48 Hours in Budapest, Hungary

Looking for something to do over the Easter weekend as the UK gets Friday and Monday off, I learned from some colleagues that skyscanner.net has a feature where you can put your departing location with your desired dates, and search literally everywhere around the world and sort by price. Because it was Easter, travel within Europe becomes similar to thanksgiving in the US and the flights were ridiculously expensive. A round trip flight from London to Rome (which was where I wanted to go) was 900$!! That’s how much it is to fly from NYC-Rome normally. Athens was also 1200$! After doing a lot of searching, the only flight I could find that was under 400$ and not a part of the Scandinavia, which is also an area I’d love to visit but unfortunately it is still freezing during Easter (and the dollar is worthless there), was Budapest. So F it, I seriously had a large list of places I wanted to visit and no criteria whatsoever besides not spending a fortune on a flight, so Budapest it is!

City Facts – Budapest

Spain's flag

Budapest’s Flag

Country   Spain Hungary
Population   1.7 Million
Languages Spoken   Hungarian
My Trip Dates   March 31-April 1, 2013
J-Walk Friendly?   Yes
Airport Transport   7.5 (10 being easiest)
Currency   Hungarian Forint
Time Zone   GMT + 1

 

 

Upon Arrival and Getting Around

Another Passport Stamp + Metro pass photo

Another Passport Stamp + Metro pass photo

The flight to Budapest Ferenc Liszt is only a TWO hour flight from London and was 270$ round trip. Any other weekend aside from Easter and this price would probably be 100$ less so again, you get an idea how good Europeans have it when it comes to traveling. Having booked the trip not more than 72 hours prior, I did not even have time to get in the mindset that I was going to a completely different country. Prior to Budapest, all my travels were around South America and Spain, all of which spoke Spanish. I am definitely not fluent in Spanish whatsoever but I can understand very simple phrases and guess what some words mean as they are similar to English. Walking around the airport, it finally set in that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. This country had its own language unlike any others and I had absolutely no idea what ANYTHING meant, or even attempting to say a Hungarian word. With words like Üdvözlet, Rég nem találkoztunk! Rég nem láttalak, and Hová valósi Ön, it finally hit me that Wow, I really shoulda done some f’ing research before I got here. Nevertheless, I was already there so it was too late. On with the show.

There are many options to get to the city:

  • Cabs – About 25-30 Euros to the city center. There is a pre-set airport price so make sure you don’t get screwed.
  • Airport Shuttles, there are many airport shuttle services that will take you to the airport for about 10 Euros one way.
  • Public Transportation with the Bus to the Subway
200E Bus right outside the terminal

200E Bus right outside the terminal

The public transportation route getting into the city is not as easy as Barcelona but still quite simple. I guess I have NYC to thank for having navigated the subways like a pro for the last 4 years, nothing looks overwhelming after living there. So to get to the city, you must catch the 200E bus right outside the airport (The airport is tiny and only has two terminals). You ride this bus for about 20-30 minutes to its last stop, Kőbánya-Kispest, where you get off and walk the very short distance to the subway. There are only 3 subway lines in Budapest, and the only one here is the M3 (blue line). Ride this to wherever you need to go, and it will take you to the city center and touristy area in about 20 minutes. All in all, about a 45 minute travel time into the city. Tickets are 350F a piece (about 1.5$), and you will need two tickets since one is required for the bus and one for the subway.

Cabs and Mass Transit
It was quite strange to me because you’re supposed to “stamp” your tickets in these machines on the bus, the bus driver does not actually check your ticket. Same in the subway, there are punch-card like machines were you just scan your ticket but there is no actual gate preventing you from getting into the subway station. Apparently there are officials that are supposed to wait outside the stops to validate your ticket and if you get caught, there is a hefty fine. However, the entire time I was on the subway, not a single person checked my ticket. The subway system is extremely simple to navigate through as there are just three different lines. They are safe as far as I could tell and they stops running around 11pm. The subways are pretty old, similar to that of the 1 or A/C trains in NYC. The cabs here are very expensive. A 10 minute ride across town ran me 20$ and I felt like I had hardly gone anywhere. Cabs are standardized by the city so there is nothing questionable about them. No credit card machines so make sure to have cash on hand.

 

The Hostel

Keeping with the theme, the inside of the building our Hostel is in.

