Things to do
Find a tourist information kiosk with a white and blue umbrella selling ‘Budapest cards’ and ask for a map. This map has all the information you need on it for your stay.
On the back it has information about free walking tours. We did the general one, but there is also a specific communism one and a Jewish quarter one. I’d like to have done them all but we didn’t have time. The tour is free and gives you an excellent overview of Budapest. I recommend doing this on your first or second day. The tour guide gives you hints and tips for your trip, teaches you key Hungarian words like “hello” and “thank you” (which goes a long way even when the locals speak English), and points you in the direction of several must sees and must dos.
While the tour is free there is a donation system at the end where you give what you feel the tour was worth according to your budget. You then have the option of visiting a local canteen for your lunch. I highly recommend going here. The food was my favourite local meal of the entire trip, and the cheapest! I have a wheat intolerance and my tour guide translated this to the chef who helpfully and cheerfully pointed out all the dishes I could have! It was fantastic.
We did all the usual touristy things – went to a Turkish bath house, crossed the chain bridge, stared in awe at the Parliament building (you can do tours but we ran out of time), stared in awe at St Stephen’s Basilica… I wont re-write every tour guide out there.
What I will say is that we rocked up with minimal idea of what to see and do, and that free walking tour was the best place to start.
Another highlight for me was the Liberty Statue. We did this on our last day, and I recommend you do the same. Throughout our time in Budapest we had been to several high points and seen the view from these (the walking tour takes you to the top of the hill with the Palace in Buda, and we also opted to visit the Turkish baths with the rooftop hot tub, so we had seen Budapest from up high… or so we thought.) The Liberty Statue is high up. It offers a magnificent view of Budapest that you wont have seen anywhere else during your trip. It is a climb but the pathways and steps make it a gentle one. I climbed that hill after being awake for 24hours the day before, having had 6 hours sleep that morning, and while negotiating a debilitating large blister on my left foot. The climb is definitely do-able, and most certainly worth it.
Nightlife and Ruin Bars
I’m sure you’ve read about ruin bars, and if you visit Szimpla you will not be disappointed. It is fantastic, inventive, and completely different to any other club I have ever been to. When we turned up at about 8pm there were a wide range of ages there – a child of about 5yo and older couples in their 50s. It is a very welcoming place. We had some dinner and marveled at our surroundings. It’s very creative. There is not an inch of wall that isn’t covered in something fun.
The cocktails are cheap and they aren’t full of sugar and syrup either! They’re nice!
When darkness fell, the atmosphere changed a little and at one point the heavens opened and thunder and lightening added to the experience. There is a courtyard in the middle of Szimpla and the drain covers had to be lifted to allow the rain water out of the building. It was impressive. It was one of my highlights. To be in a club where it is raining indoors was a great experience. I love a good thunderstorm at the best of times, but when God turns up to dance with you in Budapest, you know you’re in the right place!
Later that night, after making some new friends, we went to Instant, another of Budapest’s ruin bars. I hated this place. The floor was sticky, the music was too loud and the men were a bit too handsy! But that is likely showing my age… I may have felt differently had I been 19yo and smashed… which our new friends were, and they seemed to be enjoying themselves!
Gluten Free Budapest
As I’ve mentioned, I am wheat intolerant. My travel buddy for this trip is coeliac. So we are always careful what we eat wherever we go. Budapest catered for us amazingly! I enjoyed all the food I ate. Especially the local canteen mentioned above – they were fab. Most places had a meat and salad kind of menu so we had choices of dishes in most of the places we chose to eat.
My favourite place was Drop Restaurant. The food was fantastic, the atmosphere was excellent, the location was perfect and the staff were lovely. Even if you don’t have to eat gluten free, this place is awesome! I had a chicken burger, and even their coleslaw was yummy (and I don’t normally like coleslaw!)
We had two rounds of drinks and a main course each and the bill came in at under £14 each (HF5000)
Check them out: http://droprestaurant.com/
Transport and Accommodation
We landed at Budapest airport late morning. Passport control was efficient and we found ourselves landside in the super clean, modern airport.
It was 35 degrees that day so we changed our UK appropriate jeans for shorts and sandals, and made our way to the tourist information desk.
We bought two 7 day travel cards for just shy of HF5000 (around £14) which got us around the city and to and from the airport for the four days we were there. Bargain. The lady on the desk wasn’t the most cheerful person I’ve ever met, but she did explain (briefly) that because we were there for four days, it was more cost effective to buy a 7 day travel card than the alternative 3 day travel card plus a single day card.
Armed with our new ticket and a metro map, we went and caught the 200E bus from outside.
It was sweltering. I sweated more on that airport transfer than I have since I (stupidly) decided to run 10k that time.
After the bus we got a metro, and after the metro we got a tram. Since we left home that morning, we had used every mode of transport going besides a bicycle and a boat! It was fantastic!
We stayed at the ACHAT Premium Budapest. It was just outside of town and when we got off the tram first impressions were not overwhelmingly positive. It looked as though it was the only building in the neighborhood that had had construction completed. But it was right outside the tram stop, and had a little supermarket two doors down. That supermarket was a great shout for breakfast. They stocked gluten free foods and the staff were super nice!
The hotel itself was nice enough. The staff were friendly and helpful. Everything was clean. The showerhead functioned more like a hose, but at least the water came out fast enough and it was warm! We could have done with clean towels more often, and they weren’t very generous with the loo roll. But overall not a bad stay at all!
The hotel was ten minutes walk to the metro station, so we wandered down the street in the sunshine instead of taking the tram. The locals were friendly and I felt pretty safe considering the number of buildings we saw that were not fit for occupancy.
The metro is super easy to navigate – much like London’s tube network. All the signs and announcements are in Hungarian and English; everything is colour coded and has a number. You really can’t go wrong.
We got off at Deák Ferenc Tér, right in the centre of town. It was super quiet. There were very few people. No one pushed you on and off the metro, no one hurried you along the street. It was super relaxed. I was so surprised! I expected hustle and bustle from the Hungarian capital city. But thankfully, it was beautifully quiet.
Why I want to go back
When I return to Budapest I will be sure to do the Jewish and the Communism walking tours. I want to do a guided tour of parliament, and visit the national museum. I’d also like to go inside St Stephen’s Basilica.