After an exhausting 2017, my boyfriend, his mom and I started 2018 with a one-week stay in Budapest, Hungary.
My boyfriend and I made a travel bucket list last summer and he was eager to check off one of the places off of the list. The appeal of visiting Budapest in the winter is simple— you can experience an edgier sense of place in Eastern Europe for a short flight away from Paris and an overall budget-friendly cost.
I’m usually such a planner when it comes to traveling, but it seems that 2018 is the year that I learn to let others make the itinerary. With that being said, a trip to Budapest can easily be planned as you go along.
Budapest does not have the pretention of Western European cities. Budapest is one of the most densely populated capitals and it has a strong economy in its region, yet it does not overwhelm like other metropolitan cities.
Enjoy a laidback winter getaway to Budapest, Hungary with a few suggestions of what to see and do:
Where to Visit
First of all, put your phone down and look around as you walk. It can be easy to overlook the details of the old buildings if you’re not paying attention.
One of the things that surprised me about Budapest was the vibrant colors of some of the buildings and throughout the city. There were several times where I felt that I stumbled upon a Wes Anderson film set—apparently, I’m not the only person who feels this way when they stumble upon symmetrical, pastel facades because #AccidentallyWesAnderson is a thing.
Parliament is located along the Danube River—it’s one of the many buildings that illuminates beautifully at night.
Take the tram around the city for a great view of the monuments along the Danube and the Buda side across the river. Be sure to validate your tickets, there are representatives that will check if you have done so.
Also, you can feel like you’re having a Grand Budapest Hotel moment riding in the yellow tram on your way to the museum like Jeff Goldblum’s lawyer character—hopefully you also won’t be trying to escape from a leather-clad gangster riding a motorcycle…
Stop by Paloma to see young, local artists at work. The former shopping center now serves as a multi-functional space that serves as a concept store, art gallery and event venue that is open to both locals and tourists. Learn more about how the founder of Paloma, Zsuzsanna Kárpáti, seeks to impact the Budapest community in this interview.
Visit the Great Market Hall, Budapest’s largest covered market. This is where you’ll find plenty of souvenirs to buy for your friends and family, as well as see the different fresh produce available in the region.
Hit the shops along Váci Utca. As my boyfriend and his mom described this street, it’s Budapest’s equivalent of Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. You’ll find plenty of stores and restaurants, including the famous Café Gerbeaud.
Overlook all of Budapest from Fishermen’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and Buda Castle. Skip the funicular to Buda and take the bus for only 2 euros per person. Once you make it up to Buda, it will be easy to navigate where you would like to visit.
We weren’t able to make it to the higher elevated areas of Buda—namely Memento Park and the Liberty Monument—but we don’t feel that we missed out on anything with these spectacular views.
From Fishermen’s Bastion, we walked along the stone roads to Buda Castle, which is now compromised of the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library. For another beautiful of the Danube, walk past the Eugene of Savoy statue and take in the view from the ledge.
Take a dip in the thermal baths with a panoramic view. The two main thermal baths you’ll read about are the Széchenyi thermal bath and the Gellért thermal bath. If you’re not deadset on staring at art nouveau architecture as you bathe—and you would prefer to have an amazing rooftop view while sitting in a hot bath—check out Rudas on the Buda side of the city.
I didn’t take any pictures while we went to the thermal bath—I would have lost my mind if my iPhone took a lethal swim—but you can check out these pictures for yourself.
Note: Rudas does allow both men and women, but for the most part, the beautiful thermal spa you’ll see in pictures is reserved for men. Be sure to call for the hours in advance.
Where to Eat & Drink
Start your day with a cup of coffee at Coffee Shop 64. When I was looking for coffee shops in Budapest, this was a highly recommended local spot. The smell of fresh coffee grounds welcomes you as soon as you open the door, as well as the hospitable staff. Keep in mind that seating here is limited to two bar stools and standing room—if you’re looking for more of a sit-down coffee house in Budapest, you can browse these suggestions.
Enjoy classic Hungarian food at Drum Café. This is where you order goulash, meat, and more meat. Get ready to flip through a large menu and to devour large portions!
Grab a drink at Szimpla Kert, the ultimate ruin pub in Budapest.
If you’re not exactly sure what ruin pub is, imagine a dimly lit old factory building that has the ambiance of what can only be described as several floors of harmonic, borderline-dystopia fueled by tall beer pint glasses and smoke from cigarettes and freshly packed shisha. More simply put, a ruin pub has an atmosphere that is naturally civil as it is naturally aesthetically explosive.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you feel like you fit in the crowd—it’s not worth missing an experience that is uniquely Budapest.
Lunch at Lumen Café. If you want to experience a less intense version of the atmosphere described, but want an authentic Budapest atmosphere, you must eat here. Lumen Café is located off of the beaten path—the artsy and intellectual vibe shows through with its menu and wine list.
I’ll note here that it is highly encouraged to try Hungarian red wines. We asked the waiters at all of our restaurants for their recommendations and we were not disappointed.
Split your dish at For Sale Pub. Located a stone’s throw away from the Central Market, you are immediately greeted with a quirky air when you walk into For Sale Pub—there are papers posted all over the ceilings and walls from recent patrons. The dishes are enormous…you’ll have to see for yourself. By the way, For Sale Pub is cash-only.
Marvel the interiors of Café New York while sipping an afternoon coffee. This is arguably one of the most well-preserved coffee houses in Budapest and the prices reflect that. If you’re lucky, the live musicians will perform and you’ll feel like you got coffee and an admission to a private concert for less than 8 euros.
Have dinner and keep the night going in Gozsdu udvar. There is a great selection of restaurants and bars to choose from in this passage, including Jamie Oliver’s pizzeria. After dinner, have fun at a karaoke bar or chat over more drinks at any other spot.
Treat yourself to dinner at KönyvBár & Restaurant. Out of all of the restaurants and bars we went to, KönyvBár was the most thoughtful. A labor of love between a husband and wife who opened KönyvBár in 2015, the restaurant’s menu changes based on The Book of the Week. If you’re a book lover, you’ll enjoy seeing the shelves of novels and nonfiction titles all over the room.
At the end of the meal, my boyfriend had a Hungarian whiskey as a digestive—the specific whiskey (I forget the name) is only available to the public through the restaurant because quantities are so limited. If you’d like, you can purchase it for about 100 euros.
Random Things to Remember to Pack
- A warm hat and gloves – the wind off of the Danube can bite your ears and hands
- A bathing suit, flip flops, towel, and a reusable bag– necessary if you plan on doing the thermal baths
- A list of simple Hungarian phrases– my boyfriend quickly memorized the basic words—hello, goodbye, thank you, and *beer*—and the gesture went a long way during our visit