It is no surprise that I am a woman who loves to travel and though I find beauty in every place that I have the privilege to explore, very few cities leave me speechless upon first glance. Edinburgh and New York have definitely had this effect. I have now welcomed Budapest to that exclusive list.
When I fall in love with a place I really try my best to bite my tongue to refrain from banging on about how magically beautiful it is to anyone and everyone that will listen as I am weary about building people’s expectations too high. This is not because I don’t have faith in the places I visit, I just prefer to nudge people in the right direction and then allow them to experience a place for themselves without too many preconceived notions. However, when discussing Budapest, I cannot help but break my own rule it is quite simply a captivating metropolis that you won’t regret visiting.
Budapest has something for every type of traveller. Lovers of history and architecture can marvel at Europe’s third oldest Parliament House and in my opinion the most visually impressive. Food buffs can sample local cuisine at Budapest’s Great Market Hall and art and culture gurus will always find something to see or do in a city that has over 150 theatres and museums combined and hosts Sziget the renowned music festival every August.
The Quick 5
What is an absolute must for those coming to Budapest?
If you travel to Budapest you will not be disappointed by its character, charm and grandeur. However, if you are looking to make your trip just a little bit more unique or would like to do something other than sightseeing, the Escape Games are for you. The Escape Games are now a global phenomenon that some state were birthed in Budapest and requires teamwork, patience and communication. In short you will be placed into a room with your party and given 60 minutes to escape, by working through puzzles, riddles and other mental challenges. It was one of the best things I have ever done but be sure to book in advance as they are a popular activity. Many companies offer this activity but ParaPark was my favourite.
Now I can’t give too much away, but I will say this… no question or idea is silly and don’t be afraid to ask for help from you team mates. My father used to set up our Easter egg hunts in a similar manner as children in a bid to aide the development our lateral thinking and ultimately gave him a good laugh. Those years of training paid off because with 57 minutes gone my siblings and I escaped. As new addicts to the Escape Games, when we found ourselves back in Budapest in transit we quickly sourced another game venue and Dad we are proud to report we got out again. Apparently only 30% of groups escape so excuse me whilst I toot the Woodhouse Sibling horn again… Toot toot.
Where is the best place to grab a drink?
The array of bars and eateries in Budapest is superfluous and diverse and after a day of busy sightseeing there is nothing better than cooling down with a well earned cider. However, my favourite area would have to be the collection of ruin bars found in the city’s seventh eclectic district. The ruin bars are found in reclaimed buildings where shabby chic is portrayed in its purest form. There are even several food vendors around the area offering all sorts of delicious goodies to tempt your palette.
Now for those who interpret drink to mean coffee addiction, do not worry I have you covered…
This place is what some would call a caffeine paradise. I can honestly and confidently say I have never come across a single place in the world that offers such diversity in terms of coffee blends, styles etc. It is truly a melting pot for all types of coffee from every corner of the earth from a Mississippi chestnut latte and a Maui almond cappuccino to an Armenian orange coffee or an Australian walnut macalatte… the list is endless as well as delicious.
Those who gravitate towards tea or non caffeinated beverages like iced chocolate you to will undoubtedly find something on the menu to satisfy your taste buds from Peru to Indonesia.
Tips and tricks?
In Budapest you do have to exercise an increased degree of caution regarding your belongings, but please don’t let this be a deterrent. This city is incredible, but like any city has its negative aspects. Be careful around any venues that offer currency exchange or ATM facilities. Within minutes of disembarking from our train in Budapest, one particular male kept following us around and not only followed us into a Western Union but later showed up again when we were buying our train passes and other necessities.
In addition to safety, be weary of scammers. For example, don’t be surprised if you are approached whilst waiting in line to exchange your money by people offering to complete the service for you right there on the spot. They typically carry various amounts of foreign currencies on their person, but how are you to know if the notes are legitimate and the exchange rate fair? This might seem like natural common sense but I was astounded with how many tourists took up their offer because they didn’t want to wait in line at official currency exchange places in the unforgiving heat.
Lastly, be weary of those posing as porters at main stations. These people are not employed by the rail network but present themselves professionally in both conduct and dress. They will ascertain where you are going, personally direct you to the correct platform whilst carrying your luggage. At the end, you will be demanded to pay for their service. Luckily, we did not fall victim to this as I was travelling with my brother who experienced this years before whilst travelling throughout Hungary. With that said, I was stunned to see the porters in question and can appreciate how many tourists would be fooled given the professional way they were dressed.
Where did you stay?
I am recent convert to the service that is Airbnb. As you might gather from my posts, I am quite a distrusting person and have always been a little cautious to source accommodation via this means. However, when travelling with a group securing a private apartment in the city centre via Airbnb proves quite economical and relaxing. My brothers and I were were incredibly lucky to stumble across a fantastic apartment right in the heart of Budapest through this means. Now if I was a single traveller, I would elect to stay at hotel/hostel but if you are in a group or couple this is a brilliant option to consider and adds quite a personal touch to your overall experience. Just ensure that you do your research, read the reviews and gather the hosts contact details before arriving. If you travel to Budapest I highly recommend New Design Apartment. The location was superb as was the design and security of the apartment. Though it was a little noisy because of its central location, pop in some ear plugs because I guarantee that overall this apartment will not disappoint. We were based literally in the heart of the main thoroughfare, close to the Danube, the metro and countless dining options.
Is it easy to get around?
When I reflect upon what I thought I knew about Budapest before my time there the one thing that keeps popping into my mind is the extent to which I under estimated the sheer size of Hungary’s capital, it is a combination of three cities after all (Buda, Pest and Óbuda). Prior to arriving I had been gallivanting around smaller European towns and cities so it took time to get accustomed to my surroundings and the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life. For those, like me, who love to explore a new place by foot you have to be prepared to accept public transportation into your life. Budapest has attractions galore that are not always placed within close proximity to each other… and temperatures in summer sky rocket.
Budapest offers free travel on public transport for those over the age of 65 who are citizens of the EU member states. For everyone else you will find public transport in the city inexpensive, effective and undeniably necessary to get around Budapest. I assure you now you will find the subway easy to navigate despite the language barrier. As an on and off again Londoner I am accustomed to a well organised underground. After London, Budapest has the oldest metro system in Europe so it’s fair to say they’ve got it right because they have had decades of practice.
Whether you’re travelling by bus or train you will have to validate your ticket either at the time of travel (on the bus) or prior to embarkment (train). For the latter, little machines are located well within the station walls typically found at escalators. If you are catching a bus, make sure you purchase your ticket prior to travelling at available vending machines or newsagents as the bus driver does not sell them.
The central location of Budapest between Eastern and Western Europe has not only influenced the unique cultural and architectural landscape of this city, but this centrality has made it widely accessible. With a rail network that directly serves over 25 European capitals you have no excuse not to include Hungary in your next European adventure.