The Hungarian capital – Budapest – is really a tale of two cities. Buda is the fancy schmancy side of the Danube river with the castle and the old town. Pest is the rest of the city, where all the action happens. It’s also a tale of two cities in terms of the nightlife, versus everything else that happens in the light of day. When the sun’s out you can walk up to Buda castle, take in the all encompassing view of the city and take in all you can of this city drenched in history. Then when the sun goes down the city transforms – abandoned apartment blocks that have been left to ruin are teaming with people as Unicum flows freely and ancient turkish baths essentially turn into a nightclub (aka Sparty). The only problem with Budapest is that there’s not enough hours in the day to take in the ‘two cities’ – you really need to stay up 24/7, and then you’ll truly know the meaning of “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
Hungary is part of the Schengen area, so no need to get a specific Hungarian visa if you’re an Aussie (or from most other western countries). Remember, as it is part of the Schengen zone, you can only travel in this area for 90 days in a 180 day period.
- When using the Hungarian currency (Hungarian Forint – HUF) you’re usually dealing with large numbers (when we went $1AUD = 200HUF) so count those zeros and make sure you’re giving people the right note…especially at the ruin bars late at night.
- We only had a few nights in Hungary, which is not nearly enough time to learn the Hungarian language but we did learn how to say Cheers. Egg-esh-sheg-ad-reh = Cheers and make sure you look the person in the eyes when you cheers them.
- We did Hungary on $60AUD per person per night (including food, drink, accomodation, transport etc.) We stayed 4 nights in Budapest, went to a few museums and went out most nights so you could do it a bit cheaper if you wanted to.
- Trains are the best way to get around this part of Europe. We caught a train from Prague to Budapest and it took just 7 hours. NB: if you don’t pay extra to reserve your seat you may not get one – we were walking up and down the train for 20 minutes to try and find a seat.
- Once in Budapest you can use the fairly extensive metro (which is the 2nd oldest in the world), the trams (which are the longest in the world) or the buses.
- Check out: Free walking tour – the best way to get a crash course on the best places to go in the city. These are very popular though, so you’ll be sharing your guide with lots of people. The Jewish Quarter – is the bohemian part of the city with heaps of cool places to eat, drink and party in the ruin bars. Did someone say ruin bars? Instant – the BIGGEST ruin bar in Budapest, you can spend all night (and day) partying in the labyrinth of rooms and dancefloors. Szimpla Kert – our favourite ruin bar! It’s such an interesting place that we went back the next morning just to take in the architecture. Anker’t – upmarket ruin bar with a massive outdoor beer garden. House of Terror – an eye opening museum that used to be the secret police HQ for Hungary’s fascist and communist governments (it’s popular though so be prepared to line up and wait). There’s a plethora of thermal baths in Budapest, the most popular is Széchenyi Baths which also home of the sparty (a spa party – think lots of people getting trashed in a pool). If you’re after something something a little quieter go to Veli Bej – it’s the locals favourite and the oldest in Budapest. Buda Castle District – a trip to Budapest isn’t complete without exploring the castle on the hill. For a Instagramable birds eye view of Budapest you have to walk up to the Liberty Statue and the Citadel Fortress. The former nuclear bunker and hospital carved into the Buda Castle hill is now the Hospital in the Rock Museum which is worth a quick tour if you’ve done everything else in the city. Hungarian Parliament – this attention grabbing Gothic style building is also the largest and tallest building in Budapest.
- Eat & Drink: The national drink of Hungary is Unicum which is similar to Jagermeister but a tad harsher, best to shoot it! Kürtőskalács – or Hungarian chimney cakes…need I say more. Lángos – a delicious deep fried flat bread usually topped with cheese and sour cream, sometimes called a Hungarian pizza.
- We stayed at: Central Backpackers – as the name suggests it was in a great central location, met some cool people there but it’s very basic budget accomodation. Luckily we were out most of the day and night so it was just a place to get a few hours shut eye each night/early morning.
Did you know?
- Apparently it’s the law in Hungary that no building can be higher than 96 metres tall, because that’s the height of the Hungarian Parliament.
- Hungary in Hungarian = Magyarország and the people of Hungary are called Magyar.
- Hungary was the first Soviet satellite state to stage an uprising against the post-Stalin Soviet Union, although the 1956 uprising was brutally crushed by the USSR.
If New York is the city that never sleeps then Budapest must be it’s cousin. There’s so much to see and do in this city that it feels like there’s just not enough hours in the day. Soak up the rich cultural heritage of the cosmopolitan city in the day time, criss crossing over the Danube to immerse yourself in historical Buda. When the sun goes down the city turns into a new being, with revellers making tracks for the Jewish quarter as beer and Unicum flow freely in the dilapidated apartment blocks and factories they call ‘ruin bars’. There’s something to suit everyone’s appetite in Budapest, so I hope you’re Hungary (sorry couldn’t help myself).