A road trip around Malta

March 2018

If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!

Quick Bites

Currency: EUR
Why to go: Rich history, good food, & beautiful scenery
Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking
How long to stay: 1-2 nights at each place
Transport: Hire a car, drive on the left
Don’t miss: Area around St. Peters Pool and Ras il-Fniek
Go with: A group of friends
Food: Famed for rabbit
Vibe: Easy going, slow pace

Why go to Malta

Mini natural pools at the ocean's edge
An amazing spot we found after getting lost on our way to St. Peter’s Pool (just northeast of St. Peter’s)

My cousins and I selected Malta for our first international trip as a group of three slightly disastrous humans. I won’t lie, it was chosen off the ‘Everywhere’ list of destinations on Skyscanner as it met our budget, none of us had ever been, and we were seeking some sun. However, having now experienced the islands in the archipelago, I am a firm fan. From one side of Malta to the other is less than an hour by car, making it perfect for a shorter trip that still feels very much complete. If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!

Where to visit in Malta

The Maltese archipelago consists of the islands of Malta (the largest), Gozo, and Comino (the smallest). Given time constraints, we opted to only visit Malta and Gozo stopping at various places on our way round with the car. Below is a selection of our top spots we found on offer during our Maltese road trip.

Sliema

A perched bird overlooking the walled city of Valletta
The walled city of Valletta

Sliema works as a perfect base for day visits to Valletta. It is cheaper to stay here overnight than Valletta itself and you get an awesome view of the city which you would not get from inside the walls. There is not too much to call out here in terms of sight seeing but we had the best food of the trip at a restaurant called Ta’ Kris which we could tell was top class due to all the local clientele. It’s a reasonably small place with hard worked staff, so don’t expect speed, but if you get yourself a booking you are really in for a treat. Rabbit is a Maltese specialty and the rabbit dishes here were super tasty!

Valletta

Quirky buildings with multicoloured windows around Valletta
Many of the buildings in Valletta have these quirky multicoloured windows

Valletta was gorgeous to walk around. The city is a unique mix, housing beautiful churches, quirky coloured apartments, and a spattering of some ‘hipster’ bars. It is the ultimate cool city with a laidback vibe packed with a serious historical punch. You want to give yourself time to get lost amongst the streets here but make sure to visit some of the museums to ensure you leave with an appreciation of everything the country has seen in its past. I recommend The Malta Experience for a short movie which explains the history and the War Memorial at the ocean end of the city for some awesome views of the forts surrounding Valletta. Finish your day here watching the sunset from the upper Barrakka Gardens when you are too tired to walk anymore.

A bar sign which reads: we have beer colder than your ex's heart
One of the great signs on offer for your viewing pleasure at the bars in Valletta

Gozo

Gozo has plenty to offer, so although we only spent one day and night here, I would recommend tacking on a day or two. We started our visit by taking in the megalithic Ġgantija temples to get an understanding of how ancient the land is.

Following our cultural visit of the day we headed to Marsalforn which considering it was March was quite empty. However, during high season a lot of tourists stay around here, particularly those looking to dive, as the town hosts a few diving shops. It was nice to walk around the dock area and I can definitely see the outdoor restaurant spaces packed in summer with tourists enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two.

Next we headed to the Azure Window and Blue Hole site. The Azure Window has actually collapsed now so you can’t see the arc structure which used to stand at this location. Either way this is a breathtaking area at the edge of the island of Gozo with cliffs a plenty to fulfil your sit, stare, and contemplate life needs.

A shot of a cliff and the Mediterranean sea bordering it
Captured whilst clambering around the rocks at the Blue Hole/Azure Window
Two women walking around flat cliffs with a view of the ocean behind
Visting the Azure Window in the morning and wandering around free of tourists
The cliffs at Gozo with the sea in front
The stunning cliffs near the Azure Window site

I recommend visiting Victoria at night. It is the main city on the island and boasts the stunning Ċittadella. At night the walls are lit up similarly to Valletta and it makes for a killer view. Walking around the place without other tourists made me feel like I was creeping around a castle in Dorne in Game of Thrones in the dead of night and I was all for it.

Mdina

Mdina is another of the incredible walled cities Malta has to offer. We started our visit here during the day getting lost around the city streets. At night, once again the city lit up which gave it that important castle feel. The streets are peppered with classy bars and restaurants, so although it is the old capital, you get the sense that people really socialise there rather than just treating it as a tourist destination.

