Our favourite moments from 7 days in Budapest
And what was so special about them
As suspected, Budapest turned out to be the perfect first stop on our journey. It offered us an equal amount of relaxation, activities and atmosphere. And an awful lot of beer, coffee and food. That’s what we’re in it for, really.
When I was thinking about what content to write on Budapest, I decided against doing a ‘10 best thing to do in Budapest’ style post, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I think there are enough of those on the internet. Maybe I’d get more page views if that’s what I was writing, but that’s not my primary goal at the minute. Secondly, everybody’s different. So my top 10 things might be very different from your top 10. And just because I don’t include something on the list doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth doing. And, of course, you can’t actually do all the things in a week, or however long you’re visiting for. Lastly, we are travelling to collect memories and moments, rather than activities or lists of countries that we’ve been to, or whatever. So that’s what I’m going to write about.
Here are some moments that really stood out for us in brilliant Budapest.
We visited Margaret Island on our last day in Budapest, and for us, it really was a case of saving the best for last. Margaret Island is just a gem. There’s no doubting it – the musical fountain is the main event here. We spent around 2 hours sitting by it, drinking coffee, watching the fountain, taking it all in, reading and drawing. And we could have stayed longer. On the hour every hour, it performs a little musical show where the water movements are all in sync with a couple of pieces of music. It’s really well done, and definitely worth some of your time. It was probably our favourite moment here.
There’s more to Margaret Island though. Make sure to go for a stroll; there are loads of nice walks. Just be careful you don’t get run over by one of the multiple electric bikes or carts or odd Flintstone-style buggies. The island has come up with every way imaginable to get around it without using your own feet, but it really isn’t a difficult walk and it’s very enjoyable, as you get to take in all the other nice things the island has to offer. There’s an old open air theatre that’s in ruins, some lovely gardens, a weird sort of zoo and loads of places to stop for coffee or beer. But honestly, it’s less about the actual attractions and more about the journey of having a stroll and stumbling upon them. Skip the buggies and treat yourself to a nice walk – it’s easier then to talk yourself into the fact that you deserve the beer that you’ll stop for along the way.
When we wanted to spend a morning writing and drawing, we made our way to Magvető. Full disclosure – it’s just a cafe. But it did a great job of summing up the class cafe culture that Budapest has. We just took the morning at our own pace, had a few coffees and worked on our laptop or sketchbook. And the whole thing made us feel like this was exactly the right thing to be doing. Great coffee, great atmosphere, no pressure to be anywhere else or doing anything else. The cafe was excellent, but it was more about the moment than the setting. Saying that, the setting made a big contribution, and we’ll remember this as one of our Budapest highlights.
We had loads and loads of good coffee in Budapest – it’s more difficult to find a bad one, but I should also mention Espresso Embassy and Fekete as other coffee places that we really, really enjoyed. Worth looking at if you’re into that sort of thing.
This is one of Budapest’s big hitters – everyone tends to make a point of making sure they come here. It’s known as the jewel in Budapest’s ruin bar crown. And rightly so. It comes with a lot of hype but manages to live up to it. We stopped by for a drink on a couple of occasions. You’d expect it to be a bit more expensive than other Budapest bars, considering its reputation, but we found it to be very reasonable. Everywhere you look, there’s something new to discover. Whether it’s a craft beer bar tucked into a corner, an upstairs you didn’t even know existed, or a mad bit of graffiti, Szimpla keeps you on your toes while also making you wind down and relax.
Curiously, Szimpla also turns into a farmer’s market on a Sunday morning. We made sure to check it out, and actually probably preferred the market to the bar. Loads of snacks, fresh foods and live music give it a lovely atmosphere, and the coffee was sound too. Don’t worry, you can still grab a beer if you really want to. We won’t forget sitting out on the terrace, taking it all in, eating fresh fruit and enjoying a couple of coffees. One to remember.
Kuplung is another of Budapest’s ruin bars, and another good one. We only made a point of going here because they did half price drinks every Monday, but we’re glad we did. It’s easy to lose a couple of hours here sat on the terrace drinking good beer for next to no money. We had been in another bar just before going here, and the difference in atmosphere was palpable. The ruin bars come with a hefty reputation, but they live up to it. We just found them to be much more relaxed and much more enjoyable than some of Budapest’s other bars.
We also made a point of sampling Hungarian pálinka (fruit brandy) while we were here. Once is enough for the old pálinka, thank you very much.
Street Food Karavan
Karavan is right next door to Szimpla, and it’s basically an outdoor corridor of really good street food stalls. I’m not really sure how this happened, but almost every time we were hungry, we ended up in and around Karavan. And, well, it was just too good to pass up then. You’ll find Hungarian specialties like goulash in a bread bowl, lángos (as well as lángos burgers) and those chimney things that are nice but a bit overrated. But they actually have something for everyone, including vegan options. So no matter what mood you’re in, Karavan is almost always the answer to any question. There’s a bar there too, so no problem with that question either. Go here.
Széchenyi Thermal Baths
Another one of the Budapest big hitters. Thermal baths are a big thing in Budapest, and Széchenyi is the biggest, most popular one that tourists tend to flock to. I initially thought about skipping Széchenyi and trying one (or more) of the other local thermal baths, but everywhere I looked, people were saying this was something you shouldn’t miss. So we didn’t. We did it on our first full day, the weather was amazing and we took our time checking out all of the baths, pools and otherwise. The big outdoor baths are the main attraction, and undoubtedly the place to be here, but there are plenty of indoor pools, varying in size and temperature, to check out. There’s one really, really cold one too, which comes as a bit of a shock when you’ve been getting in and out of 38-degree pools all day. But it’s nice to have it as a talking point. It was never, ever busy. While every other pool always was. Go figure.
While I really enjoyed Széchenyi, and it was certainly one of the highlights, I still have a bit of a niggle that I wish we had have checked out one or more of the other baths while we were there. We thought about taking in Rudas, or one of the others, but just never got round to it. Maybe if we are coming through Budapest again in the Winter months, we’ll make a point of stopping at one of the others. I’m glad we did Széchenyi, but I’d definitely do another so we have something to compare it to if we’re ever in Budapest again.
Hungarian Parliament and the Danube river
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the Hungarian parliament building – it is gorgeous. You actually get the best view of it from the Buda side of the river – and particularly from Fisherman’s Bastion. But there are loads of little corners and squares in and around the parliament to sit and admire the view and take it all in. Actually, there are loads of little places like this along the front of the Danube, and we made a point of stopping at loads of them. Our favourite was probably just behind the parliament, where we could sit and admire the building, the river behind it, watching trams come and go and enjoying the brilliant weather. I’m sure it might not have been just as fun in the Winter months, but it would be just as picturesque, and certainly worth stopping off at.
I thought that spending a full week in Budapest to break us in to life on the road would be pretty perfect, and that turned out to be the case. There are lots of spectacular things to see and do in Budapest that I haven’t mentioned, but the best thing about the city is that it offers plenty of opportunities for little moments of magic, and that’s exactly what we loved the most about it.