In this article, my daughter shares some of the things she enjoyed on a short break to Budapest, seen through the eyes of an 18 year old. Of course Sophie-Anne and her friend Emma spent their evenings partying and clubbing but they also managed to fit in a surprising amount of culture and sightseeing.
I arrived in Budapest with my friend Emma late on Tuesday evening and as it was too late to navigate the public transport links we hopped in a cab to my cousin Sophia’s apartment. The fares surprisingly aren’t too bad, that is if you pay in florins over euros. We had a quick catch up with Sophia, but with work in the morning she was eager to get some sleep and pointed us in the right direction for some things to do the following day.
Wednesday – we do the museums
Bright and early on Wednesday morning we rose eager to get some cultural sightseeing done, to satisfy our parents’ museum questions that we would surely encounter on our return. I am, of course, a believer in the ability of teenagers being able to mix culture and partying on a city trip, but it’s best to do what requires most energy at the start of the trip before the late nights get to you.
Unfortunately, it was raining on the first day, but the House of Terror museum was only one stop away on the tram, so we visited it first. The museum was very interactive and seemed quite popular, as by the time we left there was a queue and lots of school trips lurking in the different exhibition rooms. The building of the museum was used both as a Nazi and Communist office, and thus the exhibitions take you through a story of Hungary in occupation from both the Nazis, the Communists and then finally the story of independence. There was definitely a lot to see, including a creepy basement where prisoners were kept in dingy cells. We agreed that the museum was aimed to attract the young and had some pretty vibrant ideas going on; the unexplained maze of wax bricks being our favourite. The exhibition of all the Communist propaganda was probably my favourite room of the museum.
As we left the House of Terror, the rain continued to pour, so we stopped at the Opera House to get some shelter. The Opera House really is magnificent, with beautiful architecture even a teenager would appreciate, although we didn’t even bother to check for Opera shows due to our student budget. We then walked down to St Stephen’s Basilica which was truly amazing. It’s the kind of place that makes you wish your Granny had Vine so you could show it off to her. We were really lucky to witness the church choir practising for a show later that night, so the beautiful church was lit up by their voices and we were so impressed that we sat for a while amongst the more avid church visiters to enjoy the choir.
Of course at some point so much culture would need to be balanced out, so we decided to check out the shops on the famous Vati Utica shopping street. My map reading skills are not strong enough to give an accurate record of which end of the street we were on, as the guide book had informed us that one end was more for shopping and one was more for food, although I have strong suspicions we were at the shopping end. After we had spent perhaps too much of our budget on clothes (naturally) we navigated our way through the metro back to my cousin’s apartment. We only had a few moments to sit down until we were back out again.
We went to a restaurant that was absolutely packed, even on a Wednesday evening and stayed there for a few cocktails after the meal. Following that my cousin took us to Instant, one of Budapest’s ruin bars, although as she is rather upmarket she clarified she wouldn’t usually come here but wanted to show us. The bar was very peculiar indeed, with art features in every corner and each room decorated with some arty idea. I can imagine it to be full of students in the summer with a dance floor located underneath the bar area.
Thursday – we visit the Castle District
On Thursday the weather was much better so we decided to visit the castle district on the other side of the Danube. We walked across the famous chain bridge and had a few selfies with the lions at the entrance to the bridge. Cursing ourselves for spending so much on clothes we climbed the many steps instead of taking the funicular you had to pay for. Thankfully we weren’t too unfit so it wasn’t a huge chore, and when we got to the top it was definitely worth the effort.
We went to the Fisherman’s Bastion first, placed right next to St Matthias church, which both me and Emma thought could be in a Disney film. It had a lovely view over the whole of Budapest and was flooded with tourists taking pictures. We even payed a small fee to look around St Matthias church and explored its exhibition. Then we wandered towards the palace picking up some odd looking Translylvanian street food on our way that we both surprisingly enjoyed. We looked round the palace for a bit but generally more at the outside and decided not to go into the museum inside the palace. On our way back to my cousin’s we passed the Parliament but although Emma was extremely keen to look inside we couldn’t quite work out where the entrance was. Our trusty guide book also informed us you could only have a proper look if you were on a guided tour, which we of course had missed, being disorganised students.
