Budapest is one of Europe’s major weekend destinations for a reason. The cultural influences of both East and West and the mark of ‘Goulash Communism’ have created an intriguing and picturesque city. A city full of (mostly) untouched architecture, awesome food and scenes so incredibly stunning it’ll take all your strength to stop taking excessive amounts of photos because its getting dark and you’ve been walking the same stretch for two hours now.
And Budapest is cheap*. Our decision to spend a weekend there was brought into being by a flight deal that fell into our inbox. We booked seats on a one-hour flight and then found an apartment on Airbnb – which happened to be situated right behind the Opera House – for only €21 per night. Crazy.
So, we booked, we flew, we did. And now here is what you should do.
How to spend a weekend in Budapest
- DO walk across the Chain Bridge at night. You’ll see incredible views of Castle Hill and Parliament lit up like a fat kid’s face in front of a Twix bar.
- DO check out the Opera House, in all its Neo-Renaissance glory.
- DO check out Parliament House. It’s grand and extravagant and embodies all of what a parliament house should – or rather, should not – be.
- DON’T take a cruise on the Danube ‘for beautiful panoramic views of Buda and Pest’. Instead, hike up to the top of Gellert’s Hill. The views from the top will most likely be the highlight of your trip. As you can see, Joe here was so excited he just had to take a nap.
- DON’T walk along Andrassy Avenue unless you’re interested in shopping at stores you can shop at in any other city in the world.
- DO go to the Central Market Hall if you’re looking for a shitty keyring to bring home to your unenthusiastic family.
- DO go to St. Stephen’s Basilica. It’s phenomenal. But DON’T accidentally sneak in and crash the funeral of a famous Hungarian football player.
- DO go to the National Gallery/Buda Castle. We spent hours strolling its halls and taking in its fabulousness.
- DO walk Castle Hill and the length of the Danube – on both sides.
- DO (or don’t) take a swim in one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths. I can’t comment on this because we didn’t take a dip ourselves. All I saw was a steaming cloud of saggy old man flesh and a bunch of empty chess boards.
- DON’T walk along Vaci utca for any reason whatsoever.
- DO check out Heroes’ Square, but be aware that, in my opinion, it may not be as impressive as it’s made out to be.
- Do indulge in a traditional Hungarian meal and drink delicious Hungarian wine, which brings me to my next point…
Food in Budapest
Budapest is said to have had a ‘foodie uprising’ in the last few years, with the Michelin Hatting of a number of restaurants. Unfortunately, I can’t speak on behalf of these because I’m just a poor travelling woman on an internship wage but, as far as traditional Hungarian food goes, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a meal that doesn’t have meat in it. Seriously. Even the dessert has meat in it. And for two people who have severely cut down their meat intake this year (I’ve only eaten meat on several occasions since 2014, and most of these occurred in Budapest), this was a little bit of shock. But apart from this, the food scene in Budapest is great.
We found Budapest’s best food was in the Jewish district. However, with only three days in the city we were unable to venture out into any of the outer neighbourhoods, which I’ve read are also fantastic. Nevertheless, the food we had in Pest was pretty damn delicious. Of course, you’ll still need a certain critical eye and and some thorough background research when deciding on an appropriate feasting ground – as is required anywhere in the world – but when wandering the streets of the old Jewish quarter odds are you’ll find something great.
We went to a fantastic restaurant called Fricska, where we were force-fed several courses of modern Hungarian food and litres of Hungarian wine, which, unbeknownst to me prior to this trip, is actually fantastic. So we weren’t complaining.
While roaming through the Jewish district, we also unintentionally stumbled into what’s been hailed the third best bar in the world (yep), Szimpla Kert, where we quickly discovered Szimpla is more than just a bar – it’s a cultural institution. In the light of day, Budapest’s oldest ruin bar, which is full of mismatched furniture, kaleidoscopic television screens and the blended stench of hookah and cigarettes, was quiet and unbothered by anyone who wandered its space.
Coffee in Budapest
I’m not feeling all that confident in representing the coffee scene in Budapest because we unashamedly visited the same place every single day. Yes, I know this is bad. Yes, the coffee was fantastic. And from what we had read, Espresso Embassy is often named the best coffee in Budapest. Still, I am sadly now in no position to attest to this. Anyway, other than Espresso Embassy, with its cosy interior and smooth cortados, I’ve read Tamp & Pull and – surprise surprise, yet another Australian cafe – My Little Melbourne are also excellent. So, when you’re next in Budapest, please do try all three (or more) and let me know. You should also check out the beautiful New York Cafe, which, for 120 years, has served as the cafe home of some of Budapest’s most prominent journalists, poets, writers and cultural figures.
Espresso Embassy – Arany János utca 15, Budapest 1051, District 5
In summary, our weekend in Budapest was one of the best in Europe thus far. We wandered the former grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during what was the wettest day of our lives and one of the most glorious. We ate indulgent Hungarian food, took a ridiculous amount of photos and strolled the Danube for hours. But despite everything I’ve been babbling on about, it doesn’t really matter what you do while in Budapest. Just go there. Go there now.
*Just don’t get in a taxi that isn’t Fotaxi or City Taxi. And always call and order them yourself. Because while they may be marked, its highly likely that regular ol’ yellow cab is being driven by a scumbag who will happily charge you double as he drives through Budapest’s slums on the way to the airport, being well aware that you’re well aware of what he is doing. Yes, this happened.