I had been moaning about the lack of travel in my life for years, so over the last few I’ve made sure to visit the places I have always wanted to see…
Budapest was one that I felt very strongly drawn to.
If somebody asks me where my favourite city is, I don’t even need to think about it, Budapest is a very exciting place to explore, full of beautiful architecture, a rich history that needs to be listened to, stunning scenery and great local hotspots to eat, drink and unwind.
The spas, ‘ruin bars’ and street food are just as much fun to experience as the ancient castles and monuments – there is literally something for everybody here.
Watch my full Budapest travel video here:
Want to know why I loved the capital city of Hungary so much?
Here are just ten reasons why I adore Budapest, even if there are may many more…
Head to a Spa
You would be seriously crazy to go all that way to the “city of spas” and not take in one or two of Budapest’s 15 (give or take) public thermal baths and spas. The biggest (and probably the most famous) is the Széchenyi Spa Baths… and for good reason. This is one not to miss, especially during the summer – we enjoyed basking in the heat of the day whilst shoulder deep in this outdoor bubbling spa. You can also take yourselves inside and negotiate the maze of indoor spa baths of varying heats (phwoar, some were so hot it felt like we were being boiled alive!) but these are purely worth walking through for the stunning architecture alone.
Spot the older generation of locals sitting in the spa playing chess or fight for a natural spring jet with an older swimming hat-clad lady (ahem!) and soak up the relaxing atmosphere this spa offers.
My top tip if trying to save pennies here is to book yourself one changing cubicle between two of you and share it for the visit – halves the cost and it didn’t feel necessary to have one each – they are quite pricey at around 6000 HUF (£17) for entry into the spa and a cabin, you could pay around 1700 HUF (£4.80) each for a spa ticket and around 500 HUF (£1.50) for a cabin separately, so get savvy and check out their website before you visit for the best deal.
Whichever spa you visit, make sure you drink plenty of water before/throughout/after your visit – it’s unbelievably dehydrating work all this relaxing around spas!
And don’t forget to take a swimming cap with you – some spas will not let you in without a cap, so make sure you have one with you.
We also visited the Gellért Thermal Baths (the most photographed baths in Budapest, you can see why) for a completely different spa experience. This, again, has indoor and outdoor elements, but is very clear why this beautifully ornate art nouveau spa inspired Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ spa scenes – it felt like we were in the middle of this film surrounded by local ladies in swimming caps taking part in some beautifully symmetrical aqua fit class throughout our visit here.
In fact, I even got roped into joining them for part of their class, with a kind lady passing me some aquafit floats to join them, just hilarious and surreal in equal measures.
The Gellért spa also offers spa treatments and during the summer allows you access to one of the world’s oldest wave machines, which is so much fun to try. We were sunbathing within this pool when all of a sudden we noticed people were plugging themselves excitedly into the pool although they were waiting for something, it completely baffled us to begin with. And then, a bell rang (this happens on the hour throughout the summer months) and the waves started, catching us unawares and turning us into big kids immediately – so much fun!
Visit a Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle is within a truly romantic setting, nestled in the City Park by a boating lake, it can be tied in with a visit to the Széchenyi Spa Baths.
This beautiful Hungarian castle was originally built out of cardboard and wood until it got upgraded to stone – it’s a fairytale castle, surrounded by water and parkland, it’s the perfect spot for a wedding of which we saw a bride and groom taking photos during our brief visit after our day in the spa. It’s a beautiful spot at dusk, watching the sun begin to set behind the castle was a truly magical moment.
Not forgetting the majestic Buda Castle, of which you can’t miss from sight as you wander around the City, tucked high above the River Danube on the Buda side.
This is a stunning historical castle, surrounded by ornate stone sculptures and fountains, with one of the best views of Pest spreading out across from you, this is one panoramic photo spot you won’t want to miss.
