Budapest really captured our hearts during our time in the city. Brian had been once before, but the time was limited to only 2 days, so we were both eager to see this lesser-visited city.
Budapest falls to the wayside many times for its big brother, Prague and big sister, Vienna, but we knew Budapest would be just the right place for us to spend eight days before our whirlwind Eastern Europe trek.
Budapest is pretty incredible, with a history they don't shy away from and a future they continue to push toward with great development. Nearly every person speaks English, which was an added bonus because Hungarian (Magyar to the locals) is like no other language on earth. Nearly every restaurant looks incredible, and they are everywhere, covering any food type you could want. Green space abounds, historical buildings have been restored, the river boasts a riverwalk on both sides. It is also extremely affordable with a conversion rate of 271 Forint to 1 USD. We found everything we could want in a city in Budapest.
Alright, enough of the raving...here is our Must See and Do List for the great Budapest in no particular order (although you know we are partial to food and beverage experiences):
1. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant for a reasonable price. We ate at Borkonyha | Winekitchen and would highly recommend it. The food was exceptional, the service was friendly and helpful and the atmosphere is more casual than most other restaurants of similar accolades. The economic exchange rate is definitely in our favor and our meal, with wine and dessert was around $120. Reservations a must, several weeks out.
2. Try Hungarian wine at Faust Wine Cellars. While not widely known to Americans, Hungary has many wine regions and makes some seriously great wines. Faust Wine Cellars is a 6- or 9- glass tasting experience and also a location experience. The 200-year-old cellar is located deep underneath the Hilton on the Buda side of the Danube. A husband and wife team play host to wines from lesser known vineyards while giving a geography lesson as well. Our favorite was an aged white wine from Scheller Vineyards. Reservations a must, several weeks out. Cost: 5,400 Forints/person
3. Spend a day at the Baths. We spent a day at the most popular bath in City Park, Szechenyi Baths. Essentially a series of community hot tubs, large and small with "healing powers," the experience really did leave us feeling relaxed, albeit a little grossed out. I don't think we will rush to spend a day at other baths, but it's certainly a local experience. Budapest has many other baths, ranging from small and private, to hundreds of years old, etc. Learn how to spend a day at the baths HERE. Cost: 4,500 Forint
4. Hit the landmarks in an easy walking tour. We utilized Big Boy Travel for a self-guided tour. Some of the info is a bit tough to follow, but you can easily piece together your own tour of any neighborhood. Our advice is to grab a lunch of Langos, delicious fried bread with a variety of toppings, at the Great Market Hall's third level and finish your day at the top of Castle Hill to watch the sunset over Parliament.
5. Watch the fountain show at Margaret Park. This park is an island between the two sides and is a great place to be lazy for a day or go for a run on their recycled tire trail (better for your joints.) The fountain in the middle puts on a show every hour, on the hour to various musical themes. One hour it's children's songs, the next Mozart, the next The Beatles. Throw down a blanket nearby and get a 10-minute treat every hour.
6. Find our favorite spot and watch the lights come on across the city. When standing at the Chain Bridge, looking toward Buda, take the right stairs down to the river and head toward Parliament. On your left is the river and you should see a large stone flag pole. Nearby is a bench that gives you the best view of Chain Bridge, Castle Hill and Gellert Hill. Bring a bottle of wine and relax as people stroll by, the sun sets and the lights ready the city for night. Note: open container isn't illegal or if it is, no one bothers you. People gather in parks, on benches all with beer, wine, etc.
7. Experience the weirdness of a Ruin Pub. Since Budapest rebuilt after the end of communism, old buildings quickly became bars and restaurants, but there is nothing like a Ruin Pub. Local watering holes are tucked into dingy old buildings that seem to go on forever. Our favorite was Szimpla Kert. Wander around in any direction, including up the stairs and you'll find that every area is packed.
8. Palinka! A fun word for Hungarian fruit-flavored Brandy. The alcohol is essentially schnapps and packs a mean punch. One sip and I was certain my throat was burned from the harshness. Brian loved it, of course. There are two palinka festivals each year, spring and fall, and the locals come out in full support of the fruit of the year. 2015 is the year of the apple. Palinka is served everywhere. You should definitely try it, but you've been warned.
9. Take in an opera at the Hungarian Opera House. This building is incredible! It supposedly has the third best acoustics in the world. Tickets can be purchased online or the day of the show at the office inside (although, many shows sell out before the day-of.) We went for the cheaper tickets ($10) and had box seats. While the box is neat, it's not recommended as they pack 8 people into a box with "tiered" seating. Note: operas last nearly 3.5 hours including delayed starts, set changes and intermission. Plan accordingly.
Other miscellaneous tips:
-Budapest is an extremely walkable city, with limited need for public transportation. We noticed many locals did not pay for a ride on the bus or the metro, but this is one time to not act like a local. Ticket checkers have become more common, so be sure to pay for the ride.
-Try a chimney cake. The best and freshest was a stall located near the "nicest" McDonald's in the world on Terez Korut near the local train station. The hot dough is cooked over a "spit" and then coated in a topping of your choice. (The Mickey Dee's is also worth a peek. It really is the nicest we've ever seen.)
-Grab a coffee from New York Cafe. Seriously the most gorgeous interior of a building. It's the Hungarian Opera House of coffee shops.
-Have a Rosa Gelato. This gelato shop has a line around the block, but it moves quickly. For just under $4, you can get a rose-shaped gelato. Tip: Whichever flavor you want the most of, order first. They will also fill your cone with Nutella for $.50 more. Get the Nutella.
-You can get a traditional meal at either Belvarosi Disznotoros or Kadar Etkezde. At Belvarosi, you order the meat, they cook it on the grill, then add sides. Don't worry that you don't know the price/weight. Our entire meal was under $6 each, including drinks. At Kadar, you get to eat with the localist of locals. You are charged by piece of bread and glass of water on the honor system.