Budapest is one of my favorite cities in the world. Of course, I have a special connection, because of my mother’s Hungarian roots. But, it’s also just the ideal European city. It’s never packed with tourists, it’s one of the most affordable Capital’s in Europe, many residents speak English, and of course, it’s gorgeous. I was lucky enough to experience a little bit of everything while I was over there. Now, when someone I know visits, these are the things I immediately recommend.
1) Budapest Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) – When you go to the Great Market Hall, make sure you’re going back to your hotel directly after, because this is where you’ll do your shopping! This is the place to buy gifts for all your friends and family (and of course yourself). The first floor is like the biggest Hungarian farmers market you’ve ever seen; fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, spices, pastries, wine, pálinka. (Be sure to pick up some authentic Hungarian paprika!) On the second floor, you will find beautiful Hungarian embroidery, folk art, handbags, glassware, ceramic, and pretty much anything else you can imagine. There are also a number of restaurants and food vendors throughout the market, so you can grab a quick bite while you’re there.
2) Széchenyi Baths – We just don’t have anything like this in the states. Over 100 years old, the beautiful Széchenyi Baths are some of the largest natural hot springs in Europe, with 18 pools, and 10 saunas. After walking through room after room of smaller pools, saunas, and steam rooms, you will find yourself outside at the largest pool. There, you might find some locals playing chess on the floating chessboards. It’s unbelievable. It’s like swimming at a palace. It is open year-round, including the outdoor area. We were comfortable outside, in February! Plan to spend a few hours there, or it won’t be worth it.
3) Boat tour down the Danube – The boat tour is a great way to rest your feet for an hour or so, while admiring the beauty of the city. The informational tour will offer you insight to both parts of the country, Buda and Pest. Food and drinks are available on most tours. This will be your opportunity for AMAZING photos! You will be cruising past Parliament, under the chain bridge, and there are even a couple stops for you to get off the boat and get the best possible photo. We took this tour during the day, but I would love to go back and take it at night! The city is beautiful all lit up, and you won’t get a better view than from the Danube (except for maybe #7).
4) The ruin bars – The ruin bars in Budapest are usually the first thing I tell people about if they are visiting. As the story goes, at the turn of the century, a bunch of bar-owners were looking for good spots to put their bars, pubs, etc. Someone had the idea to buy the old World World II ruins that still stood throughout the city. Many of which were structurally sound, but were missing basic amenities like a roof….or a floor. But who needs those luxuries? So a wave of trendy, derelict bars started erecting throughout the city. Many of these bars have mismatched furniture, sculptures, projectors showing everything from home videos to vintage films…you get the picture, right? It’s like a thrift store on an acid trip. My favorite, by far, was Szimpla Kert. Not only was it a spectacle, but they also had greasy bread! Another Hungarian essential.
5) Hungarian State Opera House – If you are not lucky enough to see a show at the beautiful Opera House, at least stop by for a guided tour. Not only is the space beautiful, but there is so much rich history filling the theatre. On the tour, you will hear stories about everything from how it survived WWII, to funny antidotes about Madonna. Some of my favorite stories I came home with, were from the Opera House.
6) Parliament – Honestly, I’m not sure I can remember one word our tour guide said, because I was so captivated by the extravagant and grandiose Hungarian Parliament. The building is beautiful on the inside and out. Seeing the Holy Crown of Hungary was my favorite part of the tour – it felt like standing in the presence of royalty. If you’re lucky, you may even get to see the show of the guards.
7) Fishermans Bastion – Not only does this look like a place straight out of Lord of the Rings, but you will not get a better panoramic view of the city than from Fisherman’s Bastion. It is also a good starting point for a walking tour. It is a quick walk to the Buda Castle District, Matthias Church, and tons of shops and cafes.
8) Museum of Music History – Okay I studied music in college, so I may be a little biased on this one. But I was nerding out in this museum! Handwritten sheet music from famous Hungarian composers like Kodaly, Bartok and Lizst – are you kidding me?! Also, there is an entire room of instruments that you can play. Were they meant for kids? Maybe. Did that stop us? Of course not.
9) Beer Tour – If you’ve had enough history lessons for the day, end the night with a beer tour! My dad, the beer-lover and brewery owner, found this amazing Budapest beer tour for us. Not only is it a great way to find all of the cool bars in the area, but you get a locals opinions and insight into the local brews. It was five stops, with a beer at each stop.