This past October I made my way over to Europe again to spend the autumn and holiday season with my love. My work schedule was going to be more intense this time around so I had to be strategic about the cities I wanted to visit. For this stay, I spent a majority of my time in Berlin, but did get to travel some. One of the cities I’ve been wanting to visit for some time was Budapest and we made it happen one weekend in December.We arrived in Budapest around lunch time. We took a couple buses over to our Airbnb, which was located on the Pest side, checked in, dropped off our bags, and immediately went on the hunt for some food.
If my stay in a city is short, I try to eat only street food or local cuisine from the country. About three minutes walking from our apartment, we came across a Hungarian buffet style sit down. The crowd was made up of only locals, which I loved, and only hearty authentic Hungarian food on the menu. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing menu nor the best tasting food I’ve had but it filled me up. When trying a county’s cuisine, we have to be mindful of it’s history and landscape, that alone tells you so much about why certain recipes were created.We shared a broccoli soup, nokedli (dumplings), and rantott sajt (fried cheese), before heading over to the Buda side.As I mentioned earlier, our rental was on the Pest side. We were only a few steps away from the famous 2 tram line that would take us into Buda and past all the famous landmarks such as the Parliament building.Instead of taking the tram, we decided to walk over the Margaret Bridge. We took our time and spent a good 15 minutes taking in the view, enjoying the sun shine on our faces, and conversing about the sentiment other Europeans have about Eastern Europe, although many people consider Hungary to be in Central Europe. I don’t know, please correct me if I’m wrong.Once we crossed over the bridge, the first landmark that we encountered was the Hungarian Parliament, you can’t miss it. Although the building is on the Pest side, we wanted to view the front of it, which can only be done by being on the Buda side on the Dunabe river front. The completion of this stunning building was in 1904 and was built in the classic Gothic Revival style. It is one of the tallest buildings in Budapest and houses the Holy Crown of Hungary or as some call it, Crown of St. Stephen. Although we didn’t make it inside, I read that it’s also just as stunning in the inside. It’s grandiose in decor with plenty of stones, gold, grand staircases, courtyards, the works.After taking some time to admire this building from afar, we walked uphill to the beautiful Fisherman’s Bastion. As its name suggests, this part of the castle was once used primarily by fishermen. During times of battle, this area was also used as an area to defend the castle and city walls against intruders like the Turks. In the Holy Trinity Square, which is right in front of the Bastion lies the famous Matthias Church. This Catholic Church was built in 1015 but the current structure that stands was built in the 14th century and restored in the 19th century.Since the Bastion and church are right by each other it was easy to walk back and forth between both. One of the highlights of the Bastion is the beautiful panoramic view that can be seen from its terraces. We arrived to this area around 1 pm on a Friday afternoon, and as any traveler knows, it’s the worst possible time visit most public landmarks, but since we had only a day in a half left to sight see, we strategically planned out our route.
Despite the crowds, it was pretty easy to maneuver around them and enjoy the intricate architecture and weather. It was a great way to kick off our first day being there. After taking in these three landmarks, we headed downhill. On the way down, there are many routes to choose from, but we opted to walk past the Hungarian National Gallery and then came across the Buda Hill Funicular, which was right by the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, or simply, the Chain Bridge. This bridge spans across the Danube and allows the people to walk to and from Buda and Pest. It was built in 1849 and designed by and English man and built by a Scottish man.It was the first permanent bridge that linked the east and west together. The lions set at each of the abutments were hand carved and the cast iron on the bridge was added in 1914 to strengthen it. There are 8 bridges that span across the Danube, we only crossed two but enjoyed every step of both the Margaret and the Chain Bridge.We had made it back to the Pest side and were approaching early evening. By chance we came upon our very first Christmas market of the season and were immediately awakened by the spirit and smell of the hearty food and mulled wine.We browsed around a bit and then sat to enjoy some mulled wine, I ordered the red wine and my love the white wine. The Christmas Markets hadn’t opened yet in Berlin so it was nice to kick off the spirit in a new city.Traditional Hungarian cuisine was offered all throughout the market. Music was playing from the vendors stalls and tourist were happily indulging in the goods.The holiday lights were gleaming as the evening was getting darker. After about an hour or so of people watching and walking around we decided to ditch the tourist and visit the last landmark on our list for the day.We made our way over to the Jewish Quarter, or 7th district, to view the Dohány Street Synagogue and the memorial honoring those murdered during the Holocaust. On the way over, the ambiance quickly changed from glitz and glam to raw and real. We walked past tons of junk tossed on the side walks. Apparently a couple times a year residents are allowed to pile their junk in certain parts of the city but this seemed like it was done quite frequently.
Everything and anything was dumped on the sidewalk, from furniture, to records, to kitchen appliances, and random popcorn costumes. People gathered in groups to load and possibly sell the items and some individually scoped through the pile in hopes of acquiring a good find. For good times sake we put on the popcorn costume and walked around in it. If anyone has more insight into the lontalanitas culture please comment below.Once we arrived at the synagogue, we were shocked at its massive size. It was my first time visiting one and I learned that construction for it began in 1854 to serve the large Jewish community in the area. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and was built in the Moorish Revival style.
