Budapest, HUNGARY – Competing with Prague and Vienna, this Central European city doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. Budapest is one of four capital cities situated on the Danube River, which divides the region into two cities, Buda and Pest. We came to Hungary in search of “meat and potatoes” and thermal baths. By the end of our trip, we left wanting to extend our adventure.
Our stay: 3 days (and needed more…)
Jewish Quarter – close to St. Stephen’s Basilica, Dohány Synagogue, hip new restaurants and ruin bars. Airbnb rentals are newly renovated, centrally located, and super inexpensive.
THERMAL BATHS..THE Ultimate Hangover Cure
Széchenyi Baths – The most famous bath house in Budapest! I recommend buying tickets online, especially if you are visiting on the weekend. We purchased the full day bath ticket with cabin usage for 6,000 HUF or 20€. We started our morning in the large outdoor pools and then wandered inside to discover 15 more thermal baths, a steam room, and sauna inside…hangover, be gone!
Didn’t get enough beer last night? You can pay extra to sit in the Beer Spa, a wooden tub filled with all natural ingredients of beer! Each tub holds 2 people and you can even sip on beer while you relax during the 45 minute session.
Pro Tip: Purchase just one cabin for your group and share.
Gellert Spa– Art Nouveau style bath located on the Buda side. Marvel at it’s opulence while relaxing indoors. There is a small warm outdoor bath located on the rooftop.
Best Way to Use The Baths:
- Relax in warm pool
- Cold pool
- Cold shower
- Steam bath
- Cold shower
- Pools with different water temperatures
- Rest and dry off
You can add a massage during your visit, but be advised the service area is located in a high foot traffic path and may not be the most quiet.
Pro Tip: Bring a swimming cap for the lap pool.
Rudas – Our tour guide’s pick. Saturday and Sunday are the only co-ed days, so check opening hours. We were visiting during the weekday, so we didn’t get to see this one. This bathhouse has a Roman vibe.
Open late = Night-bath hours are from 10:00 PM until 4:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.
Baths by the Numbers
- Budapest sits on a network of about 125 thermal springs.
- Baths were inherited from the Turks when Hungary belonged to the Ottoman Empire from 1541-1699.
- Most Popular: Szechenyi, Gellert, Rudas, Lukacs, Kiraly, Veli bej
Things to Know
- Check opening hours and dates!! Few baths are coed. Rudin is open to women on Tuesdays.
- Szechenyi is coed everyday and has Pool Parties on the weekends from 10pm to 3am. Purchase a Standard ticket for 50€ or 65€ (drinks included).
- Bring flip flops!
- Towel Rentals are available for 2-3 Euros with a small deposit once you enter the locker room. Don’t worry about lugging one around in your suitcase or purchasing at the counter in advance.
Cabin vs Locker?
Cabin = a private changing area, large enough to store backpacks and hang up your clothes.
Locker = public changing area with a small locker to leave smaller belongings.
Paprika – named after the national spice, this restaurant specialized in European comfort food and homemade soups. Stop here to fuel up before the Szechenyi Bath. Reservations recommended.
Bistro Fine – “fine dining” as a reasonable price. Excellent option for dinner!
Menza Bistro – traditional dishes with a modern flair, located in the Jewish district. The garlic soup and duck breast with chestnut risotto are not to be missed!!
Fun fact: we ordered tequila as an aperitif (a tradition with our LA friends) and they paired the shots with oranges and cinnamon instead of lime and salt (the typical way to serve tequila in Hungary)…surprisingly not a bad combination.
KonyvBar & Restaurant – dine surrounded by books. Every dish was delicious – the mushroom risotto and blueberry pies stood out the most! Tasting Menu offered.
GUIDE TO HUNGARIAN SPECIALTIES
- Goulash – …obviously
- Toltott kaposzta – stuffed cabbage with minced pork
- Halaszle – spicy fish soup
- Cirkepaprikas – chicken stew
- Fozelek – veggie stew
- Langos – deep fried flat bread with sour cream, cheese, and garlic juice (sounds weird, but delicious!)
- Kurtoskalacs – chimney cakes baked on open fire. Think trdlnik from Prague!
- Dobos torta – sponge cake layered with chocolate topped with hardened caramel
- Somloi galuska – chocolate truffle, made of vanilla, walnut and chocolate flavored sponge cake
- Kakaos csiga – pastry filled with cocoa and twisted around in the shape of a snail’s shell
- Bikaver – Bull’s Blood, dry full bodied red wine
- Palinka – national firewater. Hungarian fruit brandy from 37% to 55% alcohol
- Unicum- Hungarian Jagermeister. Drink as digestive and apertif
Budapest Christmas Fair – we were surprised to see this market still open after Christmas and into the New Year! Try all the traditional street foods here like Langos, Kurtoskalacs, and Toltott Kaposzta.
Simpla Kert – famous ruin bar located in the Jewish Quarter. It’s relaxed atmosphere allows you to “come as you are” and have a drink in one of the many rooms. It’s open concept (and in some cases, open air) allows you to mingle and enjoy different music in each room. You’ll even find an old East German car inside. Highly recommended!
Free Walking Tour – start your trip with this free walking tour. It starts on the Pest side and ends at Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. The local guide showed us all the major landmarks and kept us engaged when referencing Budapest’s history. No reservations required, just show up 10 minutes before the tour begins.
Fisherman’s Bastion – avoid crowds and visit in the early morning hours. This former fisherman’s market offers exceptional views on the Danube River and Parliament. You can’t miss Matthias Church with it’s beautifully decorated roof at the heart of Buda’s Castle District.
Gellert Hill – hike up for sweeping views of Budapest, best enjoyed at sunset when city is lit up
Buda Castle – historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian Kings.
St. Stephen’s Basilica – named after the first King of Hungary whose “incorruptible” right hand has been preserved as a relic and remains inside.
Parliament Building – located on the bank of the Danube. With its height of 96 m, it is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest, along with Saint Stephen’s Basilica. The equal height reflects a balance between church and state. No building is allowed to be taller. Don’t miss the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial for the victims shot into the Danube by the Arrow Cross Militiamen (secret police) from 1944-1945.
House of Terror – museum that features exhibits related to the fascist and communist regimes including Hungary’s secret police from 1945-1956. It also serves as a memorial to the victims of these regimes, including those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building.
Jewish Quarter – home to the largest synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world, Dohany Synogogue. By day take the Jewish Walking Tour and return at night to experience all the cool bars, restaurants, and cafes. This is an area you’ll want to spend some time exploring.
As you walk the streets, look down for golden tiles in the sidewalks remembering the Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust. These are indicators of the inhabitant that lived in the apartment, showing which ghetto they were taken to along with their birth and death dates.
We are already planning a return trip to Budapest, but now off to Vienna for the New Year!