Post- O.Z.O.R.A. festival in Hungary, we decided to stay a few extra days in Budapest.
Budapest is one of those cities….you either love or hate it! And I loved it!
First off, the currency used is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). One Rand (ZAR) will get you 19.54 HUF. That’s right readers…… we divide in Budapest! A welcome relief from most of Europe where we really get to test our multiplication skills. This makes Budapest an ideal rand-friendly European destination!
Apart from the exchange rate and that George Ezra song, what else makes Budapest so special? Read on and find out….
A brief history (via TopInspired):
Buda and Pest were two cities on the opposite sides of the river Danube, up until 1873 when Buda and Pest became united. The two sides have different characteristics, with Buda being the hilly one, narrow streets, lot of green residential areas; and Pest being the urban center of the city with the iconic building of the Parliament stretching along the riverside. This old city has remnants from the times of Roman and Ottoman occupation and also the Austro-Hungarian era has made a special influence on the city’s style and architecture. 
Navigating Budapest is quite simple as they have convenient metro and bus lines. One thing to keep in mind is that Uber is not available in Budapest at all. Uber apparently suspended operations in Budapest due to government measures which basically banned them from operating in the country (read more here). If you’re ever stuck in a situation where you need to cart bags from one location to another, I’d suggest using a taxi cab. Just remember to always agree on a price up front!
From the airport, I took a bus (Bus #200E) to the main metro, Kobanya/Kispest (Blue Metro, which is the #3 line). This metro takes you into the city. Since I was in Budapest for a few days, I purchased a Budapest Card which allows you to travel on both metro and bus lines for the duration you choose. For example, a 24-hour card costs 4500 HUF (R230), a 48-hour card costs 7500 HUF (R384) and a 72-hour costs 8900 HUF (R456). The card gives you access to all metros and buses as well as discounts and free entry into certain attractions. Read more about it here.
My top 10 things to do in Budapest ( in 3 days) :
1. Walk around and admire the culture and city
For some reason, the city is filled with statues. I came across so many while exploring the city (especially around the banks of the Danube River). It’s great to take pictures with these beautiful artworks. After a leisurely walk around the city, you can take the #2 tram (included in your Budapest Card) along the Danube River, which will give you a brief overview of all the major sights that Budapest has to offer!
2. Take the free walking tour or tours included with the Budapest Card
If you decided not to buy the Budapest Card, you can always opt for a free walking tour of the city. These tours are guided by locals and it’s a great way to see the different sides of “Buda” and “Pest”.
Since I purchased the Budapest Card, I went on one of the included walking tours. It was a fantastic way to learn about the history and culture of Budapest. It’s so much better than just walking around aimlessly and not really understanding what certain building and sculptures mean. Did I mention that a large part of the “Buda” tour takes part at the most beautiful castle I have ever seen?!
3. Visit a Thermal bath
Visiting a thermal bath is “the thing to do” when in Budapest as the city is famous for their heated baths. I decided to visit the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. This bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe and is definitely worth a visit. Upon arrival, you can purchase a day entry ticket or a spa package. We opted for a day pass (with locker usage) which cost about HUF4900 (R251).
We also decided to get a private cabin – so that we could change without the smell of wet towels! The communal locker rooms are gross! I would recommend getting a ticket that allows cabin usage which costs about HUF 5200 (R266) (the price difference is negligible). I would also recommend bringing your own towel or you can opt to rent a towel at the baths. For more info on the prices and massage options, you can view their website here.
The architecture around the baths is beautiful. The buildings have an old world appeal. The outdoor baths are warmish and the inside baths get really hot! It all depends on what temperature you prefer. We visited the baths during a typical work day and it was packed! I can only imagine what weekends look like!
How to get there? It can be reached by public transport, metro line 1 (yellow line) from Vörösmarty square. It is also a station of the yellow M1 (Millennium Underground) line of the Budapest metro or the trolleybus 72. From downtown, the bath is a few hundred metres beyond Heroes Square.
4.Visit a Ruin Bar
Budapest is famous for ruin bars located in the old district VII neighborhood (the Jewish Quarter). These ruin bars popped up about 10 years ago when bars and cultural centres decided to open in partially ruined buildings. To read more about the founding of these ruin bars and the history about them, you can check out an informative article here.
We stayed in the Jewish Quarter and happened to find a few ruin bars while walking along the cobblestone streets. Don’t expect to see signs saying “come in, we’re a ruin bar.” The buildings are rundown but absolutely beautiful in a strange kind of way.