Instead, we went to the Museum of Ethnography just behind the Parliament building. There were two main exhibitions we spent some time looking at and a third which contained photos of rocks which didn’t quite capture our attention. The two ones we enjoyed were the permanent exhibitions of a collection of Hungary’s artefacts and a temporary exhibition of photography. There were a lot of Hungarian weird and wonderful artefacts that we found humorous although the photography exhibition seemed more popular.
Again, in the evening we went out for a meal, this time Sophia took us to a more Hungarian restaurant, The Strudel House. This proved difficult for Emma as a vegetarian, as much of Hungarian cooking involves meat, although my goulash was delicious. Following our meal we went out for some more drinks at a bar with some of Sophia’s Hungarian friends, and then on to a club called Trafiq which was in a cool building and had a really great vibe. Me and Emma went on later to another club, Urimuri as Trafiq started to lose all its people, which was more arty but made all the clubs we go to back in Bristol look awful.
Friday – we relax at the baths
Naturally, on the Friday morning our energy levels were dipping so we decided to have a relaxing day in the famous Budapest baths. We choose to go to Gellert baths which was in a posh hotel, on the Buda side of the river. The bath itself had beautiful architecture and I can imagine it is amazing in summer with the outdoor pools, but the organisation of the bath itself wasn’t quite there. For example, we got redirected to the changing rooms about ten times by different staff. It was also slightly annoying that we could not swim in the main pool at Gellert spa as we did not have swimming caps with us, but what 18 year old is going to own a swimming cap! However, it was a lovely way to spend the day and we spent most of the time in the warm outdoor bath which was quite picturesque with all the autumn leaves and trees around it. We even had a view of the Liberty statue from our bath.
Having started late in the day we got back pretty late and so just grabbed a bite to eat in one of the nearby Asian restauraunts before going out again. We had some drinks with friends and headed out pretty late, to the club Hello Baby which seemed pretty upmarket, although the prices were reasonable. Me and Emma really upped our cocktail game here, trying different ones as they were nicely made and not too expensive.
We had a long night here as it was a Friday night so was extremely busy and full of international people. In fact it was surprising how everybody in the international community seems to speak English. Me and Emma only had schoolgirl French at our aid so felt very fortunate that everyone was able to understand us.
Saturday – time to go home to Bristol
On Saturday we just had a lie in and relaxed with Sophia until we had to go catch our flight in Budapest’s lovely modern airport! Overall we had an amazing cultural and fun time in Budapest, which I think is a really cool city to live in or just to explore. Budapest definitely has a lot to offer and at very reasonable prices.
More articles from Sophie-Anne’s travels
What Mum (Heather) enjoyed in Budapest
Last time I was in Budapest it was summertime, with thunderstorms threatening to crack the warm humidity and we took the children to watch the Hungarian folk dancing for the St Stephen’s day festival. This time I was back in February with a breath of snow in the air, but the promise of spring just around the corner. This was a family trip of a different sort; I had 48 hours with my parents and sisters, to see the sights, eat some great food and have as much fun as possible together.
I hope you enjoy the video below about our 48 hours in Budapest
If you can’t see the video above, view it on my blog here or on Youtube here
Subscribe to all my videos in I-tunes
If you enjoyed this video, check out the others in my Video archive
For such a short trip, I think the choice of a hotel can really make or break the experience, so after reviewing the many hotel options on the Avios website, we decided to go for 5 star Intercontinental Hotel. This classy hotel combines location and luxury and is perfectly positioned on the banks of the Danube, close to most of the main sites of Budapest.
The bedroom window framed a postcard view of the Royal Palace on the Castle Hill, so it seemed obvious to make this the first area to explore. A brisk walk across the Chain Bridge and we found ourselves at the foot of the hill, in front of the funicular which is more of a tourist attraction than something that the locals use. I guess it’s one of those try-it-once kind of things, but a little expensive at 1000 HUF (£2.90) or 1700 HUF (£4.90) return for the 5 minute journey. I’d already tried-it-once on my previous visit, so instead we decided to climb the easy paths that run up the hill. Once at the top, we followed the stone steps to the wrought iron gates that guard the Royal Palace and found ourselves in a wide paved square, beside the upper funicular station.
