Bathtime in Budapest
Budapest is one of the liveliest and most eclectic cities we have gotten to visit. It’s a unique mix of class and grunge, with a diverse population of young, old, royal, and one of the bigger homeless populations that we had seen in Europe. It still felt like a very safe city, even with its tattered history and current political landscape. They also have one of the best “foodie” cultures with a variety of styles and types of food, especially in the newer hipster districts. It’s a very inexpensive city to visit since they use their own currency, the Hungarian Forint, so your money will go a lot longer here. Currently, 1 Forint is equal to .0038 USD and all of your banknotes will be pretty high so get used to paying for things that cost 5,000 Forint!
The city is broken up into 23 districts within the two sides of the city, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Buda is the hilly side of the city where you can see the Buda Castle and has districts 1, 2, 3, 11, 12, and 22. Pest is the more flat side where pretty much everything else is, like the Parliament building and the Jewish Quarter. It has districts 4-10, 13-20, and 23. District 21 is an island in the south that doesn’t really get much recognition in Budapest, so you won’t hear much about that one! Some of the most important tourist districts are districts 5-9, and 13 which make up the Downtown Center of Budapest, although we spent most of our time in 5-7.
Budapest was one of our favorite European cities and we easily could have spent more time here, we are certain you’ll love it as well.
Budapest is a pretty walkable city, but be prepared to walk A LOT if you want to see both sides of the city. There is a public transportation system, the oldest in continental Europe – and it shows. Everything with the metro system is original and it can be a little bit of a pain getting the scheduling down and finding a metro station, but it is an option. The only time we had to use it was to get up to Szechenyi and everything else we wanted to see was within walking distance, so make sure you have good shoes!
when to visit
Budapest has fairly pleasant weather most of the year, although it does get very cold and snowy in the winter season, December to March. Their spring months, March to April, and summer months, June to September, bring sunny weather but also afternoon showers so always be prepared with your rain gear. Shoulder seasons will still be your best time to visit with the least amount of crowds and beautiful weather so we recommend heading here around the spring or the fall!
where to stay
We had a hard time picking between the hostels of Budapest since they have a lot of highly reviewed places – plus you guys know how much love Wombats hostels, but we ultimately decided on Maverick City Lodge. It is located in the Former Jewish Quarter, one of the hippest districts of Budapest and close to everything we did. We had a 6 person dorm, with our own personal curtained beds and lockers. The room was a bit smaller than we have experienced with other hostels, but it did the job. The bathrooms were down the hall from our room and had lots of showers and mirrors to get ready. There is a breakfast located next door to the lobby at a restaurant called Fat Mama for a discounted price than what they normally charge, but we recommend heading out and finding your own. The breakfast was alright, but it was expensive for the buffet food we got and they were out of a lot of stuff. Where the breakfast was lacking though, the lobby events and staff excelled. On our last night we had a really fun time at a wine tasting with fellow travelers on our last night while waiting for our overnight train. We always recommend doing the hostel events that are offered, you never know what fun people you’ll meet!
things to do
Think fast, top two things you think of when you think of Budapest – drinking and bathhouses, right? Although those are two of the most popular attractions of Budapest, there is a lot of other great – and cheap – things to see in the city!
Soak in the Thermal Baths
One of the longest standing attractions of Budapest is soaking in the thermal baths. There are many sprinkled throughout the city and each one is different and unique. We chose Szechenyi just based off of time restrictions and recommendations but we would have loved to visit more. It was a great activity to relax and enjoy the pools, especially if you catch some chillier weather in Budapest. Many of the bathhouses also offer massages or specialty treatments that are worth checking out since Budapest is so inexpensive. This is a great article about the thermal baths and some of the different places to check out.
◊ Szechenyi – We reserved our tickets online since we had read that sometimes the lines are pretty crazy, however it wasn’t totally the case for us. We actually spent more time trying to check in with our online reservation than we would have just buying our tickets there but we also didn’t go during peak season. They will give you an electric wristband that is your entrance into the baths and also your passcode to get into the changing rooms. The changing rooms are free with your tickets and will allow you to keep your stuff secured. Don’t forget to bring your own towels since renting towels will cost you an extra fee! Szechenyi also has Saturday night parties they call SPArty Bath Parties, which are basically club parties but in the baths. They can get wild and crazy, but they are a popular event for younger travelers who want a night out on the town in Budapest.
