Budapest, Budapest, you’re wonderful!
Goes a line from a traditional operetta. Indeed, the capital of Hungary is a gem with amazing culture and impressive architecture, a vibrant night life and one of the best value for money in Europe food- and alcohol-wise. The city, which is located in the heart of Central Europe, is easily approachable by both low-budget airlines or via train. Most of the tourists are stopping by here while taking a Vienna-Budapest-Prague round trip.
Since I was lucky enough to grow up here, I cannot promise to stay unbiased while listing my recommendations. I love my city, and so do other people too.
In the followings, you can read about the best things to do in the home of ruin pubs, exit games and large medicinal baths.
Sightseeing – in a non-traditional way
You can find a comprehensive list of the sights here but instead of simply ticking off them of the bucket list or hopping on a sightseeing bus, you can truly emerge yourself into the soul of the city and look beyond the obvious places while taking a walking tour. These urban walking projects are attended by both tourists and locals and show the hidden face of the capital such as the Palace quarter in the delightfully shabby 8th district or the secret sights of the downtown. You can also take a day to relax and visit one of the splendid baths in the city.
To eat & drink in the city
While Hungary is mostly famous for the Goulash and the fisherman’s soups, I recommend you try these three specialties:
- lángos (fried dough), goes great with sour cream, cheese and a bit of garlic;
- Túró Rudi (chocolate bar with cottage cheese filling), which is the favourite snack of both children and adults;
- and the pörkölt (meat stew) which is the highlight of every proper Sunday lunch.
The essential ingredients of the Hungarian gastronomy are also part of the “Hungaricums”, the nationally acknowledged list of very Hungarian things.
A note to vegetarians: while most Hungarian dishes are filled with meat, there are great pastries and desserts suitable for you. too You can try kürtőskalács (chimney cake), pogácsa (biscuits similar to scone), szilvás gombóc (plum dumplings) or somlói galuska (sponge cake with walnut and chocolate).
As for drinking,
the national Lager beer brands are fairly good (e.g., Dreher or Soproni) and craft beers are becoming more and more popular as well. However, Hungary is rather a heaven for wine-lovers, with plenty of wine regions spreading across the country. If you’re into dessert wines, you cannot go wrong with the Tokaji but there are also quality red and rosé regions around, e.g. family wineries around Szekszárd and Villány. On a pub night in Budapest, most of the locals consume fröccs (“spritzer”), which is a mixture of wine and soda. You can find a lexicon of the ratios here. The traditional hard liqueur is called pálinka, which is a fruit brandy mostly brewed at home by Hungarian men (but feel free to experiment with the Hírös and the Rézangyal brands). It’s a traditional welcome drink which heats you up enough from the inside to bear through the cold mornings or nights. If you are not a big fan of alcohol, you can go to this cozy café to try gourmet hot chocolates created with both simple and exotic flavours and enjoy an enterieur evoking a Hungarian children’s room from the last century, stuffed with toys and teddy bears. You could also visit this bistro and order the best lemonade in town.
The Budapest nightlife experience
The “Budapest SoHo” is located in the Kazinczy street – Gozsdu Garden area, in the old Jewish quarter of the seventh district. The quarter giving home to more than a hundred pubs, bars and clubs, it is ensured that everyone can find a suitable place for any kind of budget, mood or music genre. The most popular places to visit are the
ruin pubs, the Szimpla Kert being somewhat of a Mecca of visitors in Hungary. (You can also start the evening by filling your stomach with their good and cheap homemade food.) Ruin pubs demonstrate the eclectic chic of the city, wore-down places are upcycled with non-matching pieces of furniture, lots of colourful lights and a vibrant decoration (Ellátó Kert and Fogasház are great examples of this). Some of them even entails exit games, which are now widely popular live-action games in which a team of 3-6 members solves puzzles and riddles to open locks and ultimately find the key to escape the door before it’s too late. You can tackle a rebus according to your taste, from Sherlock Holmes through Jack the Ripper to Da Vinci’s secret, anything is possible.
If you’d like to catch a nice gig,
visit the A38, which is an actual ship floating on the Danube, serving as a venue for hosting bands from all over the world. On any day, you can just hit up a cultural magazine to get good tips for what to do in the city. One thing is certain though: in August, one island in the heart of the city transforms into an island of freedom, featuring thousands of events and attracting more hundred thousand people over here. If nothing else, experiencing the cultural diversity offered by the Sziget is a good-enough reason for travelers to come around and experience the city by themselves. The beginning of the summer is also a good time to visit, streets are not so overcrowded by tourists yet but terraces, flowers and the heart of people are open already.