We spent a bit of time in Budapest, using it as home base for the area as we visited Bratislava in Slovakia & while we quickly flicked back to the UK for a charity Coldplay concert. It was our temporary home away from home base. As such we’ve got quite a bit to discuss. We found Budapest to be very safe city (rarely feeling wary of those around us) with plenty to great attractions to enjoyably occupy your time. Below we have compiled a list of our highlights, and a few lowlights; we hope this helps you with your own travel plans!
St. Mathias Church
We have seen so many churches in Europe but this one was was nice. With a freshly cleaned while limestone exterior, and an ornately patterned tiled roof, from the get-go this church looks impressive. Moving inside shows a different side, ornately painted with a high level of clarity, something highly sculptured stone interiors fail to give. St. Mathias is full of colour and symbolism with well explained panels explaining different facets of the painted designs.
Right next door to St. Mathias’s church you’ll find the Fisherman’s bastion which offers the best view of the city (of the Pest side). This is also an ideal place to take a photo of arguably Budapest’s most beautiful building: Budapest Parliament.
Budapest Parliament looks like a synthesis between the Palace of Westminster (the Brittish Parliament) – which was actually an inspiration of the architect and the red Duomo of Florence. Its said that this in the largest parliament building in Europe, designed as a statement piece, showing off Hungary as a nation. Entry is costly and the tours garner mixed reviews online so probably best just to soak in the impressive external beauty and spent your pretty pennies elsewhere; such as one of Budapest’s many thermal bath houses.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
After much deliberation we decided on the Szechenyi Baths, the largest and most iconic of the bathhouses situated in the town park. We had been warned that it was a little touristy but this didn’t phase us; we went in winter though – so potentially more of a problem in Summer. The bath house is extensive with 18 pools of varying heat, 4 saunas and 4 steam rooms. We tried out every one of them – including the traditional sauna to cold water dunk! A great day out, thoroughly enjoyed! 4900HUF pp (lockers over cabins are more than sufficient)
In stark contrast to Szechenyi Baths, the Kiraly Baths are set of just 4 pools, a steam room and a sauna with a romantic rustic feel. The oldest baths in the city (1565), the cheapest and probably the least known about baths in the city, its a haven for locals. Stepping through the door feels like you’re stepping back in time. Its actually awesome. Heavy in minerals the water is also believed to have medicinal properties. 2400HUF on weekends but even cheaper on weekday mornings
Szimpla Ruin Pub
When the communists left Budapest, many buildings were left abandoned. in the quirky hollows of these buildings many pubs were established mostly with a deliberate quirky grungy feel; these pubs are generally called Ruin Pubs. Our favourite was the original Ruin Pub that started the trend; Szimpla Pub. The place is gunny and huge, with separate beer bars, wine bars, merchandise desks spread across two eclectic levels. Szimpla also have their own brand of beer which isn’t too bad.
Instant managed to combined the eclectic feel of a traditional ruin pub, spanning a couple of floors through the remains of a couple of buildings with a less grungy feel. Instead opting for a heavier art installation emphasis. There are are plenty of different spots inside depending on what you’re looking for: loud and fun, quiet chats, people watching etc. Entry is “free” but you have to pay to leave something at their cloak room to enter (300HUF per item)
Langos Fried Bread & Tunnel Cakes
Talking about cheap eats though, you can’t do much better (unless we’re talking healthiness – in which you can do a lot better) than Langos (deep fried bread, usually topped with sour cream and cheese). These were delicious and dirt cheap! The best place we found was ‘Retro Büfé- lángos’ Which is just down from St. Stephen’s basilica (Budapest, Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4, 1054 Hungary). The other local treat to try being the runnel cakes, which are dotted around the city and usually cost around €1.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Talking about St. Stephens Basilica, its rather impressive, decked from head to toe in a grand assortment of different marbles and gold leaf. Entry is by donation, so its no real cost to your daily budget. Alternatively you can spend a couple of Euros and climb its dome which we’re told gives an impressive view over the city. Definitely worth a look.
Overpriced or Underwhelming
A UNESCO heritage site, Jenny and I took the time to walk the full 2.5km from one end to the other. While it was nice, it was a little underwhelming. Save some time, skip to the real highlight (Heroes Square: Hősök tere) at the end by taking the metro.
The Great Synagoge
The great synagogue is the second largest synagogue in the world. Its fascinating to see a synagogue on such a grand scale. Most interesting to me was how similar it felt like a cathedral, with a very similar set up, pews, altar, raised pulpit. It left me wondering if the Catholic took inspiration in its set up from the jewish synagogue (it has jewish roots after all) or whether its just a matter of functionality for that scale. Alas, while it was interesting; other than the main hall (for lack of a better word), and the memorial tree (which you can see from the street) there is not much else to see. This left us feeling like the 3700HUF/pp self guided option was rather overpriced. I suggest having a walk around the exterior and just looking up some google images of the inside.
The Great Market Hall
The covered market is rather pretty and a nice walk through. Filled with a lot of produce stalls, a few clothing on the second level and a number of food establishments. We went here thinking it would be a cheap authentic hungarian bite to eat but actually found it to be a lot more expensive than elsewhere. We think the food stalls have cottoned on to this thought process and hiked up their prices, buyer beware!