Set either side of the Danube, Budapest, Hungary is a city of timeworn beauty. It’s streets and boulevards, defined by grand yet faded architecture, are alive with a modern, creative vibe, yet still remnant of their past. It’s also a city I would go back to in a heartbeat.
I first visited Budapest 6 years ago whilst interrailing around Europe, so on this trip, I was ready to explore the city’s places and points of interest that were a little more local than touristy.
As a first time visitor, Budapest’s main tourist attractions are definitely worth seeing of course, including the magnificent Parliment Building, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and Szechenyi Chain Bridge. But if you’re looking for things to do that are a little more off the beaten track, here’s my alternative Budapest travel guide to a few of my favourite spots I found.
Culture: Rudas Baths
No trip to Budapest would be complete without visiting one of their famous thermal baths. Most tourists head to the Gellert Baths. But for a spa experience that beats the crowds (well perhaps a little more anyway), the slightly less well known Rudas Baths are a good alternative. Originally built in the 16th Century, the spa’s highlight is still its traditional hot mineral water pools, housed in an impressive domed ceiling, stone pillared room. But there’s also a newer part too, filled with steam rooms, saunas and modern wellness pools, including a big outdoor hot tub on the roof. Make sure you check the admittance rules on the day you want to go though, as they only let mixed-sex groups in on weekends.
Budapest is also well known for its Ruin Pubs, where derelict buildings are gentrified into ‘rough around the edges’ bars. One of the city’s most popular Ruin Pubs is Szimpla Kert, frequented by tourists for its odd decor and quirkiness. Although it’s definitely worth a visit, for a Ruin Pub that’s a little more off the beaten track, Anker’t is a good choice. Anker’t really embraces the idea of the Ruin Pub – leaving the building it inhabits very much a shell and placing its bar and main seating area in the courtyard and little alcoves enclosed in the middle. Drinks are reasonably priced here, and the whole place is made more inviting by the lights that lace between the two opposing walls.
We stumbled on Karavan by pure happy accident. It’s basically a little pop-up market of street food vendors found close to the popular Ruin Pubs in the Jewish Quarter. The stalls range everything from burgers and traditional Hungarian goulash to vegan options and nitro ice cream, just to name a few – great for larger groups and those on a budget. Although it’s all outside, the market is set under one canopy roof, complete with string lights (to make everything that little more pretty of course), so visiting it isn’t weather dependent. There’s also plenty of tables and chairs in the middle, so you can sit down to enjoy your food.
Drinking: 360 Bar
360 Bar is a place that’s little more hidden away, literally. You’ll find it on a large, and up until recently derelict rooftop on Andrassy Avenue. As its name suggests, 360 Bar offers a 360 view of Budapest’s skyline. Here you can sip on on a cocktail whilst admiring the domed architectural masterpieces of Pest that reach across to the Danube. The decor is simple yet classy in an unpolished way, the music is good, and the drinks menu even better. And although it’s only on the 7th floor, the fact that Budapest is a low rise city means you’ll have one of the best views in town.
Shopping: MONO Art & Design
Located close to Elizabeth Bridge on the Pest side, MONO Art & Design is both a retail and gallery space at the same time. It focuses on home decor, design prints & pieces and accessories, showcasing the work of over 100 different artists and designers. Everything in the store can be bought there and then, although be warned it is a little pricey. Nevertheless, MONO Art & Design is must visit for interior design lovers and those wanting to get an insight into Budapest’s creative scene.
This isn’t, by all means, an extensive list of all Budapest’s hidden treasures, but hopefully it is enough to get you started on exploring and discovering the real side of this fantastic European city. Have fun!