The Best of Budapest
Budapest is breath-taking, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s stunningly, opulently beautiful – beautiful on the scale that Paris and Rome are beautiful. And as gorgeous as this jaw-dropper of a city is, it’s actually incredibly affordable too – you can easily pan a budget break here, or enjoy a little luxury without crippling yourself. Budapest is big too, with a huge amount to see and do. In three full days we totally exhausted ourselves seeing as much as possible – and still I could easily return and spend another three full days exhausting myself all over again, exploring an entirely new bunch of attractions. Budapest is a fascinating, wonderful city – here are some of the best things to do there.
Head for the Hills
The tall hills that flank the Danube on its western side provide more than one exceptional viewpoint, and each one is worth visiting. If the weather is fine, the short walk up to the Citadel is pure pleasure, with plenty of little viewing platforms along the way where you can take in the exceptional panoramas of the city.
Fishermans’ Bastion is probably my favourite viewpoint in the city though, and for a few reasons. The first is that to get there, you can use the Castle Hill Funicular. The funicular is a charming old thing that will take you from the bottom of the hill, right by the Chain bridge, up to the Castle. It costs just under €6 for your return trip. It’s a pleasure to see Budapest unfold before you as your carriage ascends, but nothing can compare to the views you get from the Bastion, just a few minute’s walk from the funicular’s hilltop station.
The second serious selling point is the Bastion itself, which is the stuff of fairy tales. Built in the late 1800s as a celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian State, it was never meant to be anything but a purely beautiful piece of neo-romanesque architecture and a perfect vantage point from which to view the city. It’s served its purpose admirably. If you can get here to watch the sun rise I highly recommended doing so – but at any time of day, you’ll be humbled by the vistas it offers, and by Budapest’s grandeur.
Go Deeper Underground
From the heights of the hills to the bowels of Budapest, an adventure caving experience is an incredible way to explore a whole other side of Budapest. Just 15 minutes outside the city centre, Caving.hu offer both cave-walks in open show and more extreme adventure caving experiences. We braved the latter, and spent some three hours deep underground in caves carved by Budapest’s famous thermal waters.
It’s not for unfit or claustrophobic people. You’ll do a lot of crawling and climbing, there will be at lest one wedgie involved, and you’ll be underground for an extended period of time. The guides are insanely experienced cavers though, and they know the route like the back of their hands, so even if you do have some (justifiable) nerves down there, they’ll out you right at ease so that you can enjoy this incredible experience.
Get Yourself In Hot Water
If you do go caving, there is quite honestly no better thing to do straight afterwards than to hit up one of Budapest’s beautiful baths. If you don’t go caving, there’s still nothing better than to hit up one of Budapest’s beautiful spa baths.
We went to Rudas baths, a 450 year old spa that was built in the Turkish era but has been thoroughly modernised and now contains a large swimming pool, an outdoor (thermal) rooftop pool, and six old thermal pools in the beautiful old part of the baths, as well as multiple more pools, steam rooms, saunas, salt rooms and therapeutic massage and wellness services. There’s a cafe, a bar and a restaurant too so you can easily set up camp there for the day and relax like you’ve never relaxed before…
Eat Like Royalty
Earlier I said that you can enjoy a little luxury without breaking the bank in Budapest. I recommend enjoying it at Costes Downtown, the Michelin starred sibling restaurant to the city’s famed Costes restaurant. I can’t stress this enough – if you are a foodie in Budapest, it is imperative that you make a pilgrimage to one of these restaurants.
Costes Downton is the slightly less formal of the two restaurants, but don’t get it twisted – it takes food every bit as seriously as its older sibling. This is pure gastronomic artistry; course after course of dishes almost too beautiful to eat… but then so delicious that their prettiness becomes completely secondary. Each and every ingredient, every element of every plate has a purpose, and the combination of flavours and textures is genuinely sublime. Yeah, I’m still dreaming about that meal.
Take a River Cruise
The Danube defines Budapest as much as the land on either side of it, and a river cruise is the perfect way to experience it. You’ll see the city’s grandeur from a totally new vantage point, and if you choose the ‘dinner and a show’ option, you’ll be mightily entertained while you do. Silverline does a three-hour cruise with dinner and a show (either a piano performance or a traditional dance and operetta performance). You get a glass of bubbly on arrival, a four course meal, and some absolutely incredible views of Budapest’s beautiful architecture, illuminated against the night sky. It’s a pretty interactive and fun experience, and – personal experience has taught me – if you have enough wine in you, you might even find yourself on your feet, getting thoroughly involved in some traditional Hungarian folk dancing.
Lay Your Head Somewhere Lovely
As with its restaurants, Budapest’s hotels offer city-breakers top quality accommodations for really reasonable prices. We stayed in the lovely Hotel Palazzo Zichy, in Budapest’s Palace Quarter. It’s a stylish place with beautiful rooms, comfortable beds, a fitness room and Sauna, a genuinely gorgeous breakfast buffet (grilled Mediterranean vegetables and everything), and a lounge where you can avail of free coffees and mineral water during the day.
With hotels, it’s the little details that make a difference, and the Palazzo Zichy has those details beautifully nailed down.
Get Your Game On
You don’t have to be a die-hard gamer to appreciate the collection of pinball machines and classic arcade games exhibited at Budapest’s Flippermuzeum – but of course it helps! Still, those with even just a passing interest in pinball and gaming can’t help but be sucked into this underground lair of flashing lights and entertainment. From old school vintage pinball games to some of the most famous machines and games ever made, this museum has them all there for you to admire – ad most importantly, to play! It costs under a tenner to enter the museum, with free play on all the machines thereafter. Funnest. Museum. Ever.
Budapest is known for its ruin pubs, which popped up in abandoned buildings throughout the city’s Jewish quarter over the past decade and have become a mainstay of Budapest’s famously lively nightlife. We went for a drink in one of the best known of these, Szimpla Kert. Szimpla is the original Ruin Pub in Budapest, a former stove factory that was turned into one of the city’s most iconic watering holes. It’s more than just a place to drink, and remains closely tied to the local community – it even hosts one of the city’s best farmer’s markets. It’s worth visiting for the cheap booze alone, but really, what’ll keep you there is the slightly insane decor and the totally relaxed atmosphere. It’s touristy, but it’s fun and it’s colourful too, and you’ll enjoy yourself if you go.