Your guide to Beautiful Budapest!
If you asked me 'where should I go that's warm, vibrant and exciting but also relaxed, has good food and is cheap?' Without hesitation i'd say Budapest.
Budapest is one of those cities that has a little bit of everything, it's quite comparable to Barcelona in many ways. The architecture is grand, tall buildings in light pastel hues bearing the signs of age and boasting those typically European entwined steel terraces, random pot plants and washing lines not to be forgotten of course. As I was exploring the city i'd occasionally stumble across the most adorable little street markets which transported me back in time straight to the Victorian era with that shoe cobbler, gold rush vibe - how often do you get that sense? A few times as I was walking through the streets i also got a medieval, transylvanian vibe. Some of the buildings that I passed looked as if they were straight off the set of the Adams family! just like your run of the mill spooky haunted house. The way the city makes you feel varies greatly, which I loved! It seemed that every corner held something different. And Budapests' main attractions vary greatly too. The baths which Hungary are so well known for are relaxed places where you can spend an entire day enjoying doing absolutely nothing at all! and then there are the big attractions which, like the colloseum and the Eiffel Tower are impressive in their size, architectural grandeur, and links to history. Such sites in Budapest being Buda castle, Fishermans bastion and St. Stephens' basilica. Add on top of that the fact that Hungarian food is interesting and packed with flavour, and then just when you thought it couldn't possibly get any better - it's mind bogglingly cheap too! So cheap in fact that everytime you pay for something you think surely the cashier has made a mistake?...
Where to stay;
Budapest is very spread out, it's attractions are on complete opposite sides of the city. You've got Vajdahunyad castle set in the beautiful city park which is also home to Budapest's botanical gardens and it's most famous (for a reason might i add) baths - Szechenyi baths on the one side, and then an hours walk to the other side of the city you'll find the chain bridge and the famous buda castle and fishermans bastion high atop castle hill. I stayed pretty much smack bang in the middle of both sides of the city on a street called 'Erzsebet krt' which was a good choice, the area i stayed in was on the outskirts of Budapests city centre. From there it's 30 minutes walk to either side of the city making it perfect for comitting a whole day to one side and then another whole day to the other. The place that i stayed at was INCREDIBLE and yes - caps lock was totally necessary there. Seriously i couldn't possibly have chosen a more perfect place to stay. It was called 'Elizabeth boulevard apartments' my stay cost me £120.00 for t
hree nights, i know - a complete and utter steal. There are much cheaper places you can stay though if you're on a budget, a friend of mine stayed in a hostel in Budapest for £9.00 per night! I usually opt for the cheapest choice but in this case i thought 'you know what stuff it, i can afford it so I'm going luxury!' If you want to be closer to the buzz and activity then you should opt to stay closer to the Vaci strip, in Budapests city centre. I do highly reccomend Elizabeth boulevard apartments though, the owner was incredibly helpful and he had a key for the city bikes (the same as boris bikes) which meant if you wanted to you could use one for free. It also has everything you need, kettle, microwave, oven, toaster, cutlery, utensils, all that hoo ha. And the bath... O.M.G if like me you love a relaxing hot bubble bath please take my advice and book to stay here. I had a bath every night for three days in a row, when I left my skin was like the sahara desert - all moisture completely sucked from it. It was so totally worth it.
The things you MUST see and do;
I've already mentioned a few things but let me go into more detail for you...
Prepare yourself for a hellava work out because buda castle sits high atop a cliff face. There is a lift/carriage that carries people to the top, but the queue is predictably long and by the time you get on the lift you could already have walked up! you'll get there in the same amount of time anyway so you might as well get the excersice. When i went up to buda castle i had no idea that there is basically an entire other village atop that cliff. I thought i was just going to check out the castle and head back down but instead i ended up spending a few hours walking around up there! the cliff is actually called 'castle hill' and is famous for it's medieval links in history which you get a very real sense of as you stroll atop the cliff among 19th century houses and churches. Buda castle itself has been around since 1265! i know, so old. Castle hill is a very quaint little place with plenty of cafes and restaurants you can dine at while you're up there, you'll certainly have earned it after the trek to get up there!
The fisherman's bastion is atop the very same cliff as buda castle, on castle hill. They're on opposite sides of the village. To be honest i didn't even know both sites were in the same place! i went up to see buda castle and I just so happened to stumble across the fishermans bastion without even realising at the time that is what it was! it was only later when i planned to check out the fishermans bastion that i realised i'd already seen it. So make sure that you plan to check them both out while you're up there, because you'd be pissed if you didn't realise both sites were up there until after you'd come back down! Fishermans bastion is spectacularly beautiful, like something you'd see in a disney film. It gets it's unusual name from the groups of fisherman who were responsible for protecting that part of the city in the middle ages. The views from up there are incredible.
St Stephens basilica;
Like all basilicas this one is impressive, in size and in beauty. it was named in honour of King Stephen, the first king of Hungary. Definitely worth seeing!
