Budapest

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Budapest is truly a most magical city that I could never possibly tire of raving on about. In this section I’ll cover the Gozsdu Udvar district, Buda Hill, and a section titled “Other Random Things to Do.” In addition, I have an entire other page devoted to the famous Ruin Pub scene that you’ll definitely want to check out.

GOZSDU UDVAR – Budapest, Király u. 13, 1075 Hungary

black and white image of moped in the gozsdu udvar district budapest

If you’re a bit at a loss about where and how to kick off your trip to Budapest I highly recommend starting at Gozsdu Udvar court. This is a brilliant little bar and restaurant district in a pedestrian alley in the heart of Pest with a myriad of options for food and drink all up and down the narrow corridor. I don’t think you could go wrong with any place you chose to duck into and with the proper sort of tapas/pub crawl mentality you could easily spend an entire evening here bar hopping and sampling the cuisine.

Spíler

We Heart Magazine had this to say about Spíler: “Spíler is one of those places that reminds people what fantastic things are happening in the former Eastern Bloc countries of Europe, and reinvigorates even the most dormant travel bug. Downtown Budapest is where the action is at in this case – a microbrewery bistropub with so much going for it, that it might justify a budget airline flight on its own merits alone.” I couldn’t agree more. And even if none of that were true, this place has a Shanghai-themed cousin pub with a secret basement bar! All of the things you never knew you wanted until right now. The family that owns these and other establishments are doing some phenomenal work in the creative hospitality industry and and I talk about them more below in the Castle Hill section.

Pointer Pub

This all things english style pub will give any english person (or anglophile) the fix they need. A chelsea match was being televised while we visited and a pretty good crowd turned out to watch. There’s guinness on tap and the atmosphere is friendly.

One More Cafe

This is an oddly mixed cafe/bar/Apple repair store…? It’s very strange but at any rate it’s also a device charging station which came in very handy when John’s phone died. It’s never the place we would’ve chosen to go into, but it’s a brilliant business model. They had exactly what we needed — power! — and so we ordered some drinks while charging up the electronic devices.

CASTLE HILL — BUDA

massive matthias cathedral lit up at dusk on buda hill

Matthias Church – Budapest, Szentháromság tér 2, 1014 Hungary

Like many structures in Budapest this church has been built and rebuilt so many times I don’t think they even know what parts belong to what time period. Nevertheless, it’s truly such a gorgeous structure. Grab a guided tour if you can and hear about how a long forgotten statue of The Virgin Mary hidden behind a wall suddenly revealed itself to a room full of praying turks (the structure was used as a mosque for a time). The phenomenon scared them all so badly it basically caused them to lose the ensuing battle for Buda Hill. Fascinating.

Fisherman’s Bastion next door is impossible to miss but even so, make sure you don’t. This is where you’ll experience one of the most spectacular panoramic views of any city there is, particularly at dusk. The ornate Romanesque walls and terraces surround the back half of Matthias Cathedral and offer a terribly romantic spot to take a walk or just take in the view. Make a reservation for dinner at the Halaszbastya Restaurant or grab a drink at the more casual terrace view bar just next door.

the fisherman

Fisherman’s bastion at dusk

Labirintus – Labyrinth of Buda Castle * – Budavári – 1014 Budapest Úri street 9.

Deep below the the giant hill that is the Buda side of the city there are around 6 kilometers worth of winding underground caves. Mostly out of use now they have served many purposes to the city over the centuries from storage cellars to bomb shelters to dungeons and torture chambers. Their biggest claim to fame is that Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) was held here for a spell during his almost decade long imprisonment in Hungary.

They do not offer guided tours on sight but if you can manage it I would suggest hiring a guide from an external tour company. If you’re feeling particularly brave see if you can complete the (optional) section of the path they keep in total darkness (creepy). I passed on the opportunity because I’m essentially afraid of the dark, but my husband wanted to have a go. He got part of the way through, freaked out, pulled out the light on his iPhone, turned around and came back out through the entrance. So did the british guy who went in after him. See if you can make it all the way! They also do semi-guided lantern lit tours after hours and as that sounds utterly terrifying to me (it’s dark enough down there as it is) you’re going to have to get your advice about that from someone else.

*Note: Many sites state that the labyrinth has been permanently closed since 2011 which makes accurate information on visiting very difficult to find. Rest assured that this is not the case and (at least portions of) the underground maze is indeed still open to the public, including Dracula’s supposed cell. As of early 2015 the link I have provided is up to date.

john does dracula

Labirinitis Caves entrance

Budapest History Museum – Budapest, Szent György tér 2, 1014 Hungary

A Budapest Card gets you free admission to this enormous museum. It is built on the original site of the Royal Palace in Buda and a few remains of the medieval castle can still be seen on the Museum site. This whole region of Europe has such a fascinating and influential (and often overlooked) history and it’s time well spent in learning a little bit of what made Budapest such a hotspot for so many centuries.

All that said, if I’m going to be truly honest, my favorite part about our visit to the museum happened just outside. A guy dressed in medieval getup was offering the chance to experience life as it was back in the early days of the castle. Try your hand at target practice with archery or spear throwing — only 2 euros for five chances! Or don the royal attire provided and pose for photo on the golden thrones. I don’t know if he’s there all the time but it was hilariously good fun and drew a happy crowd.