The Castle Hill
At the top of the hill the views from the balustrade towards the Pest side of the city and down the Danube were spectacular. In front of the Sandor Palace we watched the soldiers marching back and forth and stamping to attention, as they guarded the residence of the Hungarian President. It was pretty chilly, so we kept moving along the cobble street that runs along the top of the hill towards the St Matthias Church.
On our last visit in the summer a couple of years before, the family had decided to let me look around the St Matthias church alone, and sat in a shady cafe just opposite while I went inside. The church interior was surprisingly colourful with painted frescoes and pillars in rich shades of red and ochre. I recalled hearing somewhere, that many Medieval churches had paintwork that was far more colourful than the bare grey stonework that we see today. I loved the multicoloured tiled roof of the church which is not the original, but was replaced when the church was restored after shelling in the Second World War.
In front of the church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, a fantasy colonnade of turrets and arches, built at the end of the 19th century as a monument to the Guild of Fishermen. Here we found more spectacular views towards the Hungarian Parliament Building on the opposite side of the river, built on a similar design to the Houses of Parliament in London. In summer when we were here, there were open air cafes set up on the battlements and in the arcades, and I listened to the gypsy violinists playing Hungarian folk music for the customers, giving everyone outside a free concert. In February it was far from balmy, so we warmed up in the nearby Ruszwurm Cukrászda cafe over a coffee and slice of strudel.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Back on the other side of the river we walked from the Intercontinental to St Stephen’s Basilica, another major landmark of Budapest, with a dome that dominates the skyline. We had a browse around the souvenir shops in the square and the side streets near the Cathedral which are full of little restaurants and bars, making this a good area to eat out (we tried the Strudel House later that evening). We decided to return to the cathedral for Mass the following Sunday morning and afterwards had a look around the Basilica, which is named after King Stephen I, the first king of Hungary who brought Christianity to his country. Canonised after his death, the saint’s mummified hand is displayed in one of the chapels of the Basilica and is paraded every year on St Stephen’s Day (20 August) which is a national holiday.
Later that afternoon we walked along Andrassy Avenue, an elegant boulevard with shops selling all the top international brands. We passed by the State Opera House, which I would also have loved to visit, on our way to 60 Andrassy Avenue, now known as The House of Terror.
The House of Terror
This museum was once the headquarters of the Hungarian Nazis and until the 1950s housed the communist state terror organisations, where suspects were brought to be interrogated, tortured and executed in the bleak basement prison cells. The museum gives a fascinating insight to how the Hungarian population suffered under Nazi and later communist rule, and is a monument to the victims of terror.
Inside the foyer, we were greeted by a black and white wall of the faces of the victims who suffered here, together with a tank trapped within the inner courtyard, reflecting in a shallow pool of dark water. On the upper floors we passed through a series of exhibition rooms with films and videos showing marching armies and care worn faces of old men and women telling their stories of evacuation, deportation and oppression under the communist regime. The tour ended with a slow descent in the lift down to the basement to a video commentary about the process of execution and then we walked past the cold prison cells. Our visit to the House of Terror was a stark but fascinating and compelling experience that I would highly recommend if you want to understand Hungary’s recent history.
The No 2 Tram
If you want a low cost sightseeing tour, jump on the No 2 tram that runs along the river and stops outside the Intercontinental Hotel. In one direction the tram will take you past the Hungarian Parliament Building to Margaret Bridge and Margaret Island, where we enjoyed an afternoon dip in the open air Palatine Baths on our summer visit. In the other direction, the tram will take you towards the Central Market and Liberty Bridge which you cross to reach the Gellért Baths. You just need to stop at a convenience store to buy a book of tram tickets, which you validate on the tram each time you use one.
The Gellért Baths
On Sunday afternoon after Mass at St Stephen’s Cathedral and an elegant brunch at The New York Cafe, we took the tram to the Gellért Baths for that quintessential Budapest spa experience. This is one thing that’s equally fun in summer or winter; in summer the outdoor pools and terraces are open, while in the winter you can linger in the steamy Turkish baths with sauna and heated pools. The baths are part of the Gellért Hotel, but if you enter at the side, you’ll come straight into the glass domed foyer to buy your ticket at the kiosk. You’ll be given a rubber wrist band with a magnetic disc which gets you through the turnstiles and opens your changing cubicle where you can leave your clothes and belongings securely locked up.
