You’re the one thing
I can’t get enough of
This could be love
Because I’ve had
The time of my life
No I never felt
This way before
Yes I swear it’s the truth”
Jennifer Warnes and Bill Medley (or Herbert)
I don’t really know why I chose to spend April in Budapest. I had always had a strange interest in the city though I knew little about it. But sometimes these whimsical decisions have a way of working out well. Budapest was an incredible place to spend a month and I already can’t wait to go back! Here are some of my Budapest favorites… in a series of Top-5 lists:
The Usual Favorites
You may know about some of these things from reading or hearing about Budapest in the past. Regardless, any “Best of Budapest” article would be incomplete without their inclusion.
1. Ruin Bars – A number of old and dilapidated buildings have been turned into very bars that are popular both with locals and tourists. The architecture creates a fun and unique vibe!
2. Stunning Architecture – You almost can’t miss this as simply walking through the city gives you great exposure to some of the famous buildings along the Danube River. However, walk around the different neighborhoods in the city and you’ll see that the city is loaded with colorful and interesting architecture.
3. Danube River Views – You can really walk anywhere along the river and be blown away. Never a bad day to wander up and down the river.
4. Fascinating History – There is so much history in Budapest that it’s really worth trying to read a bit about it before you come. It took me a few weeks to begin to understand the complexities of the many interesting eras of Hungarian history. Fortunately, much of the history has actually be fairly well-preserved and is easily accessible to tourists.
5. Thermal Baths – Budapest has a number of thermal baths throughout the city. These baths are supposed to have healing powers for a variety of ailments. Whether that’s true or not doesn’t really matter. It’s an interesting and relaxing way to spend an afternoon. Most of the baths also offer massages and other types of treatments so go ahead and spoil yourself.
Budapest Highlights You May Not Know
There were so many parts of the Budapest experience that I loved. Beyond the regular tourist destinations, the next list includes aspects of my day-to-day life that largely contributed to my love affair with the city.
1. Cafes and Brunch – Cafes are plentiful in Budapest (more on that below) but the city’s brunch scene is also fantastic! Most of the cafes have top-notch food options to go along with top-notch coffee.
2. Margaret Island – In the middle of the Danube River is a small island that has essentially been turned into Budapest’s playground. There is big open green space, a Japanese garden, a track for running, and other fitness-related amenities… all with the river and the city’s iconic buildings in the background.
3. Lemonade and Froccs – The weather had just started to heat up and it seems that Budapest stays quite hot through the summer and early fall. As such, they most certainly know how to make a refreshing drink! The lemonade is top quality with fresh fruits included and a variety of lemonade varieties available. Froccs is basically a variation on the wine spritzer. It’s delicious and very refreshing!
4. Hungarian Wine – I didn’t necessarily go to Hungary expecting great wine but I was pleasantly surprised. Hungary produces some very interesting varieties of wine ranging from bone dry to sugary sweet. There’s something for everyone!
5. Festivals and Special Events – I think spring is popular time in most cities for all kinds of festivals and special events and Budapest was certainly no exception. I was there for the Spring Festival, a Red Bull Airshow, an art and design show, a wine festival, and a number of other small events. Do your research before you go to figure out what’s going on (welovebudapest.com is a great resource).
Best Budapest Cafes
There’s both quantity and quality among the cafes in Budapest and quite frankly, it might be the best city for coffee that I’ve ever visited. Plus, there are about million cafes all over the city (give or take) so there’s always a great new place to try. I obviously didn’t visit each one but among the ones I visited, here are my favorites:
1. Lumen Cafe – A bright and open concept with great outdoor space which makes this an ideal setup to get some work done!
2. Kelet Cafe – This was the cafe I went to most often. They had some solid food options, terrific coffee, and the best lemonade. The library motif created a nice environment to get some work done. If you aren’t working, just sit outside and enjoy the people-watching.
3. Espresso Embassy – This small cafe had limited food options but terrific coffee. They did offer some delicious pastries (try the cheesecake!) and had some fresh juice too.
4. My Little Melbourne – As soon as you walk in, you can tell that this place takes its coffee-making seriously. Their hard work most certainly pays off!
5. London Coffee Society – The coffee was good here but the brunch was really terrific! Definitely recommend the avocado toast here!
