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The Traveller's Magazine
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Buda and Pest were two different cities at one time, forever separated by the lazy Danube. Today they are still separate but make up one of the most exciting capitals in Central Europe. Architecture from practically every movement, high class dining, bohemian dive bars, tree-line promenades and of course there are the thermal baths. Budapest locals know how to enjoy their city, even more than the tourists.

It is one thing to visit this city for a weekend than to actually live here. Budapest is the pretty lady at a party with a dark past. Budapest is sprawling on both sides of the river, ever-attracting foreigners and Hungarians into her lure.

What to do?

You could see the major sights like chain bridge, Buda castle and Heroes’ Square, but make time to see the other side of Budapest, the grungy artist’s city that offers something for everyone.

  • Tűzraktér (Hegedű utca 3) – What was once an old elementary school is now the busiest cultural centre in Pest. It’s a place for artists to work, mingle, collaborate with different rooms for designers, photographers, painters, dancers, musicians… and it’s all open to the public to explore, join in and learn. Browse the Freemarket or bring your bike in to the Bike Kitchen for a tune up.
  • Füvészkert (Illés utca 25) -Located in the 8th district is the Botanical Gardens of the ELTE University. It is the oldest in Hungary and naturally charms i, established in 1847. Visit the Palm House (built in 1866)  to see a huge collection of tropical plants and trees and the Victoria House which houses a lily that blooms once a year for only two days (usually in August). Entrance: HUF 600 (£1.80)
  • Toldi (Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út 36-38) – Always seen as a major player in underground art in Budapest Toldi caters to the cinema crowd now. There is free Wi-Fi, a small café serving drinks all day/night long and a film theatre in the back which screens locally-produced films, international blockbusters and occasionally hosts a film festival. Screenings cost HUF 780 (£2.30).

Where to eat?

There is much more to Hungarian cuisine than paprika and goulash, more to the night scene than palinka and pale ales. Stick with the locals and you’ll discover that Budapest offers a little taste of everything at every budget.

  • Café Csiga (Vásár utca 2) – Cosy and quaint, this café is where you’ll find some local expats, enjoying what Budapest has to offer. The menu changes often, according to the season. A main dish costs around HUF 1800 (£5).
  • Kőleves (Kazinczy u. 35) – Kőleves, which also means Stone Soup is a popular restaurant in the Jewish District, the décor is interesting and creative )lamps made out of cheese graters) and the food is tasty. Try Matzo Flodni (Matzo cake with walnuts, apple and poppy seed) or Sólet (baked beans with smoked goose and a boiled egg). A main dish costs around HUF 1500 (£4.40).
  • Centrál Kávéház (Károli Mihály utca 9) – Coffee culture in Budapest began with the Turks in the 1500s but flourished in the 19th c. This is one of the best places in the city to get a look at what a coffee house looked like at that time, elegant yet casual, this is where Budapest’s intellects and writers used to meet. Enjoy a cup of joe of a proper meal, mains start at HUF 1300 (£3.80).

Thermal baths 101:

Getting around in a Budapest thermal bath may seem complicated at first if you

Szechenyi Thermal Bathhouse
A day of luxury at Széchenyi Fürdő (img: flickr cc)

don’t know Hungarian but it’s very easy to catch on, here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re there.

  • give yourself at least 2 hours, this shouldn’t be a quick stop between sights, it should be the main attraction for a day or at least an entire afternoon or evening
  • additional services are paid for when you enter, so specify if you would like a massage or just a standard ticket
  • Turkish baths usually segregate men from the women. On single-sex days you will be given a traditional garment, a tiny piece of cloth to wear around your waist if you’re a guy or an apron-like piece of cloth is you’re a gal
  • there is typically one main pool with numerous smaller ones with varying temperatures, start with a shower indoors then move to the main pool, visiting each of the small pools afterwards
  • if you feel too hot or overheated, get out and plunge into the main pool for a few seconds to cool off again
  • visit the steam rooms and saunas after you’re finished in the baths
  • afterwards you should rest to regain strength (you’d never believe that relaxation is such hard work!)
  • don’t plan any strenuous activity afterwards, head out for a good meal and a walk before settling in for the night

Have you ever been to Budapest? Fill me in on some of your favourite places! For more tips/information on visiting the thermal baths and spas in Budapest, take a look at the article, What not to miss in Budapest: thermal baths.

Img: chad_k / flickr cc

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