Keeping with the theme, the inside of the building our Hostel is in.

After booking my flight, I immediately headed to Hostelworld to take a look at all the hostels around town. I ended up choosing Maverick Hostel as it had very high reviews and was rated very high on the location category. I gotta say, this hostel must have been the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The bathrooms were seriously better than some hotels I’ve stayed at and the location is RIGHT in the city center across the street from the Ferenczk Tere subway stop. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet as many cool individuals here as I did at the hostel in Barcelona except for this Dutch couple that fed me vodka as soon as I checked in to my room.

Interestingly enough, there was another highly rated hostel called Retox Party Hostel that literally boasts in their description on Hostelworld that they are straight up a party hostel on top of a bar and everyone gets crazy and drunk so if you are not the type, do not stay there. I was quite tempted to stay there as I would have for sure found some link minded individuals as myself but decided not to at the last minute. On my flight back to London, I met a group of British guys that had actually stayed at this hostel (small world), and they looked like complete death telling me that they slept maybe 10 hours in 3 days since the bar below them did not close until 4 or so.

Although my hostel was much tamer and nicer than theirs, I still didn’t sleep well at night as I was in a room with 5 others and there was too much noise from doors slamming, bathroom visits, and general chatting that I might as well have stayed at that party hostel considering I would have slept the same amount. Oh well, maybe next time.

 

Being The Tourist

Whatever you do, make sure you get the map in this picture. It's incredibly helpful and even has some hilarious Hungarian phrases you can practice on the locals with.

Whatever you do, make sure you get the map in this picture. It’s incredibly helpful and even has some hilarious Hungarian phrases you can practice on the locals with.

First thing’s first. Budapest is a tiny city as far as capital cities go. You can easily walk and see everything in the city in a full day. The need for a subway really becomes moot because you can walk at a New York pace, from one end of the city to the other in 1 hour. The architecture of the Budapest is a huge melting pot of different cultures. You can clearly see that the Romans had the most influence, but you will also see Turkish and Gothic elements as well and you will be able to appreciate all of this as you walk through the city.

The city is divided into two different boroughs, Buda and Pest (It’s cool, I had no idea of this either before this trip), separated by the Danube River. The Buda side is smaller, and has a large castle on a hill, upscale residences, and the most picturesque views of the city. The Pest (pronounced pesh) side is where all the action is with the clubs, bars and restaurants. Visiting both sides of the city is an absolute must and getting there is incredibly easy with the bridges. So with that, let’s break it down to some of the must do’s in the city.

The Chain Bridge

Chain Bridge during the day

Chain Bridge during the day

This is probably the most well known attraction for foreigners. The bridge was constructed in 1849 and was the first bridge to link the two boroughs. It’s stunning architecture, and long history, makes it akin to that of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and has become one of the most prominent symbols in Europe Linking the East and the West. You can’t miss the bridge as it lights up like a christmas tree and night and is beautiful. Walking across the bridge takes no more than 10 minutes but is something you should do during the day and the night. Luckily, I went during Easter weekend and the weather was not that great so the amount of people on the bridge was minimal. I could easily see this bridge being a huge shitshow of tourists come summertime. I heard from the locals that in the summertime, the bridge closes for a week and a huge festival takes place. Nevertheless, it is still just a bridge so you will not be spending more than 30 minutes here realistically.

Gellert Mountain

Me chillin after walking to the top.

Me chillin after walking to the top.

Again, panorama birds eye views are MUSTS when visiting any city. I tell all my friends visiting NYC that the top of the rock is an absolute must during the day and the night and this mountain is certainly worth the visit. It offers by the far the best views of the city and is better than going up to the castle district. I actually discovered this area by accident as I was trying to go to the Rudas Bath on the Buda side on the Sunday before Easter at 9am and the pool did not open until 11. With nothing around the area or anything else planned, I saw some stairs that led up a mountain and saw some people climbing it so I decided to join. About 20-30 minutes later, you are at the top of the mountain where you can find the liberty statue of Budapest and the panoramic views of the city. All the tours go up to this mountain so if you’re feeling like a hike, pay the 10-15$ to just ride the bus for a few hours and it will eventually take you here. The climb, however, is not difficult and I am certainly no professional. There is also a restaurant at the top that offers fine dining with views of the entire city. If you’re here with a significant other, this would probably be a solid spot to check out.

