Every year we organise a city break with friends, picking a European city, booking an air bnb or similar and heading off on a plane. When we chose Budapest I knew nothing about the Hungarian capital but instantly feel in love with its combination of gorgeous spas and quirky bars.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at Pal’s Hostel which is a perfect place to stay on a budget. The hostel is a series of apartments without a block of gorgeous old buildings in the centre of Pest, right next to St Stephen’s Basilica. We had a double room to ourselves in a shared apartment (as we had booked as a group the other rooms were occupied by our friends). The rooms were basic but light and airy and a perfect location to explore the city from.
EATING AND DRINKING
We headed to a great little cafe (Montenegro Gurman) just across the street from the Hostel for the most incredible breakfast (the bread was just delicious), providing us with plenty of sustenance ahead of joining up with the free city tour. Finishing up in Buda, our guide took us to a fantastic canteen hidden on a side street where we had lunch and I was introduced to the strange Hungarian “dumplings” (a sort of unshaped pasta). The food was incredibly tasty and cheap.
A trip to Budapest wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famous ruin pubs – bars that occupy dilapidated buildings throughout the city. We visited two of the biggest – Ankert and Szimpla. I liked both, although as the evening wore on they got more and more crowded and weren’t really my scene.
We also ate at the Blue Rose in the Jewish Quarter. This restaurant was a favourite of our friends who had spent a few weeks in the city while students, eating on a shoestring and we had a fantastic meal here.
The free walking tour offers a brilliant introduction to the city and helped us get our bearings and plan out what we would do with our weekend. What struck me most as we walked through the city was simply how different life growing up in Hungary would be. Our tour guide was about the same age as me but whereas to me the Soviet Union was something I learnt about in school and history, for him it was his childhood. So many of the buildings in Pest are apartment blocks built during the Soviet era, giving Pest a very different vibe to the old city of Buda.
I was desperate to visit one of the many bath houses that Budapest is famous for so we stopped by our apartment to pick up our swimming gear and headed to Kiraly Baths, one of the city’s older Turkish bathhouses, Kiraly has only recent moved to mixed sex bathing. The historic architecture of main bath is offset by the Soviet austerity of the changing areas. We got slightly lost coming from the changing rooms to the baths as the changing rooms come out into a square corridor surrounding a small outdoor area with a wooden hot tub (which we had almost to ourselves). The main baths are off to the side of this corridor. Surrounding the main octagonal pool are several small pools at different temperatures – although these do get busy! There’s also a cold pool, steam room and sauna in a separate area. You can see a Google virtual tour of the baths here.
Although Kiraly is a smaller bath and so can feel crowded I recommend a visit as it has a totally different feel to some of the larger baths. Sitting in the warm water of the main bath, looking up at the light coming through the domed roof like stars, it’s difficult not to come out feeling chilled out and relaxed even when the bath is busy.
A standout morning was visiting the Hospital in the Rock – a second world war hospital in the caves under the Buda hills, which was subsequently turned into a nuclear bunker by the Soviets. It’s impossible to really describe this place – in parts fascinating and chilling. It is my top recommendation for including in a visit to the city.
We also made time for a trip to Szechenyi baths, one of the bigger swimming pools and spa complexes within the city park. This complex has a large outdoor pool area which is perfect for families as well as an array of different steam rooms, saunas, jacuzzi and plunge pools. We easily spent a few hours here before heading back through the park and walking back into the heart of the city. Budapest is one of those cities that you can simply enjoy walk around, perhaps grabbing a funnel cake while you admire the incredible architecture.
The view from Fisherman’s Bastion is incredible but very crowded. I enjoyed our trip up there at sunset as it was quieter and easier to take photos of the fantastic views. Similarly the market gets incredibly busy so its best to get there early when it opens to avoid the queues and having to squeeze past stalls.
This was my first visit to Budapest and I totally fell in love with it. The city is small enough to make it easy to get around on foot (though the bus and tram system is easy to navigate as well). It one of those cities that you can just walk around and keep discovering new things.
Where are your favourite places in Budapest?