Language(s): Hungarian, some English
Currency: Forints ($1 = 276 Forints)
Must-See: Shoes on the Danube, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, Ruszwurm Confectionary, Buda Castle, Danube River, Central Market, Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Szimplakert Bar
Maybe you’ve heard of Budapest or maybe you have no clue what it is. Maybe you saw the Grand Budapest Hotel or heard George Ezra’s song “Budapest.” No matter what, if you haven’t been standing on the banks of the Danube or at the top of Fisherman’s Bastion, your eyes have never seen magnificence. This might sound a bit dramatic, but seriously, go there and tell me it isn’t true. Decorated Gothic spyres meet brightly-colored Art Nouveau tiles in this eclectic city. Oh and they have over 100 natural outdoor hot tubs.
Okay, so I pulled you in. It was the hot tubs wasn’t it? That’s what sold me on this city, too. So, let ‘s start there. They’re not really hot tubs, they’re actually thermal springs, which Budapest is known for. In total, there are over 100 within the city, but I suggest going to Szechenyi Baths. The Gellert Baths are supposedly nice, too, but we chose this one for the architecture and variety. This one boasts 15 pools in total, some outside and some inside and all at different temperatures. There are saunas as well, complete with plunge pools. My personal favorites are the large pools outside. They hover around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and so are great for swimming year round. After a long day of traveling or sightseeing, these pools are necessary. There’s even one that has jets that propel you around in a circle for some added fun.
There are a million ticket options, but your best bet if you go during the day is to get the 4700 Forints ticket that includes a locker and access to all of the pools. There are others that include a personal changing cabin or luxury spa services, but if you just want somewhere to change and a few hours in the pools, this is the ticket to buy. Towels and swimsuits are available for rent, but save your pennies and bring your own. Also, remember to bring flip flops (it might be luxurious but it’s still a public pool, people). The waters are said to have curative effects and are sometimes even prescribed by doctors for patients with a variety of ailments, so you’ll leave feeling like a new you.
Once new and improved you feels like leaving the warmth of these fountains of youth, you’ll want to walk around. A lot. Budapest is unlike any city I’ve been to in Europe. The architecture is just stunning. We walked a square around the city, more or less and saw it all. Just grab a map from your hostel or hotel and follow along. First, start at the “Shoes on the Danube” art installation. This is a memorial commemorating the Hungarian Jews during WWII that were forced to remove their shoes (a highly valuable item back then) before being shot into the Danube and carried away by the water. The iron shoes that exist there today are a chilling reminder of the darker side of the city’s history and make for an absolute must-see. In all of this beauty, it is vital that you take a second to remember the city’s past.
From here, walk along the Danube River to the Chain Bridge. It’s guarded by two stone lions, so you can’t miss it. Cross it and you’ll find yourself in Buda. Until now, you’ve kept to the Pest part of the city. In Buda, you can take the funicular or walk to the top of the hill where the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the best cream cake in Budapest are located. We walked up the hill to Matthias Church, a stunning example of the gothic architecture that is found all over the city. Enter if you wish, or just walk around it taking in its brightly-colored beauty (as you might guess, we stayed outside and saved 1200 Forients). It’s really stunning. We chose to instead enter Fisherman’s Bastion for just 400 Forints (the student price). This structure is right next to the church, looks like a medieval castle and is where you’ll find the best views of the city and of the church.
Once you’ve had your fill of that, you’ll probably be hungry (especially if you earned it by climbing the hill instead of taking the funicular *high five*). Head over to Ruszwurm Confectionary and order a creme cake. Decadent custard is topped with a thin flaky crust and a dash of powdered sugar. It’s positively delightful.
You’ll then continue on to the Buda Castle, now home to the National Gallery. Because we were short on time, we skipped entry again and just enjoyed the beauty of the building and its view. You can get lost here, so feel free to wander. Rumor has it that there is an underground cave system, so maybe you’ll find it, you little Indiana Jones, you.
Climb back down the hill and walk along they Danube until you reach a green metal bridge with gothic-style spires. Just on the other side is the Central Market. Though infested with tourists, it’s a great place to pick up some souvenirs or try traditional Hungarian food. It is pricier than food from the street. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED. If you’re low on time, though, it is a central location for everything you might want to take home with you, including paprika everything (what the city is most known for). It’s also a beautiful building, so take a few minutes to walk through it.
Okay, so now you have to be hungry. I know we were. If you can make it, make your way to a place called Karavan. It’s a section of Budapest where you can try traditional street foods straight from food trucks. It’s clean and cute and a great way to chow down on Hungary’s finest street grub. We tried Langos (pronounced lawn-gosh) topped with greens and goat cheese and a cone-shaped hot dog with chili sauce. The latter is more traditional, while the former is a newer street food creation. Both are fantastic.
If you’re feeling more of a restaurant, check out Frici Papa. It’s nearby and serves mushroom goulash so good you’ll want to bathe in it. Seriously. You should also try to the chicken paprika.
On another note, Budapest’s Jewish District is known for its unique nightlife. I and everyone else in the entire world suggest that you go to Szimplakert, the coolest bar in maybe the world. It’s impossible to describe, so I’ll leave a bit of mystery for you. Now you have to visit. HA. Try Palinka, a fruit-infused brandy that comes in a blue million flavors. It is a shot, so have a chaser ready, folks. It’s strong.
Finally, we stayed at Fifth Hostel, a secret little place in the Jewish District (for those of you who wish to enjoy that great aforementioned nightlife without getting lost, Szimplakert is a mere 0.3 miles away). It is hidden away in a residential area, but the beds are comfy and it’s actually not as sketchy as it seems when you arrive. It’s adorable and well-known among the locals as a good place for visitors to stay.
Budapest is so different that one day is never going to be enough to do it justice. It could take days to really, truly understand this city’s vibe, so do plan accordingly. Also, it might be Eastern Europe, but don’t let that deter you. Budapest is extremely tourist friendly. The people are incredibly kind and most speak English. It’s the vacation spot of the future, I tell you. Be a hipster and see it first.
As always, comment with questions.
Bye, Bye, Bye,