Fun Times In: Budapest - Itinerary and City Highlights
Over Easter I visited Budapest, Hungary. Prior to visiting, all I knew about Budapest was that it was popular for thermal baths and spas. March had been a busy month for me, so a spa break sounded like music to my ears. Flight and hotel prices were very reasonable (about £163 for a round trip), but the most exciting thing about this trip for me was that Hungary is quite close to Slovakia and Austria, so I could visit not one, not two, but three countries for the price of one. What?! The Naija girl in me was definitely sold.
In this post I share my itinerary for the three (more like two and a half) days I spent in Budapest, and it should serve as a good starting point for planning your own fun times in Budapest. Woop!
HUNGARY CHEAT SHEET
- Population: ~ 10 million
- Capital City: Budapest
- Most popular destinations: Budapest, Lake Balaton (if you want more of a resort break than a city break), Pecs and Eger (northern city famous for its magnificent baroque buildings)
- Major Language: Hungarian
- Currency: Forint (HUF). Most establishments will accept payments in Euros (EUR) and give you change in Forint.
- Food: Gulyas (aka Goulash) - a hearty comfort food containing chunks of beef, potatoes, and vegetables, paprika and spices; Chicken Paprikash and Chimney Cake
- Hungary is known for: Thermal Baths; the Opera; Tokaji wine - a sweet, dessert wine referred to by Louis XIV of France as the "Wine of Kings, the King of Wine."; and a great number of inventions including the biro ballpoint pen and the Rubiks cube.
DAY ONE - SETTLING IN
I caught a Wizz Air flight on a Wednesday evening from Luton Airport. It was my first time flying Wizz Air, and my first time flying from Luton and let me tell you, it was quite the adventure. From begging the agent at the check in counter to check in 3 members of my party who were running late to the flight being delayed for over 2 hours, to almost missing the flight because there were no announcements when the flight finally started boarding, the first day of this trip was already eventful. Let's just say the best thing about the experience was that I discovered an Auntie Anne's at Luton. I'm surprised my body didn't go into shock with the amount of pretzel dogs I stuffed my face with in a two hour timeframe.
I landed in Budapest around 10pm, 2 hours later than planned. Uber and Taxify didn't work so we caught an airport taxi to the apartment we had booked. The 25min ride cost us about €24. The airport taxis accept payments in Forint, Euros and by card. I had planned to go out to dinner and explore the city a bit that night, but by the time we settled in we were all pretty knackered and so we just went to bed.
FL Tip: I'd recommend staying in Belvaros (District V) , the inner city of Budapest where all the action can be found. This is the district where Vaci Utca, the main street for strolling and shopping is located. Other neighbourhoods to consider are Terezvaros (District VI), Erzebetvaros/Elizabeth Town (District VII) and Jozsefvaros/Joseph Town (District VIII). These three districts have areas that extend well beyond the city centre so make sure you double check that you're happy with the location before booking.
DAY TWO - EXPLORING PEST
I had to work on the second day of the trip and so sadly, I didn't get to see much of the city during the day. I logged into work grudgingly while my friends set off to explore Pest. My only consolation was that it ended up being a rainy day and I got to be indoors.
FL Tip: Budapest is split into two by the Danube river. Buda the old city to the West, and Pest the new city to the East. For some context, all the suggested neighbourhoods above are on the right side of the river in Pest. I'd recommend giving yourself at least a day to explore each area properly, so all the Pest attractions on one day, and all the Buda attraction the next. If you have more time, even better! Happy exploring :)
Popular sights in Pest include:
- St Stephen’s Basilica: The largest church and highest building in Budapest, which is dedicated to Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen. It houses what is considered Hungary’s most sacred treasure, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand, the Szent Jobb (Holy Right Hand) and has pretty amazing views of Budapest from the dome at the top. For hours and tours visit the website here.
- The Parliament Building: This houses the National Assembly of Hungary and is a major landmark as it is the world's third largest Parliament building. Lines tend to be very long so if you want a guided tour get advance tickets on the website here. If you're an EU passport holder, you get a discount on the entrance fee. Score.
- Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial: This is a chilling tribute to Jewish victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross Militia men in 1944-45. It contains 60 pairs of life size shoes of all sorts of people - children, women, men, sports men, etc; depicting that no one was spared from the brutality. The memorial sits south of the Parliament building on the edge of the Danube river so if you visit just before sunset you get great views.
- Hungarian State Opera House
- Vaci Street
After logging off work (yay!), it was time for a sunset soak. I grabbed my bathing suit and headed to Szechenyi Baths (the largest medicinal bath in Europe) to meet up with my friends. I wanted a massage, but they were fully booked (so rude, lol) so I ended up just trying out all the different pools.
It took almost two hours to navigate through 70% of the 18 pools and 10 sauna rooms that Szechenyi boasts of. It was definitely nice to try out, but I don't think public baths are for me. It felt like there were people everywhere and I just didn't find it all that relaxing.
