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Budapest travel guide

An Amateur’s Guide to Budapest

November 3, 2019Hollie

European cities never fail to amaze me.

Being a part of another city’s culture for a bit, even if some of the activities are a little touristy, is so much fun. And while we definitely did do very touristy things in Budapest, it’s been one of those trips where I didn’t always feel like a tourist.

Welcome to An Amateur’s Guide to Budapest, where I, an amateur traveller, visit new countries and cities and give a run down of my experiences so you don’t feel so unprepared when you go.

For my last trip in 2019 (and the last one before Brexit hits), I visited Budapest, Hungary. This was the only city where I hadn’t learnt a couple of key phrases in the country’s language. Hungarian is apparently one of the hardest languages for an English speaker to learn. So while I had the Google Translator app and ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ jotted down in my notes, let’s just say I wasn’t feeling as comfortable as I have been visiting other countries.

But that was fine; sometimes a smile and gesturing can work, and using one or two words here and there sufficed. Although, a lot of the Hungarians that we did meet either refused to look at us or were annoyed at our very existence.

We put that to us being tourists and didn’t take it personally.

Getting into the city from the airport is pretty easy. Budapest Airport is locaed on the Pest side of the Danube. While there are a few ways to get in, the cheapest was the 100E bus that leaves every 10 minutes. You can buy your ticket at arrivals and show it to the driver when the bus arrives. We were urged by a staff member at our hostel to not buy the ticket from the driver, because they’re likely to overcharge and not give change. Always go to a machine! The bus takes about 40 minutes and you’ll arrive at Deák Ferenc, close to the main shopping area.

One worry I did have was the cold.

Yes, even me who loves the cold can’t stand it when it’s too cold or raining. I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve yet to be on holiday where the rain has ruined a trip for me. It did rain on our first day out exploring, and it made the city feel quite desolate and closed off. It seemed Budapest closed its doors on Saturdays as well as Sundays, which we found extremely unusual. How do people shop if they work all week and then the shops close on a weekend? I found that, if I were to visit Budapest again, I would do so during the week.

Next worry: stag and hen dos overrun the city.

Not gonna lie, I saw quite a few. And there are definitely places that cater to large groups of drunk people. But, if you can avoid them, it’s pretty easy. My friends and I went to Szekla Kert, a popular ruin bar and felt very safe throughout the night. So even in places you might expect them, it didn’t cause a problem.

The best thing to do is to get up early and beat the crowds. No hungover tourist is going to be at Fisherman’s Bastion at 8am.

Speaking of tourist stops, here are some of the best places to visit while in Budapest!

Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church, Buda District

Built in the late 1800’s in the district of Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion is the spot for any viewpoint junkie such as myself. While full of tourists with a small fee to enter the main walkway of the structure, the building itself is a beauty to behold.

Fisherman's Bastion Budapest
view from Fisherman's Bastion Budapest

So, while you’re snapping away at the panoramic view of Pest, don’t forget to get shots of the Bastion itself. Weirdly new looking and part of an architectural movement that clearly influenced Disney castles, I could have stayed in Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church for a good few hours.

St Stephen’s Basilica and Hungarian Parliament

Within walking distance of one another, both of these places were almost right outside of our hostel. Right around the corner, close to the Danube is St Stephen’s Basilica. More of a marvel outside than inside, this grand church can be absolutely free if you don’t go inside. Inside is full of tourists with selfie sticks constantly being told me to be quiet and failing to do so.

But outside is breathtaking, and definitely worth a visit, even if you’re on the way to somewhere else!

St Stephen's Basilica Budapest
St Stephen's Basilica Budapest

The Hungarian Parliament is also a beautiful building that has exhibits on some of the tragedies that happened during Soviet reign. A part of history we barely discuss in the UK curriculum, it was an interesting and an insightful look into a country’s past that I knew nothing about.

