Budapest is by far one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited in Europe, beaten just narrowly by Rome. While our flights from Dublin to Budapest were expensive, the cost of food, drink and accommodation was so cheap that it is definitely worth considering taking a trip here. Myself and my girlfriend only spent 5 days here, but packed in so much and cannot wait to return. Here are some of the highlights, being an extremely meticulous person I had everything planned out from where we ate and drank to what we would visit. Obviously having a food blog (on tumblr) and being a greedy fucker, my main interests when travelling abroad is sampling the local cuisine which feature heavily:
1. UTILISE THE SIGHT-SEEING HOP-ON-HOP-OFF BUSES.
This is such an easy way to navigate the city and see just about every landmark, a ticket can be used for 2 days and the company we chose offered a free cruise at night on the Danube, something we regrettably didn’t avail of, but I’ve been told it’s a must! We were also given a booklet of coupons for various discounts in restaurants and for other attractions. We hopped off at Városliget Park or City Park, one of the stops beside Hero’s Square to head to one of the oldest Zoos in the world.
We used some coupons for a discount when visiting Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens. The Zoo, by the way, was amazing as far as Zoos tend to go. It was highly interactive; I literally sat down and had a lemur climb on my back, you can walk alongside Emus and Ostriches and there is a great little aquarium. Apart from a sad looking bear, this Zoo was great with several water fountains around which were essential the day we visited. The sight-seeing bus is definitely the way to go, especially if you’re not into too much walking, you can hop on and off as many times as you like at any of the 28 stops to see Budapest’s top attractions.
The park where the Zoo is located also has some other great attractions and is a great place to take a stroll and bring a picnic. We took a walk around Vajdahunyad Castle, built in 1896, and it’s surrounding moat. This design of this small castle is based on the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (now in Romania).
While venturing around the castle you might also stumble across Gallus Anonymus; supposedly hard to find, but we didn’t have much difficulty. This is an ominous looking bronze statue of Gallus, who is regarded as the first historian to have described Poland. He is situated just outside the castle.
2. THE FOOD, THE GLORIOUS, CHEAP FOOD!!
So, where to eat? Budapest boasts some really amazing cuisine, being a complete glutton we definitely sampled a lot of great and not-so-great food, here are my recommendations.
Mazel Tov – Akácfa u. 47, 1072
The meal we had in Mazel Tov, situated in the Jewish Quarter, was undoubtedly the best meal of our trip (my girlfriend probably begs to differ as the FUSSIEST eater I have ever met). This ‘ruin bar’ was by far the prettiest we had visited, with the most elegant decor, beautiful lighting, furniture and hanging ivy. Once you’ve had your fill of Hungarian food, you should definitely taste Jewish food in the Jewish District, especially in one of the classier ruin bars. I will definitely be returning on my next visit to Budapest.
I ordered Shakshuka and Tabbouleh salad and it was delicious. The sausages were very good, but the grilled beetroot was particularly impressive. Also, both of our meals were beautifully presented, in line with the decor. We finished with a slice of Jerusalem cheesecake each. The desserts were mammoth, we both received two massive slices of baked cheese cake with a creamy lemon topping. Again, in keeping with everything else we ordered, this was delicious. This meal was one of the more expensive we had in Budapest, but was 100% worth it.
Kandallo Kert – Klauzal Street 17, Budapest 1072
Admittedly I didn’t eat many burgers in Budapest, many of the burger joints I saw in the city, as well as the recommendations of burger places on TripAdvisor, were outragiouuuuusly priced. This was an outdoor place, they do have an actual bar, but while it was a beautiful summer’s evening we chose this location. We ordered and paid at the counter, a classic burger and bbq burger, and for not a whole lot extra, you have the option of making it a meal with the addition of coleslaw, chips (crisps that is) and garlic sauce. So for one meal it was no more than 2000huf. Both burgers were huge. Mine was a perfectly juicy mess, the salted crisps were nothing special, but the garlic dip helped. The coleslaw was especially good, really tangy with the added pickles.
