The one thing that stood out most to me when visiting Budapest, was the relaxed thermal bath vibe. We visited during winter, which must be quite a difference from a visit in summer, but still it is such a beautiful city with a rich history. We booked this trip with Travelbird and stayed at the Danubius Hotel Astoria City center (the Pest part of the city). The hotel was conveniently located (near the Elizabeth bridge and subway stations) & the staff was incredibly friendly, they made us feel welcome right away. In 1914 this legendary hotel opened its doors & was well known for its classical and elegant styling. To this day, it remains a beautiful hotel inside and outside that will definitely complete your visit to this city.
We started with a walk, which is always the best way to get to know a city. We walked along the Parliament (on the river bank) that can be described as a true architectural gem, especially at night when it is lit up beautifully. Built in the Gothic Revival style, this is the largest building in Hungary and hands down my favourite monument in Budapest.
We walked across the Elizabeth bridge as well and visited the Citadella, on top of Gellert hill, that offers a great outlook on the city. Anywhere you walk in Budapest, architectural treasures can be found.
Another one of these jewels is Nyugati, the Budapest’s Western Railway Station. The structure was built by Gustave Eiffel, a couple of years before he tackled the most famous landmark of them all, the Eiffel Tower. The iron structure you can observe in the Station is similar in both structures.
Cross the river again from Buda to Pest with the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. This bridge was the first one to unite the former separated cities and is truly majestic. Again, do not skip this bridge at night, when it is lit up.
Looking for a great outlook on the city? The Fisherman’s Bastion is the monument to visit. These former castle walls, now recognized as Unesco World Heritage, offer a stunning viewpoint over the city.
If you are in for some shopping, the typical shopping street is Váci Utca. Our citytrip was very brief so we did not do this ourselves.
The House of Terror is very much worth a visit if you want to learn more about the intense history of this city.
Last but not least, if the weather is nice, a walk on Margaret island is in order (this is also the setting for Sziget festival during summer).
Food & drinks
We randomly came across Ahoy! and thought it was so good, we came back 3 days in a row. Must be quite something, right?! What made us love it so much was the super friendly service and the delicious beverages they serve. We tried a latte (of course), a Belgian (!) hot chocolate with whipped cream and mini marshmallows (one of the better ones I have had) and a refreshing iced tea with fresh fruits. Hop on in and try them for yourselves if you get the chance! For lunch, we had some great bagels at the California Coffee Company.
We also had a quick lunch at the Pad Thai wokbar (present on no less than 5 locations in Budapest). I really liked this place: it was decorated very brightly and was cosy to sit. Their concept enables you to put together your personal favourite wok or pad thai: choose the base, the toppings you want to add & finally the sauce. The food was delicious, when you are into Asian food and into a bit of a hurry, this one must be on your list!
At night, we had dinner at Funky Pho restaurant. It was my very first time to try this Vietnamese dish so I was excited! It was a very authentic restaurant, hidden away from the big crowd. It is quite small inside, but we were able to find us some seats. We tried the Pho and some spring rolls and everything tasted delicious and the ingredients were very fresh. There is a very pleasant vibe to this place, try it out for yourself!
We also visited the Donut Library, this is such an original concept! The freshly made doughnuts were all visible behind the counter (some of them are real pieces of art) so you could just have your pick, choose a coffee to go with it and if you want and read in one of the many books provided in the shop. Since we were quickly passing by and still had a lot to see and do, we did not but we loved the concept! The doughnuts tasted really good & were obviously made with a lot of passion and love.
If you are looking for a quick bite, the central market hall is a good idea. As most buildings in Budapest, architecturally very interesting on the outside, a buzzing hub of fresh foods. I always visit the market hall in different cities, I love to discover the foods typical for the country & try some different dishes.
For my birthday, my best friend had booked a famous tour by night on one of the boats. We enjoyed a delicious, typical Hungarian dinner while cruising the Danube, mesmerized by the beauty of this city by night, whilst listing to two talented pianists playing. This was a really unique experience, if this sounds like something right up your alley, please do.
