The Buda-best of Budapest
I’m sat in Budapest airport writing this, and I can tell you one thing straight away - Budapest KFC chips are a thousand times better than their UK counterparts, with the only downside being the lack of gravy. We’ve had an amazing four days and I already know a few people who are planning on venturing out to Budapest this side of Christmas, so I want to make sure my reviews and blogs on this are as detailed as possible. Hopefully they’ll be just as interesting to read for those just wanting to know about our trip, as they will be useful to those using them as travel advice.
So first things first: it’s not pronounced ‘Buda-Pest’, it’s ‘Buda-Pesh’. This was one of the first things we were told by our incredible tour guide on the ‘Free Walking Tour’ we did on our second official day. I would recommend this to everyone a thousand times over. The company work on tips, which is great if you fancy a tour but don’t want to pay too much, and they do this by just putting a jar on the table, so you don’t feel as though you are being forced into paying a certain amount. This made us want to tip even more than we had originally planned! Our tour guide was the lovely ‘Annie’ who was a native Hungarian and within minutes of speaking to Steven and I, had told me she liked my earrings and recommended a place where we could buy super cool dangly earrings for cheap, which she marked on our map. (More about that place later on!) It was a lovely personalised little touch and made us feel really welcome. The website had made it sound like a very basic tour, but honestly, we could not have wished for a more comprehensive view of Budapest. We were told all about the dark history of the city, (I learnt more in those ten minutes than 3 years of History lessons at school!) how it came to be, and aboutthe local life. We were shown, via flash cards, some typical Hungarian foods we should try, and where was best to get them. We took a walk through Pest and across the chain bridge to Buda, where Annie explained what all the buildings were. She gave us time to take our own pictures, helping when needed, and took some on her phone which ended up on their Facebook within 24 hours! She was informative, knowledgable and pretty hilarious, answering any questions asked, really seeming interested in us and passing on her knowledge of the city. We got to see views that I don’t think we would have seen on our own and got a real honest feel to the tour. Although they do this every day, the tour feels fresh and new, not over rehearsed. I really could not recommend this highly enough! We got to see things that we couldn’t have found on our own and it gave us ideas for other things to do, as well as a good background history. Do this tour!!! (& tip well because it is worth so much, and that’s the only way these good people get paid!).
As always, we bought a 72 hour travel card, which took us to the exact time we got to the airport to leave. This was valid on the trams, metro and buses (I think a boat too but we didn’t need to catch one of those) and was only 4150 ft each (around £10.00) We toyed with the idea of getting the Budapest card which covered the same modes of transport but also had a few free entry and money off deals too, however it was a lot more pricey. Those cards are a great idea if the attractions listed are ones you are wanting to go to, but for us, a lot of the things we wanted to do was free, and so we would've felt as though we were pressured to go to these other things just to make the most of the card.
Because we booked the whole trip through a voucher site, we did not have particularly high hopes for the hotel, but we didn’t care. We were excited to be going at such a cheap price. When we got there however, we were blown away. Modern and beautiful, it was easily one of the nicest hotels we have ever been in! We had two single beds, but they were easily pushed together to form a nice big one, and even when housekeeping came round to make them, they kept them together for us. The sheets were the softest things and it was all I could do to keep from stealing them. Although it was lacking in a bath, the shower was stunning and the water pressure was great. One thing I really appreciated was the magnifying mirror (because everyone wants to see their face huge, even if we all know we’ll look horrific when we do!) and the hairdryer being in the bathroom. Usually, you have to hunt around for a tiny apologetic hairdryer, and you feel judged for not bringing yours. This one, however, was out and proud, ready to dry your hair happily. Or maybe I’m thinking into it too much! We had a mini bar, and the prices were dead reasonable. Over our stay we had a Pepsi, a Heineken and a little bottle of champaign and it came to just over a fiver! When we got in from the chilly Hungarian weather, the room was beautifully warm, to the point that we had to put the air con on when we got into bed - but who’s complaining! The hotel was close enough to a whole load of shops, and a five minute walk to the nearest metro station. The staff were friendly and helpful and very well presented. We got an amazing breakfast everyday. There wasn’t a load of food, but there was so much choice and all of it was really good quality. You couldn’t want for anything else!
