In short – YES!
We visited Budapest just before UK tourism here absolutely exploded, and exploded it has! Budapest was appearing on peoples radars for its quirkiness, cheap beer and diverse history, it was time to pay a visit.
The first thing you notice about Budapest are the amount of bridges there are in the city. Eight individual bridges encase the Danube river. The most well known and most crossed are the Liberty Bridge and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The Danube splits the city into two regions – Buda and Pest. The region of Buda is mainly the local residential area, with Pest being the main hub for tourists and all the hustle and bustle of the city.
One thing everyone will tell you about Budapest is how cheap it is. It is 100% the cheapest European city we have been too. £1 is around 400 HUF. To put it in perspective the average wage per month in Budapest is around 421734 HUF = £1059. Once we found out how low the average wage was it was no surprise that food/drink was so cheap. We were getting a large glass of winebeer for around £1.26! We rarely paid over £15 for 2 two course meals and 2 drinks – so so cheap.
Must Sees & Do’s
There is so much to do in Budapest – probably the most of any city we have visited. We spent 4 days here and could have easily spent more. While we did the majority of things we wanted, you could waste extra days flitting between different bars and areas and still experience something new everyday.
We stayed in the Pest side of Budapest right within the Jewish Quarter – a great base to explore with everything in walking distance. Housed within the Jewish Quarter is the Dohány Street Synagogue. It was built on the street which would later become a Jewish Ghetto in the holocaust. The architecture inside and out is beautiful, complete with one one the nicest memorial gardens i’ve visited for all the Jews murdered in the holocaust. A little pricey at £14.50pp, but worth it in my opinion.
Not far from the Dohány Street Synagogue is St Stephen’s Basilica. This is Hungary’s largest church and named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary (his right hand is actually housed in the Basilica!). Great views from the top and only around £1.50 to get in!
Another remembrance to those lost in the holocaust is the Shoes on The Danube memorial. Almost 80,000 Jews were expelled from Hungary with a further 20,000 shot to death along the river banks of the Danube. The memorial is simple yet harrowing, and is a must see whilst in Budapest.
One of the most popular things to do in Budapest is visit the thermal baths. The Szechenyi Baths are definitely the most visited and the one you’ll hear most about. We didn’t want to do the ‘touristy’ baths so opted for the Gellért Baths. Housed in the world-renowned Gellért Hotel, the spa baths have been open since 1918 and the majority of the decor is still the same. There are so many different temperature pools, different salts etc and a huge outdoor heated pool. This was one of my favourite mornings in Budapest and was around £13pp entry. I much preferred going to these baths as opposed to the Szechenyi baths as the Gellért baths were full of locals, which really made the experience much more authentic.
The Hungarian Parliament building is absolutely stunning, especially on an evening when it is lit up against the Danube River! Around the back sits Kossuth Lajos Square, really nice to take a walk around and see the Parliament building from both angles.
Aside from our trip to the Gellért Baths, the only other time we ventured over to the Buda side of Budapest was to visit Buda Castle. This was by far the best Castle we have visited in Europe. Not only does Buda castle give you panoramic views of the entire city, it is like a whole other world up there! Aside from the Castle, be sure to make stops at the Fishermans Bastion, Matthias Church and the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene (All in the vicinity of the castle itself). The architecture of these buildings is simply stunning and the views of the city are magical on a clear day! We took the Castle Hill Funicular up to the Castle – we would normally walk, but this has been running since 1870, so we definitely wanted to give it go. It’s around £3.60 one way which is quite expensive for Budapest, but the money goes towards the running and upkeep of the funicular and the castle, so you really don’t mind so much.
Food & Drink
Saved the best for last here! The ruin bars.
You cannot go to Budapest and not visit the ruin bars, it is an absolute must! The majority of these are housed in the Jewish Quarter, built in abandoned buildings, shops and houses. Arguably the most famous ruin bar is Szimpla Kert. Others we particularly liked were, Instant & Fogasház, Anker’t and Mazel Tov. Each ruin bar has its own personality and nothing makes sense. The decor in each is eclectic and each room is different, filled with random bits and bobs. The ruin bars are one of those things that you really just have to experience for yourself. In the day time Szimpla Kert was calm and quiet, come back in the evening and its a completely different story!
Its not just the ruin bars which are unique in Budapest. Each bar tells a different tale and the more you experience, the more weird and wonderful you will find! Some of our other favourites were Red Ruin – which is inspired by the communist party & Lampas Student Pub.
Also in the Jewish Quarter is one of the best street food places I’ve eaten in. Bors Gastro Bar is absolutely tiny, but the reviews speak for themselves. They do mainly soups and sandwiches but the flavours are anything but normal. Super cheap aswell – around £1.70 for a carton of soup. If you are going to eat street food anywhere in Budapest, make sure its here!
For traditional Hungarian we went to Gétto Gulyás (Named ‘Gétto’ after the Jewish Ghetto built during the holocaust). The menu is small, but features the heart of Hungarian cuisine. We had traditional Goulash, Chicken Paprikash, starters and dessert. I think our meal came to less then £20 and that including all our drinks. It is just meters away from Szimpla Kert and the other ruin bars, so it really couldn’t be better placed.
While that seems a lot of stuff to see and do in Budapest, it barely scratches the surface, and thats what makes Budapest such a great city to visit! Besides the ruin bars and cheap food and drink, the cultural landmarks should be enough to entice you here. We don’t often return to many European Cities, but i would return to Budapest in a heartbeat.