You can brave the climb up to this castle from the streets below, or like us, you can take the Castle Hill Funicular for a few HUF – this is well worth the ticket purchase. Although the touristy element might mean a little wait to get up there, it’s well worth taking the Funicular for a little fun (and a rest of the legs!)…
Hit The Ruin Bars
From quirky rooftop bars and unique “ruin bars” of varying themes and sizes, there’s a great drinking spot on every street in Budapest!
Ruin bars are ‘pop-up’ bars propped up between old, crumbling buildings and are a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces decorated with fairy lights, electric furniture and random decor depending on the bar.
This scene varies in atmosphere depending on the time of day you visit, what can be a really chilled out vibe in the daytime can turn into a rave in the evening, so it’s always a unique experience, no matter when you head there.
Just don’t say “cheers” (“egészségedre” pronounced Eggy shakira!) to beer, it’s bad form in Hungary!
Affordable Food & Drink
The street food scene is awesome here.
Head to Karavan for a variety of street food vendors or treat yourself to some cheese-stuffed Langos (like deep fried pizza, erm, yum!) for food on the go.
Central Market Hall, not only a beautiful building, but offers a fantastic buzz and great for street food vendors with local food. Here we enjoyed Goulash encased in a bread roll bowl and bought our Hungarian Paprika to take home as gifts, perfect.
Hungarian Tunnel Cake is also a must… spherical doughnut cones, often hollow and coated in a cinnamon sugar are the tastiest sweet treat in the street (say that fast) – find somewhere that uses these beauties as an ice cream cone and enjoy a “mister whippy” ice cream with a difference! (Just be wary that they don’t stay looking beautiful for long in 40+ degrees within the heat of the summer – they melt fast…)
The Hungarian Forint is the currency here and you can genuinely have a really good two-course meal and a glass of wine or a beer for under £15, you can really treat yourself here.
Everywhere you walk, it’s just a good idea to look up.
Adopt this idea early on and you will spot a stunning side to Budapest that you may not spot if you don’t look around everywhere you go.
From stunning buildings, to talented artistic murals on street corners through to the most beautifully ornate ceilings in places you just wouldn’t expect to see such sights, you never stop taking in Budapest’s beauty.
Walk into the Alexandra Bookstore on Andrássy út opposite the Hungarian State Opera House (a little like a Borders or other such chain bookstore) and ride the escalators all the way to the very top of the building…. do it, you won’t be sorry. At the very top floor is the beautiful Lotz Hall Cafe…. now look up, then sit down, order some delicious refreshments and continue to stare at this stunning ceiling, it’s a work of art.
There are some exceptional buildings and parks to enjoy in Budapest, they alone could keep you busy for days on end.
Whilst up on the Buda side of the city, take in Fisherman’s Bastion as well as Buda Castle for views high above the river. Or from the Pest side, head up to the top of St Stephen’s Basilica, which arguably has the scariest elevator to the top I have ever had the displeasure of using (it was very old naturally and sweaty on a super hot summers’ day, as well as the fact it was really quite rickety and felt like we were about to plummet to the ground with any sudden movement).
That aside, this offers 360* views of Budapest and it’s one worth taking in at dusk, with the sun setting and not too bright in your eyes, it’s a magical spot.
There are museums all over the city, but if you must visit one, I would suggest visiting the House of Terror Museum, offering a great insight into Budapest’s darker past and contains exhibits related to the facist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary, it’s an educational and moving memorial to the people who were interrogated or killed in this building as well as around other parts of the city. I left here in tears and saw a very different side to Budapest after visiting this museum. (Allow a few hours to see this fully).
Carrying on the theme of a darker past, you must also head down to the river in front of Parliament after visiting this museum and take some time to reflect by the “Shoes on the Danube”, a moving memorial to the victims shot into the Danube during the Nazi occupation throughout 1944-45. There are 60 pairs of period shoes created by sculptors out of cast iron, showing a varied selection of mens, women’s and children’s shoes, it’s very haunting, but important to take time to see.
