13 Jul 2014


What would you think if I told you that I visited a city best known for it's thermal baths and natural spas, yet neglected to experience any of them? Truthfully, I would love to return and spend a long weekend languidly traipsing from one baths to the next but this trip was not about soaking in hot pools - if anything, it was too hot for that. A quick paddle in the Danube was all of the water we saw during our four days in the Hungarian capital. Read on for my Off the Beaten Track travel guide to Budapest - just don't expect the mention of the spas!


Currency: the Forint (Ft or HUF); although most places did seem to accept Euros. The exchange rate is crazy - expect to pay about 500 HUF for a pint of beer (about £1.30).

Tipping: In restaurants, tip 10% if you are happy with the service.

Language: Hungarian isn't the easiest language to pick up but don't worry, everyone speaks English and German.
Hello/ Goodbye - Szia
Please - Kerem
Thank you - Koszonom

Getting Around: There's an extremely efficient public transport network, incorporating the metros, trams, buses and trains. We bought a handful of single tickets from the metro station and these could also be used on the trams. Don't forget to validate your tickets or you can be stuck with a hefty fine. Alternatively, you could slip on a pair of comfy shoes and walk everywhere; that way you will see more of the city. The street names very conveniently point you in the direction of the numbers at each road intersection (useful as not all numbers opposite each other are in the usual sequence).

Where to stay: We stayed on Akacea Utca but any of the streets running through the Jewish districts of Terezvaros and Erzsebetvaros (the offical boundary is Kiraly utca, where the world-famous Ruins bars are centred) are great locations. There's a never-ending supply of great bars, kerts and cafes, fun graffiti to spot as you are wandering around and good transport links on all of the surrounding main roads.

FYI: Budapest actually used to be two separate cities - hilly Buda is situated on the western bank of the Danube and is an older and more affluent location whilst bustling Pest thrives with art nouveau architecture and unique nightlife to the east.


Budapest is famous for it's Ruin Pubs (also known as Kerts) that have sprung up in the courtyards of condemned buildings or in the ragged ruins where apartment blocks have been torn down to reveal cavernous gaps in between buildings. We tried not to visit the same bar twice, hopping between several each night in a mission to see as much as possible and to stay one step ahead of gaggles of young backpackers. Most of the Kerts, as well as an endless supply of more traditional bars and cafes are centred around Terezvaros and Erzebetvaros, although Jozsefvaros also has a great cafe and bar scene.

A Grund, 32 Nagy Templom utca, Jozsefvaros
This clean-cut Kert is quite out of the way of the rest of the bar scene but it ties in nicely with a visit to the Natural History museum or botanical gardens. During the day expect chilled vibes with children playing on the adventure playground but at night the gravel-floored beer garden turns into a party den.  

Cafe Bobek, 53 Kazinczy utca
A small kert much calmer than its contemporaries, making it ideal for relaxed outdoor early evening drinks. Order the pitta bread with an extensive selection of dips to line your stomach for the evening ahead.

Cat Cafe, 3 Revay utca
I could barely contain my excitement when we discovered this one! There's no admission charge as is usually the case to sip your drink in the company of our feline friends, just settle yourself down on a table (we chose a seat beside a snoozing kitten) and the friendly waitresses will take your order of bottled beers, soft drinks, hot drinks and cake. There's two floors of comfy seating created from pallets and cushions and an array of cats both great and fluffy and tiny and cute.

Csiga, 2 Vasar utca
Recommended by a friend, this was my favourite cafe in Budapest. The menu was full of delicious-sounding meals and snacks with a comprehensive list of milk shakes and jugs of lemonade flavoured with various fruits and herbs. Potted plants scattered every surface and I found myself wishing I could fit the framed posters in my bag.

Garzon, 24 Wesselenyi utca
We happened across this seventies themed bar after retreating from the noisy student area of Kazinczy utca. Expect awesome patterned wallpaper, leather corner sofas, a sweeping mustard yellow vinyl bar and various household objects protruding from the walls and ceiling. Try to bag a spot in the 'living room' or 'kitchen' areas to the right of the bar and marvel in your surroundings.

