Up till now, there are two cities that I have experienced and can see myself living in: London and New York. But visiting Budapest has added another to that list.
Four full days in Hungary’s capital had me falling in love – with the architecture, the tired glamour, the food and the spirit. I’ve tried to wrap all of that up into this post, and can only hope that my words and photos will go at least some way to conveying the fabulousness of this city. I can’t recommend Budapest highly enough for a visit.
Onto my recommendations…
We stayed in the boutique guesthouse, Brody House.
I have so many positive things to say about Brody House that it has a dedicated feature here!
After one morning of sightseeing, we grabbed coffee at Baltazár (on the Buda side of the city) – a restaurant and hotel. I would have loved to have explored the hotel further, as the interior design of the restaurant and hotel lobby were right up my street.
From their website, the individually themed bedrooms look absolutely fabulous too.
EATING OUT (LUNCH & DINNER):
I adored the cuisine of Budapest – mainly Hungarian or Jewish, I feasted on goulash, sausages and strudels – and lots of macarons!
My top restaurant recommendations are:
Centrál Kávéház (on Károlyi Mihály utca) for hearty lunches in a decadent setting. The Coach’s Goulash was a very meaty combination of goulash, frankfurter and fried egg – it kept me going all afternoon!
MÁK Bistro (on Vigyázó Ferenc utca) was recommended by a friend, and we had a fantastic lunch. The interior is fabulous, with vaulted bare brick ceilings and Scandi-style furniture. The lunch menu offers 2 courses for 2800 Forint (= £7.50) and includes a glass of delicious Hungarian wine. Total bargain.
Klassz (on Andrássy utca) is another winner, with exceptionally high quality food, large portions and great service. Two of us had a 3-course meal plus two glasses of wine each, and the bill came to a whopping £21!
Although I didn’t actually eat there, the For Sale Pub opposite the Central Market Hall looked pretty interesting. Every single inch of wall and ceiling is covered with notes/receipts/tickets/paper. Dishes on the menu were quite expensive, but promised huge portions: “Ladies and children – we suggest you order the small size for 75% of the price as our portions are very large.” Regardless of the food, the interior was quite a spectacle.
COFFEE & CAKE:
The Hungarians do good cake, and there are a wealth of fancy cafés to choose from, many of them rivalling the Ritz when it comes to glamour, but still cheaper than Starbucks when you check the bill. In order of preference…
The Book Cafe inside the Alexandra Bookshop on Andrássy utca is a sight for sore eyes. Entrance is via the Art Nouveau style bookshop, but ascending the stairs to the Book Cafe reveals an interior worthy of a palace or church. A little OTT maybe, but the cappuccinos were the best we found in Budapest, and the cakes were delicious too. Definitely recommend.
Callas, almost opposite the Alexandra Book Café, on Andrássy utca, is also beautiful inside, with more great cakes. Service was rather slow, but the interior was unbelievably photogenic.
The New York Café on Erzsébet körút is supposedly the most beautiful café in the world, making it quite the tourist trap. The opulence of the Italian Renaissance-style interior is quite overwhelming. Service was good, but the coffee itself was poor, though I would recommend visiting if only for the photo opportunities.
Since I was holidaying with my mum, there were no crazy bar crawls to be had, however I saw enough of the city to understand why stag/hen parties do venture there. One place that did catch my eye, however, was Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s many ‘ruinpubs’. Ruinpubs opened at the turn of the 21st century, converting tenement houses and factories that were doomed for destruction into trendy drinking dens.
Equipped with rejected furniture from old community centres, cinemas and pensioners’ flats, these places are totally unique, and very popular with the students of Budapest, featuring cheap drinks and a casual feel. There are several ruinpubs to choose from, but Szimpla seems to be the most famous. It’s huge – a rabbit warren of different rooms lit by red and blue bulbs, with a dirt floor and mismatched furniture. Quite a sight.
SIGHTSEEING – PEST:
I won’t do the city justice if I try and turn into a city guide book, but here are all the must-see sights from my point of view:
Walk around looking up – there’s so much great architecture, such variation, and so many cool doorways. The buildings are all so ornate and glamorous looking, but so shabby chic – they’re just fantastic to look at.
The Central Market Hall truly had something for everyone – I sampled the pastries…
Hungarian Parliament – there are daily tours, but unfortunately we failed to do these. The building itself is very impressive though – partly inspired by the Palace of Westminster in London, you can see the similarities.
St Stephen’s Basilica – an impressive building, you can view the interior for a small donation.
The Great Synagogue, or Dohány Street Synagogue – the second largest in the world. Once you’ve paid entry, definitely find a tour guide, because there’s a rich Jewish history in Budapest that they’ll be able to share. The Tree of Life is a metal weeping willow memorial in the synagogue’s courtyard, in memory of the Jews killed in the Holocaust, and funded by Tony Curtis.
The Széchenyi baths comprises a series of outdoor thermal pools in an opulent setting – perfect for wallowing on a sunny day.
The Matthias Church has a striking colourful tiled roof, and an ornately painted interior.
Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings, and was originally built in 1265. Though it has been damaged and rebuilt since then, it’s still impressive and offers excellent views of the surrounding landscape.
I visited the Rudas baths – a series of thermal pools at different temperatures, steam rooms and saunas, perfect for relaxing and wallowing. Unfortunately I arrived too late in the day for a massage or treatment.
If cost is a concern, then Budapest is 100% the holiday destination for you:
Flights are cheap: around £70 with Ryanair if you can face it…
Hotels are cheap: mine was probably my favourite place I’ve ever stayed, and it was £80 a night for total luxury – details here.
Food and drink are incredibly cheap: I was eating out at top rated restaurants and having so much coffee and cake in the poshest cafés, and we only just managed to spend £200 between two during our stay.
Arty types will love all the galleries, budding historians can visit museums and do tours, active types will enjoy how walkable the city is, and architecture/interior design fans will be wowed repeatedly. Truly something for everyone.
And if all of the above hasn’t convinced you, then maybe this BuzzFeed will: 29 places that prove Budapest is the most stunning city in Europe!
If you want more tips, drop me a note or comment 🙂