Upon landing in Budapest late at night, weary from a long day of traveling, and not sleeping well, the first thing I did upon arriving in Budapest after checking in? I of course went to the bar! I really had no expectations for Budapest. Some people I had talked to in my initial planning said they liked Budapest, but it never had the same cachet as Prague or Berlin which always seem to garner most of the attention in that part of the world. I met up with a friend who coincidentally was in Budapest at the same time and we ended up looking for a bite to eat at a pub, and ended up drinking and chatting into the wee hours of a Sunday night. Surprisingly the bar was really quite crowded up until 2-3 AM, which I assume must have been students, but you never know.
In Budapest there are about a dozen “Ruin Pubs” which are quite fun, and really unique. What officially defines a Ruin Pub you ask? Well from what I can tell, it has to be a pretty quirky place for one. Case in point, Szimpla Kert, the best of the ruin pubs that I visited out of the handful I came across. (It was also voted #3 bar in the world in 2012 by a public vote via Lonely Planet.) What makes it quirky you say? This place has a woman selling massive carrots for $1. There is an old school movie projector on the top floor, that plays movies occasionally in the open courtyard during the warmer months. The few Ruin Pubs that I visited definitely made you think that the designers had done a little too much acid over the course of their lifetimes, or they had no other choice but to throw a bunch of weird shit all over the place. And two, the pub exists in the ruins of an existing building, whether that be a warehouse, house, etc. with all of the rooms in tact. This little feature adds to quite some interesting rooms that don’t seem to belong.
With my first night in Budapest a success I was ready to hit the sack and explore the city during the day…
As per usual, I took advantage of a free walking tour and we got a good 3 hour tour of the Buda and the Pest side of the city. Dubbed the Paris of the East, much of the city was built in a 20 year span after Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (Ancient Buda) were combined into one city in 1873. The streets follow the same Hub and Spoke model that you would find in Paris, the avenues are wide with low buildings, no building taller than St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Parliament building, both 96 meters tall. The overall look and feel of the city is quite similar, albeit much smaller than Paris in terms of size. Budapest is also home to Europe’s oldest electrified railway system. Many of the improvements that came to the city were in preparation for the city’s millennial anniversary in 1896.
I also took a trip to the Terror House, which is a well done museum, that depicts the plight that many Hungarians experienced during WW2 and after, once the Soviets took over and made Hungary a communist country. This is one of the things we didn’t learn in school, but for many years, Hungarians were terrorized by secret police and put into a state of fear that if they don’t abide by and accept all of the communist principles, that they would be punished, or even worse, put to death.
On my final day in Budapest I took a trip to one of the hot spring bath houses, this was a large indoor/outdoor set of pools and steam rooms at varying temperatures. There are roughly 30 or so bath houses sprinkled throughout Budapest and the water is thought to have healing properties, similar to many other cultures that use the natural thermal springs.
At night, a few of my buddies from my Turkey adventures showed up and we hit the Ruin Pub scene once again, showing them the ropes as the ordained local. It was good to catch up with them and see how the rest of their adventure fared.
Overall Budapest was one of my favorite cities on my trip, it was quite charming, less touristic, with loads of character. I’d highly suggest a trip here if you get the chance. I’ll surely be making my way back to Budapest!
Next stop, Vienna.