House of Terror

Outside the House of Terror

Outside the House of Terror

Walking down Andrassy Way, which is probably Budapest’s equivalent of Park Avenue and 5th Ave, you’ll find the House of Terror museum. I learned a lot about Hungarian history during World War II here, all for a measly 8$ entrance fee. Prior to coming here, I knew Hungary had it pretty bad during and after the war but never the extent. Turns out this building was actually the operational headquarters of the Nazi’s when they occupied Hungary in the early 40s. Hungary subsequently joined the war and fought alongside the Nazi’s while also sending thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths. After the war, the Soviets, I’m sure pissed from having fought the Hungarians, took over and installed a Communist government that would last the next 40 years until the Soviet collapse in 1989. During that period, thousands who opposed the regime were tortured and killed in this exact building. The house itself isn’t really meant to scare you like the Wax museum in Victoria, BC but it serves as an important reminder of the harsh times the people went through not more than 30 years ago.

Nightlife
Budapest has established itself as the biggest party city in Europe, and for good reason. The people like to have a good time here, the clubs are huge, and the drinks are cheap. My first night, it was cold and rainy so I ended up staying in and just chatting with some of the people at the hostel but had I stayed in the party hostel, I’m sure I would have not woken up at the same time as I did the next morning. The next day, I met a guy from Saudi Arabia while touring the city and we decided to go to this club called Morrison’s near the water. It was a Sunday night before Easter so I assumed it would be pretty dead but I was wrong. While more people could have fit, it was still packed. Drinks here are ridiculous cheap as you could get a cocktail for about 3$ and a beer for 1.50$. For all the guys reading this, Hungarian women are incredibly attractive and at least the ones I met on this trip (including the club and at the baths) were all friendly friendly. While at the club, if the girl could speak English, it was easy to strike up a conversation. It also helped that my Saudi friend, who I swear comes from some sort of oil money, decided to throw down and buy myself, not that I needed any help, and everyone else at the club drinks. For the sake of his safety (and mine), I will refrain from putting pictures up but it was a great time and we met many locals.

Some of the local Hungarian guys told me that they have parties on the islands on the Danube when it is warmer and it is supposed to absolutely ridiculous from what they say and the pictures I’ve seen online. If interested, check out Dokk nightclub. The British guys I met on the plane also told me they went to a pool party Saturday night at Szechenyi (which will be covered later) bath, but it was freezing out and turned out to be a huge sausage fest, which I find totally plausible. Probably a better destination in the summer time. There are also countless bars around the city including bars that are located underground in buildings, stores, and lots that were abandoned post WWII. With no other purposes in mind, they were turned in bars. From what the British guys told me, these are worth a visit.

 

Hungarian Baths

This should really fall into the things to do section but it is so unique and amazing, it deserves its own section. Prior to coming to Budapest, I had no idea about these baths but Budapest has many famous medicinal thermal spas. These baths are quite large and have warm water ranging from about 28-42 C (82-105 F).  These baths are enjoyed by people from 8 months old to 80 years old and are good for relaxing and hanging out with friends. Hungary was colonized by the Ottoman Empire back in the 1500s and the Turks, famous for these baths, brought the tradition to Hungary, and they have stayed to this day. I’m sure the initial period of being conquered was not pleasant for the people as I’m sure thousands died, but at the end of the day, Hungary can be thankful they were conquered by the Turks that left them with these Baths, versus being conquered by the British, who would have left them absolutely nothing of cultural significance. I came to these baths upon the recommendation of the Hostel and everyone staying in them so Sunday morning, I decided to go check them out.

Rudas Spa

You can't miss this building, it's large and yellow and there's nothing around it.

You can’t miss this building, it’s large and yellow and there’s nothing around it.

