So despite preparing to travel to 15+ countries in a few months, we felt we needed a break and spent last weekend in Budapest with some friends.
We’d been planning a trip for quite a while, and for a long time Amsterdam was where we wanted to go, but when the prices shot up we considered other options, and the super cheap apartment prices of Budapest caught our eye. And I’m SO glad it did! Budapest is such a fantastic city.
We arrived early on Saturday morning and made our way to the apartment quite easily from the airport to the city via bus and Metro, and it’s always a good start to be able to arrive and jump straight into local life rather than getting a taxi. The metro is so quaint compared to London and pretty much any other Metro/underground system I’ve been on – the stations and trains are very old but it all adds to the experience.
Our apartment was only a short walk from Oktagon station, which lives up to its name as you are surrounded by an octagon of buildings as you emerge from below ground. The apartment was situated in a lovely old building off a central courtyard and felt so peaceful and quiet. Inside it was nice enough and perfect as a base for exploring for a few days, and after getting some sightseeing tips from the owner we were off!
After a long (well a few hours) trip what we wanted was a beer of course, so we headed to somewhere we’d been looking forward to – a ruin pub.
As far as I can make out, Budapest ruin pubs started off around 2002 when old, delapidated buildings started to be used as impromptu bars, complete with random furniture and local artists work. After 10 years I’m sure some of the experience has been sanitised somewhat as they have started to become more of a tourist attraction and more continue to spring up, but they are still fantastic fun, and certainly beat drinking in a ‘normal’ bar.
We started at Szimpla Kert, which as all the guidebooks will tell you, is the original and best. The first thing that hits you when you enter is just how sprawling it is, with a huge courtyard and loads of little rooms and passages. They were good fun to explore during the day before it got too busy (Budapest does not seem like a daytime drinking city. It wasn’t dead during the day, but it was about 200x busier at night!)
A pint, sorry ‘half litre’ of beer sets you back around 700HUF which is certainly not the cheapest but also not the most expensive we found in Budapest.It’s less than £3 so compared to London it is very cheap!
Over the course of the weekend we also checked out Instant (also very cool) and Most! which actually turned out to be more of a restuarant but also very nice. We also went to Szimpla (different to Szimpla Kert) which was a cool bar also. There were a few others but memories are a bit hazy!
We also didn’t get to visit as many as we would have liked because I hadn’t anticipated them shutting on Sundays! We trekked across town to get to Corvinteto, which is a ruin pub at the top of an old department store. We got there about 11pm and it was sadly deserted. So my advice is go to the smaller ones on the busiest day you are in Budapest, such as a Friday or Saturday. Szimpla Kert always seemed to be open, indeed we stayed there until 3am on a Sunday night and it was packed, so don’t worry about hitting that one on your first night!
Budapest Labyrinth (Budavari Labirintus)
The next day we headed across the beautiful chain bridge into historic Buda, and rode the funicular railway up the hill – which was fun but expensive for a 2 minute ride. At the top is Buda Castle. Now this is where I got confused and should have done more research. Buda Castle is NOT an old medieval castle, in fact the main building looks like and is reffered to as a palace, and is relatively new, however there are older (or restored) sections, as well as some beautiful looking buildings around the complex. It is definately worth a stroll for the architecture and wonderful views, however I am glad we based ourselves in Pest, as there is a lot more going on.
The attraction we had been most looking forward to was the Budapest Labyrinths, which we had read about online before we left. They are a system of tunnels and caves which run under the castle hill area of Buda, though only a small section are accessible. But being fans of something potentially scary, dark and underground, we wanted to see it. It took a while to find as the entrance is quite conspicuous but find it we did. After paying 2000 HUF per person (about £6) we entered the abyss….
The first thing which struck me was how there wasn’t much regard for safety! The tunnels were very, very dark (thank god for the iPhone flashlight) and wet in places, and extremely low too so it was a struggle not to hit my head at times. However it was certainly fun. We spent a good hour getting lost in the tunnels and scaring each other, and often we wouldn’t see another visitor for ages!
There are some bizarre mannequins depicting historic scenes though I don’t remember much information stating what they were. Done on a budget certainly springs to mind. There were also some random chunks of stone with plaques stating where they had come from, again quite bizarre when you are in something made of stone! The most fun bit though was a mist filled section dedicated to Dracula (who I found out ws actually Vlad The Impaler) and a mock gravestone. Again, quite cheesy but all good fun.
It was only several days later when we got home that I found out that these Labyrinths we visited are actually a fake! Obviously they ARE actually underground, and presumably a part of the same tunnel network, but the much larger, and original (and probably more professionally fitted out) Labyrinth closed permanently in 2011! However, who cares? We had fun. It might not be for everyone, and I’m sure the original was better, but we liked it.
On our last day, we first visited the central market, which was a bit disappointing in my opinion, though it looked beautiful and had some great food for sale, most of the rest of the market was dedicated to tourist tat.
After attempting to visit the House Of Terror museum (which we discovered was closed on Mondays, more bad research!), we headed to Szechenyi Baths. Visiting a thermal spa/bath was the thing I wanted to do most of all in Budapest, and Szechenyi seemed to be the biggest and best. It’s very easy to find, if you walk up to Heroes Square and keep going up and left, you’ll find the distinctive yellow building. It’s all a bit confusing as there are not many indications that there are baths there, and also several entrances just to confuse you. We found we had to use the entrance at the long edge of the building, if that makes sense, rather than one at the side.
From there it was fairly easy to pay one of the slightly confusing array of entrance fees (whatever you choose, it will be around 4000 HUF) and receive our electronic wristbands. I’d recommend getting at least one ticket with a cabin (only around 500 HUF extra) to get changed in and leave all your stuff in. I read things online saying you shouldn’t leave valuables in these and should pay extra for a safe deposit box, and while that may be a good idea if you’re there with something very valuable, the cabins seem very secure and there was no-one wandering around looking suspicious. Towels are also available to hire downstairs for 5000 HUF, most of which you get back.
Then it is onto the fun part! I’m not a big swimmer but I love being in the water, however outside pools are never the best as you do get cold easily. No such problems here though, as although there is a standard swimming pool oudoors, the 2 thermal baths have temperatures between 32 and 38 degrees celsius. It felt SO nice getting in, and instantly so relaxing. No-one moves around too much, since it’s so warm, although in one of the pools there is a lazy river which got almost dangerously fast and crowded but was great fun.
There are also 12 or so indoor pools, so we went to explore them too. They range from ice cold (I went in but not for long!) to 40 degrees, which is very hot. The indoor pools have a slight smell of sulpher but not overwhelming or anywhere near as bad as I thought it would be. There are also some insanely hot saunas if that is your thing!
Without even thinking about it we spent over 2 hours there and we could have spent longer. Watching the sunset while in a warm pool was such a lovely sight. I HIGHLY recommend visiting this or another thermal spa if you’re in Budapest!
PS sorry for the lack of photos, but it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be taking my camera for obvious reasons!
All in all I adored Budapest, and would love to spend more time there in future. It’s a vibrant, fun and friendly city with lots to do, and to me at least, appeals more than many western European cities.