In the central bath you need to wear a swimming cap, but in the other heated pools this is not required. There’s a small heated pool next to the larger one but at the far and of the baths from the entrance you’ll find heated Turkish baths and saunas as well as treatment cubicles on both side of the building. It’s worth checking which day to go as it seems that on some days, the two identical Turkish baths are segregated into male and female, while on other days all areas are mixed. Last time my parents came to Budapest and tried the Gellért Baths, they were directed to different changing rooms and spent some time wandering around, trying to find each other again. We had a good couple of hours trying out all the pools – our favourite was the beautifully tiled Turkish bath and we braved a run up the cold stone steps to the outdoor pool, which was thankfully heated once we got in. Bring your own swimsuit, towel and cap, as these seemed relatively expensive to hire, and flip flops are also useful to keep your feet off the cold and sometimes grubby floor.
The Central Market
On our final morning, we took the No 2 tram again to the Central Market which I’d also visited on my previous trip. The large, glass roofed indoor market is great to walk around and admire all the fresh fruit and veg, as well as the many stalls specialising in meat products of sausages and goose live pate. There were also as a large number of stalls just devoted to selling all kinds of Paprika products, the favourite spice of Hungary.
Upstairs there are stall selling handicrafts and souvenirs and this is a good place to come to buy small gifts to take home, such as the painted eggs that I’ve been collecting to bring out at Easter or hang from my Christmas tree. Along one side there are also a number of food stalls selling snacks and beer. You might like to try the Lángos which is a typical Hungarian street food; a kind of flat doughnut that’s served with many different sweet and savoury toppings, but traditionally spread with cream cheese with a sprinkling of grated cheese.
After lunch at the Central Market it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up our bags and take our taxi to the airport. We’d packed a lot in to our 48 hours in Budapest, revisited some old haunts and made new discoveries, had fun in the process, but still left plenty to uncover for next time.
More things to enjoy in Budapest
Avios is an easy way to collect points at the places you shop online everyday, when you buy fuel or spend on your credit card. Then you can exchange the points for a flight, hotel, holiday or fun day out with your family. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next citybreak. You can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel has a lovely spa with a pool for those early morning swims as well as relaxing treatments. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points and a room similar to ours at the time that we were there in February was around 15,000 Avios points or £150-180 per room/night including breakfast but may be higher in peak season. It’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.
Thanks to Avios and Intercontinental Budapest for hosting our 48 hours in Budapest.
When I travel it’s my pleasure to shop for small souvenirs that create memories of my travels. They have to be light and fun, because who wants to be burdened with too much stuff, spend a lot of money that could have bought another holiday, or pay for extra baggage? As I’m a hand-luggage only girl, my souvenirs have to squeeze in between the clothes and the laptop.
On our recent spring break in Budapest with Avios, we had our fair share of strolling the famous boulevards of Váci utca and Andrássy út, lined with designer names and top international brands. But my heart was in those folk-art gift shops, sifting through the striped woven table cloths and cut felt cushions, thinking about the work of some lady in the Hungarian steppes, who might be using skills that she learned from her grandmother.
Budapest is full of tempting and original souvenirs to buy, so here are some of the things to look out for when you visit;
Traditional Hungarian Folkart
As we were there just before Easter, I was drawn to these baskets of pretty painted eggs with colourful Hungarian motifs. The gift shop in the square of St Stephen’s Basilica had a great selection of these and other traditional Hungarian crafts. I bought a few in pinks and creams to hang up at Easter and one in red and gold to come out again at Christmas to hang on my tree. These painted eggs are perfect to hang from silver twigs or spring branches in a vase to decorate the house at Easter. I also saw some beautiful dyed and patterned real eggs in intricate patterns in the Central Market where the food stalls were downstairs and the handicrafts and souvenirs upstairs.
