For me, Budapest was the perfect place to spend a long weekend – a lot of beautiful buildings to see, great coffees to try, cool bars to drink local beers at… And all of this at a price I could actually afford.
I went with my friend Naomi (@ohsixeleven) and it was lovely to have a weekend of meandering and catching up, without feeling rushed to do things. We saw everything we wanted to (and more, I think) but also had plenty of time to relax at bars and cafes.
It’s rare for me to come back from a city break feeling refreshed but I honestly came back feeling revitalised and energetic; ready to plan our next trip. Unfortunately for us, what followed about a month or so later, was the onslaught of coronavirus and so of course all of those ideas were put to one side for another day. Nonetheless, I’m incredibly thankful that we did still get to experience Budapest (before there were any of the current worries) and hope that I’ll get to return in the same vain one day.
Out of everything we saw/drank/ate, these were my favourites:
WHAT WE DID
Fishermans Bastion and Buda Castle
Fisherman’s Bastion is a beautiful terrace overlooking Budapest from the hill; the lower section is free to visit while the upper sections cost about £2.50 (in high season) to enter.
We saw quite a few people relaxing with coffee and a book, and I can see why – yes it’s a tourist attraction and therefore a fairly busy area, but it’s a nice place to hangout nonetheless.
With the castle, we got a bit confused about which building was which – personally I only walked around it due to time constraints so can’t talk about what the inside is like but the afternoon we spent exploring around the outside of the castle was absolutely lovely and something I would definitely recommend whether you plan on going inside or not.
The castle is free to walk around but I’m aware that inside there are two museums, which you do have to pay to enter: The Hungarian National Gallery, History Museum, Military History Museum and Pharmacy Museum.
Climb the Hill for a great view
The bastion isn’t the only great place to get a good view – this photo was taken from Castle Hill. To get up here you can either walk or take the funicular railway. I love a good funicular but this time we chose to walk – it didn’t take too long and saved us a whole £3. You can get a couple of beers for that price here!
All the churches
Walking around the city, you’ll stumble across a lot of churches; we only went into St Stephen’s Basilica which is quite centrally located, and then walked around the Matthias Church (the only reason we didn’t go in was because there was a long queue to enter).
They’re completely different architecturally but both stunning and I’d definitely recommend stopping by.
Great Market Hall
We visited here on the way to the Gellert Spa, with the aim of trying Langos which is a kind of deep fried bread dish that you can put different toppings onto.
It was a bit of a maze trying to work out where to find the stalls exactly but we finally came across them on the upper level. It’s a bit of an odd market hall but in that way I quite liked it. From what I could tell, the lower floor sells more local and necessary produce such as fruits and vegetables, meanwhile the upper sections are primarily for tourists; there are stalls after stalls selling souvenirs such as keyrings, postcards and tablecloths. My goodness do they love table cloths.
Once we made it past all of these tourist stalls, we got to the food section where I got a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing and stuck to cheese but looking back I definitely should have put a few other toppings on there. Saying that though, they are MASSIVE and it would have been a waste as I could barely eat the one with just cheese, never mind one loaded with a lot else.
We went there first thing in the morning and it was definitely a good option in terms of busyness – we only just managed to get a seat (you can only sit on the tables in front of wherever you purchased your food) and by the time we left, it was getting a bit overcrowded.
The only issue with that of course is whether you can stomach deep fried bread first thing in the morning!
Wander the beautiful streets and hunt for cool doors
I say ‘hunt’ but truly, they’re almost everywhere you look. The streets around Buda Castle are incredibly beautiful and a pleasure to wander around.
Our ‘quick’ diversion down a pretty street soon turned into a much longer walk as we were mesmerised by how lovely it all was. Especially seeing as it was a lot quieter than the main areas to meander around.
The main thing everyone mentioned to me activity wise in coming to Budapest was the spa – the main spa I think people tend to visit is Széchenyi but a friend of mine said to me that she visited both Gellert and Széchenyi on her trip and much preferred Gellert as it was better value and quieter, so as we only had a limited time there, decided to follow her advice.
