I’m a woman obsessed. I’ve visited Budapest more than any other city since moving to Europe. How could I not love it after experiencing moments like this? I’ve been there four times over the past year or so and still feel like it hasn’t been enough. I always find myself wanting to go back and know it’s a place I’ll visit many more times .
Some friends have called me an “honorary Hungarian.” While I wouldn’t take it that far, I think I know the city well for having spent so little time there. I have more than 10 books about Budapest sitting in my bookshelves and have studied them cover-to-cover.
My notorious love for Budapest has led to many people asking me for tips about where to eat, drink, hang out and stay while there. Others have asked me why I love it there so much as for some unfathomable reason the city has a reputation for being boring, ugly and inhospitable. I’m hoping my new series called A Weekend Guide to Budapest will help answer these questions and prove that the city is lively, beautiful and full of culture.
Below you’ll find a weekend itinerary followed when introducing two of my favorite gal pals to the city. I must have did a good job playing tour guide as they came away loving Budapest as much as I do and have asked me when we’re going back. Try it out for yourself and let me know what you think!
Once you arrive at the airport, there are the usual options to take a taxi, shuttle or public transit into the city. I like taking the shuttle as it costs less than a cab and you still get dropped off directly at your hotel, hostel, flat etc. It cost 24 € for the three of us, making it 8 € a person one way.
Tip – Whatever you do, do not exchange your money at the airport for Hungarian forints. The rate’s too high and you won’t be getting your money’s worth. If you must exchange money (i.e. you need money for public transit) only surrender a 5 or 10 euro bill. Exchange your money when you reach the city itself.
Where We Stayed
Instead of staying in a hotel or a hostel, my friends and I arranged to stay in a flat through Roomorama (no longer in operation). Easily booked through their website, we found a large two bedroom flat in an old historic building in a central area of Pest.
Our friendly host greeted us and handed over the keys to the apartment. As we walked up to the flat, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the building’s old world charm.
The flat itself was really nice and could easily sleep 6-8 people. It was also equipped with basic things like towels and linens. Even the kitchen was stocked full of cutlery, plates and all the needed appliances.
Our only complaints about the flat? It was way too hot and there weren’t any fans to cool off with. At night, it also got quite noisy (I’m pretty sure the city never sleeps) which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Costing about 170 euros for two nights, the price isn’t so bad when divided by 3 people or even a larger group. Definitely something to consider if you’re heading to Budapest with your family or a group of friends.
It really did feel like home for the weekend and it gave me a taste about what it would be like to actually live in Budapest, something which I’ve thought a lot about. This living like a local experience isn’t a feeling that you’d get if you stayed in a hotel or hostel. For this reason, I’d totally recommend Roomorama and I wouldn’t hesitate in using them again.
Where We Ate
1) Murci Wine House, 1052 Budapest, Kristóf tér 7, Budapest, Hungary.
One of my top five restaurants in Budapest. A cute, shabby chic decor and a large terrace were the first things that grabbed our attention. The comprehensive choice of Hungarian wines made my heart leap with joy! Hungarian wine is seriously underrated. Try out the three course tasting menu to sample local cuisine for about 15 €; their goulash is one of the best I’ve had.
2) El Rapido Grill & Tequila Bar, 1075 Budapest Kazinczy Street 10, Hungary.
We stopped here for some late night eats after hanging out at Szimpla (more information can be found below in the Where We Drank section). Great place to get some tasty and cheap Mexican fast food after a night out drinking. The long line-up reflects the fact that the place serves up some tasty treats.
3) Gerlóczy Kávéház, 1052 Budapest, Gerlóczy utca 1, Hungary.
Nice spot for a Sunday morning brunch as they have a pretty terrace full of flowers. Unfortunately, the food was mediocre and the service poor. For example, our waiter brought each of us our food at three different times, leaving us with no choice but to watch one another eat for fear our food would get cold. Still the terrace makes it worth a stop, if only for a quick coffee and croissant.
4) Jack Doyle’s Irish Pub, 1052 Budapest Pilvax köz 1-3, Hungary.
A cool place to catch a sports game (like hurling) and eat some typical pub grub. I mowed down on some chicken wings and french fries! We were delighted to discover Gösser on their menu, a lemon flavored Austrian beer not available in Germany.
Other less expensive dining ideas?
5) Go on a Picnic – While I went to do a site inspection at the Buddha Bar Hotel (now closed), my two friends stopped by a grocery store and picked up some food for a picnic along the Danube. They ate a healthy breakfast while gazing at the Buda side of the city.
6) Cook At Home – One of the great things about renting a flat for the weekend, is that you can make dinner at “home.” One of my roommates cooked a really amazing meal which included a salad and seafood pasta complimented by a bottle of white Hungarian wine. Yummy!
Where We Drank
1) Buddha Bar Lobby Bar, 1052 Budapest Váci Street 34, Hungary (now closed)
A new five-star darling in town, this hotel might be a little expensive for some. If you can’t afford to stay or eat a meal here, stop by their lobby bar for a cocktail. You’ll walk up a red carpeted staircase into a darkened lounge area. From here, you can gaze down into the restaurant for a glimpse of their larger than life golden Buddha. For a life changing experience, order my new favourite cocktail The Heart of Darkness mixed with Cognac, port, red grapes and cinnamon.
