Are you even a blogger if the Szechenyi thermal baths aren’t on your Instagram feed? The Hungarian capital seems to be the destination of choice for us internetty folk, but I’ve always had it in the back of my mind since part of my extended family hails from there. In reality it was only after hearing about the good weather and reasonable prices, that I finally added it to my must-visit list. After the mess that is Brexit, I’m keen to find places in Europe that don’t cost the earth and won’t make me feel uncomfortable being a black woman.
As I mentioned in my previous birthday post, I wanted to try and have a bit more of a relaxing city break. I’m always tempted to maximise all the content opportunities whenever I go away but it’s also nice to just focus on the experience and snap whenever you feel inclined. I had a vague list of things to do, but kept an open mind and was happy to mess around with Lucy & Carrie at times.
Read on to find out how we spent 72 hours in the city!
Find a Cosy Airbnb
First things first, the city is split up into two parts separated by the river Danube, with Buda being the grander side and Pest a little more Shoreditch-y. The latter is probably where you’ll want to stay, since it’s home to the Jewish Quarter and all the eclectic ruin pubs (more on that later). Since we like a good night’s sleep, we picked an Airbnb that was close enough to the action and everything was pretty peaceful (apart from the old lady downstairs who would occasionally swear at us in Hungarian).
We may have pushed ourselves a little too far with our 20,000+ step count in 30 degree heat, so I’d recommend staying a little closer to the main road Erzsébet krt, (handy if you need to drop your luggage off into storage). If you’re near a Roni ABC (I guess it’s a bit like Costcutter) then make sure you stock up on the chocolate swirl pastries for breakfast.
Get Your Bearings
I do love a walking tour. It’s a great way to get your bearings early on and tick off most of the main sites in one go. Like most cities, Free Budapest Tours offer a mixture of general and more focused walks, where you offer a pay-what-you-wish tip at the end. Although it seemed like there would be hundreds of us bargain-hunters roaming the streets, we were quickly split up into four workable groups and off we went.
We were treated to a crash course in Hungarian history and it’s always great to have a bit of context whenever you’re looking at the architecture. The guides are great at sharing random facts and tips on what to avoid and it’s a good chance to figure out what a destination is about. I looked out for coworking spaces, start ups and street art amongst the more traditional spots (this bike tour seems great if you want see the more creative, lesser-known areas).
If you want to explore further, then entrance prices are pretty reasonable. It costs about £1.50 to visit the tower at St Stephen’s Basilica and about £2.30 if you want to visit the upper levels of Fisherman’s Bastion. Get there early if you want to make the most of the fairytale-worthy location.
Explore The Ruin Pubs
I’d heard so much about the ruin pubs of Budapest prior to visiting and for someone who goes out out once in a blue moon, I had a surprising amount of fun. The reason behind these quirky establishments is that many buildings in the Jewish Quarter had been left abandoned during the war, so locals took them over and adorned them with random furnishings. The result is a bit of an eclectic, slightly studenty vibe that feels authentic. Most of the action takes place in courtyards and across several labrinth-like rooms. You can pop to most during the day for a bite to eat and later on they completely transform.
Everyone kept telling us to go to Szimpla Kert and normally I’m a bit sceptical of places that are hyped up so much. We stopped by on my birthday night to see what all the fuss was about and ended up staying till closing time, dancing to the likes of The Spice Girls and Cotton Eye Joe. Sometimes a girl just needs her cheesy pop fix, okay?! It was such a good night, primarily because there’s none of the London issues (weather, getting home, crazy prices) and everyone’s in a chatty sort of mood. Kőleves Vendéglő and Kuplung also drew us in with their colourful courtyards and reasonably-priced cocktails.
Go Insta-Crazy At Liberte
OK so this place deserved it’s own section, as the decor seems like something straight out of a Wes Anderson film. Liberte was the perfect place for brunch on our final day, I wouldn’t say it’s typically Hungarian but a mixture of European cuisines (I went for the Norwegian breakfast) and classic dishes. There’s so much attention to detail, everything from the tiled floors to the Aesop soap in the bathroom contributes to the Midcentury yet contemporary aesthetic.
The most Hungarian meal we ate was probably at Cupàkos. The simple food served on metal trays reminded me of some of the places I’d visited in the Deep South but with traditional meat, potatoes and cabbage instead. We also had great meals at at Mazel Tov (epic Israeli food), Karavan (street food haven) and Market BDPST (choose from tacos, burgers or beer). A lot of places looked like they had potential and it would have been great to try some of the stews if the weather wasn’t so boiling.
In terms of snackage, I managed to try the Kürtőskalács ‘Chimney Cake’, which was a little bit like a crispy cinnamon pastry and the bread cone filled with sausages from Kolbice. I wasn’t too fond of the Lángos deep fried flatbread though, it’s covered in a rather rich combo of sour cream and cheese. Share it with a few friends if you just want a taste.
Relax At The Thermal Baths
Hungover after your night at the ruin pubs? Probably best to head to the thermal baths. Budapest is home to plenty of bathhouses, boasting ornate features and pools of various temperatures. I wouldn’t recommend getting to the Szechenyi baths at 4pm like we did (that’s what Szimpla will do to you) and as expected there were no sunloungers to be seen. Still, we made the best of the situation and carried on the laughs in one of the heated pools, with Lucy hoisting me up and attempting to teach me how to swim. There’s also a comical photo of the moment where I realise that I’ve accidentally brought a tiny hand towel.
Apparently we missed a trick by only sticking to the outside pools, so it’s worth exploring inside and even treating yourself to a £15 massage. Entry prices have several tiers, so you’ll pay extra for a locker, towel and rather Wes Anderson-like changing cabin. The Gellert baths are also meant to be great if you’re visiting on a hot day.
Download Taxify – Uber is no more here, so Taxify is their equivalent with cheap rates and plenty of cars around the city. My code is P9QBN if you’d like a cheeky discount!
Get the Budapest card – Unfortunately we didn’t end up buying this as we weren’t totally sure how many things we wanted to visit, but if you want do exhibitions et al then it may be best to purchase this handy tourist card. It includes transport, museum entry, discounts and free luggage storage. Alternately you can go to Budapest Luggage Storage where the guy ended up giving me a made up price, saving me about €5.
Understand the currency – Even though I’d downloaded the XE app, the extra few zeroes of the Hungarian Forints (or HUF) can really throw you if you’re still recovering from those ruin pubs. Work out the equivalent of a few amounts and don’t mix up your 1000 and 10,000 notes!
Can I walk everywhere? – You can, but you may want to get public transport back after a long day of exploring (we shared a book of 10 tickets). Check to see if there are any replacement works, we spent ages trying to find the start of the scenic No. 2 tram before realising that it started miles away.
I thought I’d share some of the blogs I checked out when planning my trip and Black Girl In Budapest was a bit of a godsend. Carrie was surprised to hear that I tend to google ‘black people in…’ if I’m travelling somewhere a bit unfamiliar and even though most of my trips have been pleasant, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Fortunately Starr has created a pretty resource after moving to the city, everything from the best brunches to the cheapest way to get to and from the airport.
My experience was absolutely fine. I mainly spotted the odd black tourist and apart from one guy trying to touch my braids after we were kicked out of Szimpla (I wish I’d played Solange on full blast), there were no major incidents. Maybe I’ll try and visit more of Eastern Europe after all…
Let me know if you plan to visit, I’m dying to go back to stock up on some of the traditional embroidered cushions!