I had been to Budapest just once before in November. It was one of my last weekends before heading back to the states, I was tired, maybe on the verge of a mental break, and not nearly as stoked on the city as I am now.
I don’t know why the city blew me away this time and not the previous time. Maybe it was the gorgeous 70 degree weather, or simply just a change in my attitude. Regardless, I left Budapest reluctantly and wishing I could extend my time there. Eastern Europe is weird. The people are weird, the language is strange, and social norms in general are just different. But it’s so cool. It has not been free from Communist rule for very long (1989), and is incredibly rich in history.
Even their nightlife is historical. Budapest is known for it’s ruin pubs. After the fall of the commuist regime, buildings all around the city were left abandoned, and presumed useless – until people decided they could actually be useful. Abstaining from any renovation, ruined buildings obtained new ownership, and were transformed into bars and clubs. These bars are seriously the coolest places I’ve ever had the privilege of getting a drink. The oldest and most well known, Szimpla Kert, is probably the strangest place you’ll ever go for a social outing. I can only describe it as a cross between Alice in Wonderland and your grandmother’s yard sale in the 70’s. Nothing feels “finished” and it’s not supposed to. Upon walking in, you’ll spot a room to your left exclusively for hookah. Among the places you can sit in this room, are a halved bathtub, and a rabit fixture from an old carnival ride. They also sell carrots fo 300 HUF, should you be interested. Walk on a bit further and you’ll enter an open air courtyard of sorts, with a couple more bars, and rooms branching off to the sides. Bikes are fixed on to the walls, and there’s a gymnastics vault in the corner where people are resting their drinks. There are no limits to this place and anything/everything is fair game for decor. It’s something that can only really be understood by going there – and even then, you may still be confused. Other popular ruin pubs include: Fogazhas, Ellato Kert, Instant and Kuplung. If you’re in the city for a visit, these are not to be missed.
Now that we’ve covered drinks, let’s talk about food. I was so pleasantly surprised by this cuisine here. Not only can you find any type of food you want (not so in my current home in Florence, Italy), but there are awesome Hungarian delicacies you must try as well. Of the most popular Hungarian food is probably the Langos. The Langos is essentially fried dough and can be served both sweet and savory. If you go the sweet route, keep it simple and try caramel and powdered sugar – to.die. A typical savory langos can have anything from sour cream and cheese, to sour cream, cheese, chicken, ham, and every veggie you could ever think of. I would recommend heading to the famous Great Market Hall – a shopping center for food and souvenirs alike – and trying langos there. If you’re not into the fried dough, try a Hungarian burger and know that from that point on, you will never be satisfied with any other burger in your life. There is a price for good food, you know.
Of course, there are other things you should do while in Budapest that do not include eating and drinking… like heading to the spa. Budapest is known for it’s natural thermal baths, which were a tradition actually started by the Turks. There are several in the city but consider checking out the famous Szcheneyi baths. There are varying baths of different temperature degrees, both inside and outside, that are available to relax in. Although it is touristy, having a membership at the baths is actually part of Hungarians’ lifestyle. They believe the minerals in the water are critical for maintaining good health. At the baths, there is also opportunity to schedule manicures, pedicures, and massages upon your arrival. A trip to Budapest isn’t complete without a trip here.
Don’t discount this city since it’s not a typical tourist hotspot (that’s actually what I like most about it – no mass groups of Asian toursist – imagine all the open space!). It’s sort of a once-in-a-lifetime type place. Plan a trip and be ready to get weird!