There are so many sides to Europe. There's the cutesy Iberian and Mediterranean side with its sunny skies and people riding bicycles with baguettes poking out of their baskets, and there's the old Eastern side known for its harsh winters and crazy underground party scene. After traveling through parts of Central and Eastern Europe over Christmas, I was stoked on heading back east to discover Budapest firsthand.
Let's just say, the Hungarian capital is not for the faint of heart. Once you step into the cobbled streets of Budapest and look at the old architecture around you, you're hooked. I met people at my hostel that planned to just pass through but ended up staying for months, overstaying Schengen visas and all. Everyone was there to enjoy the party scene (yours truly included), but boy did I not realize how much stamina it would need. Don't forget that there's so much more to experience in Budapest than the party scene. I found myself getting lost in the raw beauty of this city.
To me, Budapest to be really similar to Prague: both cities are split in half by a river with a castle perched on one side, both have a killer nightlife, and both have a similar eclectic, youthful culture. Maybe it was because I was in Prague during the winter and was frozen all the way down to my toes the entire time, but I enjoyed Budapest so much more over a weekend this spring.
There's plenty to see in Budapest, but it certainly can be done over a weekend. Here's how!
- Wizzair has fairly cheap flights to Budapest from all over the world. I bought mine a few months in advance for about $100 and the airline was much better than some of the other budget airlines out there.
- The Danube River divides Budapest into two parts: Buda and Pest; these two parts used to be two separate cities. The Pest side is where all the action happens. Most of the tourist attractions and hotels are located in Pest, as well as the area considered the "center" of this decentralized city. The Buda side is hilly and has fewer attractions. The popular Budapest caves are on the Buda side.
- Exploring Budapest requires a lot of walking. I underestimated how far away places looked on the map and didn't realize how far I'd walked until my feet were nearly about to fall off. But walking is definitely the best way to discover this city to its fullest.
- Budapest is fairly cheap in comparison to other parts of Europe. I probably spent the most on food and drink, and even that wasn't too much. Not all of Europe is created equal in the affordability category. Enjoy it!
There are so many historical sites and tourist attractions in Budapest, but I did have a few favorites!
The Parliament Building is the massive building sitting next to the Danube River on the Pest side. It's gorgeous! Check it out during the day, but be sure to stop by as the sun is setting.
Budapest is full of spots memorializing a painful past, particularly related to the Holocaust. There's a lot of heavy history to read about before or while in Budapest. I found the memorials to be beautiful, even in their sadness.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank was one of the most difficult memorials to see. The memorial consists of a number of shoes, honoring the Jews that were ordered to remove their shoes before they were shot so that their bodies would fall into the river and be carried away. This memorial just broke my heart, but the little notes and flowers left there are reminders of the good people in this world.
Don't forget to climb to the top of the Citadella on top of Gellért Hil! It's the best place to get a panoramic view of the city!
The Danube River itself is just beautiful, especially at sunset when the crowds have dwindled away. Chain Bridge and the castle light up a night and the view is incredible calming and peaceful.
There are a number of thermal bath spas in Budapest including Szechenyi, Gellért, and Kiraly. I took a dip in the Szechenyi thermal baths and enjoyed it although I couldn't shake the gross feeling of wondering how clean the water was after so many visitors had bathed in the same pools.
Nonetheless, it's a great people-watching experience, especially to watch old Hungarian men playing chess and drinking beers while sitting in the water. Where else in the world can you find that?
Mostly in Budapest's old Jewish quarter, the ruin bars are essentially abandoned buildings that were converted into trendy bars and clubs while maintaining a hipster, thrift shop-like vibe due to the random vintage knickknacks hanging around and mismatched chairs. The bars preserve the old history of the buildings because they're a part of the Jewish Quarter and are part of a historical landmark.
I went to Szimpla Kert, one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest, and Instant, a ruin bar down the street from my hostel. I loved both of these bars; the vibe was great and the bars itself were so cool to explore!
As it inevitably happens every now and then, the traveler in me overtook the blogger in me and I spent the night making new friends instead of photographing the decor inside. Picture strings of colorful lights hanging from the ceiling, mismatched everything, exposed brick and beams from the building, and an eclectic mix of old pictures and random items you'd probably find in your grandparents' attic.
Eat goulash! Though you may have had it in Germany or in the Czech Republic, it's different wherever you go! Especially after a late night out at the ruin bars, you'll want to get some goulash in your stomach.
Budapest has a really cool restaurant culture with lots of hip restaurants and bars all over the place. My favorite area was around Gozsdu Courtyard, a little area connected to the streets by pedestrian passageways and lined with cute bars and restaurants.
Budapest has it all
You can find everything you need in Budapest: food, history, parties, and relaxation. I love lots of European cities, but Budapest was a place that lived up to my expectations right off the bat.