Budapest, a gem of Eastern Europe which is usually not on everyone’s list of places for Euro trip, must be on the top. This city has something to offer to everyone. It is a paradise for photographers, an open exhibition of Renaissance architecture, a hard core party capital with its own flavor of ruin pubs and most important, it’s easy on your wallet. Another great thing about this place is that it is still not swarmed by the waves of tourists like other popular places in Europe, and thus is able to keep a safe distance from over- commercialization.
Understand the Geography
There are mainly two parts: Buda and Pest separated by Danube river. Both parts have their own charm and a list of places to be explored.
Planning for a city is a bit difficult as you are bound by entry timings. There is no point in visiting a church in the evening as it will be closed by then and the best time to visit the bridges in Budapest is in the evening, when lights are on. So, we segregated the places to be visited into two different buckets of day and night. This worked really well to make the best use of our time.
Get amazed by overdose of architecture
Every street of Budapest is an exhibition of great architecture but these two places gives you an overdose: St. Stephen’s Basilica and Opera House. My wife, Anu, had to literally drag me out of there, to prevent me from clicking more pictures.
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
I simply love this place mainly for two reasons; first, they charge just one euro as entry donation and second, they allow you to use a tripod without any issue (such a photographer friendly church :P).
- Opera House
If you are interested in Opera, you can buy a ticket for the show and if you are interested in architecture like me, just buy a guided tour ticket for 12 euros (you can see a 10 minutes performance for extra 5 euros) and you can click pictures of Opera House with no people around (there will be multiple tours in different languages going on, so you just need to be patient for the right time when everyone is leaving).
It was a different experience to dip into a pool with 39-degree temperature, sauna bath at extreme 80 degree and steam baths which literally test your endurance level. The best part is all these services costs you 5000 HUF/person with no time limit.
There are multiple options for a thermal bath in Budapest and we chose Szechenyi bath since it is the largest with a total of 18 indoor and outdoor pools. Another good one is Rudas (it opens late in the night too where Szechenyi closes at 7 pm).
If you are missing Europe’s iconic huge squares then Budapest also has one. Heroes Square, a huge open space marveled by the statues of seven Hungarian chiefs. However, it was different from other European Squares as it was not surrounded by restaurants and it was far from being crowded. It is also a nice walk of around 3km from the center to Heroes Square via Andrassy street but you can take a metro as well.
Being touristy with Segway Tours
This is another thing which we did for the first time in our life, ride a Segway. There are a lot of vendors for Segway tours available across the city but especially at St. Stephen’s Basilica. It cost us 20 euro/person for half an hour where you can choose the route from multiple available options. There are several other options available with different prices and durations.
Hangout at Liberty bridge like locals
You will find a crowd of young people chilling out at the liberty bridge with their full setup of drinks and snacks. I can’t imagine this scene anywhere in India, where two girls are sitting on a roadside with a bottle of wine and nobody bothers.
Walk along the Danube river
An evening walk along the Danube river from Liberty bridge to Margaret Bridge is a must to do. You will get a nice sunset view and also some great hidden spots along the river far from the tourists.
Setup the tripod
No one will appreciate a well-illuminated bridge with a moving traffic other than photographers because we can find one of our favorite subjects, light trails. Budapest has several vantage points for light trail shots. This view of Chain Bridge is my favorite from Pest side.
If you are not interested in architecture or photography, you can visit Budapest for its amazing nightlife. This city has a lot of great pubs, bars and discos which are open whole night. You can find people drinking beer at any time of the day and it goes to that extreme that you have to ask for a food menu explicitly as there is only bar menu available at the table by default.
- Ruin Bars
Budapest has this culture of setting up bars in old abandoned buildings mainly in the Jewish district. These places are the main party hub with good drinks, loud music and great crowd. Szimpla curt is the first ruin bar in Budapest which started this culture. We visited 3 ruin bars in our pub hoping (Szimpla, Instant and Fugas). All places are pretty much same but Szimpla has more lively crowd and great dark beer.
- Street in front of St. Peters Basilica
This street is another hot spot for parties in the center, filled with cafes, pubs and discos with long queues. There are pub crawling tours every night which you can join to meet new people and check out great places in the city (most of them don’t cover Szimpla as it is always very crowded).
There are all popular outlets in Budapest from MacDonalds, Subway to Starbucks and Coasta. But if you want to try authentic Hungarian food, you must try Chicken Paprika and Vegetable Curry with Rice at Lugas Etterem.
You must try popular Gelarto Rosa (just beside St. Stephen’s Basilica) in Budapest.
STAY: We stayed at Boomerang Hostel which is centrally located (5 min walking distance from St. Stephens’s Basilica and right in front of the metro station). There are several options from hostel beds to a private room as per budget with breakfast.
LOCAL TRANSPORT: We mostly traveled on foot and took the metro just for the experience. One local transport ticket will cost you 750 HUF which is valid for 90 minutes and you can use the same ticket for any metro and bus.
BUDGET: We spent 4 nights in Budapest and the whole trip costs us around 500 euros (including stay, food and entry tickets).
If you are already thinking to plan a trip to Budapest or still not convinced, wait for the second article because this is just the half of what Budapest offers you. We will cover the Buda in the next part.