Oh, Budapest. Before we set out for our trip to Bratislava, Budapest, and Vienna, I probably heard the most glowing reviews of Budapest. The city is known for its beauty and affordability, and it is also a party haven for backpackers. Many other travelers I know list Budapest among their absolute favorite cities in the world, so I had pretty high expectations going in! Not sure where Budapest is? It’s the capital of Hungary, which is located south of Slovakia in Eastern Europe. Budapest is actually comprised of two cities – Buda, which is on the west side of the Danube River, and Pest (pronounced “pesht,” which is on the east side).
We arrived in Budapest by train from Bratislava, which took about 2.5 hours and cost roughly 17 euro each. We got there around 2 pm and set about finding our Airbnb apartment, which we had gotten for the amazingly cheap price of 50 euro per night – right in the heart of the city’s historic sights and entertainment district! It ended up being just as great as the one in Bratislava, and I was feeling pretty pleased with my planning skills at this point.
Immediately after arriving, we headed out to visit Castle Hill and the famous Chain Bridge and take in the sights of the city at night, as recommended by a reader who grew up in Budapest! The sun sets at around 4 pm this time of year everywhere we visited, which at first seems like it would kind of suck. However, it meant that we were always out walking around at sunset and were able to get some really incredible pictures thanks to the perfect lighting!
Right away, we were struck by the huge difference between Bratislava and Budapest. Budapest is a beautiful and historic city, but even its most touristy portions are still busy and vibrant. Bratislava, by contrast, was quiet and calm. Our apartment was in the perfect location to walk around, so we headed across the Chain Bridge and made the hike up to Buda Castle and Castle Hill. At this point, Budapest had me – the views were just as incredible as I expected, with Parliament all lit up across the river and the lights of the city twinkling below. I think I took 1000 pictures trying to get the view just right.
After spending at least an hour walking around the historic Castle Hill area and taking in the sights of St. Matthias Church Church, it was time to head to dinner. Once again, I was shocked by the number of gluten-free options available and we were able to head to a traditional Hungarian restaurant that was 100% gluten free! I love trying the local food when I travel, but it isn’t always possible, so it was so exciting to find a restaurant where I knew I was safe to try anything and I didn’t have to just stick to salad! The goulash soup was delicious, but it also made me realize that whatever my mom had been making and calling “goulash” when I was growing up was definitely not even remotely related to actual goulash.
Next up on our agenda was a pub tour that started at 8 pm. It is very important for me to point out that we picked the 8 pm tour specifically because we did not want to be out super late and most of the other tours started at 10. After long days of sightseeing, we knew that starting at 10 pm was not going to happen, so we decided to go as early as possible. Upon reflection, this was actually a terrible mistake because it just gave us more time to drink.#Budapest is beautiful at night, but as @thetrexrunner learned, beware the early pub crawl! Click To Tweet
It is a little bit different traveling with AJ rather than by myself or with my friends, because it can be a little bit awkward to be outgoing as a couple and neither of us are naturally outgoing people anyway. When I’m by myself or with my friends, it is easier because I just force myself to, but it is a little harder as a couple. Anyway, the whole reason we did the tour was so we could meet people, so I decided to randomly clink glasses with the guys next to me at the first bar. Felix, Stef, and Laurens are from Belgium and thankfully had an excellent command of the English language since we do not speak Dutch. We became fast friends while discussing the likelihood of our tour guide being either drunk or high prior to the start of the tour (we decided he was definitely high) and trying to figure out why on earth the Hungarian band performing on stage at the first bar was flying the Confederate flag. Thankfully, we were not at the bar long enough for me to have enough drinks to become belligerent enough to find out. We did, however, consume a truly terrible form of alcohol called Palinka which I must tell you never to drink. Ever. It’s too late for me, but save yourselves.
