Budapest is the Best for a Budget City Break!
Summer is almost over and, if you too are lamenting its end then it may be time to book a city break! Autumn is one of the best times to book a long weekend away and if you are looking for a city that offers history, culture, fantastic food, shopping and nightlife all on a budget, then Budapest is the best choice for you! Over the last decade Eastern European destinations have become overwhelmingly popular. Famed for their gastronomically scrumptious goulash, fascinating mix classic and communist architecture, and underground party scenes, the lure of Prague, Krakow, Budapest and Berlin (with its famous Eastern bloc) has triumphed over historically popular city destinations such as Paris, Rome and London.
A purse friendly alternative to the likes of Prague or Berlin, Budapest similarly bears the scars of a fraught and complicated history yet has transformed into a beautiful city with a diverse culture. Unlike many of its Eastern European counterparts, Budapest offers a unique architectural grandeur with influences from Turkish occupation and, of course, the appeal of historic bath houses. Not sold yet? Check out our top sightseeing, shopping, food and drink recommendations below!
Bathe like the Romans
Budapest sits on a network of almost 125 thermal springs so it is only fitting that visitors bathe as the Romans did! Sadly, no baths still operating date back to Roman times. Instead, some remain as a legacy of the Turkish occupancy whilst others boast exquisite Art Nouveau designs, and modern establishments offer the latest in spa technology.
Whatever bath you choose is a matter of taste. Following a recommendation we went to the Széchenyi Baths, which is Budapest’s most visited bath house and one of Europe’s largest natural hot springs baths. Situated in the famous city park, on the Pest side of the city, the baths are in a prime central location within walking distance from other attractions such as Heroes Square.
With 18 pools (both indoor and outdoor), 10 saunas or steam cabins and various massages and facial treatments available, the Széchenyi baths has a lot to offer whether you simply want to swim in an outdoor pool, chill on a sun lounger or take in the health benefits of a geothermal bath or sauna. I particularly enjoyed the novelty of taking in the historical Neo-Baroque surroundings whilst soaking in the pool.
Like many of the bath houses in Budapest, the Széchenyi offered thermal pools of various temperatures- the hottest being 38°C and the coolest 20°C. Many of the other baths are famed for their architectural beauty and offer a full range of treatments.
It is essential to plan in advance when visiting the Budapest baths so here are some top tips to help you prepare. Firstly, I would highly recommend checking timetables as depending on the time or day of the week, many baths are open to only men or women. Secondly, many of the baths do not accept card payments so it is advisable to bring cash, standard price for entry and use of a locker is around 2400FT (a little over £6), and remember to bring your own towel if possible otherwise you will have to hire one.
Finally, a tip regarding the locker system. The standard spa locker system can be a little confusing at first. When you buy your ticket you will be presented with an electronic wristband which should direct you to and then open your locker or cabin door. In order to find out the number of your cabin, you will need to firstly scan your wristband against one of the allocated signs.
A Budapest trip would not be complete without a trip to the baths and with so many to choose from you could even visit more than one…happy bathing!
Top Cultural Hot Spots and Sights
You cannot visit Budapest without visiting the historic Castle, which sits on the Buda side of the river and offers the best view over to Pest. First completed in 1265, the castle and palace complex homed many Hungarian kings. Since then the building has undergone various renovations and the foundations of today’s castle, which would later be besieged 31 times, were laid in the fourteenth century.
With an impressive history, the stunning Castle building and district offers beautiful examples of a mix of Medieval, Baroque and nineteenth century buildings. With various museums on site and walking tours available a trip to the castle is a must! A walk along the famous Chain Bridge to the castle is also highly recommended.
Architecture admirers will also be greatly impressed by the grandeur of the Hungarian Parliament building. Built in from 1885 to 1904, the site on the bank of the Danube is a magnificent example of Neo-Gothic architecture. Also as the third largest parliament building in the world, the Hungarian parliament has survived many a threat from war damage to several occupations. A stunning building with a fascinating history, I would encourage you to book a tour in addition to walking the exterior grounds. The 45 minute tour includes the chance to see the Hungarian Crown Jewels and Assembly Hall.
Also at the top of any tourist’s sightseeing list should be a trip to Heroes’ Square, which is famous for its iconic range of statues, featuring the Seven Cheiftans of the Magyards, various national leaders and the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier.
However the central feature of Heroes’ Square is the Millennium Memorial, which was originally built in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin and the foundation of the Hungarian state. Today, following the Nazi and Soviet occupations, the memorial and square has further meaning and in June 1989 crowds gathered for the historic reburial of Hungarian communist politician Imre Nagy, who was executed following the Soviet invasion and Hungarian Revolution in 1956. The experience of standing in Heroes’ Square, a site of such historical and political significance, is indescribable.
On a similar note, if you are interested in Hungary’s modern history then you must visit the Terror House, which is the former base to leading Nazi and Soviet parties during their separate occupations. Opened in 2002, the museum was resurrected in memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in the building. The Terror House presents the horrors faced in a modern and tangible way and though perhaps a heavy holiday activity, a visit to the Terror House offers an insight into the sacrifices made for the freedom Hungarian's have today.