If your looking for a good burger, this is the place to go. Really tasty, massive burgers that are very reasonably priced. The drinks are a bit on the expensive side… but they’re one of those cool places that only serve IPA & craft beers… so it’s to be expected. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture, but take if from me, they do a fine-ass burger.
Hot Dog Cold Beer – Zrinyi utca 14, Budapest 1051
Myself and my girlfriend (I’ll refer to her as her actual name, Amy, from now on) stopped off at Hot Dog Cold Beer, while on our way to St. Stephen’s Basilica. We both got hot dogs with the tornado chips and a small can of Heineken for a cheap enough price considering it’s located in a very touristy area. I got the New York dog pictured above which I couldn’t fault, full of toppings and hard to get your mouth around! A better than average hot dog, and nicely salted chips. This is the place to go to grab and eat something quick! They also do corndog Mars Bars and Snickers, which of course we ordered too. Annnd right around the corner you have to go to:
Gelarto Rosa – Budapest, Szent István tér 3, 1051
Literally on the corner of St. Stephen’s Basilica and in close proximity to Hot Dog Cold Beer, you need to come here for the picture alone with the backdrop of the Basilica, as well as to witness the artistry that goes into making ice-cream petals!
I’ll be honest, I’ve had better ice-cream, but they do have a good offering of unusual flavours, my petals were Hazelnut, Lavender and Melon.
Molnár’s Kürtőskalács Bakery – Váci utca 31, Budapest 1052
So here’s a place that’s a little more than difficult to pronounce; they specialise in Kürtőskalács, (Chimney cake). These are a tubular shaped sweet, golden brown pastry. Crunchy from the glazed sugar on the outside and doughy in the middle. Mastering the baking of kürtőskalács requires special tools, including custom-made wooden pins and at Molnár’s you can watch the entire baking process in their bakery. The kürtőskalács can be rolled into lots of differently flavours, you can even dine in and have them filled with ice cream, but I stuck to the original.
Bors GasztroBar – Kazinczy utca 10., Budapest 1075
We got to this place just as it opened, it happened to be quite near to our apartment, so I recommend it if you’re staying around the vicinity. There was already a queue out the door when we arrived (always a good sign), inside it was completely chaotic, the paninis were written in English on the Menu… but the soups were not. The guy behind the counter kindly recommended different soups in English, but with the hectic atmosphere I didn’t have a clue what he was saying and ordered the only thing I could make sense of….which was ‘tiramisu’. We also ordered a four cheese panini and and Thai chicken panini. The cheese sandwich was amazing, what little Amy allowed me to eat of it, my Thai chicken was fine, wasn’t nearly as nice, but still good. The tiramisu soup on the other hand was so weirdly tasty and came with a cute little baggy of smashed lady fingers on the side.
This place is a great spot to pick up a cheap quirky sandwich and soup for lunch, staff are friendly and informative. And although there’s a huge queue, which looks off-putting, it actually moves pretty quickly. Again, no picture, we ate it too fast (sad face). Try this place if it’s nearby, but don’t bother travelling too far out of your way.
Ruszwurm Cukrászda – Budapest, Szentháromság u. 7, 1014
So this place was on the ‘must try’ list of every Budapest travel guide for food. It’s located in the Castle District, which should be on your Budapest to-do list, so you’ll have no excuse to visit here. It’s one of the oldest pastry shops in Budapest, about 200 years old to be exact. It wasn’t in my estimation a culinary explosion of flavour, but I guess it’s a piece of history in an amazing setting, so you’d be silly not to stop by.
The Ruszwurm cream cake was the nicest of the 3 cakes we tried (bottom left), we also ordered Hungary’s famous Dobos Torte, pictured in the back, named after Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos. It’s a sponge cake with layers of chocolate buttercream and topped with a piece of crunchy caramel. The cake to the right is called ‘castle cake’ if memory serves me right, nothing special though, go for the Ruszwurm cream cake if your taking a pit stop here!
