Sights: It’s worth visiting one of the sets of baths whilst in the city and an afternoon there is enjoyable. We enjoyed the Gellert baths which are in a lovely Art Nouveau in style. A slightly older crowd but a very relaxing environment. The Szechenyi baths are vast with multiple rooms and pools. Great buildings but a younger, more student/tourist crowd the afternoon we visited. Three specific tips: by pre-booking tickets you can save on the queues. If you want to swim laps then take a swimming hat. Finally, take your own towel: we use travel towels which dry quickly and saved us hiring them.
Behind the Gellert baths is Gellert Hill; it’s a bit of a climb but the view from the top is spectacular – better than from the castle hill in Buda. Generally, Budapest is made for walking: the castle has good views over the city though Buda itself is a little quiet for my tastes. Walking along the Danube past the Chain Bridge, the Parliament building and the Jewish memorial gives a good sense of the city.
A couple of locations recall the atrocities and heroism during the Second World War: firstly, the Shoes on the Danube (on the river bank, a few metres south of the Parliament building) recalls the Jews drowned in the river. Secondly, the Carl Lutz Memorial (on Dob utca and Rumbach) remembers the saving of Jews by the Swiss Consul in 1944).
There are two sites which I felt are worth a visit to understand the communist history of the country: firstly the House of Terror which tracks the establishment of a communist state based on fear & acts of terror. It’s powerfully done with an accessible, experiential design which takes you on an emotional journey.
Secondly, Memento Park brings together some of the former city statues from the communist era. It’s a bit of a journey out and you need to buy the guidebook to fully understand the site but it gives a good sense of the politics & propaganda of the time. [Directions: Take Metro 4 to the end of the line at Kelenfold vasutallomas then the 101B, 101E or 150 bus towards Budateteny vasutallomas (Campona); the bus takes 20 minutes and the stop is announced].
Travel: We arrived via Budapest airport. To get in to the city centre we bought a “transfer ticket” (we tried to use UK cards in the machine but found local cash worked better). The ticket consists of two parts: the first one to use on Bus number 200E to Kőbánya-Kispest which is the nearest metro station and takes about 20 minutes. After a short walk, we stamped our second ticket and took Metro Line M3 (the blue line) to the centre & got off at Deák Ferenc which is where lines 1, 2 & 3 intersect plus also a short walk to our hotel.
The metro covers much of the city but is supplemented by trams and buses. It is also relatively flat so we ended up walking quite a bit. A full journey planner can be found here.
Accommodation: We stayed at ROOMbach Hotel Budapest Center (Rumbach Sebestyén u. 14) which is a modern hotel with some nice design features. Rooms are not huge but have everything you need including a good sized shower-room. There’s a varied breakfast and the location is excellent for lots of local bars and restaurants.
Food & Drink: Any idea that Hungarian food is all goulash and a little stodgy should be banished. Food and drink is varied and the local hosts welcoming.
Several hipster places near our hotel on Madách Imre út have reclaimed furniture & graffiti art on the walls but also some of the best flavours in the city; highlights include:
- Konyha – Friends For Food (Madách Imre út 8) has food which is light, modern & fresh – and a very good beer/wine list including Hungarian fizz. Good value, too.
- Next door is a bar and gallery called Telep which has beers, cocktails and bags of atmosphere.
- Központ Café (Madách Imre út 5) is a coffee shop with free internet, good sandwiches and strong caffeine to kick start the day.
Ruin Bars can be found across Pest district VII and may not be to everyone’s taste but we loved them. In derelict buildings, bars have been set up with retro furniture, modern art on the walls & a bohemian sense of design. There’s a distinctly “studenty” feel to many of the places yet some are becoming decidedly gentrified. They’re fun, atmospheric and indicative of the independent (& entrepreneurial) spirit of the Hungarians. Wander along the streets and spot one that appeals to your taste.
We particularly enjoyed Szimpla Kert (Kazinczy utca 14) which was the original ruin bar and now largely frequented by tourists. It’s vast and made up of several different bars: the ‘real ale’ bar at the front on the first floor and the wine bar on the left on the ground floor allowed us to sample good Hungarian drinks.
At the ‘gentrified’ end of the scale is Mazel Tov (Akácfa utca 47) which is more of a restaurant with great food – some of the best hummus I have eaten!
Further Reading & Listening:
Guide books: I travelled with my trusted Lonely Planet – Europe on a Shoestring and local map. For some background reading, try this introduction to Communism which includes chapters on its rise and fall in Europe.
Podcasts: I found Scott Allsop’s introduction to the events of 1956 in Budapest accessible and useful: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/gcse-igcse-history-revision/id174839785?mt=2&i=49942408http://www.mrallsophistory.com/revision/
To understand the current effects of migration and growth of the harder right then a recent BBC World Service Documentary is helpful:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03msxn3
And for some background on the relations between Hungary and Russia, this podcast provides a revealing vignette: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/historypod/id975664177?mt=2&i=378621818