- Lifestyle & Sports
- 24 Apr 17
Frequently cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest has become famed as much for its thermal baths and exotic nightlife as it has for its chequered history and cultural heritage. Peter McGoran explores.
Where is it?
Bisected by the turquoise blue Danube River, the twin areas of Buda and Pest make up the capital city of Hungary. It’s also the country’s largest city by population.
Why should I go there?
Budapest is just far enough away from the main hubs of Western Europe that it’s not a chaotic, bloated tourist trap in the same way that Paris and Rome are, but it’s also close enough to be affordable to get to (not to mention the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive once you’re there). Budapest was also one of the main intersections between many of the Europe’s greatest empires and its most devastating wars, meaning that it has a truly incredible history.
Then, for the hedonists out there who aren’t interested in the cultural heritage, Budapest rivals the likes of Prague, Amsterdam and Berlin as a European hotspot for nightlife. As an extra feature, the yearly Sziget festival in the northern part of the city is one of the continent’s biggest festivals and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year.
How do I get there?
Numerous airlines fly direct from Dublin to Budapest – including Aer Lingus and Ryanair – with a total flying time of only three hours. Another option, which has proved hugely popular with school/university leavers, is to make Budapest a destination on a cross-European trip. The city is easily accessible by train from Krakow, Berlin, Prague and Vienna, meaning that it’s a perfect destination for interrailers.
What’s the currency?
The Hungarian Forint. 3,000 Forint is worth approximately €10.
What language do they speak?
The official language is Hungarian, a notoriously difficult language to understand, but most people who work in any kind of tourist-based industry in Budapest will know some English.
What’s the transport like?
As mentioned, the city is easily accessible by train. It also boasts a well-connected and efficient inner-city transport system, using a variety of trams, buses, trolleys and metro trains to help you get around. Night service is also very reliable.
Wider Hungary has a similarly good transport network, making it very easy to navigate. If you’re looking to venture outside the city, it’s worth checking out the popular holiday destination of Siofuk, located two-and-a-half hours south of Budapest. Famous for its beaches and nightlife, Siofuk has gained a reputation for being a less tacky alternative to the likes of Marbella and Magaluf.
What’s the food like?
Spicy, rich and packed with flavour, Hungarian dishes are some of the most surprising discoveries for visitors to the country. For those looking to try the famous Hungarian goulash, the best restaurant to visit is Budapest Bisztró, located right by the Danube in Vécsey Street (+36 1 783 0788; budapest-bistro.hu). Lángos – the deep-fried flatbread that is widely considered to be the favourite dish for Hungarians – can be sampled at Lángos Flórián Square, in the northern part of Buda. For desert, try Somlói Galuska, a sumptuous sponge cake, layered with chocolate cream, walnut kernel, rum and whipped cream on top.
What are the touristy things to do?
Top of your list should be one of the free walking tours that run daily, which showcase the variety of architecture that exemplifies the beauty and diversity of Budapest. Highlights include the stunning Hungarian Parliament building (modelled after the Palace of Westminster), to Fisherman’s Bastion (the building which inspired Disney Castle).
But perhaps the most fascinating part of touring around Budapest is learning about the living history within the city. Once considered the “Jewish Mecca” because of its openness and inclusiveness in the early 20th century, Budapest suffered at the hand of Nazism and Soviet Communism for decades. But, as with cities like Berlin, it has emerged as a vibrant, accepting social space and uses its sometimes bleak history as a lesson for the present and a cautionary tale for the future.
What’s the nightlife like?
Nonstop, seven nights a week. In terms of pub crawls, by far the best one out there is the “Ruined Pub Tour”. Taking you round four of Budapest’s famous ruined pubs (abandoned/decrepit buildings that have been transformed into watering holes), the tour is a great mix of locals and international backpackers and includes free drinks at every stop.
Then once you’ve gotten to grips with the city, check out the Spa Parties in the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, which run during the summer months. Good music, cheap alcohol and swimming pool-sized Jacuzzis characterise these unique nights out. Absolutely unmissable if you want to experience the authentic Hungarian nightlife.
While a summertime visit to Budapest is worth checking out for obvious reasons, the city is an entirely different place during the winter. Arriving in December, you’re likely to see the central streets bedded by inches of snow and lit-up by lights. You can also sample the finest Hungarian cuisine at one of the many Christmas markets, ice-skate in a fairytale setting at the City Ice Rink by the scenic Vajdahunyad Castle, and truly make the most of those thermal baths after a day out in the cold.