I will say this over and over and over, to the point where all my posts can and will intertwine with the same message; Budapest is by far the most underrated city in Europe, maybe even the world. I say this because I was guilty of skipping this city time and time again to travel to the hugely popular and sometimes overrated cities of Europe. I would tell myself ‘I’ll go next time’ or ‘I don’t have time’ or the best, ‘I don’t think I’m missing much.’ I’m shaking my head as I’m writing this, thinking back to last month when I was there, realising that Budapest is what has been missing from my life this entire time.
The old city is full of beauty, history, culture, architecture, and people worth visiting and knowing. It looks damaged and beautiful at the same time. It’s vulnerable and strong with crumbling buildings, yet strong architecture in all parts of the city. It’s a constant yin-and-yang feeling here. I found myself in awe of every single aspect of life in the city; proud locals sitting next to a Starbucks, happy tourists indulging in the history of the Parliament building, both mixing old with new. And that’s exactly how this city feels. It feels like an old friend with a new story.
It doesn’t matter how long you have in Budapest, the point is that you made it. You made it to a place that has been left a secret for the last 50 years. But now the secret is out and it’s a mad dash to the finish line. You have to get there before everyone else does, before it turns into a Disney World. If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Budapest yet, I highly suggest you do. Go for two days, two months, or two years. Regardless your timeline, add these places to your must-go list. They offer up everything the city is great at doing.
Budapest is known for its thermal baths. These healing pools are spread out, both in the Buda and Pest sides of the city. Many date back to the 16th and 17th centuries, and the incredible buildings can attest to that. The biggest and most visited is the Szechenyi Baths, located in City Park. This massive layout has 18 pools, a bar, and actually turns into a pool party on Saturday nights with DJs, tourists, and lots of flashy lights. For a more local feel, try out the Kiraly, Lukacs, or Rudas Baths for a nice soak in some of the oldest Turkish baths in the country.
With the common theme as baths, ruin bars have popped up around the city in the last decade or so. They first started out as an underground bar scene, until they became so popular, everyone was trying to find these so-called ‘ruin bars.’ Ruin bars can be found in the old Jewish quarter in abandoned buildings, alleys, and lots. The neighborhood was left in ruins during World War II, leaving this part of the city a great place to renovate. These bars have very simple concepts with an incredible turnout. They set up in an abandoned spot, fill it with flea market furnishings and get local artists to paint or draw on the walls. The finished product look like it belongs in a Tim Burton movie, but nonetheless, they are very impressive.
The draw to these bars is it’s temporary locations. The people who put up these bars do not have technical rights to the land, therefore can be kicked out at any time. It puts a fun twist to the bar scene and as a visitor, you never know if the bar will still actually be there, but you may also find one elsewhere by stumbling upon it. The biggest and oldest is Szimpla Kert, a mecca of art, weird furnishings, themed rooms, and lots and lots of visitors. Others in the area are Corvinteto, which is housed on top of a department store, Kuplung, and Fogashaz. It doesn’t matter which one you go to, they are all incredible and you will never find a more happening nightlife than at one of these ruin bars.
Budapest spoils visitors and locals alike with it’s insanely-detailed architecture, and their landmarks are great representatives of the best in the city. Walking anywhere on both sides of the Danube River will provide examples of the wonderful art and architecture of this historic location. The Parliament Building is located on the Pest side of the city right on the river. This massive building is the most intricate of all. With its sprawling layout, it can be argued as the best and most popular building in the entire country. Impressive by day, undeniably beautiful at night. Make sure you set up your camera with full battery for a full round of photos when the sun goes down. The city at night may be what you’ve been waiting for all your life.
Another must is the Fisherman’s Bastion. This area in located in the Buda side, at the top of Castle Hill and can be seen from many parts of the city. It gets its name from the fisherman that were responsible for defending the city walls back in the Middle Ages. The view can’t be beat, but there’s more to this spot than steps, viewpoints, and a beautiful landmark. Up the multiple sets of stairs is the Matthias Church and a section of Budapest that is quaint, adorable, and has the feel of a village movie set. The church is beautiful, with a large square to its side, usually filled with tourists and singers or performers, eating traditional Hungarian pastries and taking photos. Walking the cobblestone streets leads you to another must, the Buda Castle.
The Buda Castle lit up at night might make you cry. It’s just that beautiful. The castle was built way back in the 1200’s, to house the King of Budapest. Over the years it became the home of many Kings, none ruling today, but the architecture and stance of the castle still stands. It’s a fantastic view of all of Budapest. It also is a museum, and you can try your hand at medieval axe-throwing, bow-and-arrow shooting, and other activities for a small fee. History buffs will be in heaven here, as the museum provides great material on the Nazi takeover in World War II and the beginnings of the city all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. If you don’t want to learn about the history of the building, don’t worry. You will be transfixed on all of the beauty that is this castle and its surroundings. It is so breathtaking.
I could write an entire book on this city and I only spent four days exploring it. My point is that this place should not be overlooked, even for one minute. It has surprises around every corner. Good surprises that make you want to stay for a while, maybe even for forever. I can finally say I’ve been to Budapest, but even more, I can say I can’t wait to go back.