Budapest has been on my “to do list” for a long while now however, to be completely honest before travelling there I had little idea about the city apart from it being home to the infamous Schenzy Roman baths and beautiful architecture.
Turns out the city is home to plenty more than that! Whether you’re into history & museums, good food & lively bars, spas & pampering or architecture there’s no shortage of things to do. In my opinion this vibrant city has almost everything you could ever want, well except for a beach that is. Having grown up on the Gold Coast, the beach is such an integral part of my life. I could never imagine my life (long term) without the ocean near by otherwise I’d probably look into relocating to Budapest. This aside, after recently spending a week in the city I can confirm it should be on everyone’s travel list. I completely fell in love with the place & would return in a heartbeat given the opportunity.
Our decision to visit Budapest was a last minute change of plans. It was the end of October and we’d been travelling around Europe in the van for around 5 months at that stage. Towards the end of this time we’d done our best and strategically planned to be in countries with warmer climates to hang on to the European Summer dream. But we couldn’t kid ourselves any longer when at the end of October we found ourselves in Munich where it was freezing cold and wet for days on end. Temperatures ranged from 1 to 5 degrees & the sun set at 4:30 pm. It was the first time all trip we had felt that van life was challenging. In fact, being in the van without heating or power (as we were free camping) was quite frankly miserable!
We quickly realised we had to think of an alternative. The next day we were travelling from Munich to Salzburg and then later onto Vienna, in Austria. Despite moving locations the weather forecast remained grim which made the decision to book a “holiday” from our already permanent vacation lifestyle an easy one. We looked at the world map and started researching plausible options (which were endless given how easy and affordable travel is in Europe) and quickly settled on Budapest. Return bus tickets & a week’s hostel accommodation were as cheap as chips & the climate was much more friendly 6 hours east – we were sold!
We had such a lovely “holiday” & spent our time exploring neighbourhoods, learning history, pampering ourselves at the spas & of course eating & drinking our way all over town. Here are some of our highlights & recommendations:
THINGS TO KNOW:
- The city is split into two sides, the Buda side & the Pest side. The sides are separated by the Danube river.
- Currency: HUF.
- English is widely spoken making communication for non Hungarian speaking travellers easy.
- We felt safe at all times (day & night) walking around.
- All of the locals, shopkeepers & hostel staff we encountered were friendly & happy to help. Even the police officers let me off after blindly ignoring a red light & crossing a busy road (probably best not to do that!).
WHERE TO STAY:
- The Jewish Quarter is where you want to be in terms of accomodation. Here you are right amongst the best cafes, restaurants & bars whilst only being a short walk away from the majority of the major tourist attractions (ie. 25 mins to the market hall, Gelet Baths & Danube river one way & the house of terror & baths the other direction).
- We stayed at a hostel in the Jewish Quarter (forgive me as I can not remember the name for the life of me) which was great for budget accommodation. There’s a shared kitchen if you’re looking to reduce costs on food & whip up some home cooked meals & Pete & Cecil the owners were incredibly helpful with local recommendations & always happy to answer any questions we had.
WHAT TO DO/SEE:
- Roman baths – an absolute must when visiting Budapest! We went to Gellért thermal bath & loved every second of it. There’s several heated baths of various temperatures, saunas, steam rooms, a swimming pool, showers & lush lounge areas. Our favourite was the outdoor thermal bath area. It was so nice being submerged in the warm water whilst the sun went down & the outside temperature dropped. Széchenyi is the most well known thermal bath & according to locals is busy all year round. The list doesn’t stop here so do your research and find out what’s best for you.
- Liberty Statue – best view over the city. BYO beers & go for sunset, you won’t be dissapointed. Or you could grab some delicious food from The Great Market Hall close by & take a picnic lunch.
- Hungarian Parliament Building – one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever laid eyes on. It took 19 years to build and unfortunately the architect went blind before he saw it completed. HOW SAD IS THAT!?
- Fisherman’s Bastion – great view of Parliament from across the river. It’s nice to go just before sunset so you can enjoy the view during the day & night (the Parliament building lit up is pretty special).
- Ruin bars – by far one of our favourite things about Budapest! These are makeshift bars located inside dilapidated and abandoned pre-war buildings. They’ve each got their own creative flare and style however are all generally furnished with second hand & quirky furniture while the walls are filled with art & graffiti. Make sure you spend the time to explore as you never know what is laying past the next door or walkway.
- The House of Terror Museum – a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in the building. It is also acts as a museum to provide information about Hungarian history, what life was like living through two terror regimes & communism & the nations victorious fight to freedom & independence. Make sure you pay the extra money to get an English audio guide & leave yourself plenty of time (we spent three hours there). Price: around 28 euros for 2 people with audio guides.
- The Shoes on the Danube Bank – a memorial to honour the Jews who were killed by fascist groups during WW2. There are a several sculptured shoes on the river bank of the Danuabe, located near by to the Parliament building. It commemorates the thousands of people who were forced to march down to the waters edge & take off their shoes before being shot.
WHAT/WHERE TO EAT/DRINK:
- Frici Papas – Hungarian cuisine, where the locals eat.
- Mazel Tov – Mediterranean Restaurant. The space is large, airy, and filled with plenty of lush hanging plants. When we visited they even had live music. The food is cheap & delicious. We loved it so much that we went there twice! The hummus plate & home made chips were our favourite.
- Karavan – Food trucks serving street food & beer. There’s something for everyone with vegan (or meat) burgers, Asian, Italian, Mexican, dessert stalls and more. We tried the national dish “Langos”, a deep fried dough. We thought it was tastier topped with red praprikas rather than the OG but the Mexican stall was far tastier than both!
- Ruszwurm confectionary – the best cream cake I have ever tasted! BY FAR. Lake Bled’s had nothing on this one.
- Ramenka – ramen with a minimalist yet cute fit out.
- Oysh – good sushi. Best for a quick bite or takeaway.
- Vega city – cheap but tasty vegan eats.
- The great market hall – Hungarian produce market spanning over three floors. They’ve got it all from meats & cheeses to fresh fruit & veg, delicious desserts & crappy souvenirs. Even if you don’t buy anything it’s worth popping your head in to take a look around. We tried the sour cherry strudel.
- Ruin bars: Szimpla Kert, Fogashaz, Anker’t.
- Dorado cafe – cosy interior with plenty of indoor plants & good quality coffee table books to gawk at whilst you have your caffeine fix.
- We caught the bus from Vienna to Budapest with Reggio Jet, one of the budget bus companies. The journey took just under 3 hours one way and worked out to be cheaper & probably faster than driving our van (“take over Rover” is one of our constant jokes as we battle along at 90km/hr on the highway whilst the other vehicle zoom past travelling the speed limit of 130 km/hr). The cost was around 33 euros return for 2 people.
- We caught the metro from the bus station to our hostel in the Jewish quarter which was easy enough and only a short distance away. However after this we no longer used public transport for the week and instead were able to walk everywhere on foot with nothing being further than a 35 minutes away. However be warned that the “Buda” side of Budapest is rather hilly so there are plenty of stairs involved when exploring – wear comfy shoes! (Or don’t and look like a dickhead as you attempt to navigate cobble stone streets and inclines in kitten heels. I love nothing more than people watching & laughing at others when warranted).