The guys were very impressed by the fact that I knew a) where Belgium was b) the fact that they speak both Dutch and French and c) the names of the rival groups within the country, but I was impressed that they knew so much about America. I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, but they really had a very detailed knowledge of the American electoral system, the history of the Confederate flag, and the various pros and cons of our healthcare system (it was a long night, we had a lot of time). As we headed from bar to bar and kept buying more rounds of shots and drinks, we asked each other all sorts of questions about our various countries and it led to some excellent conversations. Even though I don’t always (or seemingly at all, lately) agree with the decisions our country makes, I do understand the reasons behind them and I feel it is my personal responsibility to explain America to people abroad if they ask about it. This becomes considerably easier to do, but also possibly less accurate, when I am drinking
Our tour took us to four different pubs, ending at one of the famous “ruin pubs” in the Jewish Quarter. We ended up at Szimpla Kert, which is the original “ruin pub,” and which was also recommended to me by numerous people. Szimpla Kert was founded 12 years ago in the old Jewish Quarter, which at the time consisted of a lot of crumbling, ruined, and condemned buildings. Three brothers had the idea of buying one of the old buildings and turning it into a small bar with an outdoor movie theater, but they didn’t want to invest a ton of money. They did enough work to make the building safe but left it mostly “ruined” and used old furniture found out in the streets, local art, and strange thrift decorations to create the atmosphere. There’s even a communist-era car inside the bar that you can sit in! It ended up that the bar itself became way more popular than the movie theater, so they ended up expanding to different bars in each room and filling up the building. It is truly an experience unlike any place I’ve ever been, to put it mildly.
The place was packed by the time we got there…but I have no idea what time we got there because we have no concept of time while traveling. I’d say it was probably around midnight. The atmosphere was insane and the shots and drinks kept flowing, often at the insistence of my sweet husband who, as you shall soon find out, is really terrible at drinking. We randomly played foosball, tried to get as many other people as possible to take shots and play foosball, and just generally had a blast. Then someone looked at their phone and we realized it was 4 am. Uh oh.
Recognizing the world of hurt we were going to be in for in a few short hours, we bid goodbye to the Belgians (after making them promise to come to our house for Thanksgiving 2017), grabbed some nachos, and headed back to the apartment. And at 1:30 pm, I woke up. Oops. Not exactly ideal when you’re traveling somewhere for a very short time and need to make every hour count!
AJ was basically incapacitated (like I said, he’s not very good at drinking), so I headed out for a free walking tour of the Jewish Quarter on my own, thanks to my body’s freakish ability to avoid hangovers. On the way, I found the Christmas markets and vowed to drag AJ out of bed after the tour and bring him back. The tour itself was fascinating – Budapest is home to the second largest synagogue in the world and at one time had one of the largest Jewish populations in the world.
Surprisingly, the Holocaust did not begin in Budapest or Hungary until 1944, but when it happened, it happened fast. In just 9 short weeks, the ghetto in Budapest saw the deaths of approximately 20,000 Jews before being liberated by the Soviets, and more than 400,000 Jewish people were deported from the countryside to Auschwitz – the fastest deportation in Europe. Today, the Jewish population is considerably smaller but still maintains an important presence. Interesting fact: 13 of the 14 Hungarian Nobel Prize winners were Jewish.
After the walking tour, I headed back to the apartment to grab AJ and head to the Christmas markets. We had some mulled wine and walked around from booth to booth, marveling at the lights, sights, and smells. You can buy tons of different types of gifts, food, and drinks and it really is quite a scene.
Suffice to say that we weren’t feeling that awesome, so we called it a relatively early night after dinner and some souvenir shopping. The next morning, we had just a few hours to do some more walking around the city before grabbing a bus to Vienna, and we wanted to make the most of it. While part of me definitely regrets staying out so late at the pub tour and missing out on valuable hours to see Budapest in the morning, it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget, and we made some awesome new friends out of the deal. And that’s what traveling is all about, right?
Budapest is definitely somewhere I’d recommend visiting. It’s easy to get around, lodging, food, and drinks are inexpensive (our apartment was 50 euro per night in the heart of the city and our average meal, including alcohol and dessert, was around 30 euro for both of us), and the people speaking absolutely impeccable English. Again, thank goodness, because we obviously don’t speak Hungarian, and no other tourist does either. It’s a busy and vibrant city and I wouldn’t exactly call it laidback, especially during the busy tourist times of year. But it’s beautiful and, as noted, has a rather…robust night life. Just don’t do the early pub tour. Ever.
LEAVE A COMMENT: Is Budapest on your bucket list? Have you ever visited? When was the last time your night plan took over the following day?