This spa is right across the Erszebet Bridget (the white one) and is the giant yellow building that you can’t miss. I decided on this one because the reviews on TripAdvisor were very good and the pictures looked amazing. Upon entrance, you can choose whether you want the spa, or spa+pool combo. Skip the pool. While it’s a nice pool, you’re not here for a swimming pool, you’re here for the baths. Entrance fee is about 10$ and you can stay the entire day. Upon entering the bath, you seriously feel like you’ve gone back to the 16th century. The architecture at Rudas is absolutely incredible and the dark steamy ambiance of the bath, and the incredible feel of the water, makes you really consider wasting your entire day here. There are 4 small baths at different temperatures in the corners, and one large bath in the middle at a comfortable 38 degrees. I met an Italian guy that were traveling as well and we literally just went from pool to pool and straight chilled for 2 hours. We would sit in one bath at a very high temperature, 42 degrees, and when we had enough, we’d just jump into a colder one and chill there until we were ready to go back. It is seriously an amazing experience that is NOT to be missed. Baths were meant for men only back in the days and even nowadays, this bath in particular, is meant to be mens only except for certain days of the week when women and children are allowed. On men only days, anything goes and you can roll completely naked if you want, or you can wear a loin cloth like they did back in the old days. The water is also incredibly clean filled with Minerals that are good for you, and did I mention, feels amazing?

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Szechenyi Bath

The Outdoor baths at Szechenyi

The Outdoor baths at Szechenyi

Prounounced Say-jane-ee (I think), I wasn’t planning on coming here since I chose Rudas, but after talking to the guy at Rudas, they mentioned this bath was also great as it had a outdoor pool. I had no other plans for the day as I had done all the touristy things, and my flight wasn’t until 9:30pm so I decided, what the hell, might as well go check out the other bath. This bath was designed by a Hungarian about 100 years ago so it is quite new as far as Baths go. It is located in the Budapest’s version of central park and is HUGE. There are probably 10 indoor baths here and one giant outdoor bath. This bath is a little more expensive at about 18$ but is 100% worth it. If you decide to go to Rudas, and then come to Szechenyi, you will be very disappointed with the indoor pools because while they are all nice, the architecture and general upkeep of the indoor baths absolutely pales in comparison to the inside of Rudas. You probably won’t stay inside for long because you will see views of the massive outdoor bath and eventually make your way there. The outdoor bath is where you get your money’s worth. You must walk outside to get to the outdoor pool and it was a cold 10 C, 50 F, but once you get in, you’re at a solid 38 C / 100 F, which feels absolutely divine with the cold air. Throw in the blue skies, Baroque architecture, and a few drinks that you can buy at the bar, this is truly a slice of heaven. I feel that Szechenyi is more of a social, party bath while Rudas is meant to just chill out and relax with friends. I met a pair of very nice Hungarian girls here and we seriously just chatted about our lives for a few hours but it felt like minutes. I always enjoy talking with locals and learning about what they think is normal in life. I think if I lived in Budapest, I’d probably come to these bath’s every day.

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What to Eat?

Hungarian cuisine isn’t the most well known or revered cuisine’s I’ve come across but I think I ate at Hungarian restaurants the entire weekend and it is nevertheless delicious. Paprika is the main spice they use and as a Paprika lover myself, you could throw that on anything and I’ll like it. Typical Hungarian dishes are Goulash soup, chicken paprikash, Fish paprika soup, hearty stews, cabbage rolls, and a variety of hearty and delicious meat dishes. Hungarians eat quite a bit of meat from what I gathered so already I’m happy. The one thing I love about food is no matter how different the languages are, when it comes to food, it is very easy for me to speak the same language. Would generally say the food is here not good for you but when you’re on vacation, this shouldn’t be going through your mind.

Pilvax Bistro

Traditional Goulash Soup. Mmmm....

Traditional Goulash Soup. Mmmm….

Located right in the heart of the city center, this spot was rated highly on Tripadvisor and was close to my hostel and served traditional Hungarian cuisine. After arriving, I quickly realized it was most of a modern Hungarian food but that was fine with me. I had just checked into my hostel and was starving for some Hungarian fare. I met a couple from Mexico that lived in Sweden while I was here and after waiting at the bar for our respective tables chatting it up, we decided to sit together and eat as a group. Food in Hungary is quite cheap for American standards, especially NYC so for my new friends, who were making Swedish Kronas probably felt like it was street food. However, let’s be very clear that this food is amazing and you’re definitely going to be eating well and your pockets will definitely still feel good. I started off with some traditional Goulash soup and absolutely LOVED this. I think that every subsequent meal I had the rest of the trip, I had goulash soup as a starter. For drinks, there are many very good Hungarian wines to sample along with their national liquor, Palinka. Palinka is a type of brandy that is incredibly strong, usually 50-70% alcohol, meant to be sipped, and will keep your insides warm for hours afterwards. I was not the biggest of fans of Palinka but when in Hungary, you gotta sample the local fare. The rest of the meal was delicious as I had some duck breast dish was is supposedly traditional Hungarian but I’ve had duck so much that I suppose the novelty is not there. It was still delicious however.

