Dear Budapest, I love you.
Dear reader, you will soon love Budapest too.
ICYMI, Budapest is hot, hot, hot right now. Trendy, on-fleek, whatever you want to call it these days, it is straight up on fire [not literally]. Seriously though, It’s just one of those cities that even with all the crazy, difficult language pronunciations and heavy food, it’s got a culture that is absolutely irresistible. Budapest has a pretty long history, with some bleak moments along the way, but has managed to emerge from its drama more incredible than ever. From its seductive gothic architecture, to the late nights and early mornings in its ruins pubs, Budapest offers everything you could want as a backpacker. I myself spent 2 weeks eating fried dough, dancing my ass off at Szimpla Kert and crawling through its underground cave systems. The best part about it all? It was one of the most affordable places I visited in Europe.
So here we go, 11 awesome things for you to do in Budapest:
Yes, you read that right. Tuk-tuks are usually associated with Asia and I definitely didn’t expect to find one of these bad boys scooting around an Eastern European city… but I actually did. Thanks to Budapest Tuk Tuk, my amigas and I got to spend a few hours with a very knowledgeable tour guide who took us around Buda and Pest. He knew everything from the exact date the Parliament building was constructed, to how much rain fell in the year 1842. Think I’m exaggerating? Try him. We got to dictate where we went, and he would drop us off at all the sights to explore, walk around and take our much needed touristy photos. It’s a great way to check off all the main tourist attractions and we went to Hero’s Square, Fisherman’s Bastien, St. Stephens, the Central Market Hall and Gellert HillI all in one go. In case you were wondering, the tuk-tuks are complete with blankets for those cold days, and a retractable roof in case it starts to rain. #Prepared.
I’m all for trying local cuisines while traveling, but after spending a month in the Balkans, I was a little meat and potato’d out. I may or may not have spent my first night at an all-you-can-eat Italian restaurant next to my Airbnb. [Side note: all-you-can-eat restaurants are weirdly common in Budapest, but that’s another topic for another day]. However, I’m all about turning lemons into lemonade, and even though I wasn’t very interested in stuffing my face with goulash erryday, I was pretty into their deliciously fried treat known as, lángos. This fried round dough is pretty much slathered in everything my doctor does not recommend for my health. It comes topped with whatever your little belly desires, but the most common variety is to top it with sour cream and cheese. Before you even get a chance to say thank you, you’re welcome.
I’m a firm believer that funicular got it’s name because it’s so damn fun. Going up [on a Tuesday], you’ll feel like you are on a carnival ride as you whiz up the tracks to the top of the hill for amazing views of the city and river below. Also, in case you didn’t guess from the name, there is also a castle at the top that you can explore before walking down through the gardens to get back to the Chain Bridge. The best part about this whole thing is that right next to the aforementioned funicular, is a famously delicious lángos stand.
Budapest definitely has a reputation for being a crazy party city. Every time I told someone I was going to Budapest, I got the, “Ohhhh, you’re going to party so hard!” comment, paired with the eyebrow-raised look. I simply responded with, “Yeah, sure,” not really understanding exactly why everyone kept saying that. Then I got to Budapest, and I partied so hard.
Let me tell you a little bit about something called ruins pubs, that this city is so famous for. Ruins pubs are basically old abandoned buildings from past communist era / wars that have been turned into some of the trendiest bars you might ever come across. There are dozens to choose from, but I spent most of my nights starting off at Szimpla Kert, which is a double decker bar with an outdoor patio and enough rooms that it feels like a maze. All the different areas are full of the most awesomely random decor that give this place its whimsical vibe. I’m talking skulls and graffiti on the walls, bathtubs used as seats, and so much plant life, it feels like you’re in the middle of a jungle. It’s definitely a common favorite, and I liked it because it is perfect for whatever mood you’re in. Whether you want to be chill and drink a beer in a corner, or munch on burgers out back, Szimpla is down with it.
