If you’re looking for a European city getaway, look no further than lively little Budapest, the capital of Hungary.
Why? Full of quirky ruin bars, cultural gems and a bohemian atmosphere spread across a number of districts (are we in the Hunger Games?), this city has everything that makes up a perfect break, or stop off on your Eurrail trip (thankfully, it’s nothing like the Hunger Games. But it is like a Wes Anderson film, in buckets).
The best bit? You can cram it into 48 hours and pretty much walk everywhere – there’s so much to see along the way. Here are a few of our highlights you shouldn’t miss out on…
Where to stay
First of all, to give you a feel for this city, imagine two contrasting towns, separated by the River Danube. One, Buda, is set high on the hills overlooking the rest of the city, which are covered in fairytale castles, relics and cathedrals. The other, Peste, is flat, heavily populated, modern and now operates as the cultural and artistic centre.
District 7, more commonly known as the Jewish Quarter is the liveliest and most central area of Pest is full of ruin bars, cool eateries, shops and street art. You won’t struggle to find a hostel, or an amazing night out here – so it definitely gets our vote!
(Not so) arguably the best of Budapest’s ruin bars. Everyone knows Szimpla is the holy grail of ruin bars.
Walking into Szimpla is like walking into a mix between the craziest underground club you’ve ever been to, and Alice in Wonderland, on hallucinogens. This old, abandoned townhouse, like all the rest in Budapest, has fallen so far down the rabbit hole.
There’s a courtyard in the middle with tables and live music, but if you take your drink and go for a wander you’ll find hidden rooms, interesting staircases, and weird sculptures in every corner. Plus, since the drinks are cheap and the opening hours are extremely liberal, you’ll probably find a heap of new friends here, too. God bless you, Eastern Europe.
The perfect hangover cure after a night in Szimpla Kert, the Szechenyi Baths located in City Park offer up a relaxing day of indoor thermal baths (there’s 15 to choose from) in a lavishly-decorated building, along with saunas, steam rooms and outdoor swimming pools… all heated geothemally.
You can go for the whole day for about 6000 HUF, which is around £17 – bargain. Or if you hit up Budapest on a weekend, you can even go to one of their ‘sparties’, which is exactly what it says on the tin – a party in a spa. A biiig one. Who knew? You might end up coming out of there shrivelled like an old prune, but it’ll be one of the dreamiest experiences you’ll likely have in Europe, and one that truly sets Budapest apart from other Eastern European cities like Prague.
Just a little street food court located in District 18, right near Szimpla Kert, this place only has about six food vans packed together into a small square – here is the perfect place to try Budapest’s local dish, goulash. A lovely meaty concoction served up in a big crusty bun, with the doughy insides served on the side for you to dip. Pair it with an 80p wine (yes, you heard us) and you’re laughing – or crying, depending on how much you have.
Buda Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion
So you’re exhausted from Pest’s hipster bars, street murals and non-stop action, and want some relaxed strolls around Buda’s romantic bastions and bars. Buda Castle and the nearby Fisherman’s Bastion lookout literally look like they’ve been stolen from a fairy tale. There’s a whole kingdom inside the walls, and the turrets and spires glow such a heavenly white in the sunshine.
There are streets, courts and attractions within its walls, so you could easily spend an entire afternoon there… and you should! Because there’s nowhere in the city more beautfiul to watch the sunset from than the top of the Bastion, overlooking the Hungarian Parliament opposite.
If you’re feeling energetic, then not too far from the castle is the long walk up Gellert Hill, aka the Citadel walk. Once at the to, you’ll be rewarded with impressive panoramic views across the city, and a fortress that was built in 1854. Tip: look out for the church built into the hill. A church, in a tiny, winding cave, complete with stained glass windows hollowed out? Classic Budapest!
Want more Europe travel inspiration? Head to our Europe travel guides to get planning your dream adventure, loaded with gelato, cheese, long scenic train journeys and all-night dancing on Croatian Islands…