Feast on Hungarian delicacies
Say Hungarian food and the word most likely to spring to mind is goulash. However, there is so much more to Hungarian cuisine and, though it may not be as famous as that of the French or Italians, it is certainly just as sophisticated.
There are so many restaurants across the city that serve traditional Hungarian food, all usually to the same high standard, so it is difficult to pick out our top choices. However, there are certainly some local dishes and delicacies that you must try.
Firstly, you must try Lángos, which is tipped as the Hungarians' all-time favourite dish. Lángos is a deep fried flat bread, which is usually eaten with garlic sauce or sour cream and cheese. However, many modern Hungarian restaurants serve it with meat toppings and, of course, paprika sauce. It is perhaps not the healthiest of dishes but is certainly worth trying as a holiday treat as the sweet bread is unlike any you will ever taste.
Another of Hungary’s most famous delicacies is Pörkölt and/or Paprikás . An alternative to Goulash, this stew like dish dates back to as early as 1780 and is most definitely worth trying.
Pörkölt is a stew and Paprikás is a stew made with sweet paprika and tejföl. The two will often be listed on menus as separate dishes, however the method of preparation and outcome are very similar. The word pörkölt literally means roasted and dishes are often made using beef, pork, lamb and chicken, and onion, paprika and other spices. The result is an incredibly flavoursome and juicy stew that certainly fulfilled one SB’s gastro-curiosity! I would recommend pörkölt for those who prefer a savoury meaty taste and paprikás for those with more of a sweet tooth. The good news is that both these dishes are served at virtually every restaurant open.
As lovers of doughnuts, cake and all things sweet and wonderful, dining in Budapest with all its traditional Hungarian desserts, was a dream come true! At the top of the SB sweet list is a fantastic street food doughnut substitute, Kürtös Kalács!
This special cylinder bread, often referred to as a chimney cake, is made from sweet yeast dough baked over charcoal and coated in sugar... the end product is pure heaven! The secret to this much loved street pastry is its caramelised coating onto which cinnamon, cocoa, coconut or chopper walnuts are added! Budapest's streets are awash with street food stalls so Kürtös Kalács are never hard to come by.
Shop Thrift or High Fashion
From market pop ups and independent boutiques to high fashion lines, Budapest has it all so prepare to shop until you quite literally drop... frequent sugary Kürtös Kalács pick me ups are recommended!
The main shopping areas are all located downtown in the Pest city centre. Váci Street, which runs from Vörösmarty square to the Central Market Hall (also worth a trip), features a large number of high street fashion retail stores, such as H&M and Zara, and also has numerous restaurants and cafes.
Hit Andrássy Avenue for a high fashion blowout or window shopping if you are on a budget. The beautiful tree lined street has a number of upscale stores from Louis Vuitton and Burberry to Gucci and Roberto Cavalli.
If, like me, you love discovering those hidden gems and unique boutique stores that cannot be found elsewhere, then you will have a ball shopping in Budapest. There are several independent shops I would highly recommend.
First up is Mono, which stocks everything you need for an edgy but chic street style wardrobe. LOKALWEAR features a collection of colourful and unique handmade jewellery, which is designed by Hungarian artists using ethically sourced materials. Finally, Retrock is a haven for vintage lovers with an impressive stock of designer pieces dating from the 1960s onwards. Budapest's markets are also fantastic for pop up stores and street foods so be sure to pay a visit to one during your stay.
Party in a Ruin
If you enjoy a good party then the good news is that Budapest also boasts a vibrant nightlife. Whether you want to club until dawn or fancy a bit of cultural entertainment, Budapest has it all.
The downtown Pest area transforms at night and there are numerous clubs and outdoor bars open until late. For those looking for a more unusual nightlife experience I would definitely recommend visiting a ruin bar.
Over the last decade abandoned buildings in Hungary’s capital have been transformed into low-key clubs marked by artistic creativity and discarded furniture. Today these so called “ruin bars” are major attractions and each brings its own ambience and unique features.
We particularly enjoyed visiting Instant, located near the Opera House on Nagymező Street – also known as “Budapest’s Broadway”. The Instant ruin pub complex encompasses an entire building with several themed dance floors and a psychedelic interior with unusual highlights such as a boar shaped disco ball, flying rabbits and an floating sculpture of an owl with a women's body. Open until 6am, Instant acts as a fantastic pub and club. Do be warned, spirits are free poured and one strong rum nearly blew the shoes off of this Scottish Bitch!
Other recommended “ruin bars” include Szimpla Kert, which has a wonderful vintage design and Kuplung, which has a fantastic underground feel to it. However, there are many ruin bars dotted across the city so you have plenty of choice.
Budapest is the Best for a Budget City Break
There you have it, our top tips and recommendations for a visit to Budapest! Fast growing in popularity as a holiday destination, we reckon Budapest will soon be the next Berlin. Have you been to Budapest? Do you have any travel tips? Share your thoughts in the comments below or click here to read our other Lifestyle posts.