This post was originally published on my first travel blog on 12 September 2012.
With a few days booked off work at the start of September, I fancied one last trip away before the hectic Autumn term began at work. I wanted to go and visit a European city, preferably one with water and history, maybe a castle or similar, and somewhere which I could travel to and stay in fairly cheaply! I started off by looking for cheap flights on Skyscanner, and Budapest came up as the cheapest city option from my local airport, Bristol. A quick search on Hostelworld revealed that there was a large choice of low-cost hostels in the city, and a bit of brief research on Budapest suggested that it would be ideal, so off I went.
This was to be my second time staying in a hostel, but my first ever time staying in a dorm (I had a private room with ensuite bathroom last time). I was a bit nervous about the prospect, so spent some time looking at the options and settled on Anadin Female Hostel; I wanted a woman-only room which they offered (I wasn’t looking for a whole women-only hostel, but this came up as the best option so I went for it), somewhere small which was not a “party” hostel, and somewhere well-located for getting into the city centre – Anadin seemed to fit my criteria. It was a great little hostel for my stay and I would recommend it for someone looking for a hostel along the same criteria. The owner was fantastic, recommending the things that I should see and do during my two full days there. The hostel was small (12 beds in total across 2 dorms), clean, generally quiet, the other guests were friendly, the free WiFi worked really well in my dorm and the kitchen, and breakfast was included in the price, which was 3800 HUF – approximately £10.80 – per night for a bed in a 6-bedroom dorm. Located in Pest, it was a 10 minute walk down a safe street to the Danube and Margaret Island (Margitszigot), and a 5-10 minute safe walk to metro and tram stops for a very short ride into the centre and other areas of interest. I’ll write a bit more about getting used to hostels in a separate blog post soon.
I flew with Ryanair from Bristol (UK) to Budapest, arriving at 14:20 on Saturday. The flight was fine and lasted about two hours and 20 minutes. The airport is located in the outskirts of the city, and my research suggested that the easiest option for getting into town for someone unfamiliar with the public transport system there would be the airport shuttle bus service (I emailed the hostel owner to check and she confirmed that this was true). This is a brilliant service; running 24/7, the minibus drops you right at the door of your accommodation and will pick you up again too. There was no waiting around like I’ve experienced on transfer coaches in other countries – I was on my way within 10 minutes of checking in at the airport shuttle desk (clearly marked as you come into the arrivals hall) – and they turned up a few minutes before my designated pick-up time on the way back. You can book online, though you need to wait until 24 hours before your first journey until you can book. It cost me 4950 HUF for a return transfer, which is about £14.
Having checked in and settled in at the hostel, and popped out to the large Aldi supermarket just down the road to pick up the supplies I needed, I took a walk down to the Danube and then walked a little way along it, as far as Parliament, to get my bearings. It was a glorious hot and sunny afternoon, and the river looked beautiful!
I then headed back up Poszonyi ut (the street where my hostel was) which has several restaurants, cafes, bars and bakeries, to find somewhere for dinner. I chose Kiskakukk Etterem as it looked cosy and the food sounded good and was reasonably priced. I was made very welcome as a solo diner, and they spoke to me in English after I asked “beszel angolul?”. The menu was in both Hungarian and English. I chose the turkey breast stuffed with mushroom and zucchini with potato croquettes and jasmine rice, followed by a dessert of crepes. It was all delicious, but not very high in vegetable content – I had read that Hungarian cuisine was meat-heavy, and I could see this right in front me! The food plus a glass of wine and small bottle of water, and a 10% service charge included in the bill, came to about 4700 HUF (£13.40).
After dinner I walked down to the Danube again, to see Margaret Bridge (Margit hid) lit up over the water. It was beautiful, but a mere taster for the sight of the centre lit up after dark, which I would experience the next night.
On Sunday, I got up early to get started on seeing the city – I had a lot to fit in during two days! I walked to the nearest metro station (Lehel Ter) to buy a 24-hour travel card, which is valid on the metro, trams, buses and ferry – basically all public transport except the funicular up Castle Hill. It’s well worth buying one of these if you’re going to be using public transport, as a single metro ticket is only valid for one journey on one metro train – so if you need to switch onto another line, you need to buy another ticket. Plus you need to remember to validate them, or risk a fine! Travel cards don’t need to be validated – you just show them if and when asked. The 24-hour card cost 1550 HUF (about £4.40) and there’s also a 72-hour one for 3850 HUF, as well as various group passes. The cashiers I encountered spoke English, but just in case, I had written down the name of the travel card in Hungarian, from the website, to hand over to them, with a smile and a “kerem” (please) and “koszonom” (thank you).
I headed to Deak ter on the highly efficient metro to start my day with one of the Free Budapest Walking Tours. They offer several tours with an English-speaking guide, and I went on the “original” tour, which sets off at 10.30am and 2pm every day. It takes about 2 and a half hours. This tour took us over the Szechenyi Lanchid (Chain Bridge) to the Buda side of the river, to climb Castle Hill for some great views over the city, then up to the Royal Palace and Matyas (St Matthias) Church.