Of course, I only visited one so would have to take her word for it but Gellert was very nice. It was still fairly busy and in all honesty, a bit of a strange experience in my eyes – it’s not like a spa in the UK. The rooms are a lot more open and the shared areas are a bit confusing – there are lots of winding corridors to walk down and I was never quite sure where I was supposed to be.
Also, we were a bit unfortunate in terms of the time of year we visited as a couple of the outside pools were closed off – the only open one was a fair distance from the inside door and my god, my feet were so cold by the time I finally got in I thought they were going to fall off.
That being said, I don’t think you can go to Budapest and not experience a spa, so I’m glad we did it. All in all, it’s also a bit of a laugh.
Shoes on the Danube
NB I didn’t take any photos here personally, as I was a bit mesmerised and taken aback by the whole thing.
Created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer in 2005, this consists of 60 pairs of iron shoes which represent the thousands of people who were made to take off their shoes, before being executed and falling into the river.
This is a heartbreaking piece but most definitely worth a visit to remember what once happened on the banks of the Danube. It’s a heavy stop and I would definitely recommend taking some time here, as it may take a while to sink in.
We walked here on our final morning in the city before catching our flight back and it was so windy. As in, the wind was so strong that it was actually hard to walk around the building.
It’s quite the sight and I would definitely put this on your must visit list if coming to the visit but be aware that you might get blown away.
Half of our time walking around this area was spent admiring the building and the rest was spent pulling hair out of our faces/checking our belongings hadn’t been taken by the wind/trying to stay upright.
I am obsessed with print and design shops. For me to come home without a print is incredibly rare, although I think my boyfriend wishes this wasn’t the case as our walls can’t really handle anything else.
I was fairly restrained this trip and only purchased one piece of artwork but I always love visiting a few different design shops while in new cities, as they’re my favourite souvenirs. I also really like being able to buy something that I know is locally made and that it’s unlikely you can just buy anywhere.
The additional (incredible) bonus to this shop was that I also got to look after a dog while inside. I’m still not 100% sure how it happened but the server needed to go and pick up the print from the back of the shop, wasn’t sure what to do with their dog and all of a sudden I ended up holding it (ok I offered). But it was a lovely dog and I’m very pleased it happened.
WHAT WE ATE AND DRANK
Budapest is full of incredible, affordable and very cool options to eat and drink. You could easily spend a week here just making the most of their food scene!
Breakfast/Brunch & Coffee
This was an unexpectedly fancy brunch place that my friend Naomi saw online (in fairness, almost all of the places were found by her and I just tagged along for the ride).
We went there for brunch and it was quite busy but they were able to seat us very quickly – the servers were on point and the coffee was incredible (I don’t drink that much coffee but I had two here).
I almost always have eggs for brunch and so can be a bit fussy about them but the food was great; the plating in particular was so beautifully done, I felt like I was in a fine dining restaurant.
Don’t worry though, it wasn’t particularly costly and you don’t have to dress up or anything. It was just very well done and I was really impressed by it.
I had an absolute blast here – in the Buda Castle district there aren’t that many places to choose from so I’m glad this existed.
It’s a bagel/coffee place ran by lovely people and you can tell that someone really wanted to put their stamp on a place. The heavy metal music that they put on halfway through our visit was a bit random, as was the man who helped Naomi put her coat on (she wasn’t struggling, he just jumped in to help out of the blue) but still, it just made our experience more memorable.
100% one of the best restaurants/restaurant experiences I have ever had. I can definitely see why this place is considered the best restaurant in Budapest.
It’s a ruin bar/restaurant in the Old Jewish District which focuses on Israeli food and amazing cocktails. We ordered a big selection of different dishes and then shared them between us. Yes, it was a bit more pricey than some other places you will find in Budapest but it is definitely worth it. It’s still a heck of a lot cheaper than you would find in London/Paris etc.