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Paprika

The hunting cabin style of Paprika

The hunting cabin style of Paprika

This restaurant was recommended to me by the Mexican couple and I came here the next afternoon after a full day of sight seeing. The restaurant is close to the park and a little out of the way but the city is seriously very small and it won’t take you more than 30 minutes to walk here. The restaurant attracts a mix of tourists and locals and was very busy in the afternoon. I came here around 2:30, and they told me it was a 1 hour wait for ONE person. However, I waited it out and it was worth it. The restaurant looks like an old hunting cabin, which makes sense because the place specializes in game meats. Portions here are massive and the menu is extensive but I wanted to try a little bit of everything and after much convincing not to get this dish from the waiter, I ended up ordering the Paprika house specialty  including beef, pork, chicken, a goose leg, rice, potatoes and cabbage, meant for TWO people. The waiters and waitresses were in shock and straight up said to me “But you’re so skinny, this is too much for you”. I calmly replied saying, “My friend, are we talking or are we eating?” to which they smiled back and put my order in. After taking down some goulash soup with some chili spice (also learned here Hungarians are fond of spicy food which was music to my ears) and sipping on my palinka, the giant platter of food came and it did not disappoint. Everything was delicious here, especially the goose leg, and I ended up eating all the meat and at least half of the sides. The waiters and the people around me were in shock as they watched me scarf down the whole plate probably wondering in the nicest and friendliest way, who the F is this Asian guy eating like an animal? I made friends with everyone around me that could speak English, including a woman traveling from Russia that kept showing me pictures of her daughter saying I should visit Moscow. After I finished, the hostess came over and gave me a few shots of Palinka on the house. This was absolutely unnecessary as I was stuffed and I dislike Palinka, but I politely obliged as any person should and took them to the dome. If you decide to come here, make sure to make reservations well ahead. Final bill for soup, an order of palinka, and a huge meal for two, came out to 6500 Forints ~ 30$.

DSC00620 DSC00621 DSC00622 DSC00623 DSC00624 Not much food left after I took care of it


Some Hungarian Street Food

Kürtőskalács cooking, through the different stages.

Kürtőskalács cooking, through the different stages.

I came to Budapest during the Spring festival and there was a lot going on in the central square, and of course, this also included food. I tried a bunch of different foods here and would have been a much better experience if I had a partner with me because I could only eat so much as the food was so good. There are many many Hungarian desserts that look delicious, but one in particular that they had at this far was the Kürtőskalács which is also known as Chimney cake. The uncooked pastry is sprinkled with sugar, wrapped like a ribbon around a cylinder, and is then put over an open charcoal pit to slowly cook. It is then topped off with various choices of additions, I chose cinnamon for mine and it was the good shit. The texture is like a crispy and thin Pretzel, but sweet and softer. I’d highly recommend one of these if you can find them, and splitting amongst two people would be ideal.

Also be sure to try some kolbász, which are the Hungarian sausages, chicken paprikash, Halászlé (Fish soup with Paprika), and pretty much any type of stew that looks like it would be something you’d consider eating back home, because you’ll probably like it.

 

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Summing It Up

I had quite the Easter weekend here and I thought it would be a ghost town but it definitely wasn’t. I could tell that this city during the summer time when the weather is warm and the trees are green, that the tourist population would probably double. Budapest has become to Europeans what Vegas has for Americans when it comes to Bachelor parties. But why shouldn’t Americans consider this too? The difference in flight costs would easily be made up by how cheap this city is compared to Vegas. I’d certainly come back here but with just the boys as I feel it is better appreciated when you want to have a good time with your boys than with a significant other. Don’t get me wrong, this city can be enjoyed by couples too but just personally, I would go here with the guys. As I went by myself in the colder months, I didn’t experience as much nightlife as I could have but I’d definitely return to check it out again as well as spend the entire daylight hours at the Baths.

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