Wednesday, 3 February 2016

4 things to NOT do in Budapest (and things to do instead!)

I recently whisked the boyfriend and myself off for a cheeky weekend away to Budapest, Hungary, as his Christmas present. (Aren't I the best?) It was a wonderful trip, and the first we've taken together on our own since July's excursion to Edinburgh! It was the perfect excuse to kick-back, relax, and eat some Goulash.

Thought I'd flip things on their head and compile a list of things to not do if you find yourself in Budapest, because there's honestly too much to tell you to absolutely do.

1. Don't bother with the Hungarian National Assembly (Parliament) Building Tour.

I know, it's number 1 on Trip Advisor, I know it's the largest civic building in Europe and I know it's beautiful, but everything you want from the tour is unceremoniously denied you, like Nescafe was denied Hungarians living under Communist occupation (bit of a leap there...)

The tour costs around 2000fts or £5 per adult with an EU passport, so it's hardly breaking the bank, but the building is on the far north-eastern tip of the city centre region and kinda on its own, so you're committing to trek up there.

Regardless though, what you want (well, what I wanted) was some juice, some gossip, some insider tid bits and things that you'd never forget like, "President whats-his-chops once vomited here after a particularly lively state dinner in honour of the German Chancellor." We got none of that. Instead, I learnt that the building is 96 metres high and boasts 96 steps within it's central entrance hall, both to commemorate the millennia of Hungary and inauguration of the building, in 1896. Snore. I also learn that if you put all the carpets together, from end to end, (which may have actually been more fun) you'd have over 2.5km of carpet. Fascinating.

Honestly though, you do get to see the infamous wonky-topped crown and some nice ceilings, but I just wanted more history, more about the occupations and the building's innovations and technological advances. Some of my thirst was quenched, however, in the post-tour exhibition, where multi-lingual TV screens walk you through aspects of the building's history, including the totally bizarre Communist Russian obsession with putting giant red stars on everything, including the top-most steeple of the central dome of the Parliament building. Ridiculous!

Things to do instead:

A photo posted by Jordan McDowell (@jordanjmcdowell) on

Walk up to the Citadella on Gellért Hill, (District I) it's 100% free and the views are priceless. There are many beautiful aspects in Budapest, the city is named the jewel in the river Danube's crown specifically for the many stunning views that line her banks. But, those from the Citadella are ten times better.
 Wander the streets of Old Town on Castle Hill, (District I) where you'll find the former royal palace, Buda Castle, now the national gallery, library and museum, as well as St. Matthias Church and the current President's house where, if you're lucky, like we were, you'll witness a changing of the guard ceremony!

Tour the St. Stephen's Basilica, for 200ft (or 50p) you can tour the beautiful RC church in the centre of Budapest, (District V) on the Pest side. Its gilded ceilings and effigies are like something out of the Vatican. 

2. Don't just think you can eat anywhere

Whilst it pains me to say this, as I wouldn't want you to think I'm anything but in love with Budapest, Hungary isn't exactly known for it's food. Whilst we did taste some gorgeous Goulash, sensational steaks and Scallops you'd dive into the Danube for (if, y'know, they were there...) this wasn't the case in all restaurants. It would pay to do a little research before putting bottom to seat if you want to avoid frozen pizzas and McDonald's like deep fried Camembert.

Places to eat instead:

Spoon restaurant, a boat restaurant just beside the Chain Bridge, on the Pest side, (District V) with incredible views of Castle Hill, the Chain Bridge and the Citadella from its decks. The food is Hungarian/European, with expert staff and a great house Prosecco too! For two courses, for two people, with drinks, expect to pay around 35000fts or £85. 

Marvelosa, a gorgeous little independent restaurant, with cooking like Old (Hungarian) Mamma used to make. At the foot of Castle Hill's cable car (District I) on the Buda side of the Chain Bridge, you'll find this little cafe/bistro facing the river. Decorated like a Gypsy just found her forever-home, the restaurant gives a new meaning to cosy. If you can, grab the two-seater upstairs table in the window, for perfect people watching aspects out onto the promenade and down into the restaurant via the cut-away mezzanine.  Two courses with ample Dreher (local larger) for two people, expect to pay around 11000ft (£27).

3. Don't go out of you way to visit the 8th District for evening drinks

Famed for being the once-Roma ghetto of Budapest, District 8 had an urban regeneration Salford City Council would be proud of, that came in the 1800s bringing with it beautiful palaces erected by the Hungarian aristocracy, giving the area a new name - The Palace District. Since then, the area was neglected and bullet holes form WWII and the 1959 revolution are still visible in the densely built-up area. Now though, the location has a reputation for a somewhat kaleidoscopic night-life with everything from live poetry readings through to street prostitution. Needless to say, we were excited to experience it. But, it was a bit of a let down. 

The supposed centre of things, Mikszáth Kálmán tér, just behind the National Opera House, was sleepy and quiet. We spotted the Lumen cafe, where the local indie types drink craft ales and eventually sat down for a dinner of mixed emotions at neighbouring Darsham Restaurant up Krudy Gyula utca (street).

Budda Bar, just by the Elizabeth Bridge on the Pest Side (District V), is a bar worthy of royalty. But no, not former European dynasties, this temple is one dedicated to the East. With a cocktail list boasting such delicacies as Sake and velvety and refreshing cucumber Kiwi Kukama, there's enough to entertain you for a whole evening.
There's a little bar on Fo utca (street) off the Chain Bridge round-about on the Buda side (District I), the name escapes me, but it's a hilarious little boozer where the locals go. Wall's filled with random memorabilia (crap) and a double Jamesons is like 2p.

4. Don't visit the over-crowded baths

Rather advice learnt from experience, this was advice I took before headed out to Hungary in the first place, citing Rudas Baths at the foot of Gellért Hill, (District I), as my bath of choice. Dating back to the Turkish occupation, the baths is mainly a mens-only space, but I popped by (when the boyf couldn't be arsed leaving the apartment before our flight home) alone on a mixed day. The baths are enormous and whilst many tourists did find the baths too, there were lots of locals floating around. There are steam rooms, saunas, cold dip baths, ice washes, a swimming pool and pools with spring waters enriched with calcium, magnesium, fluoride ions, hydrogen-carbonate, sulphate and sodium for joint pain and well-being. 

Courtesy of

The number one attraction though, has to be the roof-top pool with views out over the river, a must-dip!

See more of my trip on my Instagram @jordanjmcdowell
Check our my restaurant reviews for Budapest on my TripAdvisor contributor pages