Before we go any further, I have a disclaimer to proclaim. This article is going to be phenomenally one-sided and unbalanced as I LOVE Budapest and also used to call it home.
Right, now you understand where I am coming from, let me begin…
Cities are at their best when there are striking juxtapositions at the heart of them. Think of Vancouver with mountains setting the background for a metropolis and Rio de Janeiro with its beaches and Corcovado mountain looking over the city centre.
Budapest is no different!
From the magical sweeping ‘Blue Danube’ to the Citadel topped Gellert Hill, the largest Synagogue in Europe a short skip to St Stephen’s Basilica and the classic art nouveau cafes and thermal baths supplemented by the beautifully ramshackle Kert bars.
The diversity that is born from these combinations is what gives Budapest its unique character and feel.
It is a classic Central European city with similar grand architecture in the same vein as Vienna and Prague, but whilst these cities are solely dependent on these looks, Budapest requires you to peer behind these facades for it’s true soul to present itself.
It is the vibe, atmosphere and friendliness of the people that truly makes this city stand out from the rest.
So what would I recommend if you had but a few days in Budapest? You should always do the classic sites – the cafes, Basilica, Heroes Square, Momento Park etc. They’re the most popular sites for a reason!
What I will try to highlight are those places or sites that I feel are a bit underrated:
Central Market Hall
I believe that one of the best (and tastiest) ways to truly experience the culture of an area is through its food and one of the first things I will do in a new place is visit the local food market. Budapest is no different and you can visit the Central Market Hall on the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge. The ground floor is where I used to do my food shopping so you can get their paprika, meats, veg, spices and many other produce. The second floor is where most the souvenirs are as well as the many eateries that serve as a good introduction to the local cuisine. If Langos interests you, then you can get them up here (I personally can’t stand it!) along with other traditional fare including my personal favourite – Tarhonya Porkholt.
Esceri Flea Market
This is a great place to visit if you have a half-day spare. One of the best bric-a-brac markets I have been to full of ornate goods, old Communist relics and random things you never knew you wanted!
The best place for local food in the castle district. Opposite the Hilton hotel you will see a alleyway leading to a restaurant and glasshouse café/book shop. Within this archway on the left is Fortuna. It is only open Mon-Fri 11am – 2pm and they speak no English. Full of the local workers, incredibly cheap and the menu changes everyday in a canteen style kitchen. Some of the best lunches I have had have been from here and is also where I had my first Hideg Meggyleves (Cold Fruit Soup) – the most refreshing thing I have ever had. On the Pest side, check out iSkola, which is an awesome restaurant with great food in an old school. A great example of the regeneration of the surroundings.
Definitely go to St Stephens Basilica, but for what it’s worth, I think this is the better church. On top of the castle district I find the interior to be awe inspiring with it’s obvious past as a mosque adding to the atmosphere.
Zsolnay Roof Tiles
Budapest is a beautiful city and the distinctive roof tiles from the Zsolnay factory in Pécs has had a large part to play in this adorning Matthias Church, the Central Market Hall as well the Applied Arts Museum (which is also worth a visit).
There are loads of articles on the baths in Budapest and if you want more details on them, just contact me. But, If you’re going to go to one (and your time in the city doesn’t conincide with Cinetrip), then I would say to go to Rudas on the Buda side of the Elizabeth Bridge. History and relaxation all in one place and a dome that is up there with the Pantheon in sheer beauty.
The same as the baths above, I can go on for DAYS about the Kert bars as these are the soul of the city and I you want more detailed advice about these old restored Communist buildings, just ask me.
But the ones that mean something to me:
Instant – themed rooms under an retractable roof. Check out the upside down room upstairs on the left. This is the first ruin bar I visited on my first day in Budapest and is pretty much the reason I decided to move here!
Szimpla Kert – the daddy of them all. Sit in a sawn in half taxi and go during the day for a completely different vibe.
Fogas Haz – Great for art and is a old dentist studio.
Durer Kert – Great garden.
Corvin Teto – Wicked rooftop bar on top of an old supermarket, take the freaky lift up!
Mumus – Had to mention it. My old favourite on Dob Utca, sadly no more…bring it back!
District 7 - Just walk through this district, also known as the Jewish Quarter, and I guarantee you will stumble upon a wealth of pop-up Kert bars.
A38 - Want to rave on a boat?
Is there a better symbol of classic romantic European cities than the trusty tram? Forget the ugly Red Bus, jump on tram No.2 & slide across the beautiful waterfront to take in all the beauty. Be warned, what you pay here for a ride on public transport WILL make you angry about what you pay at home.
I have a thing for bridges and what they represent in terms of engineering and beauty and the ones you see in Budapest will take your breath away.
I am lucky enough enough to have lived in and breathed this city and I always recommend here as the city to go to on a break. One of the best things for me is seeing people come back and tell me how much they loved it, so I hope you do the same!
Travel tip shared by Ever Thought of Trying