2) Ötkert, 1051 Budapest Zrínyi Street 4, Hungary.
A local friend of mine invited us to meet him at this ruin bar. I’m a bit obsessed with ruin bars and was pretty stoked to check it out, however when we arrived the line-up was too long for our taste, so we hopped on over to the bar next door instead (and I unfortunately don’t recall the name). While I can’t personally vouch for how good this place might be, I think the long line-up pretty much guarantees that it’s worth checking out for at least a drink or two. It’s now on my must see list for one of my future trips back to Budapest.
3) Szimpla Kert, 1075 Budapest, Kazinczy utca 14, Hungary.
The first ever ruin pub in the city, it’s become a cultural institution that’s inspired others to pop-up around the city. While the copy cats come and go, Szimpla remains a fixture that seems to attract both tourists and locals. Entering Szimpla is like entering another world and exploring the building’s giant labyrinth and uncovering its quirky and funky decor is half the fun! Picture sitting down in old bathtubs and old Russian Trabant cars. Combine that with cheap drinks, free wi-fi, open air cinema, a Sunday market and you have yourself a winner. Szimpla is not only my favourite bar in Budapest, but my favourite bar in the world.
Tip – Grab a seat in a Trabant and smoke some sheesha! And for you Berliners, there’s also a Szimpla in Berlin.
4) Corvin Club, 1085 Budapest Blaha Lujza tér 1, Hungary.
The same friend who we met up with at Ötkert, also invited us to meet him here. We never ended up going but I was there once before in September 2011, partying with a bunch of people from Unity hostel. It was here that I had my first shot of Hungarian palinka (only to find I hated it even more than tequila) and hung out on their spacious rooftop bar.
5) Hungarian National Gallery Cafe – Budavári Palota, Szent György tér 2.Budapest, Hungary 1014.
Believe it or not, we did leave Pest and also hung out in Buda. My favorite, albeit tourist filled place is in front of the Hungarian National Gallery. It’s a lovely outdoor cafe where you can order a cold drink on a hot day, sit under the shade of an umbrella and see views of the Danube and Pest.
Tip – ask for a slip of paper from your server if you need to use the public restroom and avoid paying an entry fee.
What We Did
1) Cruise Along the Danube
I tried a day cruise along the Danube for the first time last September and while it was really nice, nothing beats seeing Budapest at night. Pick any of the cruise companies dotted along the river, as none of them are really better than the other. Some cruises like ours, include a drink (wine, beer, coffee, tea etc) and headphones to listen to an audio tour available in several languages. It’s a really touristy thing to do but it’s just such a great way to see the city!
2) Széchenyi Fürdő, 1146 Budapest Állatkerti körút 11, Hungary.
I have now been to Széchenyi on three separate occasions and it still hasn’t gotten old for me. Visiting the the baths is one of the very best things you can do in Budapest and Széchenyi is one of the most famous. Another curious spot visited by both tourists and locals, the outdoor pools are the highlight. Two warm pools and one cold, you can lounge under the stars in the midst of winter or bask under the sun on a hot day in the shadows of a monolithic, centuries old, neo-classical yellow building. You’ll find people enjoying a beer, old men playing chess, tourists snapping pictures and lovers kissing under the spray of a fountain.
Tip – Be sure to bring sandals for the journey from the change room to the pools (the floors aren’t the cleanest) and bring your own towels. The towels available for rent are more like bed sheets and don’t really help you to dry off all that well.
3) Walk Along Andrassy Avenue
Walking along Andrassy Avenue, a UNESCO World Heritage Site is something you should do at least once. Modelled after the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, this wide avenue is flanked by beautiful architecture that will leave you gasping in delight. It ends at Heroes Square, where you’ll also find a lovely city park complete with its own castle, the Budapest zoo, amusement park (currently closed), the Museum of Fine Arts, Palace of Fine Arts and Széchenyi.
4) Proclaim Your Love
Stop by Erzsébet tér, a park at the corners of corner of Petőfi Sándor, József Attila and Október 6 to find a special metal frame set-up around a tree and is decorated with a plethora of love locks. I came upon these love locks last September and was only too happy to showcase this public display of love to my friends. Perhaps you can leave a love lock of your own!
5) Roar With the Lions on the Chain Bridge
One of the city’s highlights is the Chain Bridge. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s beautiful. It’s even guarded by two stern looking lions on each side. Drive over, walk over it, cruise under it as it’s quite the site to behold.
6) Explore The Castle District
The Buda side of the city plays host to the notable Royal Palace and Hungarian National Gallery, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. There are two ways to reach the top of the hill where the palace and other sites are located – either walk or take the funicular. We opted to take the funicular (my friend is nerdy about those things) but I actually prefer the walk. There is more than one pathway and they’re all equally beautiful.
Tip – To enter the church and Bastian, you’ll need to pay. Buy the combo option for a reduced price. Admission to the National Gallery also gives you the opportunity to sneak in one of the best views of Pest. Simply climb to the top floor dome!
So there you have it, my weekend guide to Budapest. I can’t wait to go back soon!