Explore Budapest With Us!
Budapest! The last leg of our trip, after Berlin and Prague and Vienna (post coming soon). Budapest. The political and cultural capital of Hungary. At about 5,500 miles from New Orleans, it was the furthest from home we’d be going on our European adventure.
When we arrived in Budapest, we’d already had ten solid days of filling our bodies with all the schnitzel and wine and potatoes and sausage and pastries. We were fast approaching the “I’m going to die here, aren’t I?” crescendo—a make or break moment in any long trip* where you’ve about walked all you can walk, eaten all you can eat, and worn all of your underwear, but you must persist. So you take a morning to get wash-and-fold laundry service, do a face mask, and drink three cappuccinos.
*please note: the “I’m going to die here, aren’t I?” crescendo typically does not happen on beach vacations, wellness retreats, or island getaways, and instead is reserved for active vacations in crowded places where you’re eating and walking far more than you should be and/or not setting aside time for doing nothing.
Our itinerary (Berlin—Prague—Vienna—Budapest) is a pretty common one for Central / Eastern Europe travel, but we heard from a lot of people they were doing it in reverse order. I suggest you do it the way we did it, to be honest! The good thing about Budapest—and the reason I’m happy that we ended our trip here as opposed to starting it here—is that one of the biggest attractions is their collection of thermal baths, which are actually incredibly relaxing and do the body good after a bit of travel. Ending the trip here was a real treat.
OK, so the very quick tea on Budapest. Budapest is actually two cities split in half by the Danube River, with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. Pest is the more touristed area, while Buda is a bit more residential but still absolutely has a good bit going on. We had about three full days, which is in my opinion the perfect amount of time to visit most cities because it leaves you wanting a little more, while still allowing you to pack in the most important stuff to do. Here are the things we’re talking about: ruin bars, thermal baths, the best restaurants, museums, street food, and a stellar hill top viewpoint.
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Food & Drink—Where To Go
All of the below spots are located in or near Inner City.
Ruin bars (bars built in abandoned buildings and ruins) are super popular in Budapest, and Szimpla Kert is one of the most famous ones in the city. And for good reason! It was one of the most interesting bar experiences we’ve ever had! Except for one time when we—maybe against his will now that I think of it—hung out with Anderson Cooper and brought him to a local gay bar and chaos ensued. I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about that. Anyway, Szimpla Kert. There are a ton of rooms filled with wild furniture and plants and graffiti and several bars to try different drinks and local wines and spirits. We’d recommend going right before sunset and taking a walk around upstairs, and then enjoying the nighttime vibe with a glass of wine in the wine bar as the sun goes down and the place starts to get busier.
A running joke between Matt and I when we’re trying to pick a spot for dinner is that I’ll literally eat dirt if it’s in a romantic cozy restaurant setting. I just really love a nice atmosphere and sometimes care less about the quality of the food mmkay! This drives him mad. M Restaurant is one of the coziest little dinner spots I’ve ever seen, especially upstairs, and the food is pretty amazing! Especially the starters we got—brûléed foie gras and eggplant dip. They serve French-ish food along with some Hungarian staples, and the chicken paprikash (traditional Hungarian chicken stew loaded with paprika) was fantastic. Try a few local wines as well and just go with the flow of this cute and cozy spot. Make reservations days in advance.
Everyone told us to go here. Like everyone. On the train from Vienna to Budapest a farmer working his field near the train tracks raised up a sign that literally said, “Eat At Mazel Tov, Losers!” I’m kidding that’s ridiculous. But everyone else did tell us to go here. They serve deeelish modern Israeli food, and it’s an adorable and trendy setting to be hot and drink cocktails. This place is actually a more polished take on the ruin bar aesthetic, and it was a really fun to compare it to the grungier Szimpla Kert. I honestly don’t remember it that much because I think I had maybe too much to drink? But it was such a lovely time. Mazel Tov! Make reservations several days, or even weeks, in advance.
Gulyás just means goulash which just means stewed stuff, which is this little spot’s specialty. There aren’t a ton of hip places in Budapest that build their menus around traditional Hungarian cuisine, so this restaurant was a nice treat. The menu is almost entirely goulashes in different shapes and forms, with different meats and fixings. Make reservations several days in advance.
This is an outdoor food truck market, like you’d find in Austin or Portland or anywhere else where straight white male hipsters get little squiggly face tattoos and love tacos and Carhart. A lot of stuff looked good but our only real recommendation is the spot that does burgers made with langós (traditional Hungarian fry bread)—conveniently called Langós Burger. It’s incredibly yummy and a great way to try the popular Hungarian bread. The vendors likely do rotate in and our every few weeks or months, so maybe check on the Langós Burger Instagram for updates on where they’re at when you visit.
In addition to langós, parpikash, and ghoulash, some other Hungarian staples you’ve got to try are the native booze options. Don’t miss pálinka (a Hungarian fruit brandy) or Tokaji (a popular dessert wine from the nearby Tokaj region). As far as non-dessert wines, Hungary does white wines very well—try the native Hungarian varietals furmint and ezerjó (among others), and try some olaszrizling (Hungarian for Welschriesling) too. If you’re a red drinker, look out for Egri Bikavér.
So this is like a big thing here. Thermal baths are basically just pools that are fed their water from hot springs. They’ve been popular in Budapest for centuries, and you can even still swim in one from 1565! There are dozens to choose from in Budapest, but we chose to go to one super old one to get that whole “danggg this some old shit!” experience, as well as a newer one that was gorgeous and ideal for taking all the Instagram photos.