In the main shopping area we enjoyed looking round the Folkart Kézművészház shop that was full of textiles, red and white woven cloths and cut felt designs from the Hungarian steppes as well as hand embroidered blouses and table cloths.
Folkart Kézművészház, 1052 Budapest Régiposta utca 12
A modern twist on Hungarian crafts
The distinctive Hungarian embroidery designs cropped up again at Fian Koncept, a shop that we discovered along the road from Ruszwrum Cukrasda where we’d been having coffee after looking around the Fisherman’s Bastion. This store was packed with souvenirs and gifts that are modern interpretations of the traditional designs. Here I bought a gold leather purse with colourful Hungarian motifs by Gabriella Lukács and admired the embroidered zip bags that would make a great sponge bag or even a clutch. The owner offered us some dried apple from Fruitfull.hu which seems to be a local speciality and I also bought a red embossed notebook from Szia! for my travel notes. I loved the way that Hungarian motifs had been used on all sorts of desirable objects from Cinq Filles scented candles, to Hungarian gift cards from Moha Design; you can see some beautiful examples on the Fian Concept Facebook Page.
Fian Concept H-101 Budapest, Uri u. 26-28
Hand-painted Herend Porcelain
Herend is the world famous porcelain of Hungary and you can’t go too far in Budapest without seeing the classic, handpainted plates and ornaments. My parents used to collect Herend and gave me some years ago a beautiful plant holder that I kept on my mantelpiece, without realising the Budapest connection. If you are a serious collector, you need to watch out for fakes and be sure to buy from the Herend stores or from a registered stockist, and you should be given a little card of authenticity with your purchase. We passed the Herend Store on Andrássy út with this enormous painted lion which was far to big to bring home in the suitcase so instead my sister bought my mother a pretty little heart shaped dish to put on her dressing table.
Herend, 1061 Budapest, Andrássy út 16
Honey and candles
Walking under a covered arcade near the Intercontinental Hotel where we were staying, we spotted a small shop selling honey and beeswax products. There were all kinds of ornamental beeswax candles on sale as well as jars of local honey and some pretty decorative biscuits. They seemed to be keepsakes to give to that special person in your life, and as Valentine’s day had just been and gone, I wondered if they were just for Valentine’s day or sold all year round. The pretty heart biscuits were a more refined version of the decorated gingerbread that is sold in Christmas markets, more for display than eating.
Mehzi, Budapest 5th District, Erzsebet Square 1 (under the arcades)
Paprika, Sausages and Palinka
For edible souvenirs, we went to the Central Market where the downstairs is full of stalls selling more variations of paprika than you could possibly imagine. On other stalls, cured sausages hang in rows, flavoured with paprika and other spices, ready for you to add to a rich, hearty Hungarian stew. Another speciality is the goose live pate sold in small tins at all the meat stalls. If you want to drink the flavour of Hungary try a glass of Palinka in one of the restaurants you visit – it’s a strong spirit that’s flavoured with fruits such as cherry, strawberry and apricot. When I tried a sip at the Strudel House after dinner, it made my eyes water – I can see why it’s traditionally drunk in the morning to wake you up!
Great Market Hall, 1093 Budapest, Vámház körút 1-3
If you love to look and shop at beautiful handicrafts and textiles you’ll find plenty to buy in Budapest – enjoy looking and bring a little piece of Budapest home with you.
If you’ve been to Budapest, what were you tempted to buy as a souvenir?
More things to enjoy in Budapest
We booked our Budapest spring break through Avios, who offer ways to earn points at the places you shop everyday, that you can convert into a flight, hotel or holiday. There’s plenty of inspiration on the Avios website to start planning your next weekend escape and you can follow Avios on Twitter @AviosUK or on their AviosUK Facebook page and see some flying lawnmowers on the Avios YouTube channel
Through Avios we booked the luxurious 5 star Intercontinental Hotel Budapest which was perfectly positioned beside the Danube for sightseeing. The hotel can be booked using your Avios Points or directly on the Intercontinental website if you are not an Avios member and it’s worth looking out for packages that include breakfast and use of the exclusive Club Lounge. You can follow the Intercontinental Budapest on Twitter @ICBudapest and on their Intercontinental Budapest Facebook Page.