I had the most magical trip to Hungary last weekend that had me staying out until sunrise, eating goulash and soaking up the Budapest sun. Travelling with my friend Stacey, we stayed in a tiny apartment in the Jewish Quarter surrounded by garden clubs ruin pubs, vintage shops and some of the best city street art I’ve seen.
Our apartment was in the Blaha Lujza tér area, close to the Metro and next to the New York Palace. It had a cute mezzanine bedroom above the lounge area, and a comfy pull-out sofa by the kitchen. As soon as we arrived we headed to the local supermarket – which seems to be Spar, everywhere – to stock up on Hungarian wine, paprika crisps, and crusty bread for the inevitable late-night snacking to follow. Everything is so cheap!
After a long day of travelling, we wandered along to Kazinczy utca where Szimpla Kert is hidden. It’s a bit legendary, being the city’s first ruin pub, and is labyrinthine with hidden rooms at almost every turn. I loved it, but it’s certainly got that touristy vibe and the novelty can wear off quickly.
The city’s other ruin pubs and clubs are just as interesting, if a little less Alice in Wonderland than Szimpla Kert. I felt most chilled out in Koleves Kert where there’s a huge mulberry tree and lots of comfy hammocks. For nightlife, Fogas was my favourite! It had endless dance floors and the best rooftop balcony overlooked by a giant owl. We tried Palinka here and Unicum (because why not) then headed up to the roof where we chatted with people all night long. If you’re drinking here, you can save your cup as a keepsake!
After a night’s rest, we wandered along to Dohany Street Synagogue – The Great Synagogue – which is the biggest synagogue in the world beyond New York City. Estee Lauder donated $5 million to the renovation of the synagogue in the 90s, and the interior is a beautiful dusky pink with enough room to seat 3,000 worshippers.
In the garden, the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial is an incredibly emotive structure engraved with the names of families who were victims of the Nazis in the 1940s. This was not the only poignant monument I saw while in Budapest, as over by the river there are 60 pairs of cast iron shoes abandoned at the water’s edge. ‘Shoes on the Danube’ is a monument to Hungarian Jews who were murdered and thrown into the river in 1944.
Our solemn moods were lifted vastly by what would turn out to be my favourite meal of the trip. Vintage Garden was kitsch and not at all somewhere I would have expected to be my favourite, but the elderflower chicken I had was unbeatable! And despite what so many reviews seem to suggest, the staff were among the friendliest we met. Next door is their takeaway cake shop which is filled with ice-cream, iced biscuits and treats.
Food in Budapest was impressive. M Restaurant serves Hungarian food with a French influence, and one local told us that she and her husband have eaten there over one hundred times. It’s romantic, but it’s also playful – they give you pencils and brown paper to decorate while you wait on your meal. This is where I tried my first chicken goulash with Hungarian noodles.
Another restaurant we loved was Barack & Szilva run by ‘Peach & Pear’, a husband and wife who serve incredible Hungarian food. I had chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and roast peppers, then an apple crepe with a fried apple ring! I could go back and eat it all again right now.
Just to throw some variety into the mix, we left the Jewish Quarter one night to try For Sale Pub – named so because you can leave your personal adverts anywhere you like in the form of a note, postcard, photo, passport…you name it! It’s covered in paper and peanut shells, just as it should be. The menu is a bit whacky though – it is the longest menu I have ever seen – filled with pure Hungarian comfort food.
We also spent our second day visiting Szechenyi Baths which have water temperatures up to 40 degrees Celsius! Thanks to the fault line splitting the Buda Hills from the Great Plain, Budapest has become a massive natural spa with thermal springs pouring out of the ground. It was relaxing, but the changing rooms were stress inducing! There is no logical system to know when someone is in a cubicle or not, because the ancient door lock system is nonsensical. So be prepared to be caught in the nude if you let your guard down…
Then we learned a valuable lesson. You might be forgiven for thinking that a spa party would be amazing, but in hindsight we should have known. I’m 25, and I felt like I had walked into the worst teenage pool party that has every happened. Do not go to Sparty if you want to have a good time, unless you’re 18 or 19 and happy to be manhandled in the grossest water imaginable (there are no queues for the bathrooms, I’ll put it that way). Save yourself the trouble of even going, before you then get ripped off by a taxi as we did once the last train had gone. This was my only regret in Budapest.
Moving on, don’t miss a visit to the castle and the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion. With too little time, we didn’t go inside any of the buildings, but the views from the top and the architecture alone were incredible.
Our last day was spent enjoying the sunshine, a tasty Epic burger, and shopping the markets and vintage boutiques! I recommend the Gozsdu Bazar (Gouba) on Sundays to buy authentic Hungarian crafts as well as fun souvenirs including paprika. I picked up a beautiful table cloth for my flat as well as few other bits and pieces. The Hungarian lady who was selling the table cloths was the sweetest person I met on the trip! She was delighted that we went back to her twice, gave us a big hug and threw in a little doily at the end.
I have so much more I’d like to do in Budapest and the rest of Hungary, it was the most amazing trip, and I can’t wait to go back.