Take some time to walk through the quaint little streets on Castle Hill and discover the views of the city on both sides. If you’re hankering for some refreshments stop in at Ruszwurm Cukrászda. This cute little pastry and coffee place just down from Matthias Church is the kind of place where you’d want to attend an old english tea party with crumpets and cookies. The Ruszwurm Kreme (cream cake) is probably the most boring-looking pastry in a case full of decadent looking deserts. But, like the Holy Grail, don’t be fooled by its humble looks. It is melt in your mouth tasty and is their specialty for good reason. No time to stop? Take some desert to go!  Budapest, Szentháromság u. 7, 1014 Hungary

entrance to Ruszwurm cafe with matthias steeple in background

Ruszwurm Cukrászda and Matthias Church

Pest-Buda – Budapest, Fortuna u. 3, 1014 Hungary

I love the cozy Amsterdam-chic vibe of this place. Wonderful Hungarian beer and wine selection, bright colors, excellent decor, very inviting atmosphere in a rustic-turned-modern building with beautiful baroque roof structure. The building was originally an inn and the ground floor has been a restaurant for centuries, giving weight to their claim of being one of the oldest restaurants in Budapest.

foodie shot of burger and fries on slate serving tray in buda hill

best burger ever at Baltazar

Baltazár – Budapest, Országház u. 31, 1014 Hungary

Baltazar is a cozy little dig in Castle Hill. All sauces are made in house and in season and the meats are carefully selected for highest quality. For example, all the chicken is bred and raised cage free exclusively for them by a farm in south Hungary. Everything on the menu looked incredibly enticing and they have an excellent local wine selection. They use a renowned Spanish Josper Grill and they import the highest quality charcoal from Argentina. Might seem a little over the top to someone as foodie-ignorant as I am, but to be fair it was one of the best burgers I’ve ever had in my life.  On the other side of the building the boutique hotel portion of Baltazar has a posh little lobby doubling as a bar that connects the hotel to the restaurant.

Baltazár is owned by the same family who runs Pest-Buda, Spíler, and several other equally fantastic restaurants in Budapest. They are a several generation restaurateur family with an emphasis on bringing Hungarian gastronomy and hospitality back to the forefront of the international stage. And they’re nailing it. Check out their site for info on the rest of their establishments: http://zsidai.com/

Other Random Things To Do

Lukacs Bathhouse – Budapest, 1023, Frankel Leó út 29, 1023 Hungary

A Budapest Card will get you into this bathhouse for free (if you can find the proper entrance). I won’t elaborate on our experience here but suffice to say if you are looking for a good story to tell afterwards then look no further, and definitely make sure to get a massage. If you’re searching for a more…how do you say…warm and inviting atmosphere, perhaps try another bathhouse altogether. I’ve heard the locals prefer Irgalmasok Veli bej fürdoje but there are several other popular bathhouses to choose from as well.

I will say this about Lukacs before totally writing it off. They throw nighttime “magic bath parties” on certain Saturdays that look wildly entertaining and, though we missed it because we decided to go to Bratislava for a night, I can only imagine what that experience would be like. As I said before, if you’re looking for a good story to tell…this is the place for you.

black and white image of the indoor market in budapest hungary

Great (or Central) Market Hall

Great (or Central) Market Hall –  Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary

So many veggies and unidentifiable meats! This is the hungarian Pike’s Place Market. Walk through, try some really weird pickles on the basement level, grab some fresh fruit on the ground floor, and best of all, head upstairs and get you some Lángos. What is a Lángos, you ask? It’s hard to describe but I’ll put it to you like this: France has crepes, Belgium has waffles, and Hungary has Lángos. You just have to try it!

baroque decor room in the style of versailles in szabo ervin library

Reading room at Szabo Ervin Library

Szabo Ervin Library — 1088 Szabó Ervin tér 1, Budapest, 1083, Hungary

This sprawling “19th century aristocrat’s mansion, turned into a library, hidden in a modern library” — as described by the website Atlas Obscura — is yet another fine example of the Hungarian reuse – recycle – repurpose spirit. You could spend hours wandering, lounging, reading and writing in any of the dozens of rooms and floors here — and many young students do. But the thing that makes this place most worth the visit are the wildly ornate versailles-esque rooms of the Central Library and as they are totally surrounded by the rest of the modern building, they are nearly impossible to find. Do yourself a favor and ask someone for help locating them. I’m a bibliophile so anything to do with books is a must-see for me. But whether you’re an avid reader or just need a place to sit and reflect, this place is sure to be an inspiration. Admission to the library is free but you’ll need to apply for a library card at the front desk upon entrance. It only takes about five minutes and is worth the hassle.

TIPS:

  • Try Palinka
  • Utilize WeLoveBudapest.com
  • Get a Budapest Card
  • Eat some goulash
  • Köszönöm means “thank you.” Learn it and use it often.
  • Use google maps to find the best bus and train routes.
  • 10% tip is acceptable, have them add it before they run your card.
  • Carry cash, lots of pubs won’t take plastic.
  • Go to all the Ruin Pubs on this list