Instant, 38 Nagymezo utca
One of the major kerts, Instant is a matrix of whimsically themed rooms, dance floors and open courtyards. Expect rabbits flying through the air, trees growing inside the garden areas, animal themed art work and owls everywhere. Regrettably, we only frequented Instant for late afternoon cocktails but there are three dance floors playing different genres of music into the early hours every night. 

Kiado, 3 Jokai ter
We sampled our first - and best! - goulash in this cosy little bar with a great food menu. Settle yourself into one of the small alcoves for the best atmosphere.

Kuplung, 46 Kiraly utca
I was sold on this kert the second I saw the huge mural of a blue whale on the courtyard wall. Enter through a graffiti emblazoned tunnel to the bustling courtyard with a long sheltered bar all along the right hand wall. If you don't fancy sitting outside, there's a huge bar and dance floor area to the back but we found it the perfect place to sit outdoors and get chatting to the locals.

Most, 17 Zichy Jeno utca
One of the more 'fancy' kerts, Most appears to be a bustling restaurant at first glance, with it's cavernous indoor room offering rows of communal benches on which to sit and feast. We hopped out to the back to shelter from the rain under humongous umbrellas; enjoying the romantic lighting of tea lights in jam jars and fairy light lit walkways. The food menu looks great here, although sadly we had already eaten.

Szimpla, 14 Kazinczy utca
The daddy of all kerts, Szimpla was recently voted the third best bar in the world. Chose to perch in a handful of indoor rooms situated off the main corridor or to laze in the gigantic garden area - or just dance to the pounding beats in the corridor itself. Try and bag yourself a seat in one of the old cars dotted around the garden or just grab a drink from one of the numerous bars and pull up a chair and admire your surroundings.

Sirius Tea Rooms, 13 Brody Sandor utca
This one is quite hard to find but definitely worth it. Walking down Brody Sandor utca, keep your eye on the house numbers; they confusingly don't correlate across the road from each other as we are accustomed to. There's just a tiny sign outside number 13, only alerting you to the presence of Sirius if you were already looking out for it. Once inside, take off your shoes and explore the labyrinth of hidden carpeted and cushioned rooms, through wardrobes, up and down ladders and along mirrored passages before settling down with a teapot steaming with one of their many unusual varieties. 


Whether you prefer wandering the streets on the hunt for excellent architecture or relaxing in parks, Budapest has something for everyone.

Lipotvaros - wander around this eighteenth century area of the city and delight in some of the finest buildings that Pest has to offer. Slip inside St Stephen's Basilica to be awestruck by the interiors, admire the view of Buda as you saunter down the Danube or simply let go of your map and explore which ever side street appeals to you - there's bound to be an enticing statue, fountain or facade waiting around the corner. If your legs are getting weary at this point, slip off your shoes and dip your feet into the refreshing water that covers the ceiling of the Godor Klub just off Erzebet ter park.

Margit-Sziget - described by many as the 'playground of the city', this is the perfect place to unwind on a scorching hot day. Hire pedal cars to explore the surrounding area, admire the musical fountains and visit the petting zoo before strolling up to the north west of the island to Palatinus lido. There's a vast expanse of green space to sunbathe or shelter but we preferred to climb down to the rocky beach by the Danube and wade in the surprisingly clean and instantly refreshing water.

The Var - Cross over the famous chain bridge and climb up the never-ending flights of steps (or cheat and ride the funicular!) until you reach castle hill. You'll find a bombardment of incredible buildings up here, including the Royal Palace, Fishermen's Bastion and Matyas Church. It gets pretty crowded and is incredibly touristy but the views of Pest are spectacular. If you're heading back to Pest via the metro, don't miss the Church of St Anne just to the south of the station.

The Varosliget - if you're searching for a place to relax, you can't go wrong with the city park. Admire the castle and the monuments, hire a pedalo and drift up and down the lake or simply find a good spot and lie down on the grass. The cities most famous spa, Szechenyi Baths is also located here.

All photographs my own, taken on my iPhone 4s and Canon 600D with a 50mm 1.8 lens.
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