It started with a wink.
As Max & I weaved through the cobbled streets in a yellow taxi, Budapest was unashamedly flirting with me. 30 degrees heat, beautiful architecture, it’s sprawling craft beer bars & an interesting history just waiting for me to unpick.
It was clear from the off that this was gonna be a magical few days.
Before I stepped off that plane, I had no idea about the city I was about to fall head over heels in love with. In fact, we’d done next to no research on the place.
We booked it because y’know, it features in that song and appaz it’s pretty trendy. We were close to spending another long weekend in Barcelona, but boy am I glad Max put his foot down.
‘Lets do something different‘ he said.
‘Alright, but there better be sun‘ I said.
It was kinda unlike anywhere I’d ever been. It’s comparable to Rome in a sense, with it’s crumbling but oh so grand buildings that surprised me without fail every god dam time we turned the corner.
It had so many things going for it. Here’s just a wee few:
- Everything was unashamedly old and rundown, and yet oozed Russian grandeur of another time.
- Hungarians are the biggest fan of dogs.
- I have never felt so safe in a city before. Every Hungarian bent over backwards to make us feel welcome and comfortable.
- It was hot. Top points.
- It was cheap as chips. Especially the beer.
It’s the best holiday I’ve ever had for less than £200. Yup, flights and a 4* hotel. It was such a steal.
I’m sitting in my PJs back in the UK with the most sunburnt forehead I’ve ever seen. Doh.
I miss my love (Budapest, obvs. Max is sitting beside me chomping on toast).
So anywho, if you happen to bump into my city break lover before I do, here’s some top tips and recommendations.
GET ON YER BIKE
I would give this recommendation for any city.
I have this thing when I arrive in a city for the first time where I’m all like ‘GAHH so much to see and do, where to start, fear of missing out on things blah blah blah.’
So we always, without fail, opt for a city bike tour. The best way to see any city by far.
Forget sweaty open top busses, forget walking for miles with a map in yer face and forget Segway tours (because that’s for losers).
Find yourself a bike tour guide and zoom around the city, wind in your face, sun on your face and kick back; let the tour guide navigate you around the twisty turny streets and visit all the tourist spots in one fell swoop.
For anyone who’s frantically booking flights as we speak, we used Best Bike Tours Budapest. They were ace.
In fact, we were the only ones on the tour (everyone else opted for the 10.30am slot, us lazy sloths opted for the 2.30pm slot) which meant we had a private tour with Andy, a local.
It was the best 6000 Forints I’ve ever spend (about £15 to you and me).
We visited all the top tourist spots: Buda Castle, Chain Bridge, Parliament, St Stephans Basilica, Margaret Island, House of Opera, Heroes Square, House of Terror.
But the best thing our tour guide Andy provided us with was a whole host of recommendations to do whilst we were there. Restaurants to eat in, bars to check out, things to avoid.
Oh and we did all that whilst I caught a suntan and burnt off the calories from a stack of pancakes we’d scoffed that morning. Yolo.
If you go to Budapest, get a bike. We then hired bikes for the rest of the time we were there ’cause walking’s for chumps.
EAT LIKE A KING
City breaks are allllll about the eating. It’s like walk, eat, walk, eat.
I’m two stone heavier right now and I have no regrets. Here’s some places we checked out that I can highly recommend:
Robinson Kitchen – It’s set over and upon the lake next to Heroes Square. Stunning setting and stunning food to match. The priciest place we ate all holiday, but probably without doubt the best grub.
Service was a bit patchy but I could so forgive that because omg prawn risotto to die for. If you’re looking for a special romantic place to dine on a summer evening, this is the one.
Szimply Food – Standard city break scenario; I was busting for a pee, Max was dragging me round streets trying to find somewhere suitable for us to stop (I’m a food snob, no shame).
We darted down a beaten up street that I turned my nose up to in the first instance. And then we found this gem. A tiny, perfectly formed eatery. Home cooked lunches. Gluten free & vegan options.
I had the Camembert & asparagus frittata. Max has homemade quiche. We both shared strawberry pancakes. And we left with some great recommendations from the local owners.