Drink it Up
If you’ve researched anything about Budapest, you have probably found that the Hungarian people like to P A R T A Y – they sure can drink and have fun! We are by no means partiers, but we sure do like to have a good time with a tasty drink, especially a tasty craft brew. Budapest is one of the meccas of Europe for cheap drinks and fun places to drink them, especially in the ruin pubs. Ruins pubs can be found in the Old Jewish Quarter and are about everything you would think with a name like ruin pub. Basically, they are bars in old abandoned buildings leftover from WWII and they are the epitome of Budapest culture. They are decorated with items left on the streets, garage sales, friend’s old furniture, anything and everything.They are hip, eclectic and artsy and no trip to Budapest would be complete without visiting one!
Trav Tav’s Tip
Anywhere you go to drink in Budapest, you have to try the Palinka! It is Budapest’s signature alcohol, a traditional fruit bandy that comes in many different flavors such as grape, apricot, pear, and plum. It can be a dangerous drink, so sip lightly!
◊ Szimpla Kert – The most famous of all the ruin pubs, this was the first one that opened in 2001 and still just as popular as it was at its opening. It is one of the largest, with many rooms to hang out in, and lots of decor to admire – there is even an old communist car that you can have a drink or two inside. It’s easily located within the Jewish Quarter and shouldn’t be missed, you have to see it to understand!
◊ Hops Beer Bar – This craft beer bar was right across the street from our hostel and our brew meters were off the charts here. They have an extensive worldwide menu, 8 beers on draft, and a selection of 130 different bottled beers. The bartender has great suggestions if you have a hard time picking a beer on your own, but we personally recommend the Kasteel Cherry Rouge, the Brew Dog Red Ale and the Trappistes Rochefort!
◊ Beer O Sag – We found this little place not too far from the Jewish Church and it was a very hip haunt in the Jewish Quarter, it reminded us a lot of a place we would find in our area. They have styles of beer that you would find in the states, like an American Pale Ale and a Hop Lager Illuminator.
◊ Akwarium Bar – We saw this place on our walking tour of Budapest and decided to come back to have a drink. We might have had it in the rain, but hey, it was worth it! It is a local favorite to hang out on the stadium like seating and eat your lunch or head inside and hang out under the “aquarium” pool overhead.
See St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s is a central landmark in Budapest, you surely won’t be able or want to miss this cathedral. If you fancy an odd attraction, you can head to the back of the church and see the mummified hand of the first king of Budapest, St. Stephen. You can also head up to the cupola for a view of the city from April to October or catch an organ concert on Thursday at 20:00. No matter what you want to see, the church is beautiful inside and out and is worth visiting while in Budapest.
Visit Parliament + Danube Shoes
The Neo-Gothic Parliament building in Budapest is actually the third largest parliament building in the world and it sure is beautiful. It overlooks the river Danube and is not only an important political monument but also a cultural attraction. You are able to go inside and take either a self guided or guided tour of anytime when the National Assembly is not in session. It takes about 45 minutes to tour and will take you through a few of the rooms, most notable the central hall with the Holy Crown on display.
Right underneath the Parliament building on the walkway next to the water you will find the Danube Shoe Memorial. There are 60 iron shoes lining the river where from 1944-1945 the fascist Arrow Cross Party police took Jews from the Budapest ghetto, forced them to strip naked, and shot them in the backs to fall into the river below. There are women’s, men’s, and kid shoes to show that the Nazi’s showed no partiality to who they murdered. This is a moving memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and can be honored day or night since there is often candles lit in remembrance.
Trav Tav’s Tip
You may see these little gold squares walking around Budapest, they are also a memorial to Holocaust survivors. You can find them in numerous other cities around Europe, especially Germany. We first learned about them in Berlin on a walking tour and it’s become one of our favorite things to try to find in a city. They are placed in areas where a Jewish person lived or worked and state their names, birthdates, occupations, deportation date, and death dates. We think its a pretty special way to commemorate victims and see the buildings where they conducted daily life.
