|The stunning Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest|
I visited Budapest with my boyfriend just before Christmas last year; the city was enveloped in a warming aroma of spiced cinnamon from the mulled wine brewing in steaming earthenware pots on every street corner; the temperature was slightly above freezing and the city was shrouded in atmospheric fog. We spent our days learning about the turbulent history of Hungary, its revolutions and its awe-inspiring architecture. At night we walked all over the city, taking in the vibrant atmosphere and perusing the Christmas markets – filled with handicrafts, homemade soaps and lots of mouth-watering traditional Hungarian dishes.
What to do?
|Our Airbnb Apartment|
There’s lots to do in both sides of the city (Buda and Pest), but we stayed in an Airbnb apartment right in the heart of the resurgent Jewish Quarter, in Pest. Our location couldn’t have been more central to everything! Walking 15 minutes around the block we stumbled across more than 100 restaurants and bars, whilst the stunning Chain bridge was a quick 10 minute walk away.
On the first day, we took a free walking tour of the city, which was led by locals who were very informative and friendly. Rather than having a fixed price, you’re just expected to tip what you think the tour was worth. It was really enjoyable and took us around all the main tourist sights: the sweeping chain bridge, the impressive parliament building, Buda Castle, St Matthias church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. I’d recommend doing it on your first day in the city as it really helps you find your bearings!
Once the tour was finished and after two and a half hours outside in the freezing cold, we darted to the shops in search of some long-johns and knee-length socks! From then on, we didn't venture out in less than three layers of clothing and wearing our woolly hats, scarves and gloves!
|Old Soviet style tram and the Chain Bridge|
There are so many great things to do in the city, and everything is easily accessible either by foot or the metro. The house of terror museum is really informative: the building is the previous headquarters of the Nazi Hungarian party, The Arrow Cross, and the succeeding Soviet Communist party. You get an eerie sense wandering around, learning about the tortures and atrocities previously plotted there. I also loved visiting Szechenyi Baths – the steaming outdoor pools looked spectacular in the cold weather. It’s incredible to think that all the pools are heated naturally by the springs bubbling beneath the city’s surface.
As it was almost Christmas, we were feeling festive and decided to go ice skating! There’s a large outdoor lake (not far from Szenchyi Baths) which is frozen over during winter – perfect for skating! Just make sure you check the opening hours before you go as it closes in the afternoon (Yes, I'm speaking from experience!) I’d recommend going in the evening: skating with the backdrop of the night’s sky adds to the buzzing
Food & Drink
Of course, when in Budapest, you should check out the ruin bars – old buildings that, instead of being renovated, have been turned in to ramshackle bars and clubs. We went to Szimpla bar – the largest of the ruin bars, which happened to be just around the corner from our apartment! Inside, there are lots of different rooms both upstairs and downstairs, with funky things like bicycles and old-fashioned computer screens hung upon the walls. This was where we tried Palinka: the traditional drink of Hungary, and man, it burns! (think Tequila crossed with vodka). It certainly warms you up though.
Whilst I really enjoyed Szimpla, my favourite place to go for a drink was Doblo Wine bar. It was reasonably priced, and had a great atmosphere created by its chilled out live music, knowledgeable staff, quality wines and exposed brickwork interior. We went a couple of times on our stay and on one evening, we did a ‘Hungarian mini’ wine tasting session, which included 1 glass each of red, white, rose and a dessert wine, and a platter of cheese, bread, pickles and salami, for around £10 each (great for my meat-eating boyfriend!).
|Bubbling pots of mulled wine|
One of my favourite restaurants was Koloves, in the Jewish Quarter. They did a mixture of vegetarian and meat dishes, and offered an extensive array of Hungarian wines. I had a tasty parsnip soup for starters followed by a delicious pumpkin and sage homemade-tagliatelle dish for my main. The food was great, the atmosphere was totally relaxed and the price was very reasonable! I'm currently writing a more extensive post on eating as a vegetarian in Budapest, so stay tuned!
|Christmas markets outside of St Stephen's Basilica|
- The currency is Hungarian Forint. Euros may be accepted by big restaurants and hotels but they mainly use the Forint.
- If you’re going from England, only exchange a small amount of Forint in the UK - swap the rest at a currency exchange or cash point in Budapest- you get a much better rate there!
- The Hungarian language is notoriously hard to master, but the Hungarian word for 'Cheers', sounds a lot like the English sentence 'I guess she can drive', if you say it really quickly!
- Finally, stay in Pest. Buda is the historic part of the city; whilst there are lots of interesting things to see there, Pest is where the majority of people stay. It's full of reasonable priced accommodation, fun bars and delicious restaurants!