By the end of August this year, I was dying for a mini-vacation. It’s not like we did have any down-time over the summer. I mean, we went to Croatia for a week. But for some reason by the time September was rolling up I felt like I needed a break. I decided to take advantage of the Labor Day holiday and convinced the husband that we need to take a three-day trip to Budapest! Both of us had never been, and it’s ridiculously close to Vienna (at least according to my ‘rural’ Arkansas hometown standards. Most weekend getaways from my hometown were at least a 2 hour drive). Budapest is really a lovely city, and we had a great time. Of course, we didn’t get to do or see every attraction, but I feel like we got a full experience while staying within a reasonable budget. Here’s what we did and how we did it:
From Vienna there are several ways to get to Budapest. You can drive of course, but we don’t have a car. Our options are train or bus. We opted for the bus solely because of price. The travel time with the bus and the train is about the same, but the bus is much less expensive. You can book your tickets online and then save them to your phone, which makes checking in really easy.
If you’re worried the the bus is going to be uncomfortable, don’t be! The bus was super comfy, the bathroom was clean (yes, there’s a bathroom!) and they sell drinks and snacks on the bus (beer included!). I would suggest bringing your own snacks. Before heading to the international bus station in Vienna, we stopped by Billa for nuts, crackers, wurst semmel (deli sandwich), and water. If you prefer, you can definitely bring alcoholic drinks or warm snacks, but nothing too smelly. It’s a courtesy to other riders that I’ve noticed most Viennese are pretty good about following.
Use the Metro
Once we got to the bus station in Budapest, we went directly down to the Metro and bought a 72-hour ticket, which we used during our whole trip. We definitely took advantage of the public transportation, and I suggest you do too. It was reliable, clean and frequent. It might be a little dated (some of those trains are straight up cold-war era), but it’s definitely interesting and a good value.
Now, I consider myself a true planner. So you better believe I new exactly which subway lines and stops we needed to get to our hotel from the bus station. And I made sure to find a cool lunch place for our first meal that was near our route. I found this interesting looking cafe online that was near a main metro stop, and we made a bee-line for it with our luggage as soon as we arrived. Castro Bisztró turned out to be an awesome find. Everything was very fresh and contemporary, but with a Hungarian foundation. The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside, and I felt it only fitting to have my first Hungarian beer. After a second beer to wash everything down, we popped into a grocery store to buy some drinks for our hotel room, and jumped back on the metro to our hotel.
Location wise, this hotel is on point! It’s on the Buda side of Budapest and right on the river (in case you didn’t know, west of the Danube is Buda, east of the river is Pest. Pretty cool). I splurged for a river view room, which was totally worth it. The hotel room and decor was pretty standard. One interesting thing about the Art’otel chain is that each hotel is dedicated to showcase the work of one artist. The artist for this hotel was Donald Sultan, whom I had never heard of, but Christof and I both really liked contemporary style.
Some quick pros and cons about this hotel:
Good location The hotel is really close to a metro stop, grocery store, and lots of little cafes and restaurants. The Castle is also very close and there are great views from all around.
Room Price After research, I felt like the room price was reasonable compared to other, similar options.
Room The overall size and layout of the room was great. The bed was really comfortable!
The gym sucks. It’s a tiny room with old equipment, and a huge multi-training machine, and no floor space for actually doing a workout.
The mini-fridge was packed! I was hoping to have more space for our own stuff, but that fridge was completely full with overpriced drinks and snacks. We took most of it out to make space for our own stuff, and then put it all back before we left.
The only dinner reservation I made was for 21 Restaurant, which is in Buda, up the hill near the Matthias Church. Getting to the the restaurant from the hotel was quite a hike. Lots and lots of stairs! But if you can manage it, it’s worth it. The scenery and views are beautiful. We walked through Fisherman’s Bastion and past the church on the way. We saw some great hotels up there and really interesting, chic looking restaurants. We didn’t spend much time up here during our trip, but this looked like a great place to explore. 21 Restaurant offers ‘updated’ versions of traditional Hungarian dishes, and they had a fairly limited menu, with a larger wine and drink list, and some additional seasonal items. I don’t have any good food pictures because we sat outside and it started getting dark before our food came, but it was beautifully plated and very delicious. I had pumpkin soup with roasted shrimp as a starter, and chicken paprika with spaetzle as my meal, and Christof had the lamb. Very good, I highly recommend you go here!
Do the Segway Tour!
Okay, so at some point in our hotel room on the first day, about 3 glasses of champagne in, Christof and I decided to book a segway tour. We booked a morning tour for the next day from their website. It was 2.5 hours long with the meeting point right behind the old opera house. This turned out to be the best decision! After a little training on the segway (neither of us had ever stepped on one before), our group of about 8 people plus our tour guide set off into the city. It was so much fun buzzing around on bike lanes and sidewalks taking in all the sights. Our tour guide was amazingly patient and had lots of facts and historical tid-bits about Budapest to share with us. When the tour was over, our guide gave us recommendations for restaurants and bars we should visit while we were in the city, which we gladly accepted.
The Jewish District
That evening we had no set dinner plans. Our idea was to go to the Jewish District and walk around until we found something we liked. For us, this is always a gamble. Even when we find something that looks good, we both tend to wonder “well maybe there is something better around the corner”. But this time, we quickly found a small, modern looking restaurant that, based on the specials written on the chalkboard outside, served Hungarian food at reasonable prices. We committed to it right away, and it turned out to be a great dinner place, which I highly recommend. The food at Gettó Gulyás was delicious, with good portions and reasonable prices. Plus, the decor and atmosphere was very comfortable and warming.
