Budapest was once two cities
We didn’t know this, and we’re hoping others didn’t know this either – or else this is a pretty crap fact.
There was Buda on the west bank of the Danube, and Pest on the east bank. The two cities unified in 1873, but there are still quite obvious differences between the two sides.
Buda is very hilly, and as such has some beautiful views. The Castle District (District 1) is in Buda, and it’s packed with historic sights and attractions like the Royal Palace, Buda Castle, and the Matthias Church.
Pest is much flatter and it contains most of the attractions (St Stephen’s Basilica, Great Synagogue, Parliament, Opera House, City Park, the Old Jewish quarter, Heroes’ Square…). There are also more shops, restaurants, coffee shops and bars than you’ll find in Buda.
Dogs come in pairs… and they all look very daft indeed
We couldn’t work this one out. Everyone with dogs had at least two identical versions – which were wearing the strangest ornaments and had the silliest hairstyles. The dogs were always in multiples of two – we once saw five of the daftest-looking poodles with one owner, and our “WTF??” moment was more for the dog count than the scarves and sunglasses they were all wearing.
Goose liver is a very big deal
Think it’s all goulash and paprika? Nuh uh. Everywhere you go, there’s foie gras. And it’s not even like they’re hoarding the stuff for themselves: Hungary is the world’s second-largest foie gras producer and largest exporter in the world – and about 30,000 Hungarian goose farmers are dependent on the foie gras indusry.
When they’re fed up with goose liver, they manage to find many other uses for the bird: you’ll find roast goose, goose crackling and lots of other meats and potatoes cooked in goose fat.
Ruin pubs are amazing
“Ruin pubs” are pubs that have been created in formerly abandoned buildings in the city. Most have an outdoor courtyard area and lots of unique and different little rooms inside.
If ruin pubs were to exist in London, they’d probably be in Camden, and they’d be overrun with the most unbearable drunk and up-themselves teenagers. The music would be too loud, there’d be puke all over the floor, and…oh, it would just be awful.
In Budapest though, ruin pubs are very mellow and calm, and the customers are a brilliantly diverse mixture of teenagers, groups of friends in their 60s, families and young couples. We even took our laptops there one evening – making the most of the free wifi to work in the outside courtyard.
Which brings me to…
Everywhere has wifi
- Two ruin pubs.
- A beautiful cafe within a bookshop (see below).
- The cutest little bookstore where the coffee is so lovingly prepared we couldn’t understand why they bothered with the books.
- A super-cool cavernous bar.
- A kebab shop (it was raining).
- The upstairs of a pub, where a TV played a rather odd Hungarian karaoke programme and the wine cost 30p.
- A mega-posh and popular cafe in the centre of the city.
Food and wine are super-cheap
On my birthday, we went to a really lovely restaurant for lunch. A three-course meal cost about £25 for both of us.
But you can go way cheaper than that if you like: kebabs (Rob went a bit wild on these) are pretty large and cost just under £2. Anything in bakeries (including pizza slices) cost under £1. Wine can be as low as 30p (see above), but never higher than £2. Coffee in cafes and restaurants tends to be about £1.
Groceries are also quite cheap – although fruit and veg is comparatively pricey.
They’ve nailed public transport
If you get to the platform and you’ve just missed the train, there’s no need to go “Oh holy f**k f**k f**k just our sodding luck we’re never going to eat again” (eh hem) – there’ll be another one within a few minutes. Same goes with the buses and trams.
It’s pretty easy to work out how to use all the public transport in the city – and they use the same ticketing system for all three modes, which keeps things simple. What they don’t make clear is that you can’t buy tickets on the trams or buses – so you’ll need to get them in advance. Some shops and hotels sell tickets, but our preferred method was to buy a couple of books of ten tickets from the train station (cheaper when you buy in bulk) and gradually use them up. Each ticket costs about £1, and includes one transfer to a different metro line if you’re using the train.
GO to a thermal bath
There are a few thermal baths in Budapest, but we visited the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath in City Park. It’s the largest medicinal bath in Europe, and its water is supplied by two thermal springs with medicinal properties (which can help with joint problems among other things).
Because we’re knobends and we focus on the weird stuff, we were most impressed by how everything was organised. You buy a ticket, get given a fun little watch strap thing, and then a woman swipes your watch strap thing and you’re assigned a locker or a private changing cabin (your choice; we chose a cabin because we’re British). The watch strap thing then opens your locker or cabin door.
Once we’d spent 20 minutes discussing the logistics of the cabin-assignation, we got down to our bathing. There are three outdoor pools and 15 indoor ones – all with varying temperatures. Then there are saunas and steam rooms, also with varying temperatures. I can’t really explain what was so fun about walking from pool to pool and going “Oooh yes, this really does feel five degrees hotter than the last pool”, but it was. And it was SO relaxing – a jolly nice way to spend a Monday morning.
Men don’t half like weeing and pooing in public
Seriously. And by “public” we mean on the side of a regular shopping street. Here we saw a man wiping his bottom and then dumping the tissue by a tree. We’d regularly see men pissing happily by the side of the road, not in the least bit embarrassed when anyone walked past. Very odd.
It’s all far prettier than we’d imagined
Before we went, we assumed that Budapest would be a bit too stag-party/tourist heavy – overrun with naff bars and overpriced Angus-Steakhouse-esque restaurants. And while we did see our fair share of men wearing “Last Fling B4 The Ring” t-shirts – and there were a fair few neon signs announcing goulash-centred meal deals – it didn’t detract from the overall beauty of the city.
It’s a real “Ooooh”, “Ahhhhh” kind of place: everywhere you go there’s incredible architecture, or a fantastic view over the Danube, or an an amazing bit of green space in the centre.
Have you been to Budapest? What did you think of it? Was it as cheap/pretty/quirky as we thought it was, or did you have a different opinion entirely? Let me know in the comments!