From Vienna Meidling, I took a three-hour train to Budapest and met Jack at the main train station just before dark. Trains between Vienna and Budapest are very regular, but the main train station was partly closed for renovations, so I had the choice of a train leaving from Meidling every two hours. If you’re planning a similar itinerary, there’s no real benefit to pre-booking, so you might as well take the train whenever you’re ready to, rather than working around a booking.
We met Viktor, our airbnb host, on Erzebet Korut to move into the apartment for the next four days or so. He sat down with a map of Budapest spread out and oriented us to the top sites, baths, cafes, clubs, pubs, and tours both in Buda and Pest. Some places were already on our list, but he had great suggestions and our list turned out to be too long for one trip – we’ll have to come back!
Also with the apartment, Viktor had bookmarked all his recommendations on the computer so we could check schedules, locations, menus, opening times. Such incredible attention to detail!
For our first night we walked around the Jewish Quarter near us and had dinner at the popular Menza: ratatouille for me and duck for Jack.
After a lazy morning we had brunch at the Book Café (hidden away in Lotz Hall), which was beautiful & full of ornate décor: high, gilded ceilings, fancy moldings and murals, tall mirrors, chandeliers and coke bottle windows. The food was okay, service a little cold. Go only for a (slightly expensive) average coffee and cake.
From there, we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica for some dome-gazing and climbing.
The view from the top is a full 360, so a good starting point for city orientation.
From there, we crossed the Danube via the chain bridge to find the Gellert Thermal Bath. Before we got to Budapest I said I wanted to go to a new bath every day. Jack thought I was joking; I was not. Gellert was really fun – there were plenty of thermal baths, beautiful lap-swimming pools, but then a few extras thrown in like the wave pool outside and ‘adventure’ pool (not quite sure what made it an adventure).
Wave pool, pre-waves…
On the walk home, we stopped in this bar called For Sale with slips of paper (notes, ticket stubs, receipts, passport photos) tacked and furling to every imaginable surface like feathers. The ground was covered in hay and peanut shells.
We sat at a wheel table (which spun), cracked through peanuts and had a few Zlaty-Bazant beers.
For dinner we went to this time capsule grandmother house: Franz Joseph’s. Though we ordered quite different items from the menu, two identical plates came out. This was a kind of deer stew with cottage cheese and dill dumplings.
Then people-watched the huge crowd of Northern Irish (Northern Ireland and the Hungarian national teams had a football match that day) with Edelweiss.
The day started with a delicious breakfast at Ket Szerecsen (which we proceeded to return to for the next three mornings) followed by a wander around Parliament.
We managed to catch the changing of the guard!
From there, we went to the Cat Café, which Jack described as a vet’s waiting room with a cup of coffee.
Baths for the second day were the Lukacs Bath, which were more medicinal and convalescent than any others we went to. Very little talking. In the indoor thermal pools I counted 5 out of 15 people that were literally asleep. There was a whirlpool!
From there, we went to an old Seccessionist ‘Museum’ (which felt more like a consignment shop). The Secessionist movement (Szecesziós) has its origins in Vienna and is characterised by Art Nouveau in painting, architecture and furniture. Although we didn’t go, the Four Seasons Hotel is supposed to be beautiful inside and a well-preserved Seccessionist-style building.
For dinner, we made it to Klassz for very nice food.
My birthday! We started the day with Ket Szerecsen again, then took the metro straight up to the paradise that is Szechenyi Baths in the city park.
All day, Szechenyi!
They have 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools ranging from 20 to 40 degrees. The most fun whirlpool, men playing chess all day, and glorious sunshine.
And the beautiful, surrounding bath house.
Love that guy side-eyesing the game.
Absolutely no smoking pieces of cake allowed
What kind of ridiculous lap swimming is this.
After we were thoroughly soaked we went hunting for and old, Communist-era, retro burger stand in the city park called Pantlika. Good for burgers, but we just had a snack and beers.
For my birthday dinner, we booked a table at the very special Tigris. It’s Michelin-listed and felt incredibly extravagant without costing a huge amount. We started with an amuse bouche, had three fancy courses and even a sommelier to recommend wines for each course. Such a treat.
Again, Ket Szercsen to start the day, then a long walking tour from the central tourist square. The tour took us up Castle Hill, which doesn’t and never has actually had a castle (just Parliament).
Saw the beautiful Matthias Church and walked around the streets on Castle Hill, which kind of make their own little hamlet.
For dinner, we grabbed a quick sandwich at BORS in the Jewish Quarter. So, super cheap and so, so good. My sandwich: duck liver, pear mustard, caramelized onion jam and elderberry.
Then we finally made it our first ruin pub: WHAT.
Ruin pubs are old tenement houses and factories that were doomed to destruction, but then purchased by creative entrepreneurs and local artists. They’re a little difficult to describe… the one we went to, Szimpla Kert, was several stories high with open areas full of hanging plants, parachute banners, but then also full of old kitsch, graffiti, cars cut in half (turned into sitting areas for drinks, naturally), and interesting nooks and open spaces.
There was a band starting a soundcheck and a woman giving a talk in Hungarian alongside a slideshow of her photography.
Unfortunately we had to leave quite quickly to catch our overnight train (!), so didn’t get as much of a chance to explore other ruin pubs.
Our top 10 reasons to return:
1. Baths (we didn’t visit Turkish baths this trip, but Szechenyi is reason enough to return to Budapest)
2. Ruin pubs
3. Jewish Quarter eats & treats
4. More walking tours (especially the free Communism walking tour. Same company has free tours of the Jewish Quarter and a pub tour to visit ruin pubs)
5. Cinetrip night at Szechenyi
6. A38: a club on a boat with live music most nights
7. Caving under the city
8. Seccessionist / folk art
9. Delicious, inexpensive food
10. Memento Park (our tour guide said don’t bother, but it’s the park where they dumped all the old Communist-era statues, so probably well worth a lurk around)