While we ate dinner at a table by the window, we spotted a place called Hops Beer Bar across the street. Naturally, this was our next stop. How can you pass-up a place with a name like that, especially when you’re with a beer-lover. The selection of bottled beer was amazing with options from every nook and cranny of Europe and the rest of the world. If you like beer at all, you must go here.
Next we rounded the corner to one of the main ruin pub streets. The restaurants and pubs on this street are fascinating. Much of Budapest was destroyed during the second World War, and here you can still see some of the damage. Many of the buildings in the Jewish district were not rebuilt after the war. People simply moved back into their now ramshackle and beat down buildings, opening up shops and bars. The ruin pubs are exactly that, pubs inside ruins, and it’s a huge draw for tourists ready to party. You have to go to Szimpla Kert, which is on the main pub street, Kazinczy u. This place is HUGE. There is something for EVERYONE. There’s a wine bar, beer, cocktails, street food, movies, games, a temp tattoo shop, lights, and of course music. We spent most of our time just wandering around, trying to see how many rooms there actually were in this maze of a bar. It was a little crowded. I mean, this is one of the main ruin pubs in the city, but it was worth it. We did not eat here, but after some wine and beer, we were satisfied with our day and took the metro back to our hotel. We didn’t get many photos while we were there simply because it was dark almost everywhere. Bad for photos, good for the vibe.
By Sunday, we were ready to sleep in. And we did awesomely. Mind you, 9:00 a.m. is really sleeping in for us 🙂 So while we were getting ready, I searched for a cafe on my phone were we could have a late breakfast. I found Gerlóczy Cafe which turned out to be a very lux, old-fashioned brasserie that also happens to be a boutique hotel. There is so much to look at: old tiled floors, lots of wood, newspapers hanging on the wall, little curio cabinets filled with knick-knacks. Plus the service was great and the food very good. It was surprisingly quiet inside for being so close to the city center on a late Sunday morning. This was the perfect easy-going breakfast for our slow morning.
The second and last thing that I actually planned for this trip was at Claustrophilia. I discovered this on another very awesome travel blog, and they left me so curious that I had to check it out. And this was one of the highlights of our trip. We had so much fun. I really can’t tell you much, because I do not want to ruin your experience if you decide to go. But if you want to do something completely different and have an hour to spare in Budapest, do this! You won’t regret it. 😉
Relax on the Number 2
Now for some real-life vacation talk: things are not always as ‘great’ as they may seem in photos. By Sunday afternoon, I was experiencing some real pain in my stomach. It felt as though there was a giant rock lodged in my intestines. It started hurting more as we were walking around, so we decided to jump on the Number 2 tram in the direction of our hotel. The Number 2 goes along the Danube past many of the best sight-seeing location in Budapest. It was nice to sit down, but still enjoy the beautiful views and architecture (despite the growing pain in my belly). So my point is, if you need to take a load-off, jump on a tram and just take in the sites while you rest your feet. And the Number 2 is especially nice.
Our last day! Our bus was scheduled to leave around 3:00 p.m., so we still had plenty of time to kill in Budapest before heading home. The one thing I absolutely had to do before leaving was visit the Great Market Hall or Central Market. The Central Market is a now restored neo-gothic market hall originally built in 1897. The building is huge (about 10,000 square meters), and bursting at the seams with goods for sale. Every variety of local produce you can imagine, meats, spices, sweets, and souvenirs, souvenirs, souvenirs. The selection is incredible. It’s also a great place to grab a cheap bite to eat.
By the time we made it to the market around midday, we had already checked out of our hotel and had our bags with us. If you visit the official market website, you’ll read that they actually advise against tourists visiting during peak hours (between 12:00 and 2:00 pm), but this was the only time we could go. And it was crowded. So crowded. It was especially crowded on the top floor where all the food was. It quickly became clear the suitcases were not gonna work. The whole thing got a little overwhelming (so many people, yelling in different languages, pushing everyone around, and then us, like dumb tourists, with our suitcases. My worst nightmare).
In this moment, I was so thankful Christof was there to keep us on track. You may not notice in the hustle and bustle, but there is an old university directly next to the market hall. Christof suggested we go in, use the restroom (no way in hell we were waiting for a restroom in the market building), and see if we can find somewhere to store our bags. Already irritated that my ideal market experience had not gone as planned, I reluctantly followed him to the university. In my frustration I had forgotten that my husband is, in fact, still a student, and he knows how this whole thing works. Sure enough, we quickly found a restroom and we found a coat a bag check in the building. All for free. Free I said. If you have ever traveled in Europe, you know this does not happen. The sweet lady at the coat check took our stuff and I instantly felt so relieved. We went back to the market and had a great time looking at at the shops, buying souvenirs, and eating huge portions of Hungarian food. When we felt like we had seen it all, we picked up our luggage and headed to the bus station, so ready to be home again. The morals of this little story are (1) go the market, it’s awesome; (2) don’t bring your luggage with you; and (3) if you do have to bring your luggage, just take it to the university and be free!
Overall, we had a great time. I hope to go back sometime, because there is so much we did not get to do. But we did this three-day weekend trip exactly how we wanted, taking it slow, relaxing often and eating a lot. If you have any questions about Budapest like how get around, things to do, places to see, or food to eat, please message me! I love talking about traveling just as much as I like actually traveling. I’d be happy to help.
Share this Post