I stumbled across this quote by Anthony Bourdain when I was researching my trip to Budapest in November 2015. I’d done that thing that my friends know me for; booking flights on a moment’s whim (next whimsical bookings: Croatia and Japan). So I had 5 days in Budapest to plan, and I was so excited about exploring this historical city.
I was lucky enough to be visiting at the start of the festive season, so I enjoyed my first evening in Budapest wandering around the Christmas market that was erected in Vörösmarty Square. It was wonderful; I stopped to enjoy a local band play festive tunes to the gathered families, I ate hearty goulash out of a bread bowl, watched men manipulating hot iron straight out of a furnace, and admired the sparkly lights and row after row of small stalls offering handmade trinkets. I also treated myself to the famous Hungarian Chimney Cake (otherwise known as Kurtoskalaces); thin pastry ribbon wrapped around wood and baked over hot coals, coated in cinnamon sugar that caramelises as it bakes. It was amazing, and I had one a couple of times during my trip! I wandered back to my hostel via the River Danube and stared in wonder at the Buda side of the city. Did you know Buda is the western side and Pest the eastern side of the city, separated by the Danube?
Day two in Budapest was a perfect build on the first evening. I awoke earlyish and headed back to Vörösmarty Square to meet up with the free walking tour group. If you’ve ever travelled in Europe you’ll know the ones; local guides bedecked in yellow who lead a really informative 2-3 hour tour of whichever city you’re in.
I was placed into one of the tour groups of around 20 people, and befriended a Korean girl Hayley who I ended up spending most of the day and evening with! The tour took us through some of the central parts of Pest and then over the Danube into Buda. St Stephen’s Basilica was spectacular from outside, and later in my trip I paid to go in and climb to the top. We also went via the Hungarian State Opera House, across the Chin Bridge and up Castle Hill before finishing at Matthias Church. The tour leader was knowledgeable, fun, and managed the group really well. The tour took just over 2 hours and I paid our guide a small tip as a thank you (totally optional, but I really enjoyed myself). The tour left me with a sense of knowing what I was doing, and where I wanted to go!
In the afternoon I explored more of St Matthias Church and ramparts- the multi coloured roof is something to behold and in the bright winter sunshine looking over the Danube back to Pest was breathtaking. I treated myself to more cake, this time at the renowned Ruszwurm Cukrászda which was recommended to me by many people and is highly rated on Tripadvisor and Lonely Planet. I had a slice of Dobos cake which is 5 layers of sponge alternated with chocolate buttercream, topped with caramel. It was divine! Dobos cake was first created in Budapest in the late 19th Century and given how delicious it is I am not surprised that it’s appeal has lasted!
I then continued on to explore more of the castle at the top of the hill. On our tour we had been told that it was a mostly unused building, more of a ceremonial palace, with the windows replaced with plastic double glazing; it makes for an odd piece of architecture. Around the back of the building are parts with more character, including an incredible dried up fountain. Wandering around the somewhat deserted grounds was pretty relaxing. But I had to move on. My main aim for the day was to catch the sunset from the top of Gellért Hill at the citadel, so I had to get my butt moving!
It took a fair amount of referencing the map from my Lonely Planet guide to get from the Castle, down that hill, and across to the bottom of Gellért Hill. Then I was ready for the slightly arduous climb up to the citadel, and I was ready to be rewarded with the supposed spectacular views across the city. It was a reasonably tough walk up, but living in Bristol I walk up a lot of hills every day, so my legs were ok with the climb. There was a fair amount of literature attached to the side the citadel, which was really interesting to help understand the history of what the people of Budapest had been through. I waited atop the hill for over an hour for sunset, taking what felt like hundreds of photos of the sun setting behind the statues atop the hill. As the sun set, the crowds started to thin, and the lights of the city were turned on. It really was spectacular and I felt so peaceful watching the city below me see in the night as the day came to an end.
After walking back down Gellért Hill and to my hostel for a quick pit stop, it was back out to find dinner. I can’t remember where I went in the end, but it was a traditional Hungarian restaurant in the Jewish Quarter. I had pork 3 ways with pickles and a beer and it was substantial and delicious. I was so full, but ready to head to a ruin bar to start to experience the famous Budapest nightlife!
Our hostel had arranged a pub crawl with their sister hostel so I headed there after dinner where I befriended a few other travellers from France and the US. We had a great time exploring Szimpla Kertmozi, the biggest and most famous ruin bar in all of Budapest. It was crazy, every room and floor had a different theme, there were vines everywhere, games consoles that controlled the lights; it was such a cool atmosphere. We also toured a few other bars, including one that had half price Mondays, but it was so busy our group headed back to Szimpla to enjoy the crazy atmosphere there. Plus the beer in Budapest is cheap enough not to worry about half price deals when you have to queue 20 minutes to get served! Many beers were had, and when Hayley and I left to head back to our hostel it was so late there was nowhere to get a late night snack! Hellish!
My first two days in Budapest were amazing, and this fabulous city was well on the way to stealing my heart.
Part 2 is available here if you’d like to read more 🙂