Trivia Time: If you tried to visit a million cafes by going to a new one every hour, when would you finish trying them all? (answer at the end)
Best Budapest Bars
For better or for worse, Budapest is well known for a great bar scene which attracts party people from all over. During my month in the city, I witnessed dozens and dozens of bachelor and bachelorette parties which are no more or less ridiculous than they are in the States. However, there are bars for all styles in Budapest. Here are my favorite watering holes:
1. Ankert – One of the most popular of the “ruin bars,” Ankert is a very impressive place to walk in to. You’ll immediately get a great sense of what the ruin bar concept is really all about… and it’s a lot of fun!
2. Bisztro Most – This place is a huge restaurant that’s open all year long. However, it’s not the food or even the drinks that makes this place great. There’s a large, seasonal open-air patio out front that’s a perfect place to enjoy the warm Budapest nights. Plus, it’s a little outside the main city center so it’s not quite as busy as some of the other popular places.
3. Kadarka Wine Bar – This is actually a fairly typical wine bar and lacks outdoor space. However, the staff was friendly, the wine was great, and there was a really great energy in here each time I came in.
4. Szimpla Kert – This is a tourist favorite but still a very cool spot. It’s actually a small market with an eclectic assortment of vendors. In the back, there is a funky area to sit and have a drink.
5. Froccsterasz – The drinks are nothing special here but this outdoor bar is right in the middle of the park that sits right in the middle of the city. People sit here all day and enjoy the nice weather. You can actually bring your own drinks here (technically, it’s illegal but the police don’t seem to care) or buy from the bar.
Best Budapest Restaurants
Most people might not know that Budapest has four restaurants with the Michelin Star designation. However, most restaurants are simple and very accessible with a good variety of options. I didn’t go to any of the Michelin Star re$taurant$ but here are some of my favorites that I discovered. Keep in mind that I’m vegetarian so other lists may be quite different.
1. iF Jazz Café – I struggled a bit to find real Hungarian food that was vegetarian-friendly but this place was awesome! They apparently have some great live jazz though I only ate there and enjoyed some authentic Hungarian food.
2. Vegazzi Pizza – A small place inside the Ankert bar that I mentioned above, this vegan pizzeria serves up only a few varieties of pizza but they are all reasonably-priced and all delicious. Might be the best vegan pizza I’ve ever had!
3. Mazel Tov – In the Jewish district in Budapest, this place serves up Mediterranean cuisine including delicious hummus, falafel, and other great veggie-heavy options… though they certainly have meat too.
4. Szimply – Simply a cafe without the coffee, this fun little brunch spot had a nice assortment of healthy options. There’s a coffee shop across the alley way where you can get the caffeine you need to start your day.
5. Vegan Love – One of the few vegan spots in Budapest, this casual dining restaurant served up a bunch of different sandwiches, burgers, and pitas. Highly recommended and very close to the Kelet Cafe I mentioned above.
Favorite Places to Hang Out
I spent a lot of my days working in one of the cafes listed above but you can’t drink coffee all day every day so here were some of my favorite (non-café) hangouts.
1. Gellert Baths – I mentioned the thermal baths above and this one was my favorite (though I didn’t visit them all). It felt old and authentic but had all the modern amenities you would expect from a spa.
2. The Citadel and Liberty Statue (at sunset) – A medium-length hike up the side of a hill on the Buda side of Budapest will take you up to the Liberty Statue. The views from the top are stunning so you’ll definitely be rewarded for your hard work getting to the top.
3. Margaret Island – As I mentioned above, this is the perfect place to spend a day of leisure. Bring a blanket, some snacks, and maybe a 6-pack and enjoy a day outside with your friends.
4. Heroes Square and the Park Varosliget – Heroes Square is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Budapest. In this square are also two art museums that are worth a visit. However, the highlight of taking a short trip out to this site is the City Park (Varosliget) where you can enjoy a little peace and quite or visit one of several cafes in the park.
5. Any place of historical significance – Budapest’s history is remarkable and there are several tours, sites, and museums that are worth a visit. You don’t necessarily have to do all of them but pick a few that catch your attention and learn more about some of the rich Hungarian history. My two favorites were the National Museum and the House of Terror. As the name suggests, the House of Terror certainly isn’t the most uplifting experience you’ll ever have but it will teach you a lot about the last 100 years in Budapest.
Best of Budapest
So there you have it! My favorites from a spectacular month in Budapest. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it… and I hope some of these tips help you enjoy your visit even more!
Trivia Answer: A million hours = 114.16 years… so you’d be done with your café tour sometime in the middle of the year 2134.