If you’re looking for an insightful piece on the architectural marvels of this beautiful city, this article is not for you. If you’re wanting to find out how the regions rich history, beginning with the Celts and encompassing Ottomans, Renaissance humanists, Romans and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (to mention just a few notable periods!), gave rise to one of the world’s most prosperous cities, then read no further. Interested in Hungarian cuisine, culture and art? You will not find it here.
However, if what you’re looking for is an alcohol-fuelled account of three young Brits during a five day “Lads Holiday” to the capital, then read on:
The first twist is that only one of us identifies as male, so perhaps I should rebrand the trip using our self-styled nickname of “the Pests of Buda”.
Our flight from East Midlands airport took only a few hours and we soon found ourselves breathing in the continental air. First impressions: it was HOT. As we arrived quite late in the day, our first priority was to locate our three-bedroom flat in the central Palace District. This we achieved through a combination of the helpful English-speaking public transport staff, Google maps and instructions from Karcsi, our Airbnb host. Having consumed our tea and chatted through the sunset, we turned in for an early night.
Escape Room time
After a sweltering few hours wandering the city’s streets and grabbing a spot of brunch, we decided to attempt one of my favourite tourist attractions: the local Portal Quest Escape Room. The theme was “the search for El Dorado”, and the three of us worked our way through the puzzles, quizzes and challenges in order to escape within the one-hour time limit. I’m pleased to say that we managed it! In the evening we explored some of Budapest’s famous “ruin bars”, which deserve an article all of their own!
Essentially, after the Second World War, large parts of the city were left decimated and with no money to redevelop them. Indeed, the defining feature of many European cities is how this destruction and the sudden availability of prime-location land was dealt with. In Budapest during the early 2000’s, entrepreneurial hipsters took advantage of these spaces by moving in and selling alcohol, creating vibrant underground spaces for people to socialise and dance in. The idea grew, and soon these ruin bars were all across the city, each with a unique character and décor. One ruin bar, in particular, stood out above the rest: Szimpla Kert, which we visited that Thursday night.
From the street, you have no idea what awaits you inside. A small archway leads you down a long cobbled alleyway which opens out into a courtyard, at which point you can grasp the scale of the place. The walls are entirely covered with graffiti, in hundreds of languages, and old furniture litters the courtyard and many upstairs rooms (including a disused car). Odd art installations (or are they just debris from the ruined building?) are everywhere, jostling for prominence amongst the many potted plants and shrubbery – decapitated and decorated shop mannequins feature heavily if memory serves me right. There are multiple bars across multiple floors, each with a different vibe – quiet and secluded upstairs rooms and a funky live music venue downstairs, to mention a few. You could get lost here. You may WANT to get lost here.
From Szimpla Kert we made our wobbly way onto the next ruin bar and the next…until eventually, we decided to call it a night and head back to the apartment. Our minds were BLOWN by the variety and individualism of the quirky ruin bars, and we vowed to return on another night of our trip to see more of them.
The next day we had Plans, that’s right: Plans with a capital P. We had day tickets to Sziget music festival and couldn’t WAIT to get there, our hearts were set on seeing both The Kooks and Her Royal Highness Lana Del Rey, plus whatever else took our fancy. Before that, though, we headed to street food Karaván for some much-needed scran! It took around an hour to get to the “Island Festival” which was located on the outskirts of Budapest, we took the metro then an overground train and simply followed the crowds bedecked in glitter and flower crowns.
Once inside, our first priority was drinks and exploration – the sun was shining and we were sweating as we admired the gorgeous sculptures, art and “Szitizens”, there was even a private beach! One thing, in particular, caught my eye, the gigantic banners declaring slogans associated with human rights and the power of diversity – I was to learn later that these were in response to a new set of laws passed in Hungary called “Stop Soros” which make individuals or groups that help illegal migrants gain status to stay in Hungary liable to prison terms. Hungary has some of the most hostile anti-migrant legislation in Europe, but not all Hungarians agree with their governments’ stance.
The hours that followed were some of the best of my life, with music and dancing and drinking and laughter. We partied well into the night, enjoying the varied DJ’s and dance zones on offer, and only decided to leave at around 5am, when we took a beautiful taxi ride through the Budapest sunrise back to our apartment, which passed the iconic Baroque Buda Castle (more of a palace if you ask me!). Needless to say, the next morning was spent recovering and scrubbing the mud from our shattered bodies.
Once we felt suitably refreshed, there was only one logical place to cement our sobriety: hummusbar. This independent chain of restaurants serves beautifully fresh and simple Mediterranean dishes whilst shining the spotlight on a variety of homemade hummus recipes. The undeniably Good Food and (non-alcoholic) beverages left us feeling calm and refreshed…just in time for the evening’s entertainment to begin! There are thirteen hummusbar restaurants across Budapest, so be sure to incorporate one into your visit!
From there we headed to the oh-so-cultured and incredibly-historical Szechenyi Baths – IT WAS SPArty TIME! Every Saturday night the regal Baths swap relaxation for raving, trade coffee for cocktails and open their doors for the party experience of a lifetime. After leaving our stuff in the pre-booked cabin, we were treated to acrobats, fire jugglers, an impressive lightshow and beatssssssssss from the cosy warm sanctity of the thermal baths. During the last hour, the DJ’s really upped their game by playing a host of bangers including Queen and ABBA – what’s not to love?! Our only misgiving was a well-founded fear of accidentally swallowing the water, with that many sweaty tourists (and actual full-on intercourse, according to some people we spoke to) the hygiene of the place is seriously dubious. We enjoyed the SPArty far more than we were expecting to, and it was a completely new experience for each of the Pests of Buda. We would recommend it wholeheartedly!
The next morning was our final day in Budapest, and once again we headed to Sziget Festival, this time to see the mighty Dua Lipa and Slaves, amongst others. The format was essentially the same, except this time we knew our way around a bit more and felt less pressured to see everything. The music was striking, the sun was sizzling and the atmosphere was sensational…this time we left at about midnight in order to catch a few hours kip before our 6am flight. It’s a good job that we did actually, because the airport was heaving, not at all the quick-walk through security we were hoping for!
We were soon on our way though, absolutely devastated (and probably still a bit drunk) to be leaving but anxious to get cosied up in our beds for at least a few days recuperation period.
If you liked this post, please pin it for later :