Budapest is one of those European hubs that inevitably makes it into anyone’s Euro-trip itinerary for one reason or another. It was the nightlife that drew me in, since I’d heard and read so many good things about it. For others, it might be the impressive blend of architectural styles, the sweeping views over the River Danube, the unbelievable attractiveness of its people, or just a bowl of hearty Goulash.
Essentially, there is a hell of a lot to see and do over a long weekend in Budapest, but there are things you should avoid too, as with just about anywhere. Based on my personal experience, here is my list of Dos and Don’ts of Budapest…
…take the free, guided walking tour
If your stay in Budapest is short-lived, this should be your top priority. The Walking Tour takes place twice a day, at 10.30am and 2.30pm, starting at the central Vörösmarty Square (The Lion Fountain). From here, the guides, who speak perfect English, lead you around both sides of the city– Buda and Pest –on a tour of the top sights such as the Danube Promenade, Municipal Concert Hall, Gresham Palace and the Castle District area.
It takes about 2-3 hours and is a unique opportunity to form a better understanding of the history, culture and tradition of Budapest. It is free, but you are of course expected to tip, since it is often the case that the guides do not have any other income.
…visit the Gellért Baths
Probably the city’s greatest tourist attraction, The Gellért Baths are not to be missed, no matter what your budget or timeframe. It is the Spa enthusiast’s wet dream (excuse the pun), due to its collection of beautifully adorned thermal baths that are filled with healing minerals and maintain a temperature of around 35-40˚C. Budapest is, in fact, the international centre for balneology, after being recognised for its enviable combination of natural beauty, medical professionalism and healing waters in 1937.
There are also saunas, plunge pools and even an open-air swimming pool with a wave machine. As I said, a wet dream…
…try some of the local fodder
Everyone’s heard of Goulash. It’s basically Hungarian hot pot: meat and veg but with a few spices thrown in. It’s probably the sort of thing most of us avoid when browsing a pub grub menu in Britain, but as you might expect it is well worth trying when in Rome. I had mine at Paprika Étterem (Dósza Györgoy ut. 72) for a very reasonable price.
For dessert, or just a snack, you could feast on a ‘lángos’, a deep-fried doughy flat bread topped with sour cream and grated cheese, eaten warm. They are pretty heavy, so you might need to share, and are usually available from any outdoor food stalls in market areas.
…hop between the Ruin Pubs
Last month I dedicated an entire post to my favourite thing about Budapest: the Ruin Pubs. These back-street enterprises have their own charm, but share certain similarities. The key component is an abandoned building, preferably with a open outdoor area to cram a few picnic tables and slightly ostentatious decorations into. Throw in a few beer taps and a clientele of bearded hipsters and hey presto, you’ve got yourself a Ruin Pub.
There are loads to choose from, and most are open throughout the day and into the night when they turn into trendy nightclubs. Have a look-y here for my top 5 recommendations.
…talk to the locals
It may or may not occur to you at any given point during your stay in Budapest that the people who live there are, generally, unbelievably beautiful. And the best part is, they (at least the ones in the Ruin Pubs) are almost always up for chatting to tourists. This bodes well for us boys, who, collectively, would doubtless agree that this is a very, very good thing. Hungarians are generally very good English speakers and eager to practice; this doesn’t mean they want to sleep with you but it is a cultural exchange nonetheless.
Never know though, could get lucky.
…take more than one free, guided walking tour
One is enough, unless you love walking and you have a lot of time to kill. I took the Jewish District Walking Tour the day after the regular walking tour and it didn’t really do it for me. Although the sights were interesting, like the Holocaust Memorial, the guide really did drag it on for far too long, stopping often for 15-20 minute-long bursts of high-speed information. So maybe I was unlucky, but in hindsight I wish I’d have done that one myself. Once you’re in the group, you feel obliged to stay.
…take foreign currency with you
Big no-no. I arrived in Budapest with about €50 worth of Serbian Dinar, and absolutely nobody would take it off my hands. Apparently in Hungary, NO bank or Western Union branch exchanges Serbian Dinar for Hungarian Forint. I couldn’t understand the clerk’s reason, but I’m sure it was something to do with politics. Whatever. Just don’t make the same mistake as me, or you’ll be preyed upon by the dodgy dealers in the train station.
…use the Metro
You’d have thought that Budapest’s status as one of the most visited European capitals might have prompted someone important to simplify the Metro ticket system, but sadly this is not the case. In Budapest, you must first buy a ticket– okay –and then validate your ticket with the guard. Hmm. If you fail to do this then the guard manning the station where you get off might get nasty and make you pay an on-the-spot fine of 16,000 HUF (roughly €50). Moreover, make sure you read the small print; a standard ticket permits only a 3-stop ride. One stop over and you’re risking that €50 again. Beware.
July and August, like in the UK, are warm months in Hungary. September, evidently, is not. Clear, but cold. I had packed one pair of jeans, a jumper and a shell jacket for extra layers. Other than when I went to bed, I never wore anything else.
…fall for the ‘Budapest Classic’
Earlier we discussed the locals’ enthusiasm for talking to tourists, and I made a rather a rather sordid insinuation. Sorry about that. But the truth is, we need to look at the dangers of this in closer detail, namely, the risk of falling for the ‘Budapest Classic’. This is clever stunt, which, I hasten to add, I did not fall for, but, according to another traveller (and his taxi driver) is whereby a sexy-as-hell woman approaches a lone male tourist, claiming she has lost her friends, before going on to suggest they go to a nearby pub to grab a drink. This, believe it or not, is a trap: Lone male goes to bar, mysterious and beautiful woman quietly orders a bottle of expensive champagne, mysterious and beautiful woman pretends to go to the toilet but actually leaves through the back entrance, lone male is presented with bill, lone male realises, lone male pays, runs away, or goes through a lot of shit that lone male really doesn’t want.
Have you been to Budapest? What did you enjoy? Got any more tips to add to the list? Please leave a comment below…