We had heard that this place can sometimes be difficult to get into, so we got here early (at around 430/5pm) before the dinner rush and were seated within about 5 minutes. It was our first day in the city and we had woken up early to catch our flight, so luckily we were super hungry.
Everything about our experience was fantastic; beautiful decor, lovely atmosphere, a really nice waiter and of course, amazing food. I would eat here every night if I could.
Right next door to Mazel Tov is this incredible Italian place which does amazing pizzas; we thought it looked good when we first walked by it and seeing as our hotel was nearby, decided to try it out for ourselves.
Again, really nice food, a cool atmosphere and good beers meant we had a lovely evening, and I would definitely recommend eating here.
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The other place that had been recommended to me over and over again by friends who had been to Budapest before, was this ruin bar. Well, it’s kind of a few bars put together.
I can completely see why they recommended it – it’s very cool, in an Industrial old warehouse (bit of an East London vibe) and the drinks are cheap.
We came here in the afternoon, not late on at night (we were too busy eating ourselves into a food coma) but I’d love to come back and experience it in the evening for the full experience.
We ended up at Spiler as we wanted to try some traditional Hungarian dishes and weren’t really sure where to go. It’s not a particularly traditional place, as such but it does have a lot of good options if you are looking to try some of their national dishes, such as Paprika Chicken.
It’s a fun place to go to, with cheap beers and an easy atmosphere but it’s not necessarily the coolest/best place you’ll ever go to in all honesty! It’s definitely a bit touristy and gimmicky – I think we ended up here mostly down to location and hunger but you know what, we had a good time! We came in for food and ended up staying for about 3 more drinks, if that says anything…
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at the Continental Hotel in Budapest, which worked very well for us. It cost about £100 each for 3 nights (based on us sharing a twin room), which for a European City Break is great value.
I won’t lie, it’s a bit of an odd hotel – very grand and open inside but not with a lot of life in it. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the stay – I mean it had everything we needed, with a few luxury touches but it didn’t have anything particular special about it.
One thing I will never forget, was the TV in our bedroom, which for some reason they set into a huge black board, making it look (when the TV is off) as though the TV is going to be massive. But once you’ve turned it on, you realise that the TV screen itself only takes up about a quarter of the board and the rest is just empty space hanging on the wall.
I wish I had another way to explain that but please just take my word for it that it was very strange.
HOW WE GOT AROUND
In terms of location, our hotel was great as we mostly walked everywhere. If you don’t feel like walking, there are lots of other options for getting around though – taxis, buses, trams, bolts and more.
If anywhere was a bit further away, we tended to get a ‘Bolt’ (a lot like Uber except Uber doesn’t exist in Budapest). They’re very cheap (roughly £3 a journey) and it never takes too long to get anywhere within the city.
These worked very well aside from one instance where someone else basically stole our Bolt. I mean I say basically, they did. They got into the car and then asked the driver to drop them somewhere else, which he did.
Annoyingly, Bolt doesn’t have a way of doing anything about this while the journey is in progress, which I realise now is actually very unsafe – if you were inside the car and had an issue with the driver then there is nothing within the app you can use to alert anyone.
All we could do was phone the driver and try to explain that he had the wrong people in the car but he didn’t really speak English, so just hung up on us. It was a really frustrating experience, as you also can’t book another Bolt until that journey is ended.
Luckily there were two of us, each with our own phone, so Naomi just booked her own Bolt but then I had to go through the process of contacting Bolt for a refund, which took a good week to finally get as they didn’t really explain the initial problem. Thankfully I had taken screenshots while the journey was in progress, showing where I was on the map and how I clearly wasn’t in the car.
To and from the airport we got the 100E bus, which was very easy (only takes about 40 minutes) although please be aware that the bus does not pick up and drop off at the same place in the city centre.
Tickets can be purchased from the machine located next to the bus stop and cost around £2.50 each way. The services are often very busy, but they’re quite regular so don’t worry too much about being able to get on one – just make sure you leave yourself plenty of time in order to catch your flight back.