Other foods to try:
Now, you’re probably thinking, that’s not exactly a whole lot of Hungarian food? Well, we ate at some shitty places too. I do highly recommend trying the following dishes:
Traditional Hungarian Goulash (Gulyásleves) – just not where we ate it (Huszár Étterem – Söröző, AVOID, there was a toothless violin player hanging off us all night, need I say more..)
Hungarian Fruit Soup (meggyleves) – It’s a cold cherry (sometimes Summer berry) soup you eat as a starter, usually topped with sour cream. Definitely worth a try, it’s like eating a smoothie for a starter, unusual, but I enjoyed it.
Lángos, a deep fried bread dough, usually topped with sour cream and cheese. We got our’s in Drum Cafe – Budapest, 1074, Dob St 2, 1072. And ate it for our breakfast right before our flight home, not the best time of day to eat something that greasy. This cafe isn’t the classiest of places, but came highly recommended as the place to try Langos.
Paprika chicken (paprikás csirke or csirkepaprikás), paprika being the most popular spice used in Hungary, you have to try it, unfortunately we ate this in the dreaded above mentioned restaurant, you can read that review here if you can forgive my terrible spelling:
But, it is worth trying if you can find somewhere decent that serves it!
Floating island (Madártej), Ahhhhhhh! I couldn’t find this anywhere, a dessert made of milk custard with egg-white dumplings floating on top. I know, you can get this dessert anywhere, but it being a Hungarian speciality I wanted to have in Budapest, if you managed to order it anywhere, let me know!
Chestnut Purée (Gesztenyepüré), a very odd dessert with an odder texture, but another Hungarian favourite! If you don’t want to waste your money on it eating out, you can buy it in cans or jars in Supermarkets, wasn’t to my taste, but you should still give it a go!
3. CASTLE DISTRICT.
So, asides from all that food, what else is there to see? I’ll mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, the Castle District is worth visiting for the views of the city alone. Besides the monuments, you get a breathtaking panoramic view of the Danube with the Chain Bridge and the Pest side of the city on the opposite side of the river.
Again, we leveraged the use of the sight-seeing bus to get here to wander around. We chose not to enter the castle, we were happy just exploring outside, but there is a museum inside if you’re desperate enough. Personally, there’s lots of things to see in the area, so castle-museum-time would’ve eaten into time better spent elsewhere.
At the centre of Budapest Castle District is Szentháromság tér (Holy Trinity Square). Here you’ll see Matthias Church (Mátyás templom) which you can enter at a fee. Again, wasn’t bolloxed, there’s plenty of free and worthwhile things to see in the area. It is pretty from the outside though, I’ll give it that.
The absolute highlight of the Castle District is undoubtedly Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya). A neo-gothic terrace on the Castle beside Matthias Church, designed in 1902. From the towers and the terrace, you get an amazing panoramic view the Danube, Margaret Island, Pest to the east and the Gellért Hill. The Bastion itself is named after the fishermen who defended this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. It’s a viewing terrace, with loads stairs and walking paths. Take a look:
I can’t recommend this place enough, you’d be a fool not to come here, it’s an amazing place to get in views of the city and take great pictures. This was by far the highlight of the trip for me. Afterwards we walked down Castle Hill to the Széchenyi Chain Bridge;
Amy is obsessed with bridges for some reason. Anyway, this is Budapest’s first bridge across the Danube to connect Buda and Pest. In the background you can Budapest’s Parliament building. Again we didn’t visit that particular location, we were pretty happy with the photos we got from across the Danube, which is probably the best place to get a good shot!
4. HUNGARIAN STATE OPERA HOUSE.
Or, Magyar Állami Operaház, the walk to the actual Opera House was fancy as fuck, Louis Vuitton and all that good stuff on Andrássy út, if you got €€€€.
It’s a beautiful building, built in 1884 and is the second largest Opera House in Hungary (the tour guide will explain why). We got the tour, which was highly informative and paid the extra fee to see a ‘mini concert’, which to be fair you should see if you’re gunna visit an opera house.