Király Baths was more or less one giant dome with several holes to let in light. It was built by the Ottoman Turks and opened to public use in 1565, which is reason enough to visit. There’s one main bath and then side baths that are heated or cooled to give you a variety of options. To be totally honest, well, like, it was a little gross compared to the next bath we went to. The locker rooms were a bit unkempt and it just feels dingy. Again, it’s literally 450 years old so I guess that comes with the territory. It’s also one of the cheapest baths to get into, so if you’re on a budget keep that in mind. Entry was roughly $6 USD, not including a towel or flip flop rental. (You can also bring your own towel and flip flops.) Overall it was worth a visit just to see such a cool slice of Budapest’s history.
We’re calling this “the newer one” even though it was built when the Austro-Hungarian Empire was still a thing, a little over 100 years ago. The decor here was just fantastic, both in the main chamber with the lap pool and a warm bath as well as in the wing with even warmer thermal baths and a steam room. We honestly could have spent all day here if we didn’t feel the need to get out and see some more of Budapest. If you have more than three days here, you should consider spending a whole day or afternoon exploring the different rooms and dipping yourself into baths of various temperatures. There’s a cafe on site with food and cocktails so there’s really no need to leave. It was lush. Entry was about $20 USD, not including towel, sandal, or swim cap rental (swim caps are required in the lap pool but not in any of the other areas).
An absolutely stunning Roman Catholic Basilica that is 100% worth a visit. I have a very low tolerance for LookingUpAtOldStuff, which is why I loved the basilica because you can actually climb up the original stairs (and then some new stairs they added) to the very top where you’ll stand on a four foot wide wrap around balcony and get views of the whole city. It’s so cool and kinda scary! I believe entry was roughly $2 USD each.
Home of the Hungarian Parliament, and one of the most impressive and famous buildings in the whole city. You can just stare at it for, like, half an hour and not get bored. While you should probably go and visit it up close, the actual best views (in my opinion) are from across the river in Buda, where you can enjoy viewing it with the Danube flowing right beside it.
Children’s Railroad & Chair Lift Down Buda Hills
I need to just start off by saying this: I have no clue how I came across this as an activity to do, and the entire time we were doing it we were both like, “what the fuck is going on.” And we had an absolute blast. It’s a go with the flow kind of thing. The children’s railroad began as a Soviet-era initiative to teach children the value of work, basically. And no one ever really got rid of it, but today it’s kinda more just like a fun thing to do that local kids around Buda participate in (think of it like Boy Scouts but instead of camping it’s operating a full-blown railway). So, to this day, there’s a daily train running through the Buda hills that is managed and run by kids aged 12 to 16—except for the engineer, who thankfully a fully grown adult. The route is somewhat scenic, but the fun experience is mostly just being on an open air train hurtling through a hillside while a 12 year old in blue and red uniform demands to see your ticket.
The whole ride will take about 45 minutes, and you can get a two-way ticket that will make it roundtrip, but there are several spots to get off and do hikes or see viewpoints. I recommend you get off at the third or fourth stop, I can’t really remember which, but it has a blue sign with a chairlift on it and that’s the second really fun part of this adventure. You get off at the stop and follow the signs and go up a hill (it’s maybe a 10 minute hike) to a chairlift, where you then take a ride down the hill and get a really great view of the whole city. It was so much fun!
To get there: Your goal is to get to the Children’s Railway main station, Hűvösvölgy. It’s about 45 minutes outside of the heart of Budapest where you’ll likely be staying, so type in “children’s railroad” in Google Maps, which will give you instructions for which tram to take to the station (we took the 56). The instructions in Google Maps have you get off the tram at your stop, walk up a hill, hike through a small side trail, and finally you end up at a little railway station (this is Hűvösvölgy). Here you’ll pay like $3 for a ticket and ride the railway to your heart’s desire. If you take the chairlift down like we did, there’s a bus at the bottom of the chairlift that’ll take you into the city and you can then get a Bolt (like Uber) or walk or tram it to your next destination.
Note: the Children’s Railway departs every hour between 9 am and 4 pm, but you can check the (tbh super confusing) timetable on their website for up to date info.
I’ll comfortably file this under: OnlyDoThisIfYouJustReallyLoveMuseums or OnlyDoThisIfYouWantToSeeHungarianArt. It was a cool fine arts museum, but the only thing that really interested us was the third floor exhibit on Hungarian art. That was awesome, but it’s pretty small so don’t plan a full afternoon around it!
If you’ve been to any central market in any major city you kinda know what the deal is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit! It’s a great place to grab cheap lunch, see what local butchers and produce folks offer, and to get souvenirs like paprika or a bottle of Tokaji to bring back home to the family.
Where to Stay
If it’s your first time visiting Budapest, I’d probably recommending doing as we did and staying in Inner City. Even though it’s definitely the most touristy area, it gave us super easy access to most of the restaurants, bars, and attractions we wanted visit and was a great jumping point for basically everything—especially given our short time to visit. On our next trip to Budapest, I’m actually thinking we may be interested in seeing what kind of accommodations are available in Buda, which is a somewhat quieter and more nature-oriented side of the city.
We booked the Corinthia Hotel, which is kind of an old school traditional hotel that is super stunning and feels really * fancy *. It’s definitely not hip in any way shape or form, but it’s got an incredible spa and pool situation, a remotely decent gym, and the room was huge! We booked it for $100 a night on HotelTonight, down from $250!
Wow! OK! That was a lot of information. Overall we both really enjoyed our time in Budapest, and think it’s a must-see city for anyone visiting Central or Eastern Europe. Let us know if you try out any of our recommendations, and thanks for stopping by the blog!