A little background about how extremely in love I was with the thought of Budapest before I even got the privilege to visit: Last fall, in the off-again portion of my relationship with my irresolute ex-boyfriend, I decided to go on some dates with someone else (mostly to soothe my emotional wounds and to remind myself that I am, in fact, not totally ugly). This boy was very sweet, but one time in my horrible and damp basement apartment, I asked him to please remove a slug from the wall above my bed. He obliged, but when I went to throw away something in the trash can a while later, I saw that he had simply engulfed the slug in a napkin and gently placed it, alive, on top of the rest of the trash. The slug was looking to escape at any second and return itself to my bedroom, or bathroom, or kitchen counter. This is the moment I knew things could probably never work between us. I myself took the slug and put it outside, unharmed, but far from my apartment (do not fret, animal lovers).
However, I knew for ABSOLUTE SURE, without reservations, that it was over another night as we sat on his couch watching a Hungarian contestant on The Voice. In response to me longingly sighing that I would LOVE to go to Budapest, he looked at me as if I had just proclaimed that I wish I could shave my head and join a nudist colony and asked why I would want to go there. So, hey bucko, THIS is why:
Words cannot describe how charming, welcoming, fun, or beautiful Budapest is, but I will certainly try. My time in the city was so short, but I adored every minute of it (even as my peroneal tendonitis seared in pain on mile 10 of exploring on foot. Traveling with injuries is difficult, but couldn't stop me this time). Here are some of the best things we experienced, even in an abbreviated visit.
What to Do
Visit Great Market Hall
This market is huge: 3 levels of fresh produce, baked goods and desserts, meats, fish, cheeses, and handmade souveniers. It is the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest. It would have been the perfect place to visit to pick up some food for lunch and peruse the shopping selection.
Soak in the Baths
Ahh, the thermal baths. This in particular is The Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, the largest and most popular in all of Europe, getting its water supply from two thermal springs. In Hungary, doctors actually give prescriptions to patients having them go to the baths due to their supposed healing properties (the waters contain calcium, magnesium, and fluoride acid -- they are used often for degenerative joint diseases or joint inflammations! Very relevant in my world today). Millions of people go simply for leisure, to sit in the warm waters and bask in the beautiful surroundings, as well as enjoy massages, saunas, and spa treatments.
Buy a drink at the ruins bars
These are cool as fuxk...unused spaces transformed into inexpensive bars. They are all over the place, but my favorite was Szimpla Kert because of its atmosphere (and it was the first ruin bar in Budapest, so naturally should be at the very top of your ruin bar to-do list).
Go on a river cruise
This cruise was similar to the one I went on when I was in Paris and is common in many riverside cities; we boarded a boat and cruised down the Danube River, enjoying champagne and drinking in the stunning views of Budapest at night. The outing was relatively cheap, only 20 euros per person.
Where to Eat
Chicken paprikash. Hungary is known for its paprika, and the chicken paprikash here with spaetzle is amazing. I'd also recommend the Hungarian wine Tokaji, especially for sweet wine lovers. As you can see from the picture, our glasses did not last long. It has a hint of honey and honestly was some of the best wine I have tried EVER (although, I frequent the bottom shelf of the grocery store at home for the cheapest bottles, so I am not a good judge of wine. But everyone I was with was slurping it up until the last drop, so I would say it is perfectly reasonable to obsess over it).
Visit Cafe Vian for lunch or for a late night glass of beer…or stop into any other restaurant on this darling little street (Gozsdu Udvar) across from the hostel we stayed in (Wombat's City Hostel), which was located in the Jewish Quarter of the Pest side of Budapest. Where we stayed was a ghetto during the second World War. The HISTORY of this place is incredible, and having just finished The Storyteller a few days ago, I feel especially moved and fascinated. Fantastic book, also, and highly recommended.
I tried a bowl of Hungarian beef goulash, a must-eat while in Hungary for anyone looking to dive into the local cuisine headfirst, and a Pilsner Urquell (actually from the Czech Republic, but served throughout the region). This street is densely populated with tons of bars and restaurants, all very high energy and reasonably priced. The cost of visiting Eastern European countries is one of the biggest things I can stress: it is AFFORDABLE in a way Western Europe is not, and just a little bit of pocket cash can go a long way. So hop on a plane and get ready to eat and drink to your heart's content!
We came to Big Mama's Eatery for appetizers and drinks the first night we arrived in Budapest, also located on the Pest side of the city, with tasty food and a nice atmosphere.
What to See
This is a rooftop bar, aptly named because of the 360 degree view of Budapest from the top. Nighttime views abound from up here, and an extensive drinks menu for those interested in exploring the nightlife in a higher-end setting than the ruin bars (although, definitely do both. Just do both).
The Castle District is on the Buda side of the river, and is home to the Buda Castle, as well as the beautiful Matthias Church and this amazing view of the city:
The Parliament building is a bit touristy, but it is also one of the most gorgeous buildings in the city (I am a sucka for architecture and always seek out the best of the best in every city I travel to) and is home to the Holy Crown of Hungary, which is guarded by two guards at all times and has a really cool history (also a sucka for cool European history). With a tour of the building, you can experience both the architecture and the history for the price of one entry! A steal, people, a steal!
Budapest! You wonderfully sublime place! I am so so happy to have experienced such an incredibly beautiful city with such a friendly people (everyone was very nice and funny and spirited -- and everyone gladly speaks English due to the area's growing tourism in the past several years, for anyone concerned about traveling here without speaking a lick of Hungarian; the locals will be happy to teach you some if you ask!). Please visit Budapest if you ever get the chance, because it is more than worth it, and offered some of the most fun I've had traveling anywhere.
Published by Robin Beck