“Smiles” in Budapest: What to See When in Budapest

George Ezra is not lying in his song, Budapest, when he sings, “Miles in Budapest, oh my hidden treasure chest…”; this city truly is a treasure chest that is filled to the brim with treasures to be discovered. It was closed off after WWII, by Soviet communism, until just 1989. So really, foreign explorations of this city have been a more recent thing. 

I had never really thought much of what to expect upon a trip to Budapest, as it had never been high on my travel list.

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However, after seeing it constantly pop up on my social media, Pinterest, and other peoples blogs, I had to do some research for myself.

 A quick google search of Budapest shows the countless wonders you will discover there; from thermal hot pools all over the city (for which the city is dubbed the “City of Spas”) to stunning architecture, fascinating history, mouthwatering food, and highly ranked Christmas Markets. I was quickly lured into the appeal of Budapest.  

With a few days off over Christmas, we decided to book a cheap 6-hour Flixbus to our destination.

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Day 1:

We awoke early to catch our 5:30 am bus. After a few stops, some naps, and a lot of reading we arrived in Budapest at 1pm. With only 2 and a half days to conquer this massive city, we had to fight through fatigue and get going to ensure we saw what we came to see. 

First things first, we had to navigate the transit system, and buy our transit passes. We got a 72 hour metro pass. 

We made our way to the Jewish Quarter of the city, which was where our Airbnb was located. The Airbnb’s in Budapest are, for the most part, quite inexpensive. Some of you may already know that Budapest used to be two separate cities — Buda and Pest—  which were split by the river. The Jewish quarter is on the Pest side. 

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Compared to other parts of the city (that I saw), the Jewish Quarter appears more run-down, you can really feel the lingering effect of war and communism here. However, the culture, street art, and food that can be found in the area is captivating. 

Our Airbnb (pictured above) was located in a really quaint complex and was absolutely perfect for our stay! It was clean, cozy, well stocked, and nicely decorated. Our host went above and beyond in helping us navigate the city, and if you are going to Budapest I would recommend a stay at the Airbnb we stayed at, Little Whistle.  It was also really close to the many attractions of the Jewish quarter, such as Karavan, which we promptly made our way to after dropping our stuff off. 

Stop 1: Karavan

The best way for me to describe Karavan is as a food truck ally. It is a street/ally that is lined with many food trucks, and was the perfect place for us to fuel up before adventuring out into the city.  We did a quick walk around, and immediately decided that Budapest Langos was the food truck for us. 

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Langos is a dense deep fried dough that is turned into a pizza-like food that is often smothered with sour cream and cheese. Budapest Langos’ food truck not only offers traditional langos, but it also offers langos burgers! They offer three different types of burger — beef, pork, chicken— and we got the beef and pork. We both agreed that the pork was the better choice, but both were not only delicious, but absolutely filling. Oh, and they were super inexpensive! 

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We left Karavan happy, full, and with little bloated bellies as we headed for an evening of relaxing in the famous Szechenyi Thermal Baths. 

Stop 2: Heroes Square 

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On our way to the baths we stopped at Heroes Square. This is the biggest square in Budapest and was originally built to commemorate the 1000th (yes! 1000th!) anniversary of Hungary. The square is beautiful and filled with meaningful statues of some of the important people of Hungarys’ past. 

Stop 3: Szechenyi Thermal Baths

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The Szechenyi Thermal Baths were busy, as to be expected,  as they are loved by tourists and locals alike. 

While it is busy (I fully recommend making a reservation in advance, we reserved a cabin) it is also a huuuuuuge place. Of course, there is the iconic outdoor thermal pool, but there is also dozens of smaller pools of varying temperatures indoors. 

Give yourself time to enjoy the pools, this is not a place to be rushed in and out of. We made a whole evening out of it, and it was so relaxing. 

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After we had done our fair share of soaking and relaxing, we decided to head back to the Jewish Quarter and find some food. 

Stop 4: Mazel Tov

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We wandered around until we found Mazel Tov, a trendy cocktail bar and restaurant.  We had the hummus and shwarma for supper, followed by Israeli cheesecake for dessert! 

We then went back to our Airbnb and got a few zzz’s for our busy day to follow.  

Day 2:

Day 2 was jam-packed full of activities. As it was Christmas Eve, we knew a lot of things would be closing down early, so we had to be strategic with our plan to ensure we didn’t miss opening hours for something we really wanted to see.  

Stop 1: New York Cafe

After a bit of a sleep-in, we immediately headed to New York Cafe; known as one of, if not the most, beautiful cafe in the world. This is a stop that everyone raves about, but it wasn’t the grandeur or the popularity that captivated me. No, it was the history of the cafe. 