Another favorite spot is called Instant, and is more of a ruins club if you will. Touting itself as the biggest ruins pub in the city, there are 7 different stages that all play different music. No matter what you’re going for, you’ll party all night here. Which leads me to my next point…
Let me preface this by dropping some knowledge on ya: I hate karaoke. Probably because I have a voice of a hundred dying cats, but who knows. Despite my lack of vocal abilities, I still managed to down every night with this entertainment. Luckily, one of my favorite spots is located on the main pub street in the 7th quarter. Just walk down the alley way and follow the sounds of drunk girls singing Spice Girls. There is something about this little hole in the wall karaoke-club type wonder that makes you feel at ease, as you shout at the top of your lungs with the rest of Budapest’s inebriated individuals.
You know those infamous hot springs that Budapest is known for? Well, turns out that the rushing hot water from deep underground has also given us another source of entertainment as well. Deep in the limestone mountains under Budapest, the piping hot water has created a massive cave system that’s an estimated 100 km long. This multi-level labyrinth system with most of its chambers under the residential districts of Budapest has been turned into a playground for all of us. Yep that’s right. You can spend 2.5 hours exploring them, crawling over and under formations on your hands and knees. Who knew?
Fun fact: Budapest is the birth place of the ever-growing escape room craze. If you’re a puzzle, mystery loving human [or alien], then doing an Escape Room is exactly what you need to do in Budapest. Whether you make this a daytime extravaganza or a nighttime rager, is up to you. Oh, what’s an escape room anyhow, you ask? Well imagine you and your new travel buddies are locked in a room for an hour, trying to find the clues and get your hands on the hidden items in order to break free. Don’t worry, if you for some reason can’t figure it out with your noggin, you’ll still be able to break free when the hour is up. I guess I should go ahead and say, this is not for you claustrophobes. Small room, lots of people? Probably not your cup of tea.
One of the most important things while traveling is to learn about the places you visit to gain some insight into the local culture and history. I admit that it can be a little much when a tour starts drowning you with facts, so a boat trip down the Danube is the perfect solution for getting some history without the all the pain. The Danube River divides beautiful Budapest into its two separate parts: Buda and Pest, and boat tours run daily on the hour. As you cruise on up and down both sides of the river, your little audio buddy will explain the history behind the buildings, bridges and why the hell there are so many. I don’t know about you, but some visuals with a bit of background is the best way for me to soak up that knowledge.
Okay, I know I said 11 things besides the baths, but come on, it’s Budapest. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen that gorgeous photo of Széchenyi Thermal Bath floating around the internet, and subsequently dreamed of how amazing it would be to actually go there. Let me tell you it is every bit as amazing as you may have hoped and dreamed it would be. The Széchenyi Thermal Bath may be the most famous and uber crowded, but it’s definitely worth the visit to see something that just doesn’t exist here at home. You should also make some time to thermal bath hop and check out some of the lesser known ones. One of my other favorites? Gellért Thermal Bath, which is a smaller, more ornate thermal bath nestled inside the beautiful Gellért Hotel on the Buda side. Heads up: the bathhouses are for public use, meaning they are pretty dirty #nolie. If you can get past that, the baths are the perfect way to unwind after singing your heart out all night at Karaoke. Insert winky emoji face.
From invasions, occupations and communism, Hungary has been through a lot as a nation. While they have had some peaceful years, they have also suffered tremendously, and only just became an independent nation in 1989. Everywhere you seem to look shows evidence of their hard past, and while it’s tough to talk about, it definitely helps visitors understand their turmoil by exploring all the historical spots around town. If you want to learn about Jewish history, head to The Great Synagogue, which is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. If you are interested in learning what life was like during the fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century, check out the House of Terror. If you are interested in the holocaust, definitely go and see the Memorial To the Victims of German Invasion. On top of those three, there are plenty more museums such as the Hungarian National Gallery, the Hungarian National Museum or the Ethnographic Museum.
The A38 is an old Ukrainian stone-carrier ship that took on a new life as a floating event venue on the Danube River. I guess reincarnation is a real thing! Going to A38 for a concert was hands down one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, let alone in Budapest. When you board the ship, you descend down the stairs, and immediately find a bar to your left and the stage to your right. The vibe is chill and the atmosphere is on point. They have events frequently, so check out who’s jamming under da sea when you’re in town, and make sure to buy your ticket in advance.
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