It’s really hard to avoid the stereotype that ‘travel bloggers’ will never be able to shake – that we’re a) just lucky to travel so much, b) spoiled to be able to afford to, and c) love a good brag about it. Because I really am so lucky, and yep, on this occasion, spoiled rotten!
Back in February, ‘ar amazing lad Matt outdid himself again by taking me to Budapest for my birthday. This meant, by great coincidence and much to my elation, I brought in my 25th year in my 25th country. Not that I count or anything. That’d be nerdy.
Anyway, now I’ve joined the ranks of those who count Budapest amongst their favourite cities in Europe, if not the world. All of those quintessential Budapest statements like, “oh, you’ll LOVE it“s and, “Trust me, its amaaazing“s now roll off my tongue just the way they do from every other devout Budapest converts. And trust me, they’ll roll of your tongue too once you’ve been.
The city definitely has a reputation of being fun and vibrant, with cheap booze and a unique 24/7 nightlife offering with its famous ruin bars and spa parties. But actually, Budapest offers so much more than just a skin-full. There’s something for all ages, there’s almost too much art and history to digest, the architecture is every bit as otherworldly as Wes Anderson’s film representation Grand Budapest Hotel, and, essentially, I ended up finding it more romantic than pretty much any other city I’ve ever visited. Even Paris!
I know this heavily depends on a couple’s idea of romance. Mine and Matt’s loosely revolves around good brunches, even better coffee, sore legs from the miles racked up sightseeing, and sore heads from nights spent on the piss. And if it doesn’t come with a hefty price-tag, the way most traditionally ‘romantic’ things in Europe always seem to, it’ll satiate us all the more.
So you can imagine my joy at a European city break with all the trimmings, nobs and bells, where a pint of beer is £1, a cocktail is never more than £3, and an entire day basking in an open-air spa comes in at £14 per person.
And since the two sides of the Danube River that compromise Budapest (being Buda, home to the cultural highlights such as Gellert Hill, and Peste, where the majority of commercial operations, bars and hotels are) are entirely walkable, there’s no need to worry about costly taxis or confusing public transport systems.
Our Budapest itinerary
We spent four nights and three full days in Budapest. It turned out to be just enough time to take everything in whilst still going at our own pace, and despite us not being there over a weekend, the ruin-pubs were still full and open late. But there’s so much to do, you could easily spend a week there. And when you factor in the unavoidable hangovers which will rob precious hours from you, trying to cram everything into one weekend may start to seem a little intimidating.
So for some inspiration, here’s our itinerary, in the form of a photo diary, because, well, how else?
Day 1: Aimlessly wandering…
The Hungarian Parliament from the banks of the Danube…
Gellert Hill Cave from the outside…
And from the inside…
Matt clearly buzzing over the rainbow that appeared over Budapest the moment we walked across Danube’s famous chain bridge…
The Grand Markets…
The obligatory coffee find..
The surreal Museum of Applied Arts…
And its heavenly interior…
Day 2: My birthday!
Before breakfast, at St Steven’s Basilica, which had our jaws down by our feet once we stepped inside.
My absolute favourite, and the most unmissable sight in Budapest – the Fisherman’s Bastion, which spring sunshine came out for!
Then onto the Gellert Baths – our only disappointment during our three days in Budapest. I’d recommend skipping Gellert Baths and beelining to the unparalleled Szechenyi Baths instead. Anyone who knows me at all knows my trip somewhere wouldn’t be complete without a moan about the value of something …and these baths were a rip-off. The water may look luxurious and inviting but it was cold, dirty, and you weren’t allowed in without buying a £2 rubber swimming cap – no, thanks. What’s more, the Gellert Baths are famous for their famous outdoor thermal spa pools, which were closed, emptied and full of mud and clutter due to it being winter. They could have told us before we paid the steep fee in!
Then it was back to the Fisherman’s Bastion, to meander around the balconies taking in the nighttime skyline and drinking in the romantic ambience (and wine). This photo pretty much summarises why I love city breaks in winter so much…
Anyway… on to a ridiculously long session in Budapest’s ruin bars… where I couldn’t have been happier, exploring endless nooks and crannies and sitting cosied up in our own little caves/bathtubs/grafittid bedrooms, sipping on sambucca laced cocktails and mugs of mulled wine!
Day 3: Szechenyi Thermal Baths
After a few sorrowful hours limping around Budapest’s harrowing House of Terror, Matt and I hopped on a train bound east, donned our swim stuff, ran out into the below freezing rain, and leaped into best hangover cure in the woooorld.
And there we happily wallowed until long after nightfall.
Day 4: One last hair of the dog before home…
Where we stayed
As always, we’re firmly resolving on quantity of good times over quality of the hotels we stay in during them in 2016, so, no surprise, we were on a budget in Budapest.
Since we knew we’d be out from early morning until past midnight most nights, with no real time to lig around enjoying the luxuries of a four-star hotel, Matt booked us into SparrOwl apartments on Kazinczy u., bang in the centre of the old Jewish Quarter. Five minutes trot in one direction, past colourful murals, vintage shops and inviting little bars gets you to Szimpla Kert – the daddy of all ruin-pubs; five minutes in the other direction gets you to Saint Steven’s Basilica. Another ten minutes from there, through charming cobbled streets gets you to the Danube. Everything was within walking distance. The corner of our block housed My Little Melbourne Coffee Shop, where we’d start the day (it still can’t beat the real thing though, sigh), and Igen, a little hole in the wall selling Budapest’s best pizza by the slice, where we’d usually end it late on.
SparrOwl apartments are housed in a ginormous terrace building, that looks like it’s straight out of an old war film. They’re a five-storey climb up a huge dilapidated staircase, which has every bit as much crumbling charm as the city itself. But once you’re through into the nifty little space, you’ll find they’re amazing value, clean and modern. The tiny spaces hold their own kitchen, showers and steps up to the cutest mezzanine beds above the living area. We paid around £15 per night for both of us: Eastern Europe, I love you!
Visiting Budapest was the perfect antidote for my first few gloomy months back in the UK after nearly two years in Asia and Australia. I saw the architecture with entirely new eyes. It made me realise just how much us Brits take having Europe’s mind-blowing cultural heritage on our doorstep for granted.
Europe, I can’t wait to get to know you better. August’s road trip through Italy and Croatia cannot come soon enough!