Head across the river to Buda
◊ Buda Castle – The imposing structure of Buda Castle can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city. Although its facade is quite beautiful, the inside leaves a bit to be desired since it has had quite a long history of destruction and reconstruction throughout the years. There is much to see on the castle grounds, with lots of statues, museums, courtyards, and important historic sites. You can take a 2 hour tour of the castle for $10 and see the major sites inside and around the grounds. Make sure to jump on the funicular and get a nice view of the Pest side of the city!
◊ Matthias Church + Fisherman’s Bastion – One of the most unique churches in Europe (in our opinion!), Matthias church fits the city of Budapest perfectly. From the colorful roof to the gothic architecture to the city overlook, the church tells a story all its own. Admission to the church is about $5 where you can see the floor to ceiling frescoes and beautiful stained glass windows. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a tower lookout system that runs along what used to be the old fortress walls. The turrets of the walkways are some of the best places in the city to take a picture!
where to eat + drink
◊ Blue Rose – This is just about as authentic of a Hungarian restaurant as you can get in Budapest or at least our favorite authentic one! We ate here twice for dinner we loved it so much and we got the same thing both times because it was THAT GOOD. Kenny’s aunt is from Hungary and cooks up some mean Hungarian food, so we know authentic when we taste it! We recommend the chicken paprikash and the Greek salad, and to try all the flavors of the Palinka!
◊ Blue Bird Cafe -We found this on an alley close to our hostel that goes all the way through to the next street over. There are so many cute restaurants, bars, and little shops throughout the walkway and it proved to be our favorite kind of people watching haunt!
◊ Karavan Street Food – Not only can you find great food here you can also find some hip drink trucks also! Food trucks are all the rage in our hometown so we were happy to find a little taste of home abroad. Although we didn’t eat anything here, we did have a drink and enjoyed the overcast but not quite rainy yet weather!
◊ Tuning Bar + Burger – We love a good burger and we just happened to find one of our favorite burger joints across the world. This was one of the best restaurants we ate at while abroad and boy it was so nice to have a tasty burger!
things we missed
◊ Jewish Synagogue – The Jewish Synagogue in Budapest is largest in Europe, second largest in the world, and being the highlight of the Jewish Quarter it is of absolute cultural importance. On the grounds is the Jewish Museum, the Heroes Temple, the Jewish Cemetery, and the Holocaust Memorial Park. It also sits on the border of the Jewish Ghetto and served as a shelter for hundreds of victims during the Holocaust. Many of the victims who died in the Ghetto are buried in the cemetery adjacent to the church. If you make it on a tour you will want to dedicate at least half to almost all your day here since there is a lot to see and learn. Make sure you have proper attire – women cannot wear sleeveless shirts and no skirts or shorts. Men are given a skillcap to wear upon arrival.
◊ Central Market Hall – The Central Market Hall of Budapest is like the one that we also missed in Riga, a big farmer’s market of sorts. Locals and tourists alike use the Market to get daily groceries, souvenirs, fresh pastries, pálinka and Hungarian wine, meats and cheeses, and everything else in between. With three stories, you’ll surely find something you like.
◊ Gellert Hill – Located on the Buda side of the city, Gellert Hill offers an amazing view of the city, a myriad of historic sites and a thermal bath located in Hotel Gellert. This was the other thermal bath we wanted to try to make it to and just never made it that far over, so if you’ve visited we’d love to hear about it!
◊ New York Cafe – This cafe is about as famous as the Buda Castle and the Parliament building. We saw the New York Cafe once on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown and desperately wanted to make it here but just never found the time, even though it was so close to us in the Jewish Quarter. New York Cafe has got to be one of the most beautiful cafe in the world and reservations are highly recommended since it is a main tourist attraction. But beware, because it is so popular and well known, it will be very expensive!
Do you guys have any favorites in Budapest that we need to see next time? Let us know and tell us what you think in the comments below!
Till next time,