Jenn Crothers | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 5 February 2015

Berlin Is Over. 2015 Is All About Budapest. Here's Where To Drink, Shop And Stay While You're There

The Debrief: Hungary's capital is big news, go now before it gets expensive!

Illustration by Karolina Burdon

Budapest is your new one stop city that covers everything you want from a European mini break; beautiful architecture, perfect weather, gorgeous food, bohemian nightlife and a cheap Ryanair flight to boot.

Before you go
First things first, if you’re thinking about going to Hungary, you’re going need some HUF, or to be more clear, ‘Hungarian Forint’- but be careful and plan ahead as not all post offices stock it. When you do exchange your money you’re going to walk out of the post office with a wad of cash, feeling like Snoop Dogg on pay day as 1,200huf is approx. £3.

If it's hot weather you're after, Hungary probably isn't the first place that springs to mind, but during July/ August, Budapest can reach up to 35 degrees Celsius. Plus, it also covers all the bases a normal summer holiday would as the city has it’s own island called Margaret right in the middle of the river which is covered in woodland, bars, and a waterpark. In the winter it can go as low as -4 degrees, so there’s always plenty of beautiful snow to enjoy.

There are two main festivals in Budapest; Sziget and Fridge. The latter consists of snowboarding and freestyle skiing and happens around the end of each year, whereas Sziget is the largest European festival and comes to Budapest in August- last year saw the likes of Jake Bugg, Bastille, Kelis and placebo to name a few. It’s held on the famous Sziget island (Sziget means ‘island’, in Hungarian, so you’re essentially saying ‘island island’), which is easy to get to from the mainland in a taxi for about £8, or of course you can hop on the ol’ public transport if you’re feeling a little braver. 

If you’re looking for musical entertainment a little more Hungarian, check out the beautiful voice of Antonia Vai, who regularly collaborates with the Hungarian gypsy punk band, The Bohemian Betyars. You can find these guys rocking out in places like Szimplar and A38 (a night club on a boat- didn’t I tell you Budapest is awesome?)

So you’ve got your HUF, decided what time of year to go, now you’ve got to think about where to stay.

Where to stay
Like any good European city, there are some pretty awesome hostels worth checking out. The best ones all come under the same umbrella brand of Budapest Party Hostels (BPH), with varying degrees of madness, so on a scale of ‘Hey let’s go see the sites and enjoy some Palinka (a tipple famous amongst Hungarians and comes in long thin bottles, full of spices) later’ to, ‘Vodka is for breakfast’:
 
Carpe Noctem: A tiny flat at the top of a building which is perfect for solo travellers.
Carpe Noctem Vitae: A giant flat at the top of a building, perfect for solo and group travellers. It also offers private rooms!
Grandio: A jungle upon arrival, beer pong all day, balconies and a secret cave underneath.
Retox: Good luck.

Or of course, being such an incredibly beautiful city, Airbnb is always worth a shout, with plenty of riverside apartments to choose from, but I would advise to stay clear of hotels- you’ll end up paying a fortune and you might as well be sleeping in a Travel Lodge in Norwich.

What to do
The famous, ‘Alternative Walking Tour’, started up by experienced British backpacker, Lauren Groves is the best way to get to know the city and is a good way to tick off the ‘culture box’, so that you don’t come away with just a glorious hangover and a few blurred snaps on your phone. 

Budapest’s ruin bars, which have all been erected in ramshackle buildings, and mostly have the resemblance of a junkshop, combined with a really bizarre dream are unlike most ‘underground’ bars, as these buildings have some rich history behind them. So all of the buildings look how they due largely to neglect during the communism era, then came along the 1980s, when said buildings were being sold very cheaply, which as any one in any city knows, attracts the arty farty types… and behold the birth of the ruin bar. (This is the story in a tiny nutshell, but let’s not get too deep right now- you’re going on holiday!)

Some of the best ones worth checking out are:

Szimpla Kert (‘Kert’ means garden FYI) - the most famous of the ruin bars, and definitely a favourite among tourists (voted top 3rd best bar in the world)- you’ll feel like you’ve taken LSD. This place has everything including the kitchen sink (no, seriously) as it’s filled with TVs hanging from the ceiling playing black and white movies, mannequins, broken down cars, and of course shot girls selling carrots. What’s not to love? On Sunday mornings it plays host to a delicious farmer’s market and beers start from about 400huf (approx. £1)

Ellato Kert - the best place to pick up mid-night-out-food. The beer garden is one of the best, full of lanterns and bunting. Tucked out the back is a cocktail and Mexican food bar, which serve the best tacos you’ll ever have. That’s right, the best Mexican food out the back of a falling down building in Budapest.

Corvinteto - this once was a giant super market, and to be honest not much has changed- oh, other than the shot bar, the dance floor, and the pumping music.

If you’re on a real budget, stick to beer and wine, or ‘fröccs’ (pronounced "fru-ch") (wine spritzer). It’s cheap as chips! Or, if you’ve got a taste for something exotic get yourself a bottle of Palinka. There’s another drink called Unicum (not a typo), which is reminiscent of Jagermeister but has a much more… burning after taste. You have been warned.

The thermal baths are another absolute must, and there are a few to choose from. My personal reccomendation are the Széchenyi Baths as they are the largest and still have the old medicinal pools, to cleanse away that hangover. The water is naturally hot as the whole city is built upon natural thermal springs. Local Hungarian men still sit around all day playing chess, so look out for that.

Other than the local tram, you can catch the bus or a taxi. They’re pretty cheap too- but make sure you don’t get ripped off! (Easier said than done when Hungarian is not your first language).

Visit the grand market hall and you’ll find yourself wedged between the local Hungarians, chowing down on some Lángos (friend bread covered in sour cream and your choice of toppings) or some strudel (give the cinnamon and cottage cheese variety a go!)

Budapest is addictive, beautiful and wild, and after you’ve bumped back to earth at Stansted, you’ll just want to book your next Hungarian adventure.

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Follow Jenn on Twitter @Ginafer

Illustration: Karolina Burdon 

Tags: Leaving on a jet plane