Eat, stay and do in Budapest
Wandering through graffitied streets with a coffee in one hand and an almond pastry in the other, Budapest has so much culture and beauty to offer. Filled with rustic coffee shops, interior shops overflowing with greenery, colourful ruined streets and incredible architecture, it's a great destination if you're looking to chill, eat, stroll and explore.
Max and I hadn't been on holiday together since Italy 2 years ago and we hadn't spent a whole weekend together for months. Some quality time was very much needed. For his 23rd birthday I wanted to take him away but I was on a budget - all in all our travel and accommodation cost £250 for 3 nights so I was pretty chuffed. We really wanted to just enjoy each others company without rushing around or cramming all the sights in so we just slept in and wandered around all day and we still had an amazing time.
I much prefer an airbnb over a hotel any day because they're usually cheaper and they're also way more homey and unique! There were tons of options to choose from but we decided on this gem. It was only £150 for 3 nights and it was really stylish. We genuinely couldn't fault this apartment - it was central to everything, we felt really secure and it had everything we could have wanted inside. We ate out for every meal but you most definitely didn't have to, there was an oven, hob and all the kitchen appliances you'd need.
Mazel Tov - so many people recommended this to us when we asked where to eat and oh my goodness, no wonder! This is now one of our top 3 places we've ever eaten. We didn't book and when we arrived in the Jewish Quarter there was a queue down the street, we considered leaving but thought it must be great if so many people were waiting. It went quite quickly and it was well worth it. The whole restaurant was just beautiful with a vintage vibe, exposed brick walls, hanging greenery, jazz music and dim lighting - sound like heaven? I had a hummus plate with falafel and pitta and Max had the Shawarma which came with pitta, salad and a mix of dips - I had major food envy! Max is a massive food snob and it takes a lot to impress him so take my word, this was banging! We also shared za'tar sticks with cilantro mayo, a brownie and cheesecake for dessert, an alcoholic drink and a tequila shot each just for £40.
You HAVE to come here!
Libosa Pastry and Bakery - this was our first breakfast discovery. Max found it online when researching where to go and it was nearby and surrounded by lots of other cafes and bars joined by fairy lights. Again, it was super cheap and pretty, everywhere in Budapest seemed to have a similar style of greenery, wood and exposed wall. We had a coffee each and 2 pastries that we shared - delish.
GoaMama - we walked past this coffee shop every morning and on our last day we ventured in and just as we expected, it was vintage and pretty! Nearly every shop we visited had lightbulb lighting which made for a cosy and urban atmosphere. We both had a panini and a cake each - there are so many baked goods on offer everywhere! In nearly every store whether it be clothing, books or interior, a coffee shop is attached so you could literally spend the whole day coffee hopping, shopping and trying a different cake in each - that would be super fun. Goa Mama coffee is also an interior shop filled to the brim with rustic-chic decor.
Chimney Cake - one of Hungary's treasures, this dough-y dessert was scrumptious. It has a sugary crisp exterior and a warm, soft hollow inside - you can have it coated in pretty much anything, like cinnamon or vanilla. The first one we tried was just from a street stall but the second one was made fresh at Fisherman's Bastian and was 10 times better! Bread and sugar - need I say more?
Street Food Karavan - unfortunately it was closed on our trip but it will reopen in Summer. We went past and it looked super cool! It looked run down but like it was designed to look that way, decorated in graffiti and multi-coloured caravans. I can imagine the food is delicious and it would be great fun to sit outside in the sunshine with your friends and devour some street food.
Thermal baths - there are a few to choose from but the most famous and biggest is the Szechenyi, which we visited. We bought a daily ticket with a cabin so that we could get changed together and keep our things inside which came to about 13,000 HUF (£30). Inside there were saunas and pools of different temperatures and benefits but outside holds the famous picturesque Instagram snap - the grand yellow building and pretty fountains. It was dark outside which was very atmospheric and although it was busy, it wasn't unpleasant. Obviously in January it was pretty cold out, so after running outside the thermal water was welcomed! You could definitely spend a whole afternoon just chilling so it's worth the money. On Saturday evenings Szechenyi holds a party which I can imagine is pretty fun and worth going to! If I went again I'd definitely want to visit Gellert and Rudas instead.
Fisherman's Bastian / Buda Castle - this is a must-do activity to see the incredible views of Budapest. The walk up looks a lot worse than it looks I promise, but there is a funicular available too! The architecture is stunning and the huge buildings are so grand, I liked to imagine what it would have been like walking through all those years ago. There are multiple different viewing points and spired towers to see the Danube river from all angles and if you like people watching like me, you'll find everyone trying to take edgy photos in the gaps (myself included), highly amusing. You'll find a cafe up there too and a few stalls selling Chimney cake and hot chocolate. The highlight of my holiday however, was the coin pressing machine (does it have an official name? I don't know) which Max and I like to collect as souvenirs but nowhere ever has them anymore, I was grinning from ear to ear when we found it. There's a lot of history to be read about too - I'd definitely recommend soaking up as much culture and history as possible because it's really interesting and worthwhile. I would also loved to have woken up super early and watch the sunrise. On our visit it was slightly foggy so I can imagine on a day with a clear blue sky it is even more beautiful and picturesque.