When in Budapest, you have to jump on the bandwagon and visit the very well known ‘ruin bars’. If you find the time, definitely plan a visit to one, these bars are truly one of a kind. From the outside you notice nothing special, but inside you will be able to feast your eyeballs: the bar is actually installed in ruins and there is so much to see. We went to Szimpla Kert and eventually stayed for a drink… or three :):). Apparently we accidentally picked out the very first ruin bar of them all, quite special! The bars are divided into small areas as it were, each serving their specialism. You could pick out your favourite cocktail in the ‘cocktail section’, try a typical French wine in the section next to it, go for a gin & tonic, etc. For us, during winter, the bar was covered and filled with ‘burners’ to keep to places warm. I heard that during summer, a couple are in open air, must be very nice as well. You can not only enjoy drinks but art installations, an open-air cinema and concerts are part of the deal as well. Some other ruin bars to visit: Anker’t, Corvin club, Ellátó Kert, Fogasház, etc.
Something else I would not really recommend but still want to mention is the ice bar. Sounds quite touristy? Well it absolutely is and we got ‘caugh’t by it. We thought it could maybe be something authentic as you can find in Scandinavia but we were wrong. It was expensive and inside was nothing special to be found. It was nice to see and experience because you do not visit an ice bar every day, but still we left after 10min in it. Off course, you should go and see for yourself but it was unfortunately not the highlight of my day.
Some other great spots I read about but did not get to try out myself: Hummus bar – name says it all, Zeller Bistro or Rosenstein Vendéglo for some real Hungarian food. For breakfast/coffee: London coffee society, Zoska Reggelizo Kavézo or Kino café. If you eat at one of these places, let me know what you think!
Finally, my personal favourite part of our trip to Budapest: the thermal baths. Thanks to Travelbird, we got two ‘free tickets’ for a day at Gellért baths. We could not pass this up and since we were freezing cold from our walking tour through the city center, we visited this thermal bath. It is part of the Gellért Danubian hotel and so pretty. I instantly loved the decorations and the Art Nouveau style. The first ‘hall’ you enter is absolutely stunning: it contains a big swimming pool, decorated with rows of columns alongside the pool. This chamber alone is so much worth a peek. Later on we once again stumbled upon a beautifully ornamented room with two baths of different temperatures. This is where we stayed the longest, switching baths and enjoying the heat. We read about an outdoor pool as well, it took us quite some time to locate it but after we ran to the lit up pool through the cold outside air, we were so happy we found it. We had a beautiful viewpoint as well and a sauna. The Gellért baths were overall clean and well kept, the authentic and beautifully preserved ornaments will make it into a true highlight of your stay.
Since it was wintertime and a hot bath all day long sounds very compelling in that situation, we decided to visit yet another one, the best known in Budapest: the Szechenyi thermal bath (located in the city park). Have you seen the typical pictures of a big outdoor pool with steam rising up from it and some men playing chess? This is the place where you can capture the widely spread image yourself. It will come as no surprise that the setting of this thermal bath is also beautiful. We were surprised by the capacity of this thermal baths: the different rooms filled with baths, swimming pools, steam rooms & sauna’s just kept on coming (there are no less than 15 indoor pools and 3 outdoor pools, varying in temperature). This thermal bath was a lot more frequented than the other it seemed, you also had more activities for example for elderly people and you saw a lot of the older generations gathering around and sharing the news of the day. If you are afraid that this will be too touristy, let me tell you it is not. When we were there, the vast majority of people were locals. It is really nice to see that frequenting a thermal bath is still (since the roman times) imbedded into their culture to that extent. These indoor baths exists since 1913 & the outdoor since 1927, since we were able to compare two baths it must be said that the Gellért baths were in better shape & a bit cleaner, but this did not disturb us at all.
I think this article about my visit to Budapest with one of my best friends (which was limited to 3 nights) shows how much we loved the city & the endless things to do. It has already been 3 years since I visited, maybe it is time to plan another trip!