most popular dish referenced when talking about Budapest is of course goulash. Now, forgive me, but I didn’t try it. In my defence it was hot and a stew just wasn’t what I fancied. I do love paprika though, so I’m sure it is bomb. We actually ended up being “those tourists” and ate thai (Thai Spicy Nine) and indian (Haveli Indian restaurant) during our stay, both of which were really tasty and satisfied our cravings. Not all is lost though as I did try some typical treats from Budapest including lángos and kürtőskalács.

Kürtőskalács, commonly referred to as chimney cakes are a typical sight in the city and are often sold with ice cream in the middle. We tried chocolate covered, cinnamon sugar covered, and one with ice cream in it. Needless to say, we overestimated our sweet tooth and couldn’t finish the three, but I definitely think the cinnamon sugar one was the best and reminded me of cinnamon sugar pretzels. Another rookie mistake we committed during the trip was to try lángos the same day as the chimney cakes. We tried sour cream and cheese covered lángos as well as the garlic covered lángos. Though they were both tasty it was just too rich after our chimney cakes in the morning (imagine deep fried dough doused in cream and cheese following a cinnamon and sugar doughnut). My favourite taste wise was definitely the garlic one. The sour cream is traditional but it didn’t have that much flavour and I think cheese toppings are always best when melted.

We had some lovely iced lattes from local coffee shops, however, don’t ask for a hazelnut latte (my typical coffee order) as the one I had from the cafe at the National Gallery cafe was so heavy on the syrup I almost gagged. On a food note, I have to call out the fact that they had Tesco! Tesco is a staple supermarket in the UK but I had never seen it outside the country, so it was funny to see them everywhere. Pálinka is the traditional fruit brandy you will find in Hungary, we tried a shot and being lightweights it didn’t go down well, but don’t let that stop you! The free walking tour handed out a pamphlet with a list of foods to try amongst other useful information, so if you need inspiration aside from the above, look there.

Transport in Budapest and getting there

Budapest is a great destination for students in the UK and around Europe as the flights to and from are relatively cheap. My friends and I went during public holidays in Britain as we were short on holiday days (downside of the adult work life) but wanted to get away somewhere together. Of course this meant that the tickets were significantly more expensive than the usual. I ended up paying around £170 (I know friends who have gone for around £50) for flights.

The cheapest way (and pretty convenient) to get into the city is to take the bus. Take bus 100E and for which you can buy tickets at the machines with card. *Buy the airport transfer ticket to get to the city!* Rookie move, but we bought the normal ticket and the driver was not having it (we weren’t the only ones to have made the mistake). We ended up not using the original ticket we’d bought, but fear not if you make this mistake as the ticket won’t expire and you can use it for a single ride on any bus, or even better, on the public river boat to avoid paying for a tour boat (a ride on the river is a good way to see the beautiful city lit up at night). I really recommend walking around the city, so although there is a good bus system, bring a good pair of walking shoes and a bottle of water as it can get hot in spring/summer, oh and sun cream if you are pasty like a couple of us are…

Where to stay in Budapest

"People used to live here" placard
I love a sarcastic placard, this one was found in the Jewish Quarter, where we stayed

As a group of three we thought we could get a cool Airbnb for a decent price, however, the posting was a bit of a catfish. The host was an hour late, the place was dirty, we found several cigarette butts around the property, we had no WiFi, and the only actual bed (not questionable sofa bed) was broken. The bed had been propped up by an empty bottle of Jack and some tape. Needless to say it was probably one of my worst Airbnb experiences although I am in general a fan of the service. I have had a look since and there are numerous awesome looking hostels (that all look super clean) in the city which frankly I wish I’d stayed at. My friends and I had a good laugh about the accommodation situation and we were out most of the time so it didn’t put a downer on our trip, but its definitely a destination where I’d choose a hostel over an Airbnb if you’re looking to keep things cheap but clean. If you know you are going during a busy period also book in advance! It could have been that all the best deals on Airbnb had been snapped up as it was Easter.

Make the trip moments

The outside of the quirky Szimpla ruin bar
The outside of the quirky Szimpla ruin bar
  • The whirlpool at the Széchenyi Thermal Bath (it was mayhem when groups of people joined simultaneously, we loved it)
  • Watching the sunset whilst playing cards atop Gellért Hill and then seeing the city all lit up at night
  • Checking out all the rooms in Szimpla Kert (the oldest ruin bar) and trying Pálinka (definitely not our drink)
  • Paying hardly anything (by London standards) to skip the queue at Fogas, dancing to cheesy music, and being close enough to walk home after!
  • Soaking up the sun at Olympia Park (by the Parliament building) whilst playing cards. 
  • Seeing the state of our Airbnb (my friends and I are the kind that laugh at our misfortunes)
  • Almost missing the bus in the wee hours of the morning to the airport (we were on the wrong side on the street at a massive intersection), we ran like madmen through the underpass to make it
  • Being separated from my friends who were on a different flight at the airport on the way back, only to be surprisingly reunited and playing cards (our obsession this trip) right up until our gates had almost closed and we had to run off
  • Getting asked by a man at 11:30pm if we knew where there is a bakery open. Me being me, I thought the man really wanted cake so I told him I thought I’d seen one down the street but it was closed. Only after he’d left did my friends make me aware that it was probably code for something (still don’t know what)