Margaret Island - this wasn’t high on our priority list but we had spare time and thought we’d give it a wander around despite it being quite far from us. I can imagine in the spring / summer it’s beautiful and full of people but in January, it was pretty dull. We probably saw a handful of other people and everything was closed so we just walked around which we could have done anywhere - so I wouldn’t recommend visiting in the winter. However, there were bikes and pedal cars to hire, a rose garden, a Japanese garden, pretty ruins, fountains and a mini zoo which would have made for a lovely afternoon in the summer with a picnic.
Ruin bars - we visited the most popular ruin bar Szimpla Kert, and for good reason. It was heaving but that only added to the atmosphere. As you’d expect, it was full of life! The decor was completely random, bright, colourful and crazy! Each room was like a totally separate place but you could wander throughout - it was like you were journeying through a maze with a surprise to be found in each. It also had a strange sense of comfort? Even though I’d usually be a little daunted in a place like this, I felt super comfortable and at ease because everyone was so friendly and having a great time.
Tip: bring a pen with you to mark your name on the wall!
Grafitti - most walls we passed were covered in Budapest and although it looks a bit scruffy at first, it completely suited the city and we found beauty in it. I could quite happily have wandered through the streets purely to view the different art and creativity.
Shopping - surprisingly, Budapest had a lot of lovely shops both independent and global. Vaci Street has the major shops like Zara, Pull and Bear and H&M. Despite the popular shops, the buildings still had so much character both inside and out - I didn't know whether to look at the clothes or the ceiling of H&M - super pretty. There were a lot of independent interior and fashion shops dotted around too selling vintage and urban pieces, my favourite being The Garden Studio on Paulay Ede u, it's like a Hungarian Urban outfitters. It was so aesthetic, plants galore, great lighting and colour coordinated to precision (check this post out now if you're into shops like this). If designer is more to your taste then head to Andrássy út to find the likes of Burberry and Gucci - window shopping can be just as fun too. A major attraction of the city is the Central Market Hall full of trinkets to bring home and street food to try. Built in 1897, the hall is huge and bursting with life, I could sit for hours and watch people going about their days. Note: try not to bring a suitcase around with you though because we made that mistake and the aisles can be pretty narrow.
Bridges - the infrastructure is also beautiful in Budapest. There are quite a few to walk over, the most famous being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge which looks beautiful lit up at night. You can get a bus / tram over but I like to walk more to capture the views.
Parliament - the building is another example of the magnificent architecture that Budapest has to offer. It was huge and the exterior is so intricate and gothic like. You can get a tour of the inside which is about £20 each but we weren’t overly fussed, we still enjoyed the walk around it. Throughout the day there were demonstrations for the tourists where guards march out and stand for photos - I wanted to go up and ask them questions - do they get cold? Are they ever allowed to speak? How often do shifts change? Do they volunteer? Is it really annoying when people come up to them? Etc! - if you have the courage to ask - tell me what they say. It is even more beautiful at night when it is all lit up.
We actually walked everywhere because I enjoy it - I think it’s a far nicer way to view the city and if you haven’t got anywhere to be, what’s the rush? But of course, public transport is super handy and Budapest was brilliant for it.
Trams / metro - there are 4 major metro lines that all lead to the major attractions so it’s super easy getting about. All you have to do is buy a ticket and validate it once you’re on or at the gate (it’s like a little hole punch machine). Single tickets are like 80p but it may be easier to buy 24-hour or 72-hour tickets which only cost £4.50 - £10.50 for unlimited travel within that time. You can use these tickets on any public transport too!
Bus - we got a shuttle bus from the airport into the city which cost us £2.50 each (it took about 45 mins) it was really cheap, comfortable and came at regular times. We bought a £20 bus transfer along with our flight which we didn’t use so if you are thinking about this option - don’t bother because the bus is way easier and cheaper!
Bolt - this works exactly the same as Uber so I’d download the app before you leave. It was safe, fast and convenient.
Electric scooters - we didn’t use this method although I wanted to (Max wasn’t so keen) but I’ve done my research for you. You can book and use them through the app ‘Lime’ - you just have to locate one on the map, scan the QR barcode on the handlebars to unlock it and start using it - it will charge it to whatever card payment you choose.
I just wanted to note something that we saw that I found deeply moving. We were walking around and found a monument dedicated to ‘the victims’ of Hungary’s German occupation in the war. The monument is of Archangel Gabriel (Hungary) being attacked by an Eagle (Germany) but many locals have criticised and protested because of their portrayal of innocence when in fact, Hungary played an active role in sending thousands of Jews to their death. Family members and friends have laid tributes to the Jews murdered by leaving their belongings in front of the monument. It was incredibly moving and powerful reading their stories and seeing their belongings - a reminder that history should never be forgotten and justice should prevail.
Love, Emmanuelle ❀