The Jewish Quarter has tons of character and was once a ghetto that only housed Hungarian Jews. In recent times there’s been a revival in Jewish culture and food in the area. As with happens with many ghettos in larger cities, gentrification has slowly started to kick in. Hip bars, art, coffee shops, boutiques, record stores, and just the general vibe varies greatly from other parts of Budapest. One of the trendier places that is recommended to visit in this quarter is Karavan and the Ruin bars.
Karavan is a street food courtyard that offers foods outside of the Hungarian cuisine or a twist on traditional Hungarian dishes. The reviews on Yelp and Trip Advisor rate this place quite high but honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. Coming from California and having lived in NYC, my standards for food trucks and creative cuisine are quite high. There weren’t that many options being served, I’m not sure if it was because it was winter but there was nothing out of the ordinary, so we settled for some veggie burgers and chimney cakes.
We ended our first evening in Budapest checking out two bars and decided to check out the Ruin bars the following evening. Hopaholic, which is in the Jewish Quarter, and another bar heading back towards our Airbnb, whose name I don’t recall. Hopaholic is a craft beer bar decked out in vibrant green colors and fun stickers scattered all over, that offers its guest an extensive list of craft beer from all over the globe. We conversed over some delicious Hungarian crafts, again, the names I don’t know but if you are a fan of beer, I recommend stopping by. The last bar we visited was just an average local bar. Chill music, people playing board games, and a game of beach futbol was playing by the bar. We ordered a Cid and a Gösser, an Austrian beer which is a favorite in that bar. We couldn’t leave without taking a shot of palinka, a fermented fruit drink home grown in Hungary.The following day was reserved for visiting the famous New York Cafe, the Széchenyi Baths, and tasting some good ol goulash. We had walked past the cafe the day before and knew the line would be out the door but we only waited about 15 minutes before being seated, the staff knows exactly how to seat and maneuver the loads of tourist visiting.Everything about this cafe was stunning. Coffee house culture began in the 16th century in Europe and flourished in the 19th century, at one point Budapest had over 300 coffee houses around the city.Artist and writers occupied many of the cafes, sipping on amazing coffee, snacking, and working on their craft. During the world wars many of them were sadly destroyed and the communist party did not support them thinking that it was a place for liberals to organize against the party. Many were eventually restored to their original form.The New York Cafe is probably the most beautiful, which is one of the reasons I wanted to check it out. It opened in 1894 and offers more than just coffee. It’s a pricey place but to be in that gorgeous atmosphere and to be able to listen to the Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band is absolutely worth it.
I ordered the 24 carat gold hot chocolate, which was so creamy and divine. He ordered the 24 carat gold cappuccino. Each drink had gold flakes scattered on the top, which added to the fancy experience..and to the bill but hey! For the one time that I’ll ever visit Budapest why not.Immediately after we bused it over to the Széchenyi Baths. As titled above, one of Budapests nicknames is “City of Spas”. It’s the only city that has the most thermal and medicinal springs in the world, coming in with a whopping 118 of them. In the second century the Romans enjoyed them on a daily but now anyone can enjoy them. There are 15 public spas, some off the grid and some extremely crowded like the Széchenyi Baths. If my time in a city is limited, like for this trip, I just go for it. We went dead in the middle of the afternoon and stood for three hours. It was crowded but everyone still had tons of room to swim and soak in peace. The hot baths outside were my favorite. Floating in the hot water outside in the winter air was just marvelous for the body and mind, not to mention, the sun was out and we even caught the sunset. We spent about an hour inside hopping around all the pools and steam rooms. If you visit Budapest, you have to make time to visit a spa!By the time we got out, it was dark. I had a surprise for my love at 8 pm, a river cruise down the Danube. So we played it safe until then, I got a simple cup of goulash, a traditional stew that dates back to medieval Hungary. It began as a food eaten by shepherds but then became a country favorite. Meat and hearty veggies are cooked in a broth with tons of spices, especially paprika. Good for the soul, and worth me breaking my veggie diet for.
The last place we visited before our cruise was a Ruin bar, which happened to be right next to Karavan in the Jewish Quarter. Although Ruin bars sound old, they aren’t. Pretty much buildings destroyed during the wars that have been uninhabited for some time had become a great place for youth to gather, drink, and party. Szimpla Kert, the name of it, came to be in 2001. It began as an underground movement but now is super trendy and filled to the gill during the weekend. We didn’t drink or party there just walked around the massive building which has about 20 rooms, tons of stairs, and secret passageways. I could see why its a popular attraction for many.After that we bused it over to the river front and walked into our boat. It was the perfect way to end our trip before heading out the next morning. It came with with drinks and an audio history about Budapest. The night was cool and clear and the Parliament building shined like a bright star. For only having spent the weekend in Budapest, I felt like I saw and experienced many things. Of course, there’s way more to see but we also wanted to relax since it was just a weekend getaway. Budapest is highly visited by many around the globe. Like any big city, it has its issues but for what it’s worth, I absolutely enjoyed my weekend here, I won’t visit again but do recommend it to others.