I was sat sipping on a glass of wine, atop a boat sauntering down the Danube, my tour guide headphones discarded as they’d kept changing to Spanish, when I realised our decision to make the trip to Hungary was the right one. The clouds that had been lingering cruelly since we landed had finally parted and played their part in creating one of those sunsets you see on Pinterest or Tumblr, but a lot more real, and a lot less photoshopped. By this time we’d already feasted on a disgustingly cheap but hearty meal in the courtyard at Mazel Tov (Shakshukah Mergeuz for me, Falafel Wrap for her) and meandered around the Jewish District, where our stylish AirBnB was located. The first night of a 4 day trip to Hungary’s capital wound to a close with a few drinks in one of the cities many ruin bars before having an early night (and some chilli cheese bites from Burger King because hey, I’m on holiday) so we could get up early the next day.
The Monday would be the first of two extensive days of walking. We opted to not take any public transport or cabs for the whole time we were in the city, deciding that our feet were a better mode of transport. We were right to do so as the city is best explored using your own two feet. We started the day with a pastry and coffee at My Little Melbourne, before taking a free walking tour(this one) of the city. These tours are always a good, and affordable, way of orientating yourself to a new city, while finding out all of the key history. The company we went for actually runs separate ones on the communist history of the city (Hungary has only been a democracy for a little over 20 years) as well as bar tours for those looking to make some new friends and get a little bit drunk. The tour we took finished us up in the Fisherman’s Bastion, a must see, and somewhere we actually returned to on our last evening to take advantage of its views across the city while the sun set.
Taking the recommendation of our tour guide we lunched at Drum Cafe, to do the usual tourist thing of trying something local. In this case it was Goulash and a Lángos (fried dough with sour cream and cheese). The next logical thing to do, after a morning of walking, was then of course to climb a big hill, so a little while later, in the full heat of day, we found ourselves slogging up Gellert Hill to gain a vantage point over the city and look at their controversial Liberty Statue up close. There’s a great business opportunity going at the top of Gellert Hill; some impressive entrepreneur will one day set up a small hut selling ice cream and water to stupid tourists who thought it was a good idea to walk up a hill in 35 degree heat armed only with a small bottle of tepid tap water and a camera. None the less, the views across the city were a delight and a reminder of just how small a city it actually is, as you can see across the whole city to the surrounding countryside. On the Pest side it’s flat for miles, but the more residential Buda side of the Danube is covered in rolling hills.
One of the big things touted around for tourist appeal are Budapest’s famous ‘Ruin Bars’. They have taken over a number of the old derelict buildings that make up much of the Jewish District, often keeping original fittings and graffiti while adding their own level of quirkiness on top. The main ‘must see’ tourist-centric one is Szimpla, with cheap beer, multiple floors and rooms as well as food on offer, we popped in a couple of times before checking out a few of the others like Ankert, Fogashàz and Kuplung. As fun as these bars are, if you want to avoid some of the stag and hen dos from the UK or the hordes of younger people on their first lads holidays, then you may want to go to a few establishments frequented by more of the locals. We ended the night in one of these, where Maddie befriended a man solely because he had a cute dog, and he ended up trying to sell us some form of ‘herbal drink’ which he claimed would leave us hangover free. We of course declined, and he left, but hey, he had a pretty cool dog.
All of this drinking left us feeling more than a little worse for wear on the Tuesday morning, and we had breakfast booked at Liberté Grand Café for 9am. It’s a shame we were so hungover because the food was wonderful (eggs benedict), and our trip to Budapest’s Central Market Hall (food market) afterwards ended up as more of a quick dash around avoiding the meat counters before running home to get into bed for a couple of hours to try and fend off the last clutches the alcohol had on us. It meant we changed our plans, which had originally been to check out one of the cities famous thermal baths, in favour of sitting in our undies drinking loads of water and eating bread and cheese, but hey if a holiday isn’t for relaxing then when is? We more than made up for it as after another ‘potter’ along the Danube later that evening, and up to the Bastion to watch the sunset, we somehow managed to crank up 37,000 steps for the day…
I will simply say that I loved Budapest. I would happily go back and continue to explore its streets, vintage shops, bars, coffee shops, drastically mixed architecture and actually go to one of the thermal baths (without a hangover). There were numerous other things on our list we didn’t have time to do. We even came back with far more money that we expected, and we hadn’t even been that sensible with our spending. There are some absolute gems on AirBnB at a fraction of the price compared to a number of other European cities.
Must see & do:
Free walking tour
St Stephen’s Basilica
Ruin Bars (Szimpla, blanks)
Thermal baths (apparently)
Printa (Design shop and coffee shop)
Food & Coffee shops
*Budapest has a number of highly rated michelin star restaurants that we only didn’t go to due to Maddie being Vegetarian, which is why they have not made the list.
Mozel Tov (food & alcohol)
My Little Melbourne (tea, coffee & pastries)
Espresso Embassy (coffee)
Fekete (coffee and the food looked good)
Liberté Grand Café (Breakfast, their main menu looked very good)
Levendula Kézműves Fagylaltozó (ice cream)
Eating on the Buda side or too close to the Danube as prices go up the closer you get to the river.
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