Budapest is more than just a nightlife hotspot. Explore the capital’s grungy but cool vibe on both sides of the Danube and find out what sets this European city apart.
TO DO LIST:
1. Have a bath
No, we don’t mean sit in the bathtub of your hotel. We mean, make like the Romans and soak in a bath built centuries ago – it might just be the most glorious thing you’ll do in Budapest.
The biggest is Szechenyi Baths, and one step inside will have you feeling like you’ve accidentally found your way onto the set of a Romanesque period film. The architecture is exquisite, the choice of baths enormous, and there’s a huge outdoor pool that makes for an incredibly relaxing Friday night in.
If it’s more of a party that you want, luckily you can just stay in the water; Budapest’s weekend spa parties are the stuff of many an Eastern Europe backpacker’s campfire stories. szechenyispabaths.com
2. Visit Parliament
Getting political on holiday might not sound particularly exhilarating, but you’ll understand when you see the Hungarian Parliament Building: the place is enormous.
Known as one of the most beautiful legislative buildings in the world, this architectural behemoth has 691 rooms, 29 staircases, 27 gates and ten courtyards. At 96 metres high, it rivals the grand St Stephen’s Basilica as the tallest building in the city.
Non-EU citizens can take a guided tour for HUF5,200 (Dhs66) to experience the grandeur first-hand. hungarianparliament.com
3. Visit a ruin bar
A dilapidated watering hole probably doesn’t sound like the stuff of dreams but get past the crumbling exterior (and interior, actually) and you’ll wander into the ultimate hipster hangout.
The venues inside are typically in a crumbling façade, with walls covered in bizarre doodles and décor featuring hanging bicycles, disembodied mannequins, car parts and even a Chucky doll or two. ruinpubs.com
4. Dive into Lake Heviz
If you want to travel out of town, Lake Heviz is a fantastic option. Two hours southwest of Budapest, Heviz is the second-largest thermal lake in the world.
On a sunny day, there’s nothing better than grabbing an inflatable donut and floating around. There are also mud, salt and ice baths, a spa, and several indoor pools. heviz.hu/lake-heviz
DON’T LEAVE HUNGARY WITHOUT EATING (AKA DON’T BE HUNGRY IN HUNGARY):
1. Goulash (gulyas)
Probably the most famed of all Hungarian dishes, you simply can’t go to Budapest and not have goulash. Somewhere between a soup and a stew, peppered with the Hungarian people’s favourite spice (paprika), and filled with meat and vegetables, this is the ultimate winter dish. Pro tip: get one in a bread bowl.
Eat it at: Getto Gulyas (Dhs16 for two-course meal of the day and drink), Wesselényi u. 18
You simply have not known true love until you’ve eaten deep-fried bread topped with garlic, cheese, some form of meat, and a generous smattering of sour cream. If you’re on a diet: cancel it.
Eat it at: Retro Langos Bufe (Dhs9), Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4
3. Kurtos Kalacs
The original Chimney Cake may have been birthed in Transylvania, but the sweet, cylindrical, cinnamon and sugar bread spread throughout Hungary like wildfire and is now their most beloved dessert. The best ones are coated in nuts or chocolate.
Eat it at: Just about any food stall in the city.
WHERE TO STAY:
Aria Hotel Budapest
Think boutique with a capital B. This lush hotel near St Stephen’s Basilica has it all: pool and Jacuzzi, chic rooms with all the fittings, and a plush rooftop courtyard complete with cabanas and yoga classes if you’re game. Expect to pay at least Dhs1,000 a night.
+36 1 4454055, ariahotelbudapest.com
Ornate architecture and a façade to rival some of Budapest’s most significant buildings, this hotel is beautiful. It’s luxury, but not snooty. Rooms start from around Dhs550.
+36 1 8866111, budapest.boscolohotels.com
Arguably the hippest hostel in the city, on account of it actually being located within a ruin bar. Its no-nonsense digs make it perfect for the budget backpacker. Expect to pay about Dhs50 for a dorm bed.
+36 1 413 7377, unityhostel.com
ONE GREAT NEIGHBOURHOOD: Erzsebetvaros (Elizabethtown) aka hipster District VII
Home to all things cool, bohemian and artsy, this buzzing inner-city district invented the ruin bar, and has birthed some awesome clubs, restaurants and street art.
1. A ruined bar
Want to know what all the locals are talking about when they suggest going out to a ‘ruin bar’? Szimpla Kert will give you an introduction like no other. The space actually houses six bars, all with their own ruin bar-esque quirks. Soak in the leafy greens, the cheap drinks, and the graffiti on the walls – actually, you’ll probably be invited to write on it yourself. It’s all part of the charm.
Tel: +36 2 026 18669. szimpla.hu
2. Scrawled-on walls
Elizabethtown’s colourful walls and facades aren’t your typical hoodlum-with-a-spraycan type scenario. In fact, in embracing graffiti, the area has become something of a street art magnet.
3. Quintessential hipster
You can’t get much more boho than Mazel Tov – which also doubles as a ruin bar. Thankfully, the large, airy ‘cultural space’ doesn’t get lost under its hip vibes, and serves great coffee, drinks, food and live music. Things can get a little wild later on.
Tel: +36 706264280. mazeltov.hu
4. Hearty Hungarian fare
The grubby exterior and red and white-checkered tablecloths belie the culinary genius behind the closed doors of Kadar Etkezde. It’s like going to your grandmother’s house for a hearty dish of something you can’t pronounce.
Tel: +36 321 3622
– About 1.8 million people live in Budapest
– Budapest was two cities – Buda and Pest, separated by the River Danube – until 1873, when they were joined together with neighbouring Obuda. Citizens still refer to the two different areas as “Buda” and “Pest”.
– It’s actually pronounced “Budapesht”, and the locals really don’t like when you mispronounce it.
– Budapest has the oldest underground train system after London.
GET ME THERE:
Emirates flies direct to Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport from Dhs3,240 return. emirates.com