I had heard nothing but good things about Budapest, and I decided to finally go when I saw cheap flights for the beginning of November and my British travel partner, Connie, was down to join me. We were there two full days, which was enough time to fit in all the major sights—free walking tour, cathedral, baths, Christmas market, etc—without rushing.
The weather was a comfortable 60 degrees and sunny every day, which could be why I enjoyed the city so much. But it just ended up being a relaxing, beautiful trip and I’m so glad I took the plunge and went. Here’s why:
Always of utmost importance to me is a country’s food. So many dishes featured paprika, Hungary’s national spice. Our first night, I had an incredible roast duck with crispy skin, crispy noodles and caramelized cabbage with a nice paprika sauce. At the Christmas market, I had roast pork and potatoes stewed with paprika. The flavors were so simple and straightforward, but perfectly executed, and that’s what made this dish stand out the most. And I can’t forget about the Hungarian classic, longos. They’re fried dough topped with sour cream, garlic and cheese. I’ve seen them so many times at wine festivals in Germany, but I didn’t try one until now. Needless to say I will be seeking these fatty babies out at every Christmas market this year.
The Coffee Shops
To go along with the food, I don’t know what it is about Eastern Europe, but I have never seen the abundance of specialty coffee shops that I have seen in Prague, Krakow and now Budapest. While there were more Starbucks locations than in most cities, we never had trouble finding cute little local shops serving fancy cappuccinos and pastries. There was even a cat cafe! We went at 4 p.m. so I had a beer instead of coffee, but this was my first cat cafe! I’m hooked now. We could’ve stayed in Budapest for a whole week and had a different place to try every day. I just don’t have that in Germany.
To finish up my spiel about the food and coffee, I will say that everything in the city is super affordable. The cafes and restaurants were much cheaper than in Western Europe. We “splurged” on an Airbnb where we would each have our own bedroom and that was still within our budget. The public transport was not only efficient but also cost less than €1 for a trip. For reference, one bus journey where I live is €2.80. If you’re looking for a cheap destination in Europe, Budapest is it.
One of the most popular things to do in Budapest is swim in its thermal baths, which have been a part of the city ever since the Turks brought this aspect of their culture over during their rule of Hungary hundreds of years ago. We went for the Szechenyi Baths, the city’s most popular option. The grand yellow building housed numerous rooms with baths of different temperatures. Outside, there was a lap pool and two other pools—one was about 90 degrees and the other was about 100. This was probably my favorite part of the trip and November is an ideal time to go because you can really appreciate the hot water and the pools weren’t too crowded.
This river, the second longest in Europe, separates the older side of town, Buda, from the newer side of town, Pest. The best way to enjoy it is to take a river cruise. We chose to do one at 4 p.m. so we could see the sunset. The journey began when it was still light out and the city came alive with lights as it got darker. The waterfront is always my favorite part of a city, and the Danube is certainly a stunner.
I’m no expert and I’m not here to retell the history of the city that I learned on our free walking tour, but I will say the country has been through a lot since its establishment in 896. It’s always worth doing one of these tours to learn more about the context of the sights you’re seeing, especially because I knew pretty much nothing about Hungary before this. I always come off these tours feeling a bit more educated for the small price of tipping the guide.
Budapest has an interesting mix of architectural styles that caught my eye. Its most iconic building is its Parliament, which is the second largest Parliament in the world after Bucharest. The best view in the city was from in front of Parliament looking across the river at the church on the top of Castle Hill in Buda. I wish pictures could do this view justice. Called the Matthias Church, it’s one of the prettiest I’ve ever seen with its white facade and colorful tiled roof. Nearby was Fisherman’s Bastion, once home to a fish market. This architecture was definitely interesting and albeit a little confusing to me because our tour guide didn’t have much of an explanation for the strange conical roofs. Another nice way to see the city was from the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica, which offered 360-degree views and there was even an elevator–no difficult climbing for this one!
I knew Budapest’s party culture was better than most European cities because of its ruin bars set up in the foundations of old buildings. We went to Szimpla Kert, which is one of the most touristy ones, but had a really great time. There are even pub crawls that go to multiple ruin bars, so that would have been a nice way to experience more of them, and maybe some with more locals, but we were happy with our trip to Szimpla Kert.
The Christmas Market
I did my research beforehand and was disappointed to see that the Christmas market didn’t open until the weekend after we were there. But when we arrived to a big square for the start of our walking tour, we were surprised to see all the little stalls set up, and the market actually opened the following morning! A huge food stand with different vendors selling stews, dumplings, and mulled wine was set up in the middle with tables, and the shops surrounded it. The stalls sold a variety of goods, and I couldn’t leave without buying some handmade Hungarian Christmas decorations. My mom and I try to collect an ornament from each country we visit. I was already in the Christmas spirit (early bird, I know), but this got me even more pumped for December to come.