Lauren and I both agreed after our grand adventure last year that Budapest, Hungary was one of our favorite cities we visited and we could not wait to visit again and show our families the amazing city. What made our trip to Budapest so special is the authentic and gritty feel to the city which in my opinion clashes brilliantly with the more sterile atmosphere I feel from visiting distinctly Western European countries like Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The people of Budapest have no interest in appearing aloof or powerful and are genuine in their friendliness towards visitors to their beautiful city.
The city itself is the amalgamation of two former cities, Buda and Pest and has, for me, the perfect mixture of historical relevance, wonderful architecture, walkability, and personality, all wrapped into a relatively inexpensive package. Like our last visit, we stayed in the Pest side of the city near the Jewish quarter where large and impressive boulevards cut through the city.
We enjoyed our first trip to Budapest so much in fact that we were more than happy to partake in a very similar itinerary on our second visit as we wanted our families to have the same delightful experience as we did the last time. One of my favorite things we did that you may remember from reading my last Budapest post was a visit to the ruin bar, Szimpla Kert. Ruin bars are unique to Budapest and are essentially ruins of old buildings which are purchased from the city and re-purposed into bars and decorated with knick-knacks bought from secondhand stores and flea markets. Szimpla Kert is the original ruin bar and one of the largest in Budapest. The design of Szimpla Kert is very eclectic with each of its many rooms having a different theme suitable for any and all kinds of personalities whether you want to enjoy a quiet craft beer, watch as a Hungarian band plays traditional music, enjoy the cool night air in the pubs brilliantly lit garden, or do any combination of the three!
When we arrived at Szimpla Kert, we found a large table in the colorfully illuminated main room of the pub, relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere. A few beers later, we decided to make our experience authentically Hungarian so Lauren and I bought a shot of palinka for each of the members of our group. Palinka is a Hungarian fruit liquor that is drunk during any occasion that involves alcohol and tastes to me like a strong fruity moonshine. What started as a good idea quickly turned bad as most of our group couldn’t stomach the stuff, especially Natalie who, though wasn’t a fan of her first shot, exclaimed “fuck it!” took another, and promptly threw up five times in a planter that was luckily situated next to our table. Being a trooper, however, this was not her last shot of palinka on the trip and she was able to redeem herself eventually.
On our second morning of our visit I found myself up at the wee hours of the morning and decided to take a trek through the city while the others slept, walking down one of the main avenues of the Jewish Quarter towards Heroes’ Square, a large portion of which took me down Andrássy Avenue, the famous boulevard and World Heritage site that dates back to the 1870s and is home to many impressive manors, grand villas and several embassies. On the way, I passed the former home of Hungary’s secret police (similar to the Soviet Union’s KGB) which has since been converted into a museum called the House of Terror which tells you all you need to know about what happened inside the building.
After my own miniature walking tour we took a formal free walking tour around the city with the rest of our family, seeing many of the beautiful buildings and wonderful sights on the Pest side of the city including Erzsébet Square, the prestigious Academy of Hungarian Sciences, and the impressive St. Stephen’s Basillica.
From Pest, we crossed the River Danube over the famous Chain Bridge to the Buda side. The old cobbled streets of Buda have a much more refined air than the working-class feel of the Pest side and is home to some of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen in person, including the communist-era Royal Palace, the stunning Fisherman’s Bastion, and St. Matthias Church with its beautifully patterned tile roof. There, we finished our walking tour and found a nearby Michelin rated restaurant to partake in some traditional Hungarian cuisine which for me meant a delicious meal of Chicken Paprikash.
Later in the week, we spent an afternoon at one of Budapest’s famous spas called the Szechenyi Baths. The Szechenyi Baths is a neo-baroque palace filled with 15 indoor baths and 3 large outdoor pools, all filled with natural medicinal hot spring water. There, one is able to either swim recreationally in one of the cooler pools or relax in one of the warmer pools or hot tubs. The highlight of the baths is definitely the large outdoor pool where we enjoyed the warmth of the water with the cool outside air on our faces, all surrounded by the beautiful baroque architecture of the surrounding building. Like our last trip, we made sure to have our family partake in one of Szechenyi’s beer baths in which you soak in a tub full of ingredients used to brew beer, each of which has a healthy impact on your skin, all while enjoying unlimited free beer, a perfect way to relax on vacation.
The women in our group enjoyed the massages and overall experience of the spa so thoroughly that on our last night of the city they decided to visit another of the famous spas in the city, Rudas. Left to our own devices, I took the guys on a walk toward Budapest’s Parliament building as I remember being awed of its beauty the first time I saw it and it was enough out of the way that our walking tour never made it that direction. We arrived just as the sun had set on the hills of Buda and the lights of the city turned on, bathing the Parliament building in a beautiful yellow-orange glow, its Gothic towers – which remind me so much of London’s Westminster Abbey – illuminated brilliantly. From there, we bar hopped back over the Chain Bridge to Fisherman’s Bastion and all the way back to our hotel, stopping at 5 or 6 bars along the way to have a drink at each.
The next morning we left for Vienna, just as sad to leave Budapest as we were on our last visit, but also very excited to see the first new city on this trip for Lauren and I and our first visit to the capital of Austria!