A trip to Budapest could easily be crammed full of museums, monuments and places of historical import, if that’s your thing, and don’t get me wrong, Budapest has quality examples of all of those. But I want to give you a quick idea of the cool things, the quirky things and the delicious things Budapest has to offer travellers. So get yourself to the Parliament, check out Fisherman’s Bastion, have a swim at a stunning bathhouse, see an exhibition and eat some Goulash, and then have yourself a look at my list below. If you throw a couple of these into your holiday mix, I promise you’ll love Budapest even more.
1. Escape Rooms
Although they’ve been around since 2011 in Budapest (and even earlier in Asia), Escape Rooms have really begun to take off in 2014 and they’re now popping up all over the world. But if you’re itching to try one, right now Budapest is the place to be. They currently have close to 50 Escape Rooms dotted around the city, all with different themes and difficulty levels. Don’t know what an Escape Room is? Well I wrote an article for TNT Magazine about Claustrophilia, Budapest’s most popular Escape Room, so have a read about it here and see what you think.
2. Ruin Pubs
Today there are countless ruin pubs in Budapest, but the first and perhaps the best, Szimpla kert, was opened in 2001. The basic concept of a ruin pub is to find a run down building, buy it for peanuts, cram it full of retro objects and fit in a bar. The idea proved so popular, not just with the locals but tourists as well, that Szimpla is now a top Budapest attraction its own right.
While I was there, trying to keep a straight face while drinking the hellishly strong local tipple Palinka, I was surprised to see an umbrella waving guide herding her flock of middle aged foreigners through a graffiti strewn staircase. But trust me, this fails to detract from its cool, funky vibe. Every ruin pub offers something different; Koloves kert, the outside beach club themed bar next to the Koloves restaurant has an array of hammocks for those who need a lie down after their Palinka shots, Foghas haz boasts an Escape Room and regular live gypsy bands and Corvinteto is a rooftop bar, so you get a stunning night view of Budapest to add to the cool surrounds. They may all share the run down vibe, but what’s even better about ruin pubs is their strong ties to the local community. As well as a pub, they’re often a cafe, a cinema or a venue for theatre, arts events, live music and dances.
If you’re directionally challenged in new cities and don’t like the idea of having to navigate your way to a selection of ruin pubs, get yourself to Kazinczky street in District VII and, as long as you can follow a straight line, you can check out Szimpla, Ellato Kert, Koleves Kert and Mika Tivadar all in one go. But don’t forget, being largely outdoors and/or on rooftops, most ruin pubs are only open for the summer.
You can read about my visit to Szimpla and see some photos here.
District VII, or Erzsebetvaros, on the Pest side of the Danube, is where you’ll be able to get a feel for another side of Budapest. Not only is it where you’ll find most of the Ruin Pubs and Escape Rooms, but due to its large Jewish community, District VII has plenty of history and culture to offer too.
Most striking are the three synagogues making up the so-called Jewish triangle. Even without looking for it, you’ll probably run across the newest synagogue on Dohany Street, which is built in an imposing Moorish style and is the 2nd largest synagogue in the world, outside America. It has a museum, a cemetery and the yearly Jewish Fetival is held there in the summer. The two smaller synagogues which make up the triangle can be found on Rumbach and Kazinczky streets.
As well as a growing number of edgy, artsy, youth oriented bars and restaurants to discover, District VII also has some kosher choices too, one of which, the Frohlich Cukraszka on Dob street, is the only kosher bakery left in Budapest. Being a city renowned for luxurious coffee houses serving layered, cakey delights, you could say goodbye to a small fortune trying out the sweets in places like Gerbeaud, Ruszwurm or the New York Cafe. But my choice is the small, family run Frohlich, which has what many insist is the best Flodni cake in the city. Much more dense and flavoursome than Budapest’s famous Dobos sponge cake, Flodni is an apple, walnut and poppy seed layered pastry that is as delicious as it is calorific. It’s said to have almost 1000 calories per slice, but you know, how big is a slice? Depends who’s cutting, right?Maybe share it with a friend just to be safe. For more about Frohlich, push this little button here.
Langos/ Turo Rudi
Since you’ve halved your Flodni with a mate, you’ll have room later for more of my Budapest gastronomic favourites, the fried, fatty and flavoursome Langos and the cheesy, chocolatey heaven of Turo Rudi.
Langos (pronounced Lan-gosh) is made from a dough that’s somewhere between a pizza and a donut; soft but not sweet. It’s rolled into small balls and stretched out to a disc shape, just like pizza, but then it’s fried. Pulled out of the vat, dripping in oil, the Langos is immediately smothered with the Hungarian staple sour cream, and topped with enough cheese to clog a few arteries. Pots of garlic butter are left on the counter for you to paint the rims of the crust with, or if you prefer, you can forgo the cheese or sour cream and just lather the whole thing in garlic. Whatever your topping predilection, in a word – it’s scrumptious.
Usually eaten in the summer after a day swimming at Lake Balaton or perhaps just galavanting in the country villages, it’s sometimes not easy to find a good Langos in the city. My tip is to find a market (such as Budapest’s Central Market Hall) or festival and you should be fine. You can also get variations of Langos in Austria, Slovakia, Croatia and the Czeck Republic.
Turo Rudi, probably the most popular treat in Hungary, is a dark chocolate covered bar of ricotta cheese. Its name translates roughly as curd (turo) rod/bar (rudi). Now you may be thinking cottage cheese and chocolate doesn’t sound all that appetising, but you need to know Hungarian cottage cheese has a different taste to what you are probably used to. And technically, the chocolate is really cocoa, vegetable fat and sugar, not proper chocolate. In any case, it’s delicious and unfortunately not very sweet, so you’ll be tempted to have more than one. Turo Rudi come in a variety of flavours but the one you see below, Pottyos (meaning spotted), is generally the Hungarian favourite.
Hint: because of the cheese, they need to be kept in the fridge and only last a couple of days, so no matter how much you’ll want to, don’t go crazy and buy a whole suitcase full to bring back with you.
Well I reckon I’ve saved the best for last. Who doesn’t love free wifi? In Budapest it’s everywhere. It’s in the Metro, in the restaurants, the bars and the pubs. For those of us obsessed with updating our social media or catching up on work emails or just bored with our company, Budapest offers almost the perfect escape. What’s more, a lot of places don’t even have a password. For those that do, it’s either displayed handily on a wall or menu, or if not, you only have to ask one of the staff.
I know it’s a bit sad that these days we feel lost if a couple of hours go by where we can’t log onto the internet, but I tell you, easily available free wifi is bloody handy. It’s a luxury that truly spoiled me. I’m still moaning about the lack of it in the UK months later.