One iconic location you will spot in any photo album of Budapest is the impressive Hungarian Parliament Building. It’s a popular landmark and is worth having a look at in the daylight and by boat on the river seeing it all lit up at night. Behind the building is a long artistic water fountain and the local trams slide past on a regular basis, so there’s some great Insta-worthy photos to be taken here.
Oh, The Views
Did you know that Budapest is home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Heroes’ Square (Hősök Tere) is mighty impressive with its’ tall statues featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
This is a large-scale monument and one that offers plenty of space between you and other tourists around, it’s a huge square.
I had to use my fish-eye lens to get the whole monument into a quick iPhone photo, an amazing place!
The Citadella can be seen from pretty much everywhere, it’s one of the tallest points in the city, if not THE tallest focal point high up on Gellért Hill. It’s a fortress, with a long military history and well worth a visit for the views of the city below alone. We could see this landmark from our Airbnb Apartment and again from our hotel a few nights later, it’s a great way to help navigate around the city.
Whilst here, we saw trucks washing the roads with water sprays, as the tarmac was literally melting in the heat of the day – it was hot up there (mid August) and not much shade, so we didn’t stick around too long.
If you get the chance, head to Margaret Island (in the river between Buda and Pest) to promenade around the park, look at the ruins and enjoy the spas and pools (check their annual opening times) or hop on a boat and enjoy a dinner cruise on the Danube.
And don’t forget to check out the Budapest street art – see my blog here!
Budapest is famous for its’ beautiful bridges over the Danube, which connect a hilly Buda with a flat Pest, which were two cities until 1873.
The oldest is Chain Bridge, the longest is Megyeri Bridge and Liberty Bridge was closed to car traffic for three months during the summer to allow locals and tourists alike to enjoy it on foot and use it as a picnic spot – such a great idea.
As we walked the length of Liberty Bridge on our first night, we spotted hammocks hanging from the arches and locals snuggled up watching the sun go down with chilled beers to boot. This was my kind of bridge.
One of my favourite things to do in Budapest was walk the length of the bridges, then head back, taking in both sides of the city from different angles – do this if you have the time, it’s a great way to relax and unwind on the cooler part of a nice day.
We found a fantastic outdoor bar called “Terasz” for cold beers or fröccs under the Pest side of Elizabeth bridge, complete with fake grass, deck chairs and chilled music, a brilliant spot to watch the boats coast past and relax in the sunshine.
For Fröccs Sake
The Hungarians invented the wine/soda water combo better known as fröccs and they come in all kinds of wine to water ratios, bars and pubs serve them on huge menus to choose from, no matter what your taste in wine.
This is a really refreshing drink on a hot day (like a wine spritzer usually made with white or rosé wines) and we enjoyed many different combinations around the city, taking ideas home to recreate to this day.
Don’t make the mistake we did and go in asking for a “Frocks”… you will get very puzzled looks!
Fröccs is pronounced “frerch”, to rhyme with perch.
Head to the Fröccsterasz opposite the very quirky Akvárium Klub (a chilled location during the day, but becomes a quirky nightclub later in the day!) for a great choice of fröccs, just note that if you need the loo and head underneath the Akvárium pool you will need to pay 200 HUF (60p) for a visit…
Events In Budapest
Also look out for events running throughout the year, Budapest is host to awesome music and beer festivals, exhibitions and film festivals.
We even got to see the practice day of the Red Bull Air Race during our stay, watching in awe as the planes swooped under bridges and along the water in preparation for a fun-filled weekend, such an unexpected treat to see.
Home to the Biro and the Rubik’s cube – 5.6 secs is the world record apparently – what other reasons do you need to put Budapest on your travel wish list?!
In fact, I loved Budapest so much that I will be back very soon to continue exploring… watch this space!
Now, if you’re stuck for holiday inspiration, go spend some time in Budapest, it’s an affordable and exciting city.
My advice? Two or three nights is simply not enough to explore Budapest, even six days wasn’t long enough to do everything at a leisurely pace, so make sure you go for a long long weekend if nothing more.
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