In the summer of 2019, en-route to the Transylvania region of Romania for a week-long volunteer trip, I stopped by the city of Budapest (or, Budapeshht), for two and a half days. Prior to this, I had been to the proximate cities of Prague and Vienna, but didn’t extend the trip to this city - a fact that I definitely regret now. Of the many European cities I’ve visited, Budapest was one of the most beautiful and dynamic - and in a rare turn of events, my time here was not enough. The city was absolutely filled with things to do, see, and eat, best of all at a discount compared to its counterparts in western Europe.
Day 1: Matthias Church & Fisherman’s bastion, Szechenyi Thermal Baths, szimpla kert ruin bar, organ performance at St Stephen's Basilica
As my hotel was situated right next to Fisherman’s Bastion -- the area was naturally my first stop.
One of the most prominent structures in the Fisherman’s Bastion is Matthias Church.
According to records, the first church on the site was built in 1015, though the current structure was constructed in the second half of the 13th century.
The church itself was renamed after King Matthias in the 19th century, who added a south tower to the church.
The pulpit seen here is made of sandstone, the abaix-voix (the Gothic Revival structure directly above the pulpit) carved of oak, and status of the Good Shepard on the very top is made of linen. This pulpit was built when the church underwent a major reconstruction in the late 19th century, and its surfaces are covered with Neo-Romanesque paintings..
One of the grandest sites of the city - this ironic terrace was constructed between 1895 and 1902. In neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style on the Buda hills of the city, the terrace also features gorgeous views of the Danube and the rest of the city.
There are seven towers - each one to represent a different tribe that settled in the area in 895. The towers are connected by pathways, tourists require a ticket to access the second ‘floor’ of the terrace.
The statue at the center of the bastion
The origins of the name Fisherman’s Bastion is a subject of debate. Some believe the name comes from the fact that this side of the city (Buda) was protected by a guild of fishermen in the Middle Ages.
Others, however, believe the name derives from the part of the city that is underneath today’s terrace, which the fisherman’s guild was responsible for defending.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
One of the things I loved most about Budapest was the bathing culture the city derived from the Roman and Turkish eras of the city. As a tourist, there is an overwhelming amount of indoor/outdoor spas & pools to choose from, though one of the most famous (and largest) remains the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
The abundance of natural hot springs lead to many cavernous bathhouses being constructed during the aforementioned eras, many of them still standing today. Indeed, there are so many Budapest was deemed “the city of spas.”
One of the most interesting things I discovered was the prevalence of ‘whirlpools’ made of pathways in which patrons of the baths can walk in a circle. Once you enter the ‘path,’ or ‘circle,’ there will be a current pushing you to walk in one direction along with everyone else. This circular pathway can be seen below (while the very middle of the circular pool is used in a hot tub-like manner, where people congregate to sit and talk.
The baths are located in City Park, a little out of the way in relation to city center, and buildings constructed in Neo-Baroque style, designed by Győző Czigler.
I must say I had a fantastic time here - having really never been to such a large outdoor pool/bath combination, comprised purely of thermal springs, at that. You can see below that I’m not the only one - most baths open early, so try your best to go in the mornings, or prior to closing in the evenings. Otherwise, try to avoid weekends afternoons especially, where the water becomes a massively popular place for everyone to congregate in the city.
A note on changing rooms - I suggest opting for the ‘cabin’ option at the baths. Though more expensive, it means you get your own lockable changing room for the duration of your stay, providing more privacy. Also, keep in mind most baths don’t provide towels, but will rent them out, and the same goes for slippers.
The indoor pools of the baths were completed in the 1913, while the outdoor pools in 1927 - meaning: many parts of the indoor baths are over 100 years old!
Don’t be surprised as you venture into the indoor baths how prevalent it is for locals to partake in aqua-calisthenics. Seems like most baths offer this, along with pools of different temperatures, saunas, and other facilities.