Marsaxlokk

Maltese luzzu boats docked at port
Typical Maltese luzzu fishing boats docked at Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk is known as the best place to see the famous Maltese luzzu fishing boats. The boats are typically painted bright blue yellow and red with a pair of eyes on the bow. This small fishing village did not disappoint on the boat front and we had a stellar seafood lunch to boot.

The Mediterranean sea with a long cliffside in the distance
The view of Ras il-Fniek from the hidden private pools near St. Peter’s Pool

My favourite part of the whole trip was our hike from Marsaxlokk to the St. Peters Pool area. The walk is super nice, giving you a bird’s eye view of the village you leave behind from a path bordered by old beige walls, cacti, and yellow flowers. We actually took a wrong turn and happened to find the most beautiful place of the whole trip. We never made it to St. Peter’s Pool but found an area of multiple natural pools which were bordered by the Mediterranean, almost like natural infinity pools. There was no one around seeing as most tourist traffic heads to St. Peter’s, so it became our own little paradise. What made it was the view of the Ras il-Fniek cliffs to the left whilst we bathed!

How long to stay in Malta

Red and blue coloured benches parked in front of a port
Cute colourful benches we found at the waterfront on the walk from Sliema to Valletta

Malta is ideal for short trips because it is so small. Crossing the main island of Malta on it’s longest side takes less than 1 hour by road, so if you hire a car you have your independence and can check out as much of the country as you want. We stayed 6 days including our departure and arrival days and we squeezed so much in. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. However, we did not visit Comino. If you have the luxury of time and want to see absolutely everything, give yourself a full 7-10 days and you will leave feeling like locals.

Transport in Malta

A path lined by yellow flowers with a small port village in the background
The view of Marsaxlokk from the hike towards St. Peter’s Pool

Malta does have a public bus system which many opt for to get from place A to B. Many also just visit Malta as a beach destination and spend most of their time in one spot. Our intention was to see as much of the island as we reasonably could and a road trip gave us the freedom to do that. If you have the time, I am sure the bus is cheaper, however, we didn’t want to find ourselves having to wait 1 hour after missing a bus (which would be typical of us). Also, be aware that in Malta you drive on the left hand side of the road!

Where to stay in Malta

A woman sleeping on the doorstep of a closed hotel title 'Hotel Ritz'
Us being high class and sleeping at the Ritz in Marsalforn because we are that boujee

Parking isn’t the easiest in Malta if you are not a confident driver. It is a small place so you can imagine it is a lot of parallel parking situations on small streets. Given the best way to see Malta is by hiring a car, I would recommend trying to secure Airbnbs with some parking space to make your life easier. That said, we predominantly used Booking.com to secure hotels and hostels at reasonable prices. In all honesty, the important thing here is proximity to where you are visiting as once you have arrived, the best thing to do is leave the car close to your accommodation and walk around given the size of the place.

A view of a small port and apartments in the background
The waterfront at St. Julian’s

Make the trip moments

A woman sat on a cliff's edge looking at the ocean below
The stunning cliffside view at the Azure Window/Blue Hole area on Gozo
  • My first trip with some of my favourite humans, being the disastrous triplet cousins we are
  • Screaming on our way to Sliema from the airport after getting volunteered to drive us as the one who is ‘used to’ driving on the left
  • The flashy lights around the churches all over Malta
  • The food at Ta’ Kris (R.I.P. the leftover pasta we forgot in the fridge)
  • Taking photos of us sleeping everywhere to curate a beautiful album for our parents
  • Falling asleep during The Malta Experience movie – I swear it was good but two thirds of us are pale and the sun hit us hard
  • So many cats, cats everywhere, cat sanctuaries in the middle of more than one Maltese town
  • Initiating our cousin into our sleep in the car habits in Gozo
  • Watching Black Panther in Victoria one evening just because (favourite Marvel film)
  • Doing everything last minute: renting a car, finding accommodation, you name it we did it
  • Loving Cisk beer and not loving Kinnie so much (acquired taste)
  • The ‘private’ natural pools near St. Peter’s Pool

