Ah Budapest, Eastern Europe’s most fascinating destination. The heavyweight city filled with subtle charms is landlocked deep in Central Europe. Whether you travel for the sweltering summer or the bitter winter, the keenly developed knack of good living is sure to rub off on you during your stay.
Buda and Pest, once separate cities are now conjoined, both straddling the Danube River. To the West is hilly Buda, dominated by Castle Hill. To the East is Pest, the flat and urban commercial half of the city. Through the lows of WWII and the highs of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Budapest is now a blossoming city offering more than a friendly sojourn. Germans, Slavs, Turks and travellers create a cultural Goulash of Budapest’s residence. Find them, at the world-famous baths or even the semi-legal drinking dens – we’re going to explore your options of finding them.
The Typical Tourist
To start, indulge in Budapest’s elegant sight-seeing, with a stroll along the river, Pest-side. Stroll past the Budapest Eye, a London-Style monument, gazing over the red-roofed city, previewing your next destination. To your right, St. Stephen’s Basillica, onwards, Parliament.
Cross to Buda, whether that be by the Chain Bridge or Liberty Bridge (both offering a pedestrian-friendly connection of Buda & Pest) and take a wander up to the Citadella via Gellert Bathhouse. Here lies the bird’s nest as I would like to call it, the stubborn Citadel still standing tall, the spot that overlooks the entire city offering breath-taking views, photo opportunities and a perfect selfie-spot.
Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion, a little further north, offer up the same prospect, with a bit more history. Offering sweeping views over the Danube, most impressive by night, the Bastion was once a huge fish market, guarded by Fishermen – deservedly earning its name. Now, the goal isn’t to climb up as much, it’s to climb down the steps, to a small city square offering some fine seafood cuisine. Summer or Winter, the mainstream tourists can’t miss the famous monuments honouring a hard-earned freedom.
One for the hipsters
Like myself, a young traveller, head to the upbeat suburbs to reunite with the local imbibers lodging in hostels. I may not have been backpacking to Prague and Dam like everyone else, but I had my opportunity to indulge in Budapest’s friendly group outings.
Bring out your adventurous side and take a tour underground. Yes, it’s caving, but not your usual experience. You won’t be climbing and clammy, you’ll be going deep into the underworld of Budapest to explore its chilly tunnels. Led by an energetic Hungarian expert, you’ll be thrown into the deep end (literally), squeezing through gaps of none bigger than 15cm. Remember, when there’s a will there’s a way, so spend your entire afternoon with none other but yourself and friends scaling, clambering and crawling.
Test your brain in a wonderfully-grafted and team-working trap game, also known as an escape game. Scattering the streets of Pest, you’ll find one hard to come by if you’re not looking closely enough. A small, hidden doorway deep into the street opens up a mathematical universe inside. Put your heads to the test in an hour-long situation spent grafting and hunting for clues to unlock your next path. Usually consuming 4-5 rooms, put all your clues to good use to defeat the themed circuit. With a nail-biting time of 55 minutes, see if you can beat Inspector Clueso here.
Soak with the locals in a traditional Hungarian Thermal Bath. Jam-Packed in the summer, you’ll scratch your head as to why. On a 35 degrees day, explore its 15 different pools to lounge around in, greeting relaxation as you bathe in a whopping 37 degrees heat! As Budapest sits on thin crust and over the thermal springs, it’s power heats the baths that have lasted 2000 years. The Szechenyi baths are the ones to visit with the largest bathhouse in the capital, but also in Europe too. Have a scrub or wash down, sauna, swim or even work-out in the gym, but don’t forget to buy a famous poolside Dreher pint to cool you down.
There are many ways to get around Budapest, in fact, the colourful subsidised and practical network of trolleys, buses and subways is undefeatable, unless you, like myself, are too hipster for public transport. Try the Segways, beer-bikes or even the tandems in your voyeur around the capital, but keep an eye out for the flying taxis – the whacky wheelmen.
Come Alive in the Night Time
As if your day didn’t completely drain your energy levels, an 80p pint can keep you going. The phenomenon of ‘ruin’ bars in Budapest is beginning to lure the entirety of the backpacking community to Hungary. Known as ‘Kerts‘ in Hungarian, these really are the places to explore your night out.
With hundreds of nooks and crannies, explore the range of rooms and bars it offers, whilst carving your initials on the walls. Graphitised and ruined, the furniture is made up of battered old goods, and you’re sure to come across some creepy objects on the walls.
Swap land for water and experience a #RiverRampage. Budapest’s finest boat party, hosted along the Danube with your free bottle of bubbly. With an exotic DJ and the chance to converse with other backpackers, you’d be silly not to. If it’s not your thing, take the Danube cruise with tea and biscuits, but be sure to cross paths past your fellow friends blurting out the Hungarian National Anthem in a series of slurs.
Snoozing and Restaurants
Bubble Hostel or Casa Del Musica: take your pick, all close to the streets embracing the nightlife. Cheapskates will be pleased to know that hostels are the competitive market for Budapest’s hospitality options. None will be better than the Maverick City lodge, though – a friendly vibe, open to providing you with the best holiday. They’ll book your taxis, events and even boats (see below) and they’ll give some very useful suggestions too (avoid the ice bar!) However, if they’re full, you won’t be short of options – given the class of hotels and their Citadel positioning over the Danube.
The dining options are endless, with Burger King and McDonalds quite literally on your doorstep. If these don’t tickle your taste buds, stick to what you know in the Budapest Curry House, Italian or American cuisine. These scrumptious options are at the expense of little to nothing, but don’t forget where you are. It won’t be a trip to Hungary without the famous Goulash soup.