Hungarian Parliament Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Budapest

Hungarian Baths

Now, there are a lot of baths around Budapest, the most popular being Széchenyi Thermal Bath. With it’s own metro stop in the middle of some beautiful gardens, you could stay here the whole day. It was the most expensive part of our trip (which is saying something since it was about £15), and there didn’t seem to be a time limit on how long we could relax.

Szechenyi Baths Budapest
Szechenyi Baths Budapest

There’s three large outdoor pools with a maze of indoor spas inside. All very busy, so make sure to get there early and take sandals/flip flops. The cost to buy them is almost the same amount as your ticket!

Ruin Bars and Street Food Courts

When I go away, I rarely drink. I most certainly don’t go to rowdy bars and I wouldn’t be caught dead in a nightclub. Being a tourist who doesn’t know the language puts me in a position of vulnerbality, so I’m put right off being drunk. But Budapest is known for its eclectic and large selection of ruin bars. Ruin bars are exactly what they say they are; once abandoned and ruined buildings taken over by bar owners. They’re weird and wonderful and the drinks are cheap, so we gave it a go.

Not too far from the ruin bars, you’ll usually find a collection of street food vendors. Ones that we love in particular are Karavan Street Food, just next door to Szekla Kert, and Vegan Street Food Garden. Both offer similar food, with Karavan having both vegan and non-vegan options.

I highly recommend Langosz, a doughy, cheesy, garlicky slab of goodness which I struggled to eat but felt happy that I at least tried afterwards!

Accomodation

As always, I recommend staying in a hostel. They’re better value, close to all the action, and you have space to socialise and make your own food. We stayed in Essential Hostel in Pest, close to the Danube. Now, it wasn’t an amazing hostel. It was definitely an essentials hostel, like the name states. I always make sure the hostels I choose don’t have a ‘party’ scene. I don’t want to be kept up until 3am by drunk revellers, and I don’t want to worry about sharing spaces with large groups.

Essential Hostel Budapest

But hostels are also supposed to have a warm welcome and places for solo travellers to relax and get to know each other if they wish. The decor of Essential Hostel was a bit industrial and minimalist, and it made the place look bare and cold. I don’t need a hostel to be fashionable. Fashionable =/= good place to stay.

The breakfast table was also right in the centre of the hallway with hardly any space to move around it. The free breakfast was a bit laughable. I know it’s free so I can’t say much. But thankfully the dorms were clean, spacious, and even had little curtains for privacy. I also had an unwell friend on my hands at 3am, and the guy at reception had no problems helping us out when we needed it.

One of the biggest regrets I had on our trip to Budapest was the Budapest Card.

Oh my god, do not buy this card. On most trips, we end up buying some sort of tourist card. Lisbon Card, Copenhagen Card, Amsterdam Card etc. They’ve helped us travel around for free, got us into muesuems and even got us discounts in popular attractions.

The Budapest Card did nothing like that.

We thought it would get us free transport from the airport and back. But were told it didn’t cover it after we’d bought it (in the airport no less). We thought it would get us free transport around the city. But we easily hopped on and off all transport with no turnstiles, gates or staff checking to make sure we had the right pass. Every time we flashed our card at an attraction, we were told they didn’t take it.

Granted, it got us a discount at the thermal baths, but that was it. We used it for nothing else, and it cost us about £60 each. Just, don’t do it to yourself.

Would I go to Budapest again? Sure! But I think my walking trip around the city is done. If I were to go again, it would be for events and different attractions (such as axe throwing and the ice bar). It’s hard, because the best time to go is April and May. Which is also the best time for large groups of people you don’t want to meet while you’re away. So I would consider what are the most important things to you while going away.

If large groups of drunk people don’t bother you then fine. If they do, I would think about where you’re going, what time of year, and take care in where you’re booking. Party hostels are very popular in Budapest. Don’t book one accidentally!

Have you visited Budapest? Where are you planning to travel next? Let me know!

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