FL Tip: If you're interested in massages and other body treatments you should definitely book them in advance.
Other well known baths to check out are Gellért Baths (very nice interior) and Rudas Baths (smaller than Szechenyi but wider variety of soaking pools).
PS: At Szechenyi we were able to rent towels and bathrobes for a small fee, so you don't have to worry about taking your own.
After leaving the baths we went home to freshen up and get ready for dinner. For dinner, we decided on Buddha Bar, a pan-Asian bar, restaurant, and hotel franchise created by a French-Romanian restaurateur and his DJ/interior decorator friend. The original location opened up in Paris and since then venues have opened up in over 10 other locations, including London (!), which I didn't realize till after dining there.
I had planned to bar hop like I was 18 after dinner since one of the things Budapest is famous for is its ruin bars. What are those you say? They're basically old dilapidated buildings (think factories, warehouses, apartment buildings, etc.) that have been transformed into artsy type bars. A lot of them are located in District VII (the old Jewish Quarter) and so from the outside they look like regular homes but step in and you're in hippy heaven. However itis kicked in after dinner (bite me) and I ended up making it to just one spot - Warm Up, which isn't a ruin bar per se but is still pretty cool! The unique thing about Warm Up is that it doesn't have a cocktail menu and each drink is created uniquely to each guest's tastes and preferences. Pretty neat right?
FL Tip: Heads up. Ruin bars aren't just for drinking. Szimpla Kert, the oldest and still one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest hosts a farmer's market on Sunday morning; Most has amazing brunches; and if you're looking for something a bit more stylish and less hobo, try Mazeltov for lunch.
DAY THREE - EXPLORING BUDA
On Friday morning set off to explore Buda. Since it was our last day in Budapest, we had a super packed itinerary.
We started out by seeing a couple of Buda's most popular sights:
- The Buda Castle, which is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. It sits in the Castle District and also houses the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
- Matthias Church: The most famous church in Budapest and one of the most unique in Europe.
- Fisherman's Bastion: Medieval building that offers some of the best views over Pest. It was built as a viewing platform by the architect responsible for Matthias Church, and named after the fishermen who were tasked with watching over the Castle district in the old times.
FL Tip: Access to the castle district is free, but there are guided tours available for a range of prices. Other sights to check out are Gellert Statue - built in honour of the Bishop Gellert who converted the Magyars (tribe leaders who successfully conquered the area now known as Hungary in the 9th century) to Christianity, the Citadel and the Liberation Monument.
After sight seeing, we went for a wine tasting session at Faust Wine Cellar which is also located in the Castle District. To be honest, I'm not a big wine person (I have a sweet tooth and most good wines are too dry for my liking) but I had heard great things about Faust Wine Cellar in particular so I thought it could be an interesting experience. £20 for an almost unlimited supply of freshly baked scones while sipping wine and feeling fancy? Say no more. Bonus was that I actually learned that the sweetness of a wine depends on the type of grape used to produce it and when the grape is harvested. The later the harvest, the sweeter the juice. Wow I feel knowledgeable.
After wine tasting, we headed off to KonyvBar & Restaurant for lunch. This which was easily the highlight of my time in Budapest. My goodness, where do I even begin? The quirky decor (the receipt actually came in a book!), the creativity when it came to the food (5 course menu with a Lord of the Rings theme), great service and very sensible prices. I can't rave enough about this place. And guess what, the food actually tasted good! No word of a lie, I would go back to Budapest just to eat at this place again. Imagine what a Harry Potter menu would be like? Maybe we'd have Butterbeer paired with one of the courses? OH. EM. GEE.
We unfortunately had to rush through our food to get to a night cruise of the Danube river that was supposed to start at 7pm. Finding the docking station is a blog post of its own, I'm just glad we didn't miss it. The cruise was... okay. Not terrible, but not amazing either. It cost £30 and lasted for what felt like two very long hours.
FL Tip: If you're going to do this, I suggest boarding your cruise ship early so you get a seat by the window and have better views. Alternatively you could stand at the viewing docks but you might get cold and/or tired. I'd also suggest reading up on the sights you're going to see while on the cruise beforehand so you can make the most of your experience. If you're aiming to get good photos, a daytime cruise is a much better option.
Once we got off the cruise, we spent the rest of the evening walking around District V and thanks to my friend Femi I got to see a bunch of Pest sites I missed the day before. We also walked along Vaci Street, explored the market and got some chimney cake. Tasty ending to the evening.
The next day we woke up bright and early to embark on our mission of having breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different countries, which I shall write about in my next post.
Budapest is an interesting city that has quite a lot to offer for varying crowds. It'd work for a girl's get away, bachelor party, spa weekend, or even an academic trip. I'm not in a hurry to go back right this moment probably because I didn't have enough time to get attached to the city, but I definitely wouldn't mind visiting again at some point.
Have you been to Budapest? What was your favourite thing about it? Have you been anywhere else in Hungary?
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Fun and Sun,