Last December, in a sudden rush of wanderlust, I was sat cross-legged on the bed flicking through a flight comparison website in search of cheap tickets to somewhere exciting and new. It took all of 45 minutes to decide on Budapest as the outright favourite and after hurried text messages to friends who had been before, the trip was booked as a little celebration for finishing my first training placement.
I knew I wanted to go somewhere cold. We just haven’t had the super still, frosty mornings crunching through the frozen leaves of grass that I look forward to so much in winter. Those mornings where getting out of a perfectly warm bed is just not an option. Those mornings where you get dressed under the covers. There was that quest for a ‘proper’ winter, sure, but I also have a confession. I had recently acquired a new vintage fur coat and was desperate to wear it legitimately without nearly passing out from overheating in London. Believe me, I had tried. #dontjudge
We set off at 5am on a Saturday and came back on the Tuesday. This was plenty time enough to explore the city, although we did miss a couple of things, so 5 days would provide you with tons to do (and eat, just wait for the food section). In the style of my post this time last year on Warsaw, here’s why you should book Budapest for your next trip away.
The very first thing I noticed was how organised everything is. As soon as we left the airport we were told of 3 or 4 different ways and means of getting to the city centre. The taxi rank is clearly signed and you book your taxi at a little stand (far more legitimate and safer than my experience of Warsaw, which involved inconvenient English manners, dodgy taxi companies and run in with the police…) and off you hop in your car. The airport is about 20 minutes away by taxi, or the public transport takes 50 minutes, although a lot cheaper.
After we’d met our Airbnb host (the lovely Akos) and heard his restaurant recommendations, we strapped on a good pair of boots and headed out into the city. First impressions here? Where are all the people?! Is this even a capital city?! Now, I don’t know whether this was because we wandered along back roads on our first night, but it was a Saturday at 6pm and Norwich has been more rowdy on a Sunday afternoon. Eerily quiet but strangely peaceful!
The art deco architecture is absolutely beautiful and everywhere. Seriously, Paris eat your heart out. The street lights to the beautifully curbed and framed windows are fluid and organic looking, like they’ve sprung up from the earth underneath them. My favourite spot was the balcony curving around a first story apartment that looked like tulips and long grass bending under the weight of a heavy spring rain.
I pretty much didn’t stop eating the whole time we were in Budapest. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the food is so good. Like, seriously good. Secondly, the food is cheap. Think £32 for two drinks each and a three course meal, all of which is heavenly to taste. Yes please!
We had some great recommendations from a foodie friend of ours, who directed us towards Mazel Tov in the Jewish Quarter, Kiosk in Belvaros, fish restaurants at the bottom of the Buda hills and the lashings of goulash eaten for lunch every day. The kebab meats, flat bread and aubergine dip in Mazel Tov were just heavenly. Better, dare I say it, then the famous falafel in Paris last summer! The traditional Hungarian restaurants recommended by our apartment host were like nothing I’ve tried over here in the UK. I can’t explain how, or why, but I ate ‘fish crackling’ that genuinely tasted like pork belly. Fish is huge over in Budapest, so make the most of weird sounding fish dishes as I promise they’ll be good! Trout and perch are particularly great.
If you don’t fancy a big, sit down meal, there’s tons of what I would call ‘street food’, but the Hungarians would call ‘getting a basic lunch you can eat on the go without sounding like a pretentious arsehole’. Think huge sausages, sour cabbage, potato dumplings (a bit like gnocci), roasted rainbow vegetables, stuffed chicken breast, cups of goulash or fish soup, bready calzone with meat and cheese – I could go on! Also, the kurtoskalacs which is a sweet pastry cooked on a spindle and rotated in front of a grill. They have these stands all over and the price of one is around 70p-£1. Delicious!
What Surprised Me
I had done quite a bit of research before we headed out to Budapest, including checking the weather every few hours. 0 degrees, 3 degrees – result! The temperature when we arrived? Bloomin’ 12 degrees! What is this madness?! It wasn’t any colder than England for sure, but it felt different. The cold was drier, stickier than the gusty cold of London. You can see it in the air. The pale, cool blues and pinks that streak the sky at twilight reflect off the Danube beautifully. Here was my proper winter.
There are so many thermal baths. It quickly became evident that there was good reason for Budapest being named Europe’s Spa City. Some have a rich and ridiculously long history – right back to the 16th Century – and if you’re a history nerd, the Ottoman influence in the Gellertspa will make your toes tingle in delight.
The biggest surprise? Budapest is made up of two places; Buda and Pest. Mind. Blown. I may be an idiot, but this fact completely escaped me. Do you know what else? Pest is actually pronounced ‘pesht’, which makes me feel even more of a numpty for buying a magnet that says ‘Pest is Best’. Sigh.
// Do a bit of research on places to eat before you go. There are tons of restaurants and it can feel a bit overwhelming at times, especially if your English sensibilities escape you and you pick an expensive ‘tourist restaurant’ for ease of the English menu. Get some recommendations from the locals about where they like to eat.
// Take sturdy shoes. I know I sound like your Mum, but you’ll want to walk around the city as much as possible and there are big hills on the Buda side of the city. I had to get mine re-heeled at the cobbler on my return. #worthit
// Get your money exchanged at the many change counters in the city. The exchange rate is so much better. Definitely don’t get money changed at the airport, as that’s the worst of the bunch. Also, some places will accept euros, although don’t count on it.
There we have it! My whistle-stop summary of Budapest! I took literally hundreds of photos, so I’ll be doing a few more travel posts to share them with you all. I’ll also retell ‘the story of the nuclear bunker’, ‘the story of Dracula’s labyrinth’ and ‘the story of nearly getting stopped from travelling home because we brought a soviet helmet back in our hand luggage’. Such fun.
If you fancy catching up with my other travel posts, both abroad and in the UK, click through here.
Do you like the sound of Budapest? If you’ve been before, what surprised you about the place?
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