Something fun I discovered here - beer spa. See those taps next to the tubs? You get unlimited refills from inside the tub (which is filled with ‘extracts’ of beer, ie. malt, hops, yeast) during your time soaking. Here the receptionist is giving me a sample.
Though I’ve never been one for beer, I must say it’s an interesting concept. The beer, sourced from a Czech brewery, was pretty good. See here for all the other benefits that soaking in this stuff can supposedly bring.
In the end I didn’t opt for some R&R at the beer spa (which was a bit of a journey to find, somewhat tucked away on the second floor above an indoor bath house, amidst endless rows of changing rooms, but had an absolutely fantastic time at Szechenyi. Definitely, definitely a must-do for first time visitors to the city, so long as one takes care to avoid the peak hours.
old jewish quarter
SZIMPLA KERT was my next stop, the largest and most popular among the famed ‘ruin bars’ of Budapest. Located in District VII (aka the Old Jewish Quarter), the bars are named as such due to being located in the ruins of abandoned buildings, storefronts, and apartments of the neighborhood.
I was surprised to discover that Szimpla Kert isn’t one bar situated inside the ruin of a previous building, but instead many bars - each with their own seating/tables/menus/bartenders - located in the same massive space. Walking in, this was the first bar to the right.
The main thoroughfare of ruin once you enter. To the left and right of this central paths there are various bars operating as individual entities.
Some of the bars inside the ruin are incredibly interestingly decorated. Though previously the space was a dilapidated ruin, today it’s clearly host to a hotbed of creative activity, and artistic energy.
At the end of the main thoroughfare, the ruin opens up into a spacious, ceiling-less area - seen below.
Again, there are more walkways/bridges allowing people walk across the space from above/over, and there are more bars on the second floor as well as more bar-specific seating.
Seen below through the gates is the rear courtyard of the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest Synagogue in Europe and second largest in the world. The sculpture seen in the middle below, meant to resemble a weeping willow, is to commemorate some 400,000 Hungarian Jewish that were murdered by the Nazis during World War II. One wall of the synagogue itself is seen to the right of the photo below.
st. stephen’s basilica
Build in Neoclassical style and completed in 1905, the basilica is the third largest of its kind in Hungary. It is named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary, who ruled from 975-1038 and whose right hand is apparently housed in the reliquary of the church.
Adjacent to the basilica is Gelarto Rosa, a popular jaunt in Budapest doling out flower-shaped gelato.
Always freshly made on-premise with the finest ingredients, Gelarto Rosa is definitely worth a try if you are in the vicinity. And since its right next to the famed St. Stephen, you’ll more likely than not be in the area!
Working our way inwards, the flavors (layers of petals?) are hazelnut, raspberry, and basil lime. I made the amateur mistake of combining creamy flavors in the same cone as sorbet-like ones (the two fruit flavors), so the end result was my rose didn’t taste as good as it looked. But regardless, a great sweet treat for a hot summer day - can you tell the edges were melting under the hot sun as I tried to capture the perfect picture?
St. Stephen’s Basilica also hosts regular concerts in the evenings. Luckily enough, one such concert was scheduled for the evening of my first day in the city. Tickets for such events can be purchased online, and I’d highly suggest spending a few euros more to go for the Tier 1 tickets, which get you seating in the front portion of the basilica. Also - arrive early to sit by the asile, as seats aren’t assigned in the pews.
Day 2: Breakfast at new york cafe, Danube promenade, hungarian parliament tour, early dinner at kispiac bistro, citadel, traditional folk performance
new york cafe
szechenyi chain bridge
hungarian national parliament
hungarian folk performance
Day 3: Ruszwurm confectionery, Gellért Hill cave church, Gellért Thermal Baths, langos at Retró Lángos Büfé, late lunch at Zeller bistro, house of terror, buda castle & hungarian national gallery
Gellért Hill cave church
Gellért Thermal baths
house of terror
Hungarian National Gallery