5. RUIN BARS
So Amy and I visited most of the popular Ruin Bars, infact, we pretty much got them all in. They are all the rage in Budapest and have been around for the past 10 years. Most ruin bars are found in the District VII neighborhood, the Jewish Quarter, and are situated in the ruins of abandoned buildings, stores, or in Extra’s case, prisons. These buildings were left to decay after World War II, I guess someone clever came up with the idea to develop these abandoned buildings into hipster pubs. In order of the top we visited, they were definitely:
Mazel Tov – Already mentioned for their food, this is not the place for a piss up. It’s far more elogant than the other bars and by far the prettiest of them all.
Extra – Budapest, Hungary, Klauzál u. 15, 1072
An abandoned former prison, Extra is a stylish ruin bar with exposed-brick walls, with a huge “Extra” light-bulb sign dominating the interior. There are wooden floors and lamps made with red umbrellas hanging above the courtyard. We came twice midweek, it wasn’t exactly buzzing during the week but we really enjoyed their strong cocktails and probably spent most of our money here. They also had a decent looking food menu.
Ankert – Budapest, Paulay Ede u. 33, 1061
Another Great ruin bar.
This place is quite near the Opera house, so you can easily swing by for a post-tour drink. I was really impressed by the somehow contemporary, but run-down appearance of the courtyard. We stopped by during the day, apparently it’s absolutely mental at night, but was super relaxed at the time we visited. They also have an impressive selection of beer to choose from.
Other ruin bars to AVOID AT ALL COSTS:
I have to say the other ruin bars were let down for a number of reasons.
Kuplung – Budapest, Király u. 46, 1061
This place kinda seemed cool…jellyfish lanterns, massive whale mural on the wall, dark lit etc, but the actual clientele were extremely off-putting, looked like the kinda place kids come to deal meth. It was also the only ruin bar we saw that had bouncers on the door, a telling sign. Kuplung had an impressive cocktail menu, but once we ordered one each we realised there was fuck-all alcohol in them, in addition to the watered-down cocktails, we felt highly uncomfortable and out of place. Old seedy guys in tracksuits and teenagers off their tit’s midweek. Furthermore if you look on Facebook or Tripadvisor they have atrocious reviews of the security staff and awful allegations of homophobia, unfortunately we read those reviews upon our return from Budapest, had we known that under no circumstances would they have had our custom. Basically, don’t come here.
Szimpla Kert – Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075
The first ruin bar to grace Budapest. This ruin bar is a fine example of a fucking nightmare. Apparently there is a fine line between what can be considered ‘hipster’ or just an actual piece of dumpster shit. If an STI could be a place, it would be Szimpla Kert.
This ruin bar is basically a big venue with several different bars within it. On the night we visited, a Wednesday, it was packed. Our first sign it was shit-hole was when Amy opened the female bathroom and right at the door, a girl who looked 14 years old was puking her ring up. The place was also filthy. We ordered a beer at one of the bars, which was a hella expensive beer by Budapest’s standards, and had to drink it whilst sitting on a flower pot because there was literally no where to sit or room to or move. We downed our beer and left as soon as we could. Awful place. AWFUL.
As far as other ruin bars are concerned they were average at best. I recommend Mazel Tov for a nice meal. Extra for quiet, civilised drinks and Ankert, where you are free to be the drunken mess you were destined to be 🙂
6. THERMAL BATHS
Yes, Budapest is famous for them, but it’s not my kinda thing so they’re not included and I didn’t visit any. However, I’d be remiss not to mention them. So if unlike me, you do enjoy bathing with hairy strangers, The Lonely Planet have a guide:
St. Stephen’s Basilica
Definitely visit Budapest when you get the opportunity, have a look at my guide, I’m pretty difficult to please, and I enjoyed these places, personally I think they’re helpful in terms of food, bars and top things to do. If you’ve already been to any of these places let me know what you thought by leaving a comment!
Köszönd meg később 😉