Tuning Bar & Burger – Craft beer and gourmet burger delights. For the afternoon where it started to thunderstorm and all we craved was monstrous food and beer.
I’ve heard there’s lots of burger and beer eaterys in Budapest, and this was just one of them. But I couldn’t fault the burger which was handmade in front of me in an open kitchen. Nom.
A 2 hour nap ensued before late night drinks, obvs.
Kiosk – Set just beside the Elisabeth bridge, this is a place to head when you need a break from the sightseeing and the sun is shining.
Outside bar, bean bags, deck chairs, acoustic covers. It’s a the perfect spot for relaxation. They serve great snack food and gluten free/lactose free ice cream. Which by the way was flippin’ delicious. Like gimme a bucket full.
Set just behind is its adjoining restaurant which we visited on the last day. Served great food too. Top ceased salad there.
STAY SOMEWHERE SPECIAL FOR PEANUTS
We spent a lotta time searching for the perfect hotel, and we almost settled for something less than we usually would.
And then we came across the Continental Hotel Zara, a listed building steeped in history and renovated in 2010 to open as a grand hotel. The original site dates back to 1820. It was a Hungarian bathing house, which you can see from the architecture in the lobby.
The staff were impeccable. We were so very well looked after. It’s located in downtown Budapest, a stone throw from the best street for bars in the city.
The roof top pool and terrace area was a dream. The perfect early morning sun spot and late afternoon relaxation point.
Even better, we found a flippin’ ace deal on Booking.com and it cost us around £150 for 3 nights. Mental.
The one thing the Turkish left behind in Budapest was their love of communal bathing in extravagantly adorned buildings.
Now don’t get me wrong. The actual bathing wasn’t the be all and end all. To be fair I could have happily given it a skip, but I felt it was important to go check out this tradition.
And boy am I glad we didn’t sack it off. The architecture alone was worth the visit.
We opted to visit Gellert Baths, based in the Gellert Hotel. I could have sat in the lobby for an hour just admiring the place.
The bathing experience was strange. Sitting in giant old pools with strangers, some of them silent locals, most of them curious tourists like me – all wondering what the deal was with the water.
We finished our bathing experience by getting locked out our changing room in nothing but towels. Yup, classic Max & Jade.
My advice; don’t skip the baths. But don’t spend all day there.
PARTY LIKE A BOHEMIEN HIPSTER
The nightlife in Budapest is my kinda nightlife. Casual, unpretentious & unashamedly hipster.
I can sometimes find bar crawling in foreign countries a bit intimidating. But in Budapest, every bar was full of an array of people (locals/tourists, younguns/oldies) just waiting to invite us into their bar with open arms, vodka a-flowing and music a-playing.
We checked out a few spots in the short time we were there.
Gozsdu Udvar – A cluster of bars and restaurants in higgledy piggeldy courtyard adorned with lights of all colours. The story of its beginnings is also a gooden.
Man spends 20 odd years buying alllll the flats in a courtyard. People say he’s crazy. He spends a lifetime renovating into bar spaces and now he’s a millionarie. Who’s laughing now, huh?
A safe option for drinks. Bit touristy but there’s some gems to be found if you bother looking.
Yellow Zebra – This place was adorable. Set in an old cellar, I was drawn in by acoustic music. We sat sipping on drinks underground listening to some fantastic music. You’ll find it on the Kazinczy street, also home to a number of bars.
Szimpla Kert– A recommendation from two people. And a very good recommendation it was too. A must see if you’re in Budapest.
The only way it can be described is as follows; 2 floors, numerous miscellaneous rooms and a courtyard. Graffiti. Shish smoking. Foozeball. Salsa dancing to electro dance. An eclectic mix of yard sale items strewn across the building.
It was like an interior designer had got high and spent 72 hours straight decorating.
It kept me and Max entertained all evening before crawling to a McDonald’s at 2.30am. Classy.
A gem in Budapest downtown.
Go see for yerself.
So I think the message here is loud and clear. Go visit Budapest.
And if you find yourself there before I return, send Budapest my love.
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