The cafe was built in 1894 and was a place that encouraged the arts. An abode for creatives; it was frequented by writers, poets, and journalists. It is rumoured that upon arriving writers were given coffee, an inkwell, and paper! This was a place that had once been a cultural hub of art and creativity – and that drew me to it. 

We arrived at 10 am, and already there was a fairly long line out the door. But we were determined to wait, and the line actually moved really quickly. 

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The inside was lavish, lovely, and very grandeur. There was a pianist at the piano playing beautifully, and the whole building was filled with a sense of wonder and beauty. The environment was everything you could have imagined it to be. 

The prices, as to be expected at a place such as this, were outrageous, especially compared to how inexpensive everything else in Budapest is. I would recommend coming for just a coffee and cake, and finding your meal elsewhere. 

After we spent the majority of the morning sipping coffee and eating pastries at the cafe, we started our venture to the Buda side of the city, which included a trek across the very windy Danube river.

Stop 2: Gellert Hill (including the Citadel and Liberty Statue)

After we made our way across the bridge without blowing away, we made the ascent up Gellert Hill. This was a bit of a climb, but definitely very doable. The views from the top, offering sights of the Danube and most of the city, were absolutely stunning! 

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The Liberty Statue (shown below) was originally erected by the Soviet Red Army at the end of WWII to commemorate their victory, however after the transition from communism to democracy in 1989, it has since been reclaimed as a monument to those who gave their lives for the freedom and independence of Hungary. 

Stop 3: Buda Castle

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We descended back to the bottom of the hill, and walked along the river to Buda Castle, which is just a short walk away. 

The castle looms largely over the Danube. You could spend a lot of time exploring all the nooks and crannies of this castle, but we just did a quick walk around enjoying the views. Since the sun was going to be dropping behind a hill soon, we wanted to keep moving to ensure that we saw our last major stop of the day before it was dark. 

Stop 4: Fishermans Bastion

Just down the street from the castle is the Fisherman’s Bastion. This was the stop I was most looking forward to, I had seen pictures of it and it looked amazing. And I can honestly say that I was not let down; the Fishermans Bastion is absolutely stunning. I felt like it was straight out of a story book, all dreamy and romantic; I had never seen anything like it. 

I could have spent half the day just looking at it and taking it all in. We slowly meandered along the lookout, enjoying the beauty of the city below illuminated by the winter sun setting. 

After we were hungry enough to pull ourselves away, we decided to head back to the Pest side of the city to drink mulled wine and eat yummy treats at the Christmas Market. 

Stop 5: Szechenyi Chain Bridge 

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To get back to the Pest side we walked over the iconic Szechenyi Chain Bridge. It was dusk when we finally made our way across it, and all of the lights were lit up giving the bridge a completely different look than during the day. 

 

Stop 6: St. Stephens Basilica and Christmas Market 

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As most things were closing down for Christmas Eve, we decided to just eat and hang out at the Christmas market. The Christmas market was partially closed down for the evening, but most of the food vendors were there (which is all that mattered to us!). We pigged out on delicious food, and then had some szamos marzipan for dessert. Definitely recommend trying the marzipan. 

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We also tried some Palinka (a traditional Hungarian liquor) that night, but we were not fans… it’s, uh, strong, to say the least. 

Day 3: 

Our last day, was Christmas day, and it was a more relaxing, and less running around the city. 

Stop 1: Church and Goulash 

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After going to a Christmas morning service, we went to a nice restaurant and warmed up with some goulash at a cute place called Cafe Vian Gozsdu Udvar. 

Stop 2: Kurtosckalacs

We followed that up with some iconic Hungarian chimney cakes, known as kurtosckalacs. You can find these delicious treats almost anywhere in Budapest, I suggest getting it lined with nutella, but you can get a variety of fillings! 

Stop 3: Vorosmarty Square 

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We spent the majority of our afternoon and evening in Vorosmarty Square, there is a massive Christmas market there. 

We wandered the market for a while admiring all of the vendors. This Christmas market had the most unique and authentic goods for sale out of the other markets we had visited. 

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The vendors were great, and the food was amazing. We shared a traditional style Langos here (a definite must try while in the city), but there were many food options! 

For the rest of our day we drank mulled wine, wandered around the market and it’s surrounding streets, and enjoyed our Christmas day. 

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Overall, Budapest was such an intriguing city. I didn’t know what to expect, and while some parts of the city are quite dirty, the overall charm, history, and beauty of the city win your heart. As always, there was so much I wanted to do, but we didn’t have time. I would love to come back again, maybe in the summer.  

Budapest is huge, and it has so much to offer! Make sure you do your research before heading there. But no matter what, I know that when you are in Budapest, you will eat a lot, walk a lot, hopefully visit the hot pools a lot (I wish we had time to go to more), and you will see a city filled with beauty, history, and charm. 

~S~

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