01 June 2018

36 hours in Budapest

...I think there's a NYTimes article of the same title from a few years ago, but here's the guide for those of you whose last names are not Rockefeller (and for those of you interested in mixing up the touristy stuff with a little local flavor). Bottom line: GO NOW, before it gets completely overrun with tourists (except for you, who are super awesome tourists who tread lightly, of course). Here's what I did/where I stayed:

STAYING
City Hotel Matyas
Budapest, Március 15. tér 8, 1056 Hungary
+36 1 338 4711

The rooms are charmingly dated but clean and all come with private bathrooms (formerly a luxury in Central Europe). The breakfast spread is fantastic, and the location, just across the Danube from Gellért Hill and near a major Metro line, is scenic, lively, and incredibly convenient.


GETTING AROUND
When you get in from the airport, there's an easy bus to catch that takes you into the heart of the city: Bus100EDeák Ferenc tér M (purchase tickets at BKK Customer Service at the Airport or vending). Cost was 900 HUF in May 2018.

As with all European cities, public transportation is cheap, efficient, and comprehensive. Here's an introductory guide to purchasing tickets and learning the system.

Tram 2 skirts the banks of the Danube on the Pest side and even passes the magnificent Parliament, while Bus 16, affectionately known as the “Castle Bus”, winds a route up to and through the charming neighborhood that surrounds Buda Castle.

But wait! You were getting the Hop On ticket so you could take the Danube boat as well? Don’t bother – there are public boats that ply the river during the summer and they cost just 1 Euro each way. And there’s a bar on board!

VISITING
If you're worried about missing the major stuff (or just mesmerized by all those bendy streets that don't line up), consider one of the city's free walking tours:

“Original” Starts daily at 10:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.
Meeting point: Vörösmarty square (at the lion fountain)
Length: 2.5-3 hours – covers about two and a half miles (~ 3.5 kilometers)
Downloadable tour sheet

“Jewish Quarter” Starts daily at 10:00AM & 3:30PM
Meeting point: Vörösmarty square (at the lion fountain)
Length: 2 – 2.5 hours – covers about one and a half mile (~ 2.5 kilometers)
Downloadable tour sheet

The most popular of the Budapest mineral baths is definitely Széchenyi, and it's crowded af. Gellért is Buda is a bit more chill, but still on the beaten path. Király Bath still lives in its original Ottoman dome, as does Veli Bej Bath, which has been beautifully renovated and has more of a luxurious feel. And, if you like the outdoors feel, Dandár Bath has a stunning courtyard pool to enjoy. Pro tip: bring your own towel and some flip flops. 

Not to be a downer, but you really should go to the House of Terror, which details the successive occupations of Hungary through time, but focusing primarly on the Nazo and Soviet occupations.  It is really well done, and always fascinating to see how a country tells its own history. 
Terror Museum
1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 60.
muzeum@terrorhaza.hu
+36 (1) 374 26 00
The House of Terror Museum is easily accessible by the Millennium underground (M1) or tram 4 / 6. It is a short walk from Vörösmarty utca underground station or Oktogon tram stop. Open every day except Monday: 10:00 am-6:00 pm.

Buda Castle & Fisherman’s Bastion: Explore pretty, quiet streets and catch the spectacular views of Pest from the top.

EAT&DRINK
Szimpla, the famous ruin pub, truly is worth visiting. And it hosts a popular farmers’ market every Sunday, with delicious offerings and live music. Karavan Street Food is also located in a small ally near Szimpla Kert this place is perfect for a quick, easy and tasty lunch. With several food carts serving up hot fresh and local food, there is something for everyone, including local beer! The area is decorated with lights and has benches so you can take a break and relax while you enjoy your food. Be sure to order the local flatbread with goat cheese and arugula. Margitutcakilenc is a ruin pub on the Buda side and serves excellent, locally sourced food at a great price.

(PS--All the guides say that you have to go to Gerbeau Café. It is very touristy, over-priced, and not the most spectacular of Budapest Cafés. Visit the Alexandra Bookstore Café or the New York Café instead.)

The Hungarian language is absolutely bananas and unrelated to everything except Finnish (Latin was also officially spoken into the 19th Century there), but don't worry, everyone speaks English.  Just memorize this on the plane: 

Szia. (SEE-å). Beszél angolul? (BE-seyl ÅN-go-loul?)

"Hello! Do you speak English!