I must confess, the very first day, or rather, night, that we reached Budapest, we were rather paranoid. The street lights cast a dim orange glow onto the streets. Dark shadows seemed to lurk at every corner. It was both our first time in Budapest, and despite our best efforts in researching about Budapest online before we went, reviews and blogs on this country is few and far between. We were not entirely sure what we were facing, and his hand never left mine.
The next day, fortunately, turned out to be a brilliant day, and as we strolled around the streets, we realised that our fears were unfounded. True, it may not have the romantic aura of Prague and the sharp elegance of Vienna, but it more than made up for it in its character. Particularly in the District VII neighborhood (the old Jewish quarter), which is seemingly desolate at a glance. But look closer. Cracked, peeling walls loom in every direction, but more often than not you will catch vibrant, kaleidoscopic paintings covering an entire wall, giving the streets are certain quirkiness lacking in most metropolises. Colourful ceramic mushrooms and flowers are also planted along some streets, revealing Budapest to be a land of creative artists.
RUIN PUBS – THE SOUL OF BUDAPEST
As we explored more of Budapest over the few days, we found that it was an eclectic mix of new and old, filled with gorgeous historical sights and exciting new haunts. The ruin pubs of Budapest are drinking joints unique to Budapest, where decrepit buildings are transformed into offbeat taverns. The bars are mostly found in District VII, which is also known as the party district. With the mish-mash of furniture and decorations, the locals showcase their creativity in transforming a decrepit building or unused open space into a funky new bar. Every bar has its distinct character, and is a visual feast. Some of the pubs are more like nightclubs at night, especially the oldest and most popular, Szimpla Kert.
But by far, my favourite has got to be Gozsdu Udvar, which comprises of seven derelict buildings and courtyards repurposed into a hipster complex housing a staggering variety of restaurants and bars. I don’t usually like crowded places, but there is such real pulsing vigor in Gozsdu Udvar that I felt energized the moment I stepped in. Or perhaps it is the dazzling fairy lights dripping from the middle of the courtyard into the pubs that lent a festival vibe to the place that made me fell for it in instant?
- Address: 1075 Budapest, Király u. 13.
- Getting there: 6 min walk from Deák Ferenc Tér M, 6 min walk from Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Út M, 7 min walk from Károly Körút (Astoria M).
BUDAPEST BEST ATTRACTIONS
Besides ruin bars, Budapest also has plenty to offer. The sights alone are breathtaking, especially in the night, when the attractions are lit up and bathed in gold. The Budapest Parliament is like a golden palace in the dark of the night.
- Address: Kossuth Lajos tér, district V. Pest city centre, tram No. 2, bus No. 15, the nearest metro station is at Kossuth Lajos tér (M2 red line)
- Opening hours : 1 April – 31 Oct: Mon – Sun: 08.00 – 18.00, 1 Nov – 31 March: Mon – Sun: 08.00 – 16.00
But I especially loved the Fisherman’s Bastion, mainly because it looks like a castle out of an RPG game. The view from Fisherman’s Bastion is magnificent as well, with a panoramic view of the Parliament and the entire stretch of Danube river. While some lookout towers may require an entrance fee in the day, we found out entirely by chance that when the ticketing office is closed at night, we were able to enter for free! And the best part is, the entire place is mostly deserted at night, so you can enjoy the gorgeous night views at a languid pace.
- Address: 1-3 Hess Andras Square, Budapest, District I. Castle Hill on the Buda side. Take M2 (red line) metro to Deak Ferenc ter and transfer to bus 16 to the castle, or M2 (red line) metro to Szell Kalman ter and transfer to bus 16 or 16A to the castle.
- Opening hours: All day, everyday.
And Budapest’s largest church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, is vastly different from other churches I have been. The opulent gold gliding on the ceilings and walls made it seem more like a palace than a church, as if the entire city’s riches are carved into the sacred relic.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Location: Szt. István tér 1, Bp., 1051, district V. Nearest station is Arany János utca station (M3 blue line)
- Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 09.00 – 17.00, Sat: 09.00 – 13.00, Sun: 13.00 – 17.00 Note: religious ceremonies might alter the general opening hours.
- Admission: free but it’s customary to pay 200 HUF – 1 EUR donation.
RELAXATION IN A THERMAL BATH
And the best part of Budapest has got to be its thermal baths. It was great that Budapest was our final destination before we headed home, for after almost two weeks of exploring mostly on foot, our bodies were in need of relaxing in a hot spring. And Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of the biggest natural hot spring spa in Europe. We practically lazed for half a day in the outdoor thermal bath, baking in the sun, for it was just too comfortable to leave. We also tried the indoor bath, but concluded the outdoor bath was far more superior in both its temperature and scenery.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
- Address: 9-11 Allatkerti korut Street, District XIV. The nearest station is Széchenyi Fürdő (M1 Yellow Line)
- Opening hours: 06.00 – 22.00, all week, all seasons. Shorter hours on public holidays.
- Price: Refer to the official webpage for the full list.
SHOPPING FOR SOUVENIRS
Before you leave Budapest, it is imperative that you head to the Central Market Hall, Budapest’s largest and oldest indoor market, to take a look at the enchanting souvenirs they have to offer. While Central Market Hall may also have many street food stalls, I was mesmerized by their beautifully handcrafted traditional items. Such skilled craftsmanship.
Central Market Hall