First thoughts when we landed in Budapest? “OMG it’s bloody freezing!” We arrived in -2 degrees weather and were offered little shelter on the walk into the terminal. A bargainous Christmas present holiday – Budapest came in at £135 each for 3 nights / 4 days. Flying with Ryanair and staying at the beautiful Nemzeti Hotel. This really was frankly a steal at twice the price.
We jumped straight into a taxi from the very visible Fotaxi stand at the airport, paying a very reasonable 6500HUF (around £16) to get to our hotel in the centre of Budapest. Ensure to book the same company on your return as there is a set airport fare price, your hotel should be able to do this for you.
Based very centrally on József krt, the Hotel Nemzeti first opened its doors in 1896 and still retains a lot of beautiful decor to this day. I’ve never seen hallways or cornicing like it in any hotel I’ve ever been in and despite the fanciness of it all, we didn’t feel intimidated or out of place. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful, the rooms were beautiful and the included buffet and al a carte breakfasts surpassed expectation. It’s very handily near a metro stop and within 5-10 minute walking distance to several hop on / hop off bus points. I know I sound like an advert but for the price, we honestly could not have expected what we got here. Oh and did I mention it has a 24 hour sauna? Don’t stand on the scales though, no one needs that kind of negativity whilst on holiday!
I really didn’t know what to expect from Budapest and frankly I was quite ignorant about it’s history – courtesy of Wikipedia I can tell you the following: it is cited as one of the most beautiful cities in the world – I definitely agree, it has around 80 geothermal springs and the world’s third largest Parliament Building (based on Westminster no less). Torn apart in the war and playing a large part in the fall of communism, Budapest (and indeed Hungary) is beautifully decorated with statues, murals and architecture that varies in style, material and meaning, making it one of the most interesting cities I have ever visited. You may walk down one street to find delicate architecture dating back hundreds of years and beside it could be a soviet soldier or memorial to the second world war in which Budapest paid a heavy price.
Budapest, as you may well know, is split by The Danube into Buda and Pest. We spent most of our time in Pest but we did spend almost a full day in Buda admiring the 15th Century Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion and Castle Hill. Castle Hill Funicular will take you to the top for a small fee (1,700 HUF / £4 each return) but personally I really enjoyed the walk. Castle Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church were my favourite sites by far and I imagine this was in particular because of the weather. Covered in a blanket of snow, it was nothing short of magical looking and the views of the city were breathtaking.
Another favourite spot of mine in Budapest was the Vajdahunyad Castle nestled in the City Park. Dating back to 1896, it takes inspiration from many other buildings from the old kingdom of Hungary and as such each of the buildings look like they were built at different times – personally it reminds me of the castle from Beauty & the Beast. Again, the snow made for a beautiful setting and the Anonymous statue and park gardens were nothing short of breath taking. We spent a couple of hours walking around the park and marveling at the architecture and beauty of it all. As cold as it was (around -5 during our stay) I’m happy we saw the city as a Winter Wonderland.
Also in the City park you’ll find a zoo (we didn’t visit here so I can’t comment) and the world famous Széchenyi Baths which we spent at least 4 hours at. It’s definitely an experience. You’ll find couples, singles, stag dos, locals and tourists old and young alike. Comprising 3 outdoor baths and 15 indoor baths, it’s pretty big and there’s plenty of spots to hang out in. Temperatures vary from 25-38 degrees so you’ll always be cozy…even if your ears are freezing.
Szimpla Kert is one of Budapest’s many ruin bars and its most famous was recently listed as third on the list of great bars in the world by Lonely Planet and it didn’t disappoint. A derelict building, the walls are covered in everything from lights to chairs to computer screens and is unlike any bar I’ve ever visited in my life. Part of the Jewish Quarter, it is open every day from 12.00 until 03.00 and you’ll find a glorious mixture of tourists and locals alike. Beer is around £1-£1.50 a pint and there’s a good range but we mainly stuck to their own brew which is pretty fab (beware the Palinka – it’s VERY strong!). We went 2 out of the 3 nights as we enjoyed the atmosphere so much (Flipgram here).
I’d thoroughly recommend Budapest to anyone looking for a city break and below I’ve listed a few tips that should make your trip easier;
1. Budapest is surprisingly large – A Hop on Hop Off tour bus is probably your best bet for getting about – we used The Big Bus Company as it had the best reviews but there are quite a few companies to choose from.Also included in a couple of the tours is a trip down The Danube on a tour boat – try to take yours at night, the banks of The Danube are now a World Heritage site and have been very well looked after. The lights along the riverbank and from the buildings are breathtaking.
2. Don’t be afraid to try the metro, it’s clean, efficient and cheap (around 70p a trip).
3. Use taxis at your own peril. They aren’t regulated and a trip may very well cost you one price one way and another on the return. Arrange a price before you get in and stick to it. You can use the taxi fare finder website to work out how much your trip should be before you get in.
4. The pound (and Euro) is strong in Hungary but beware where you get your money from and what exchange rates shops offer you when using your credit / debit card. Exchanging cash in the airport or with drawing from some cash machines can get you (during our trip) 365 – 411 HUF to the pound whereas at a til (in say Pull & Bear for example where I got a lovely coat in the sale) you might only get 273 HUF to the pound.
5. If you’re going to one of the baths BRING FLIP FLOPS (or like us, borrow your hotel slippers). The ground is freezing and covered in grit which really really hurts your feet between baths. Also I’d recommend a cabin instead of a locker as there is a lack of privacy. Ignore the sales people on your way in unless you want a treatment, they actually work for seperate companies that operate in the facilities.