Speaking of food… After we had had a good breakfast every day, we only really needed one other meal. The first day, we met with friends who just happened to be in Budapest the same time as us, and had a Chimney Cake (nom!) which took us through to dinner time. We spotted Trofea Grill on the back of one of the many guides I had picked up and I was intrigued at the notion of all you can eat and all you can drink! This place did not disappoint! It was like a much classier Red Hot Buffet (that’s right haters, I said it!) in that there was plenty of food but all of it a really good standard. I had duck, pork and venison on one plate and it was mouthwateringly delicious. Everything was labelled clearly and there was a good mix of traditional Hungarian and general food to eat. In terms of drinks - well! For our first drinks we had a glass of the most incredible champagne (“Come quick! I’m tasting the stars!”) and when we were empty and the waiter came around again, I requested another, to which he replied “I’ll bring you a bottle”. Steven ordered a beer, so it was just me and my bottle of heaven and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a drink! Most “All you can eats” seem to compromise on taste, quality and flavour, but I would have paid good money for this food! Because we went after 9pm, it worked out as about £20.00 between us, but if you go at lunch time it’s even cheaper!
Sadly, high on the success of this place, we ended up going to another ‘All you can eat’ (not drink sadly…) called Oktogon Bisztro which was only £8.00 between us, including a soft drink each. We had low expectations, what with it being so cheap and the TripAdvisor reviews being so mixed but even we were not prepared for such disappointing food. My pasta was half crunchy, half mush. The bolognese had no meat, the salad should have been chucked out and generally it was gross. We can’t really complain because of the price but the place looked so nice it seems a shame the food sucked. We won’t bother going there again!
Everywhere I go, I always have one McDonalds. There’s a few reasons for this, which I will explain in a future blog, but in Budapest, I enjoyed a pretty good BigMac meal. Sadly, the restaurant was so small we had to stand at a sort of table to be able to eat. Generally though, it was just good Maccies food.
One thing you should try is Strudel. It tastes nothing like the one you get frozen in Iceland, and you can buy it from street vendors with a range of fillings - I had sour cherry and it was incredible!
We went on the big wheel-thing, and the view was breathtaking but it was a little pricey for what it was. Also, cheesy as we are, we did do a love lock, but instead of a bridge, we did it on a big sculpture in the park, so it didn't feel as naughty.
One famous part of Budapest, is the naturally heated thermal baths, and Szechenyi is the most popular of these. It had around 15 indoor pools, of varying sizes, some beautifully warm at almost 40 degrees, and other ‘plunge pools’ at a much cooler temperature. The baths are said to have medicinal and healing properties and they offer a range of massages and therapies to accompany this. We went along at around 5pm, and spent two hours in the inside baths, until they closed at 7pm. We then moved to the outside pools and trust me when I say there is nothing like it. You are completely outside, (It was November when we visited so imagine it being around 2 degrees) it is dark, and yet you are in a big, warm pool. There are coloured lights, steam rising and a lazy river to entertain yourself, as well as the option to buy drinks at the outside bar. It’s a really fun, romantic atmosphere, and totally worth a try. On Saturdays, the bath hosts a ‘Sparty’ where everyone parties outside to music, like an outdoor, wet night club.
My top tips for here would be: Take flip-flops or slippers. If not for moving pool to pool, then the walk outside to the baths. My feet were so cold I thought my entire legs were going to drop off at one point and I really wished I’d bought some![ The dress code is pretty simple - at least a full bikini and Speedos are permitted. You will see people of all shapes and sizes and ages so it’s hard to be self conscious.
