Budapest has now become one of my most recommended cities to go in Europe.
It's cheap, it's beautiful, it's welcoming, and has something to appeal to everyone. Whether you want to relax at the thermal baths, to party in the ruin bars, to learn more about the countries fascinating history, to eat some amazing instagrammable meals or to just sightsee somewhere new, you can do it all here for a fraction of the price of other European cities without the suffocating crowds - and we did it all. We spent 5 days there, and I happily could have spent a week more.
I stayed with a couple of girlfriends in a gorgeous AirBnB in the Inner City, which only cost us around £74 each for the 5 nights. I paid double this for a private hostel room in LA per night! We hedged our bets on the area to be quite central, but if you knew exactly where you wanted to stay you could probably find even cheaper. As for transport around the city, we got weekend hop-on hop-off bus ticket that provided easy and cheap transport to see the vast majority of the sites. This is something I'd generally recommend if you're visiting a city you don't know well and want an overview of, but make sure you go with one of the big companies as I've heard that some of the local versions can have rather restrictive schedules.
If you fancy something a bit different to get you around, we also did a Segway tour of Margaret Island which was fantastic fun - even if one of our party did end up with a tyre mark on her butt (not me, shockingly)! It's a little bit on the pricey side, but is comparable with walking tours and lets you cover a lot of ground quickly without having aching feet and while adding a little bit of adventure. For the first couple of minutes on them during our induction, I was definitely thinking "Oh no, what have I done?! I'm never going to get the hang of this..." but they are very intuitive to pick up and before long you're whizzing around the city in style. Tour sizes are usually small, but as no one else had booked our slot we had the tour guide all to ourselves, who gave us a great mix of hard-hitting history, traveller tidbits and local anecdotes. Although I resent saying this a little, everyone working in the tourism sector speaks perfect English so language barriers were never an issue - even though, as usual, I'd recommend at least learning the usual pleasantries.
After a night dancing until dawn at the ruin bars (as the name suggests, bars in formerly abandoned buildings which make for a unique atmosphere - Szimpla and Instant with it's different music genre rooms are a must for first timers) a trip to the thermal baths is hugely restorative. Due to the budget constraints of the trip not being an issue, we even splashed out on massages while visiting Széchenyi baths. Follow it up by a stroll in Heroes Square or the park, and then head to Cirkusz Cafe for their all-day brunch menu. We received no judgement for ordering their French toast and fruit at 3pm before returning the following two days for more!
We visited all the usual landmarks such as Buda Castle, Memento Park and the Market Hall but really walking around the different areas of the city is worth dedicating time to. I won't claim to know basically anything about architecture, but some of the main streets had people asking if we were in New York or London (despite not being very built up, no skyscrapers here!), while the Jewish Quarter features one of the biggest Synagogues in the world and the area around the Castle has World Heritage status. Matthias Church, near the Castle, with it's ornate roof was a standout for me. If you're looking for some beautiful Instagram shots, you'll have no trouble here.
If you have a long weekend and you want to spend it somewhere special without breaking the bank, I couldn't recommend Budapest enough. I'll certainly be finding any excuse to go back!
The ruin bars! I don't often go somewhere for the nightlife, but in every bar we visited there was a scene for everyone - whether you want a relaxed drink and chat or to party all night. You'll have to excuse the stag and hen dos, but there are plenty of ruin bars off the beaten track if you fancy living like a local. Plus it's an excuse to steam it all out at the sauna the next day!
Places to stay:
Really depends what you're there for, but I'd probably recommend staying on the Pest side as there's more going on and you can't go wrong with the Inner City.
Place to eat:
Definitely be sure to go to Cirkusz for brunch. Amazing coffee, vibe, service and food. We went three days in a row...
There is a big foodie scene in Budapest and there will be vegan gems. I've heard the Jewish Quarter is particularly good for this.
Would I go back?
Definitely, I'd love to take more friends and my partner there for a cheap weekend away.