A few months ago, a friend of mine was unexpectedly landed with a spare ticket to Budapest and I joked that I could join her on her romantic break to Europe instead.
The joke eventually turned into reality, although unsurprisingly, Ryanair doesn’t let you transfer a flight ticket into someone else’s name without a hefty fee. In fact, the fee was even more than booking a NEW flight, and although we discussed dressing up as her ex and acquiring his passport for the flight, I had to shell out for a new one instead. Now there’s a good first impression, well done Ryanair! ;)
Cut to December, and we’re off to Stansted airport at silly o’clock. I’d never been to Stansted before, nor had I flown with the aviation great known as Ryanair. I hadn’t been to Budapest either, so this was a trip full of new experiences!
I can’t say I’m bothered about ever going to Stansted again, or flying Ryanair. But I absolutely LOVED Budapest.
Within a day, it sky-rocketed to being one of my favourite European cities – up there with Rome and Prague. Although I was actually underwhelmed by Chain Bridge and Buda Castle, the Parliament building and the Szechenyi baths MORE than made up for them.
And the interesting bars certainly helped, too!
I had read about the Szimpla ruin bar before we went, and when we found it was right across from our apartment, I was very keen to find out what the hype was all about. Scruffy on the outside and on the inside, it has an unbeatable atmosphere and lots of little rooms and bars to choose from. I totally recommend it!
Our first hour in Budapest was spent in a super cute café on our street (which we discovered later is owned by the same people as the ruin bar) while we waited to be able to check in; our first evening exploring the city centre and Christmas markets on the Pest side.
We also decided to splurge on a superb night-time cruise down the Danube river. Cost: just £12 each – with drinks and views like this:
Our second day was spent on a hop on/hop off bus tour, which is something I rarely do, but I think it’s a perfect way to see everything in a city like this, where although a lot of it is walkable, many of the main attractions are spread out. We spent most of the tour on the Buda side of the city – I absolutely adored the castle district with St. Matthias church and its fairy tale-like borders of the Fishermen’s Bastion.
We also went to the impressive Central Market, perfect for locals and tourists alike with groceries downstairs and souvenir shops and beautiful craft stalls upstairs. We stocked up on a few goodies to cook a meal back in our apartment.
Across the road from here is a “foodie” street packed with restaurants – and the famed but very touristy Ice Bar. It’s not cheap for Budapest so we didn’t bother buying alcohol, but we went in for the experience! It’s one of those silly things you kind of have to do. [update: not so much any more now that they’re EVERYWHERE!]
I am classy.
Afterwards, we found a buffet place that looked great called Trofea Grill. (we went to this one, but there are two others and one has even better reviews) We walked in to find it was packed with suited and booted people getting ready to leave; assuming it was a private function, we carried on down the road, but nothing quite tickled our fancy, so by chance we walked back – to find it closed, the crowds gone. Quickly, people began to join us, but none of us were really sure what was going on. I chatted to one group who had a reservation for 9pm. It must be opening again then.
More crowds gathered; clearly this was a popular place. When it eventually opened, we piled in and were told that without a reservation, we probably wouldn’t be able to eat here. We had just waited half an hour to be told THAT! The manager told us that as there were only two of us (sadly one of the lovely groups we got chatting to was instantly turned away), we could wait and see if anyone doesn’t turn up.
Amazingly, some people didn’t. We got seats!! And boy, could we see why this was such a busy place. The food was DELICIOUS. The atmosphere was great, the staff friendly and quick. At 7,500HUF each, it wasn’t cheap – especially by Budapest standards – but all food and drink was included for the next 3 hours, and we ended up with a whole bottle of champagne on our table. We ate Hungarian dishes, we ate grilled steaks, I tried shark, we had delicious salads and goulash soup and traditional cakes. It was SO GOOD.
For our third day, it was time for something a little different.
We went caving underneath the city.
This was a great little find and our tour guide was fantastic. After a walk around the ever stunning Parliament building, we caught a bus out to the caves with the rest of the group and soon found ourselves climbing down a 10 metre ladder… followed by this:
It looks tough – and it was in places – but no one on the tour had ever been caving before and our guide was brilliant at helping us through the parts we struggled with. I 100% recommend the tour as something different to do here!
If we had time, we would have gone to the bath spas to soak off our muscles, but unfortunately opening hours are limited during the winter. Instead, we cooked a meal with some meat, cheese & pasta that we had bought at the market hall, before going out to Szimpla ruin bar for some more drinks & cocktails.
We finally made it to Szechenyi baths on our last day, and it was totally worth it! It’s not the cheapest thing you can do in Budapest – and so what? (we paid just under 5,000HUF each, but we shared a “cabin” – which is just a little changing room cubicle that you can keep your belongings in)
In the evening, we went for a great meal on the restaurant street (Vaci ucta) – drawn in by the pretty pink fairy lights adorning the family-run café restaurant called Cafe Europa, the girl advertising the place was super friendly. It was also the cheapest place we’d seen on the street, yet the food was great and the service was perfect. If there’s one thing I can say about Budapest, it’s that the people are wonderfully welcoming.
The highlight, though, was my friend’s dessert! It was basically a pancake with 62% rum poured on and set fire to!
I honestly adored Budapest. The buildings are stunning, the people are friendly and the atmosphere is laid back. The ruin bars make the nightlife totally unique, and it’s probably the most photogenic city I’ve visited.
I already have my heart set on going back! Are there any cities you’d love to return to?