Well, this blog post has been a long time coming! We actually went to Budapest about a month ago but it’s just taken me a while to write this.
It was essentially a long weekend, although we went Friday to Tuesday, the Friday and Tuesday themselves were travelling – so the actual days we had in Budapest to do things were Saturday, Sunday and Monday. We had those kind of torn feelings you get with any long weekend break, especially in a city when there’s so much to do. You want to cram as much as you can in to the little time you have, knowing that you need to prioritise as you can’t fit in everything, but at the same time don’t want to end up feeling exhausted at the end of it. Kind of defeats the object of a holiday, right?
Well I think we almost got the balance right.
The highlight of the trip for me was on the first day. So was Rob’s, so we definitely prioritised right. We made a deal that if we did the thing Rob wanted to do (go to the zoo), we could also do the thing that I wanted to do (go to a thermal bath). We did both on the same day as I found a bath right next to the zoo. We underestimated how big the zoo would be – it was huge! And I think had pretty much every animal I could think of, which sounds silly but I don’t think zoos normally have every single animal do they?! I did feel a bit uncomfortable about a lion that was constantly making a noise right up against the glass of all the spectators. It wasn’t a roar exactly but more like a regular groan. I don’t know if he was unhappy, hungry or just performing for the crowds but it made me feel a bit sad. The zoo does do conservation work which is a bit more encouraging but I was a bit uncomfortable about it all.
Anyway, from there we went on to the thermal bath which was AMAZING. We went to one called Széchenyi Baths which apparently is the largest complex of spa baths in Europe. The building alone was beautiful; it was like a huge Neo-Baroque mansion with big marble columns and colourful mosaics. We spent most of our time in the outdoor bath, it was so warm and relaxing. Unfortunately as we only had our swim gear and towels with us I couldn’t take any photos so here’s one I found just to show you what it was like!
Photo by Graeme Churchard via flickr
On another day we climbed Gellért Hill, which was on Buda’s side of the river and gave amazing views right across the city. We definitely picked the right day for this – it was the warmest and clearest day of them all while we were there.
A view from the bridge
From the top of Gellért Hill
We also went to the Central Market Hall which has more than 180 stalls selling fruit, veg, meat and cheese. We bought a number of different salamis and cheeses to eat later that evening in the apartment with bread (I found a health food shop stocking gluten-free bread, hurrah!).
On the food note, it really was a mixed bag. I was advised by a friend’s boyfriend, who is from Budapest, to eat in modern places and avoid traditional restaurants. I can see why, a lot of the traditional food was very meat heavy and often the meat, in our experience, was quite greasy. We did have some good experiences too though – I found a 100% gluten-free restaurant called Drop (it was amazing being able to choose anything from the menu) and we ate at a really tasty burger place called Burger Market that happened to have gluten-free buns.
Gluten-free burger at Burger Market
That was the strange thing we found, at some places there’d be no mention of gluten-free food at all, whereas others would just happen to do gluten-free options but just didn’t make a big song and dance about it. For example, the burger joint had a little note on the side of the menu quietly whispering that they also had GF buns, while the pasta place next door also did GF pasta. I worried when we turned up at the gluten-free restaurant because when we sat down there was no mention anywhere, even on the menu, that the food was gluten free. I checked with our waiter and he was casually like “oh yeah, it’s all gluten-free”. If that was England, that fact would be its selling point and it’d be plastered everywhere!
For some reason at Drop restaurant they gave us free bubbly – wouldn’t say no!
The menu at Drop – 100% gluten-free
Yet another gluten-free burger…
We also went to a brilliant ruin bar. I hadn’t heard of these ahead of researching our trip, but they’re abandoned apartment blocks which are turned into bars and nightclubs. The one we accidentally stumbled across was called Instant – and it is apparently the biggest in the city! It was huge but I don’t think we saw the half of it; it had 26 rooms and seven bars. It had crazy décor (very Brighton, actually, I can only compare it to The Marwood café). In one room there was a huge flying owl with boobs on the wall, and a herd of rabbits cascading from the ceiling down to the floor. The photos I took aren’t great because it was so dark in there, soz.
The rabbits at the ruin bar
An owl with boobs… and what?
I booked our apartment through TripAdvisor and it was in the 6th district right by the Oktogon metro station. That was really handy, after a long day of walking around, it was great that we were about three minutes away from the station. And actually the metro lines weren’t really that long and were surprisingly easy to navigate. (Although I’d definitely recommend a travel guide with a map when navigating around the city).
On the metro
The apartment was really nice, it was a studio flat really, it had a separate kitchen and bathroom but the main area was one big room. The bedroom was above the living room on a mezzanine level – which meant nice high ceilings! Despite being in such a busy area it was really quiet, as it was at the back of the building overlooking a central courtyard.
The exterior of our apartment block
The view from our apartment
I haven’t included photos of the inside of the apartment as they didn’t come out very well, but there are some good ones on the TripAdvisor listing.
I think the only thing we wanted to do that we didn’t have a chance to was go for a walk around the city park, Városliget – and that was mainly due to the weather. It was raining on both the Monday and Tuesday (we were thinking about a quick trip there before heading back to the airport).
A typical Budapest city street
The opera house by night
All in all it was a great trip, but as expected not very relaxing, as we were trying to do a lot of things in a short period of time. But then city breaks are always going to be like that. It was a beautiful city and we really enjoyed it.