Malta itinerary: Malta and Gozo in 6 days

March 2018

Day 1: Sliema

  • Fly into Malta in the morning and pick up your rental car (hopefully you are more organised than us and booked ahead)
  • Argue over who has to drive first in this foreign land, and when that is settled, head off to Sliema to drop off your stuff (once again, hopefully you are not booking accommodation in the car on the way to the town like us)
  • Make a reservation for dinner at Ta’ Kris and go walk around Sliema and the waterfront, getting a glimpse of nearby Valletta all lit up in the dark
  • Make yourself comfortable (seriously, service was slow) at Ta’ Kris for the best food of the whole holiday – be sure to try the rabbit dishes

Day 2: Valletta

  • Wake up early and shake off your food hangover because it is time to drive to Valletta (see if you can find parking in one of the towns in between Sliema and Valletta and walk the rest of the way as you won’t need the car)
  • Spend the day roaming the quirky streets of the walled city, being sure to make time for some museums (I recommend The Malta Experience for a short film summarising the history of the island) and the War Memorial from which you get a great view of Fort Ricasoli
  • Watch sunset at the upper Barrakka Gardens accompanied by an ice cream

Day 3: Gozo

  • Stop at Għadira Bay for breakfast by the sea before heading to the ferry station near Cirkewwa to purchase a return ticket to Gozo
  • Kill the time until the ferry arrives by taking in the views at Sunset Spot
  • Enjoy the 30 min crossing to Mġarr and upon arrival make your way straight to the Ġgantija temples for your daily dose of Maltese history
  • Drive to Marsalforn for lunch and a nosy around the waterfront
  • Continue on to the Azure Window (collapsed but still beaut) and the Blue Hole and spend some time jumping around the rocks and letting the stellar cliff views sink in
  • When night falls, head to Victoria to spend the night, but only after wandering about the lit up Ċittadella without the bustle of the day tourists

Day 4: Mdina & Dingli Cliffs

  • It is finally time for a beach day, up to you where, but I would recommend Ramla which is one of the most popular on Gozo (be sure to pick up ice cold Cisk beer and some crisps)
  • Get the ferry back to the main island and drive to the Dingli Cliffs for a walk and sunset
  • After sunset, make your way to Mdina, park up and get lost around the awesome old fortified capital at night

Day 5: Marsaxlokk & St. Peter’s Pool

  • Drive over to Marsaxlokk and spend some time at the waterfront checking out the luzzus (traditional Maltese fishing boats which are brightly coloured with eyes on the bow)
  • Leave the car at Marsaxlokk, pack a picnic, and hike over to St. Peter’s Pool and Ras il-Fniek to take in the phenomenal cliffside views
  • Get a little lost and head just northeast of St. Peter’s Pool to find your own private little paddling pools with infinity style views of the ocean

Day 6: St Julian’s

  • Wake up and enjoy a farewell breakfast in St Julian’s followed by a walk along the waterfront
  • Head off to the airport with plenty of time to return the car
  • Bust out the cards, and enjoy the last moments before you fly off reminiscing about the best moments of the trip whilst absolutely dominating at any and every game

Croatia itinerary: Split to Pula road trip in 6 days

September 2018

Day 1: Split

  • Fly into Split airport and pick up your hire car, opting to drop it off in Pula
  • Drive to your airbnb, drop off the luggage and off you go to the old town to explore
  • Wander around the cobblestoned streets and stores of the old town as the sun goes down, followed by a dinner in a plaza
  • Grab some cocktails in one of the many bars along the sea front before hitting the sack ready for an early start the next day

Day 2: Hvar

  • Drive to old town Split to board one of the ferries heading out from the port to Hvar (it is about 1.5 hours one way so bring your headphones, cards, and books)
  • Arrive at Hvar in awe of the docked yachts and take in the old town whilst in search for a haunt for lunch
  • Following lunch, embark on a seafront hike in search of a more secluded beach away from town
  • Have a swim at your secluded spot and start your hike back before the sun goes down
  • Get the last ferry back (check the times beforehand as they don’t run too late)
  • Go out for a night on the town on your last evening in Split 😉

Day 3: Krka National Park

  • Pack up all your stuff, load the car and embark on the 1 hour drive to Krka from Split
  • Park the car and pay for your entrance with or without the bus to the main trail (we opted not to, exercise is healthy, and young adults can be bad at saving money)
  • Grab your towels and water bottles before setting off and follow the trail around the park, taking a dip at the waterfalls!
  • Hopefully you are lucky enough to visit on a sunny day and you can dry off in the sunshine before your walk back to the car
  • Head off to Šibenik straight from Krka, the drive should take approx. 1 hour