I spent a whole day chilling out in Szechenyi baths, i wasnt sure what to expect when i entered the high walled canary yellow building but i knew i had to find out! and boy was i surprised. From the pictures that I'd seen it looked to me like it was just an outdoor heated swimming pool, what's so great about that right? but it's much more than that. Not only are the pools warm enough to comfort you the same way a bubble bath would, but there's a super fun jet pool - like the floating rivers you find in water parks where high powered jets whirl you around and pop you out the other side! awesome. There's also even warmer baths inside the buidling that you dont see in the pictures, they looked like roman baths and i felt like i'd entered some sort of weird time warp, fully expecting to see Julias ceaser stroll past at any given moment. There's saunas too, playing soft sounds of the rainforest and infused with the scent of eucalyptus - utter bliss. After i'd finished wallowing about in all the different chambers of the baths i showered, dressed and sat at the outdoor area of the cafe sipping a passionfruit cocktail while i basked in the heat of the April sun and enjoyed some serious people watching. Tickets to enter the baths are €17.00 and that includes your entry, locker hire, and access to all the baths/spas. Towels aren't included so take your own and take a pair of flip flops and your own soap for the shower too. There are hairdryers too ladies! You can also book a massage and/or pamper package for an added cost. Oh and just for the sake of mentioning it, the cocktail cost me a grand total of £2.50 - whhaaaattt??!!
There are two other bath houses in the city that are worth mentioning, but if you've only got time to check out one then I definitely suggest Schezenyi. however if you plan on spending more than one day pretending you're a Roman goddess there's also Gellert baths and Kiraly baths - both smaller and likely quieter than Schezenyi, but not as impressive! There's also some spectacular cave baths about an hours drive outside of the city, in a town called miskolctapolca. You'd need to hire a car though as I don't think public transport goes there. They look beautiful, but for me it wasn't worth spending an entire day doing that as I was only in Budapest for two and half days. If you do have a spare day though I definitely suggest it!
Miskolctapolca cave baths - http://www.barlangfurdo.hu/en/cave-bath
Gellert baths - http://www.gellertbath.com
Kiraly baths - http://m.en.kiralyfurdo.hu
Szechenyi baths - http://szechenyispabaths.com
Bath parties - Schezenyi baths host those awesome bath parties that I'm sure you've seen pictures of! you can book tickets online; http://szechenyispabaths.com/szechenyi-bath-summer-party-tickets-now-on-sale/
It's a bridge... but a cool one! its architecture is impressive and the views from it are pretty good too so it's worth checking out. You can do so on your adventures to see Buda castle and the Fishermans bastion as chain bridge will lead you straight to castle hill. You can even check out the hungarian parliament building while youre there which is also pretty impressive and if you're lucky you might catch the guards doing their drill - they let you get photos with them too which is awesome! Just make your way to the parliament building and to your left will be chain bridge, cross that and the path/lift to get up to Buda castle and Fishermans bastion is directly across the road.
The vaci strip;
Without a doubt Budapest's main hub, the vein that runs through the very heart of it. This is where the shopping is and where you'll find those gorgeous little Victorian style markets I mentioned earlier. Along here there are countless bars, cafes, and restaurants and at the very end of the vaci strip you'll also find the massive indoor markets called 'central market hall' which if I'm being totally honest aren't worth visiting. For souvenir shopping maybe, as the upstairs is full of souvenir stalls. But otherwise it's basically a massive fresh produce food market and i have to say that the smell of fresh fish wasn't all that enticing.
One word - stunning. This castle is situated in the beautiful city park which is well worth a walk around even without considering the castle. But Vajdahunyad castle is truly spectacular. It's appearance is a strange mixture of medieval and Disney princess... difficult to picture I know, but when you see it you'll understand. As you walk up the tree lined gravel path, over the ever so cool moat and into the castle grounds all of a sudden you feel like you're starring in a remake of Troy. You're left anticipating hearing a resonating horn blow, men running clad in steel armour and someone shouting "PULL UP THE DRAWBRIDGE! ARROWS AT THE READY!"
As I've mentioned above the city park isbeautiful. Not only is it home to Vajdahunyad castle but it comprises of a pretty little lake, a resturant over the water which is absolutely divine to sit at for a coffee in the sunshine. The park is also home to Budapest zoo and the botanical gardens. Oh and of course, Schezenyi baths lives in the park too. If you've got kids there are sooo many playgrounds for them to explore, plus trampolines! weeeeee! And for a small fee you can also take to the lake in a pedal boat, why not!
Nightlife and cuisine;
I went to Budapest solo, so i personally didnt experience the nightlife persay. For sure i could have if i wanted to, but that bath... haha. If you do want to party in budapest there are loads of pub crawls you can do, and as i mentioned above the bath parties are said to be pretty awesome, they certainly look it!
In terms of Hungarian foods that you absolutely must try while you're there, definately give hungarian goulash a go - so tasty. Hungarian food focuses alot on stews, soups, and casserole type dishes commonly with a meaty base. So you cant go wrong with a beef stew! I also found that Hungarians seem to eat alot of stuffed vegetables! stuffed peppers, stuffed mushrooms, stuffed cabbage. In my opinion stuffed vegetables are one of the best things you can eat so i was in my element in Budapest! definately give stuffed veg a crack while you're there.
I'm not even going to say a thing here. All I will say is however much you take, it'll be plenty. Although I should at least give you an idea shouldn't I... ok fine. Here's an example for you - I bought three days/nights worth of groceries including food for breakfast and dinner each day plus coffee, water, chocolate, beer, you know - the essentials, and all up it cost me £12.00. A taxi from/to the airport was around £15.00 (it's a half hour journey) and drinking/eating out you'll pay on average £3.00 for a cocktail and half that for a beer. A generic meal such as a burger and chips will cost around £5.00 or less - although in saying that don't you dare eat a burger and chips in Hungary! I had a yummy scrummy Hungarian goulash soup at a little restuarant and it cost me £2.00 - I know, crazy!