My house in Budapest,
My hidden treasure chest,
Golden grand piano,
My beautiful Castillo...
These lyrics from a popular song in 2015 by George Ezra, called Budapest were about all I knew of this Eastern European city before I was researching my top places to travel while abroad. And, fun fact , the only reason I really knew of this song was because I was waiting to see Twenty One Pilots at Lollapalooza, and due to a rain delay, I ended up seeing the song performed live.
This is probably what comes to mind when most American kids hear talk of the city - "oh, like the song!" It's basically about the artist feeling so much love for a girl that he would even leave his favorite city in the world, Budapest, to be with her. Well, after just one weekend there, I understand that statement.
Budapest is a place I will never forget, and I hope to go back. It's so hard to put into words how this city makes you feel, but everyone I talk to has the same opinion - it's one of their favorite places in the world.
Our travel exhaustion was pretty much immediately alleviated when we saw our house in Budapest/hidden treasure chest that was our Airbnb. This place was sooooo cute (and cheap!) and so centrally located, we knew we'd be able to see everything in one weekend. Because it was so close to the Ruin Bars, we freshened up from the flight and headed over to one of the coolest places I've ever been, Szimpla Kert.
Szimpla Kert is a collection of bars, dance floors, wine bars and seating areas that are all in the ruins of Budapest that were left abandoned after WWII. There is one entrance, but many different places to go within the two-floor establishment. Parts of it is enclosed, and parts are out in the open - I mean, they are in the ruins. While all of the ruin bars in Budapest make for the hippest night out in Europe, this is the flagship ruin pub for locals and tourists alike, and even on a Thursday night, it was so lively and fun. There are so many unique pieces of quirky decor - it's a little retro, a little trendy, a little kitschy - but that's what makes it even cooler. Each bar/room has its own personality, but they're all filled with funky pieces of flea market furniture, and all offer something new and interesting. It's very dimly lit, so it's a really bad place to get pictures of, but it's forever in my memory... and on the internet.
All in all, the Ruin Bars, and it's district, is one of the coolest, most unique places I've ever been. It was so fun to bounce from bar to bar and room to room, trying out different local or Hungarian beers (some better than others, of course), playing with the interactive decor, and basically sightseeing within a bar. It had an underground feel, even though it's a Budapest staple.
The next day, the sightseeing began. I packed up my DSLR and we were all eager to get moving, so we scheduled a free walking tour fairly early in the morning. After all, we only had two full days in the city, so we needed to make the most of it. Unfortunately, this attitude didn't last long. While it was warm in Budapest this weekend, rain was in the forecast, and holyyyyy shit did we have the worst weather I've experienced in Europe. This was obviously a huge bummer, and as much as we tried to tough it out, we made it only a hour and a half into our two and a half hour tour, and now, looking back on it, it was an accomplishment. I've only been that cold a few times in my life - it was so windy and so rainy, and we couldn't stay positive any longer.
Thankfully, we had seen the bulk of the sites on our tour, and we did learn a lot. The most promising thing we learned, however, is that Budapest is very, very small. As disappointed as we were to peel off from the tour and drop in a random restaurant, we knew we could still tackle this city in the time we had left, even if this afternoon would be a wash.
We relaxed, took showers/naps and booked tickets for things to do the next day. We already had a night planned ahead of us, and it was so much fun - Trofea.
This is a restaurant that we were recommended. It turns out, it's somewhat of a tourist activity that the locals enjoy, too. For just 20 euros (around $21), you had a table for three hours and it was all you can eat and all you can drink. Now, I know what you're thinking - in America, this would probably be disgusting (Golden Corral comes to mind). Nope. I regret not taking pictures, but when you see this sight, it's hard not to immediately dive in. The choices for food were insane - salad, soup, fresh fruit, fresh cheese, SUSHI, traditional Hungarian, any entree you could think of, dessert that looked like it was hand carved, a grill for fresh meat and fish... the options were endless and it was all DELICIOUS. I know I'm forgetting some, so you'll just have to take my word for it. I had about three plates, I'm guessing, and was able to try so many different kinds of Hungarian food. Also, it was all you can drink, and we were on vacation, so... champagne, anyone?
We Americans wanted to make the most out of this event, and if there's anything I know to be true about a stereotype between the US and Europe, it's that we can and do eat a lot. We were blowing other tables out of the water with our visits to the buffet - it's like we had something to prove. We were totally laughing about it, thinking, these waiters and waitresses are probably like WTF? It was pretty embarrassing but so funny that we wore it with pride. We also aggressively ordered more drinks whenever the waiter was at our table because we wanted to make sure we got the most bang for our buck. That's a college kid thing, though, not an American thing. ;)
This is for sure one of the most fun nights I've had out in Europe yet, but of course, I was with great friends in a great city. After we left the restaurant, we walked around the small, gorgeous city of Budapest and found so many hidden gems in little side streets that would prove to be some of the favorite things we saw the next day, too.
We woke up early-ish as planned, slow moving but eager to get to a restaurant to ease our hangovers. We went to Stika, a tiny little place with great lattes and smoked salmon egg thingys I don't remember the name of.
Then, the ultimate sightseeing began! We were staying on the Pest side, which is where most of your bars, shopping and restaurants are located. On the Buda side, you'll find most of the sightseeing. We took Tram 2 which is supposedly the most beautiful tram in the entire world because of the view. It was on most lists of things for tourists to do, and it was SO GORGEOUS. It has unobstructed views of the castle and hills on the Buda side and rides right along the river. Once there, we rode a tram up to the Castle Hill Funicular which is a viewpoint over the entire city built right near the Royal Palace of Budapest. From here, we walked around the Palace, looked over the edge of the funicular, and were able to see Parliament from an incredible view. Once we were on top of the hill, we could also walk to see my favorite building in Budapest, the Matthias Church. The coolest partof this building was the lone black tower at the top and the roof - I could've stared at this unique church all day. This area was so cool, and gave us another great view of the other side.
We also got a 'chimney cake' which is an amazing piece of sweet dough wrapped on a rolling pin mechanism (good description Abigail) and traditionally covered in cinnamon. This tasted like an absolute dream and I would seriously go back to Eastern Europe and get another one immediately.After enjoying the pretty big, sweet treat, our next stop was the Szyechni Baths - not smart considering we had to get into a swimsuit right after, but oh well. We were thrilled - this is what Budapest is known for - it's natural thermal baths. If there's one thing you do while you're there - this is it. There are over 120 natural hot springs that feed into the "City of Baths".
The Szyechni Baths is the most popular of the dozen thermal spas in all of Budapest, famous for it's gorgeous, castle-like exterior that houses the natural waters inside it. What is, of course, a tourist staple is actually also an extremely popular spa treatment for locals. It has three large pools, and my friends and I jumped through each before we found our spot and stayed there, taking in the geothermal warmth of the water. There are old Hungarian men playing chess in the water, kids taking turns dunking each other in, locals getting their weekly fix and there's even a spot for a whirlpool (that we were in for an embarrassing amount of time - hey, we felt like kids again and didn't wanna let that go). While it is somewhat like swimming in a giant bathtub with hundreds of strangers, it was literally one of the most fun and relaxing afternoons of my life. Steam is rising off the surface and you're surrounded by beautiful, bright yellow architecture, and as the sun went down, it got even prettier.
Sadly, my time in Budapest had to come to an end, but I know I’ll be back. Leaving you with wise words from the late, great Anthony Bourdain -
“It's beautiful here. They said that, of course, that Budapest is beautiful. But it is in fact almost ludicrously beautiful.”