Day 4: Šibenik

  • Wake up and make your way to (you guessed it) the old town to wander around checking out the cute cobbled streets, the cathedral, the plazas, the charming shops, and the St. Michael Fortress
  • Get a ticket and wander around the St. Michael Fortress, the views are worth it
  • Following a nice lunch and a smoothie, find the car and head off to your next destination, Zadar, the drive should only take 1 hour again (ideal)

Day 5: Zadar

  • Set off towards old town and start by wandering around Queen Jelena Madijevka Park before you lose the light of the day
  • Grab an ice cream cone before having a nosy around the markets before sunset kicks in
  • Sit down and take in sunset accompanied by wave music at the Sea Organ and the sun induced light display at the Sun Salutation
  • Following the sunset get yourself back to the bar in the park for a cocktail and a shisha before calling it a night

Day 6: Pula

  • Pack the car and head out towards Pula, it is a 4 hour drive so leave some time for stops and ensure you have some snacks
  • Drive alongside the E65 for as long as you can to benefit from the coastal views and a sunset drive!
  • Arrive at Pula, drop off the car (dent free ideally) and go grab a bite to eat before the festival opening concert if you are going to one
  • If you aren’t going during festival season, be sure to check out Fort Punta Christo and the amphitheatre alongside the beach!

Croatia from Split to Pula

September 2018

My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!

Quick Bites

Currency: HRK (Croatian Kuna)
Why to go: Ideal for road trips, natural parks, & festivals
Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking
How long to stay: 2-3 nights at each city max
Transport: Hire a car
Go with: A group of friends
Food: Very mediterranean

Why go to Croatia

The view over a cathedral by the sea
The cathedral at Šibenik

My friend and I actually decided to go to Croatia for a music festival. Pula boasts various popular festivals such as Dimensions and Ultra. We were headed to Outlook festival for a sunny dose of bass music to finish off summer. My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!

Where to visit & what to do in Croatia

We wanted to see some of the country during our trip but knew we would be knackered post festival so we flew in early to the south of the country, Split, and decided to road trip up to the festival location, Pula. The start and finish points of our trip were hugely influenced by flight prices and convenience but we saw a good bit of the country and enjoyed some beautiful drives. Below are the locations we visited and what we did in each.

Split

Waterfalls surrounded by a green forest
The waterfalls that were visible along the path at Krka National Park

We stayed in Split for 3 nights, largely because it was the minimum stay at our Airbnb but it worked perfectly as a base from which to do day trips to Krka National Park and Hvar. Split in itself has good nightlife (full of young people from all around Europe making their way up to the festivals in Pula) and a delightful old town to roam. One of our favourite bits was a tiki bar placed in one of the old town squares that transitioned from serving smoothies to cocktails as the sun dropped. Krka National Park is roughly a 1 hour drive from Split and boasts some awesome waterfalls where you can take a dip, which feels well deserved after your walk to get there.

Hvar

Hvar is known as a party island for the rich. I believe it was featured as a Made in Chelsea holiday season destination. You understand why when you arrive on a ferry from Split to a port with several yachts. The ferry trip takes around 1.5 hours one way but is pleasant. We opted to not take our car and explored the quirky streets of Hvar by foot and hiked to some more secluded beaches away from the port. The water was beautiful here and some of the hotels looked stunning, but personally I was more enthralled by the parties had during the festival!

Šibenik

The drive from Split to Šibenik was only around 1 hour. We found a cute pop art style flat last minute and arrived at night ready to check out the city the next day. Šibenik is an awesome place to roam around in the sun, particularly the old town streets. If you wind your way up through the old town you reach St. Michael Fortress which gives you a great view over the city.