5. Eat the local cuisine
When visiting new places you need to indulge in the local cuisine. Well, the ones you can eat based on your dietary preferences of course. I’ll name a few that I tried and absolutely loved:
KürtÅ‘skalÃ¡cs are a popular Hungarian pastry found at festivals and outdoor markets. They’re made from a sweet dough which is cut into long strips, then wrapped around a cylinder and rolled in sugar. It’s baked over hot coals while being slathered with butter so the surface gets golden brown and the sugar caramelizes to forms a shiny, crispy crust. My mouth is watering just writing about it!
LÃ¡ngos is a Hungarian specialty! It’s deep fried dough in the shape of a pizza for one. You can choose your toppings which normally consists of cream cheese, cheddar cheese and/or garlic. It’s absolutely delicious!!
Gelato! On the corner of St. Stephen’s Basilica is Gelarto Rosa (yes, the spelling is correct), they serve the most beautiful rose-shaped, authentic gelato in delicious cones.
Chips on a stick – potatoes deep fried on a stick. Carbs deep fried – there is nothing wrong with that! Oh so delicious.
Beef goulash with sweet paprika – Hungarian dishes are very hearty and consist of goulashes and soups – truly warm and heartfelt dishes.
6. Walk or take the funicular up to Castle Hill and explore
The funicular is on the Buda side, on the other side of the famous Chain Bridge. Once at the top, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of the city and the Danube River. This is a fantastic spot to take loads of pictures! It’s one of the most magnificent sights of the city and be sure to check out Matthias Church and the Buda Royal Castle.
7. Take a chilled day and visit Margaret Island
Margaret Island is a 2.5 km long island, 500m wide, in the middle of the Danube in central Budapest. The island is mostly covered by landscape parks and is a popular recreational area. It’s a great place for a leisurely stroll or a picnic in fresh air after spending so much time in the hustle and bustle of the city. Devote half a day or at least a couple of hours to explore and enjoy the serenity on this lavishly green island. I thoroughly enjoyed this little island and made sure I saw the “dancing fountain” while I was there.
There are so many locals jogging or cycling on this island. It’s definitely a peaceful escape from the city.
Getting there : The best ways to get to there is by tram 4 or tram 6, get off at Margit híd Budai hídfő stop (híd means bridge in Hungarian) or take bus 26, the only form of public transportation on the isle, from Nyugati tér (M2 Blue metro, trams 4, 6). The bus travels through the island.
8. Visit Budapest’s grand Parliament Building
You can see parliament from the outside or you can take a guided tour of the inside. You can only get in by being part of a tour group. The tour takes about 60-90 minutes.
I decided not to the tour and instead, explored the surrounds. Along the river near the parliament building is a very beautiful bronze shoe exhibit that stands as a memorial remembering the Jewish people that lost their lives a day before the soviets came to liberate the city. The Jewish residents were told to leave their valuables in their shoes while they were shot execution style and their bodies swept away by the river current (so sad!).
9. Ride the oldest underground metro in Budapest
M1, the oldest of the metro lines operating in Budapest, has been in constant operation since 1896. Just taking the metro and seeing the old platforms is truly amazing. I loved the mosaic tiles on each platform. This metro can be used to go to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
10. Visit the Parizi Nagyaruhaz
This one is a bit unconventional and I received this tip from the tour guide. When in Budapest, you must grab a cup of coffee at the Parizi Nagyaruhaz. The Párizsi Nagyáruház opened in 1910 and was the first significant department store building in Budapest. Its facade towards Andrássy Avenue was built in Art Nouveau style, while the part facing Paulay Ede Street has the characteristic features of the Neo-Renaissance. Today it functions as a bookstore with a café, which is decorated with the paintings of Károly Lotz. Totally worth the trip!
Getting there: The address is 1061 Budapest, Andrássy út 39.
One more thing that I forgot to mention is that Budapest is renowned for its bad service! Yes, waiters are terribly slow and extremely rude. As a South African, you will probably feel extremely offended by them. I was very upset initially and then I just decided not to tip! Yes, don’t feel bad! We should not condone bad service!
Apart from that hiccup, everything else about Budapest is amazing! I would definitely go back in a heart beat! Budapest has definitely left me “Hungary” 🙂
Please note that prices and the exchange rate used will fluctuate depending on the time of travel. Figures used was taken on the 10 October 2016.