There are a whole load of thermal baths in Budapest but this one is the biggest and was recommended to us by a whole load of different sources so we had to give it a try!
When I heard the term ‘Ruin Bar’, I pictured a whole load of newly-18 year olds, doing shots and passing out. Thankfully, my lovely boyfriend had actually done his research and promised me it would not be that at all and that it was worth a visit - and boy was it ever! A ruin pub is essentially an old, derelict building that has been bought, made structurally sound, and then decorated with the most incredible, random things you can imagine. For example, in Szimpla, the original ruin pub (and the third best bar in the world according to TripAdvisor!) had a whole host of rooms. Most had multi-lingual scrawling on the walls, several disco balls and a variety of interesting seats, including, but not limited to, the back of an old car, a bath tub, a dinosaur ride and a vintage sewing machine table. Art adjourned the wall and there was an artsy black and white film playing. In one room was a live band, in another a DJ, and on some days there were farmers’ markets, others, art exhibitions. We spent an incredible evening sat on rug-covered pallets on the floor, smoking apple Shisha, eating carrots and bread shaped like a phallus, and chatting to a Frenchman, a Brazilian and a couple from Australia. Everything was decently priced and you were given the wifi password straight away. The handle of the toilet door was an old house phone, there were bizarre items and childrens' toys scattered everywhere and the clientele ranged from a group of Latino housewives, to an elderly gentlemen on his own, and of course the obligatory English stag party. (Who spilt a drink down a poor local girls arm and the #banterbus took a detour down Awkward Alleyway). There was such a feeling of comradarie in the place, to the point that the guy next to us wanted to clink bread penis’ with us, in some sort of solidarity celebration. If I were a local, I would happily spend every night (& probably day!) in this, or one of the other ruin bars. In fact, I probably would want to design one of them. They are the kind of beautiful places that make you feel infinite. Also, there was a Paper Towns quote on the toilet door and that makes any place okay with me!
We had heard about a book cafe, and decided to pay it a visit, envisioning a small, dark but cosy nook full of coffee drinkers and old hardbacks. It was entirely a different story (pun intended!) at the Alexandra Café which is actually more like a rather large multi-floor Waterstones and a fancy cafe with the most incredibly beautiful and regal ceiling. Certainly worth a visit, especially for the ice tea!
We found a lot of hidden gems (mostly by mistake), including the super stylish ‘Lomotography’. A mix between a very small photography museum/gallery, and a really nice cafe. We were made to feel super welcome, even if there were only a handful of chairs. It’s totally worth stopping by to have a look, and try a strawberry and chocolate tea!
Important to know:
One of the best things about Hungary is the currency - it will make you feel rich! We had about 20,000 HUF a day, and even after buying a few souvenirs, doing everything we wanted to, and even a cheeky raid of the mini bar in our hotel room (YOLO and all that!) we still had a bit left over to spend at the airport!
You are expected to tip between 10-15% - However! Change is a weird thing here. Say my meal was 5000 and I wanted to tip about 1000 (it was a good meal!) and I gave them a 10000 Huf note and said ‘Thank you’, I would get no change back. You have to tell them how much change to give you, otherwise they will assume it is all a tip and that makes it awkward for everyone.
Another top money tip given to us by our tour guide is ‘The closer to the river, the more expensive’. If you want to buy souvenirs, etc try to head away from the Danube as it will be cheaper.
The escalators in the metro stations go incredibly fast, so be prepared to literally jump on and off! It will make every other escalator ever seem as though it is going at a snail’s pace.
There are lots of homeless and lots of beggars. It is really sad. Sometimes someone will come up to you and be really cross that you can’t understand them (Seeing as how you don’t know Hungarian and all!) and that can be quite scary, but overall everyone is really nice.
I cannot stress enough how wonderful this trip was. There wasn’t a second we didn’t enjoy (except maybe the terrible buffet…) and I would recommend everyone pop over for a little break at some point. So, Budapest down - where next?!