Zadar

A sunset over the sea with mountains and a boat in the distance
The view of the sunset from the sea organ in Zadar

The drive to Zadar from Šibenik was again only about 1 hour (this country is honestly ideal for a road trip). The old town in Zadar is where its at. It is perfect to walk around and has plenty of options for a nice dinner and a cheeky ice cream whilst the sun goes down. One of our favourite spots was the Sea Organ, where you can sit on the marble steps leading into the ocean and watch the sunset accompanied by the sounds created by the waves and the 35 organ pipes under the steps. Next to the Organ was the Sun Salutation which is essentially a massive solar panel which uses the day’s sunlight as energy to light up a series of multicoloured light on top it. These exhibitions are the coolest bits of Zadar so you can imagine they can get quite busy!

Pula

A group a young people watching sunset over the sea
One of the beautiful sunsets we saw by the sea during the Outlook festival

Pula was our last stop and I won’t pretend that we saw much more than the festival locations but they were a gorgeous backdrop to the festival. The opening concert was held in the Pula amphitheatre and it was incredible. Imagine the Colosseum in Rome all lit up in hues of blue, green, and red accompanied by the dulcet sounds of Bonobo. Hopefully that image excites you as much as it did me. The rest of the festival was held in Fort Punta Christo. Everyone stayed nearby so it was easy to walk to and from the festival. The Fort was right on the water and some of the stages were in some incredible hidden nooks of the Fort. I cannot recommend a festival here enough!

How long to stay in Croatia

An alleyway between old town houses with green window shutters and doors
The picturesque streets in old town Šibenik

A good 10 days in Croatia is enough for a Split to Pula road trip finishing off in some festival fun. We had a bout of food poisoning so we missed out on some things we wanted to see but we did not leave feeling unsatisfied. If you want to drive less in a given day, consider staying longer. If I were to visit without going to a festival I would tack on Zagreb and Dubrovnik as additional stops.

Transport in Croatia

Approaching a town whilst driving on a seaside road
The stunning E65 road we took from Zadar to Pula – such a gorgeous drive

I am not someone who loves driving or who is a super confident driver. Unfortunately I always end up driving in random countries, here is to hoping soon I will feel like a pro. Regardless of my skills behind the wheel, Croatia was such a pleasure to drive! The roads were easy to follow, with the exception of some one way road drama in some of the smaller towns (but I blame Maps over anything else). Some of the roads we drove at sunset on the coast were stunning and I reckon you would be missing out if you don’t opt to hire a car here in favour of buses or trains.

Where to stay in Croatia

A view over a port city full of white houses with red roofing
The view over Šibenik from outside the St. Michael’s Fortress

Stay in Airbnbs throughout your time in Croatia, it is more convenient if you have a car. We didn’t experience any much difficulty with booking accommodation same day (we are not plan ahead people) and even got to stay at a quirky pop art themed place for one night (one of my favourite Airbnbs ever). I would say that if you are going to a festival, book accommodation ASAP as prices sky rocket.

Make the trip moments

  • A red mess (guess what you will)
  • Our unfortunate laughing fit when returning our hire car with a dent from reversing into a pole (the guy at the rental place called us legends for being in such a good mood, but obviously we were so chill because we know ourselves and got full cover)
  • The amazing Catalans we met and hung with throughout our time at the festival
  • Morning sunrises at the beach post dancing all night
  • Never waking up before 2pm during the festival
  • All the amazing stage locations around Fort Punta Christo
  • My friend Vedran from the Airbnb
  • Having to make the long bus and train journey to Italy to get our flight out the day after the festival ended because we left everything last minute (naturally we had slept about 30 minutes and were absolutely destroyed)

Itinerary: Budapest in 2 days

April 2019

Arrive late night

  • Take the bus from the airport to the centre/your accommodation
  • Get a bite to eat for dinner
  • Find your accommodation and settle in

Day 1 – walking tour, ruin bars

  • Free walking tour around the city to see the main sites and get a sense of the place
  • Try local delicacies like lángos and kürtőskalács when you find your energy flagging
  • Go to Szimpla Kert for some drinks at a ruin bar (sample some pálinka)
  • If you’re not tired enouh, go have a boogie at Fogart

Day 2 – Gellért Hill, baths

  • Roam the Jewish quarter to check out the awesome street art
  • Wander over to the Széchenyi baths for a good soaking
  • Check out the city sites closer up without the tour (e.g Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion, National Gallery)
  • Walk up Gellért Hill and watch sunset with a group of friends, music, and a pack of cards

Depart early morning

  • Take the bus to the airport (take care as it can get quite packed)
  • Grab breakfast at the airport before boarding your flight

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)