The guide was brilliant, telling us about the history behind everything we saw and giving us a brilliant “history of Hungary in 10 minutes” talk! He also gave us tips on other things to see, marked things on our maps according to our individual interests, made some suggestions for what we should eat and drink, aimed particularly at those travelling on a budget (and confirmed that Hungarian cuisine is meat on meat!), and pointed us in the direction of a great little café which didn’t charge high prices in the touristy Castle Hill area. The tour was free and the guide just asked us to tip if we wanted to, which I did – it was a brilliant introduction to Budapest. I highly recommend anyone new to Budapest to start their visit with one of these tours.
The tour finished next to Fishermen’s Bastion, which is a pretty structure which offers some great views over the city.
After exploring around here for a while, I headed back to the recommended little café and gave in to the temptation of a cherry strudel – absolutely delicious!
I then walked back down to the riverside and over the Chain Bridge back to the Pest side, to catch the metro back to my hostel to freshen up, then up to Andrassy ut, which is apparently considered to be the Champs-Elysees of Budapest; it certainly feels similar. I stopped off at the Hungarian National Opera House but didn’t go in; I believe they offer tours at 3pm and 4pm every day however. I walked further up the street and found the Alexandra bookstore; I had seen the café in here recommended on TripAdvisor so I went in for a coffee. The café was beautiful, with an ornate ceiling and furniture, and a pianist playing. Despite its appearance, it is actually inexpensive. I was tempted by one of the fabulous cakes with my coffee, but decided to be good due to the strudel consumed earlier!
After my refreshment stop, I continued my walk up Andrassy ut, to Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere), which features the impressive Millennium Monument.
I explored the area a little, finding the world’s biggest hourglass, which was put in place when Hungary entered the EU in 2004.
It was now dinnertime, so I headed back down Andrassy ut via the metro, getting off at Oktagon to go to Liszt Ferenc ter, the location of Café Vian, which I had decided to try as it was recommended by the Hostelworld Guide to Budapest as a place for inexpensive Hungarian food. This was a lovely square, lit up in the dusk, with lots of restaurants with outside seating. I was made welcome at Café Vian, and took a seat at an outside table, where I enjoyed a delicious meal of Hungarian beef stew in red wine with dumplings, followed by some fantastic pancakes. Service wasn’t included in the bill but even with a 10% tip added on, my food and a large glass of wine still came to less than 5000 HUF.
The hostel owner had told me that not only was Budapest very safe to go out in at night alone, but it actually should be done as the city is beautiful after dark, so after dinner I took the metro first to the Opera House and then to Heroes’ Square to see them lit up, and then back down to Vorosmarty ter in Pest centre. Emerging at the riverside, the sight was fantastic – the Royal Palace and St Matthias Church were lit up, visible over the also illuminated Szechenyi bridge, with the lights from the boats out on evening cruises twinkling below. I think I stood there with my mouth open for a few seconds – it was like a fairytale city! My photos do not do it justice – my camera doesn’t do nighttime very well (or I need to find the right settings!) – so please google for images of Budapest by night, or even better, go there and see it yourself!
After walking over the bridge and along the Buda side to see Parliament lit up, I caught the metro back to the hostel, to get some sleep before another busy day of sightseeing!
On Monday it was another early start and another trip to the metro station to get a 24-hour ticket and then to head down into town. I wanted to climb up Gellert Hill as I had read that the views of the city from up there are magnificent, but as it looked like a steep climb I wanted to do it in the morning before it got too hot! I caught the metro to Kalvin Ter then walked past the Central Market Hall and over the Liberty (green) bridge, to start the climb. It wasn’t as steep as it looks from a distance, actually! The views you get from the top make it worth it too.
I spent a while up here enjoying the views, and by the time I got back down it was midday, so I decided to go and get some lunch in the Central Market Hall, as recommended by a few guides I’d looked at. The cafes are all on the mezzanine, and offer stand-up tables to eat the cheap, yummy food off paper plates. It was very busy but it was worth persevering to get my lunch of sausage, onion and potatoes, for 1000 HUF (£2.80). I recommend lunch here!
Full of food, I decided to head up to Margaret Island by yellow tram, which travels along the riverside and is a lovely ride. I sat on Margaret Island for a while, enjoying the view of the boats going by on the Danube.
There’s also a wonderful fountain on the island, which “dances” to classical music!
Next, I went to look at St Stephen’s Basilica, before heading back down to the centre, with the intention of going on a boat trip. However, I had just missed a few sailings and there was an hour to wait for the next ones. Wandering along the moorings, I spotted a sign for the public ferry – on which I could use my 24-hour travel card, rather than pay over £10 for a trip on one of the tourist boats – brilliant! I had a pleasant ride back up to the river to Margaret Island, and if I’d had more time I would have spent some more time on the ferry, going back the other way. Unless you’re particularly set on doing a particular boat trip, I definitely recommend the ferry instead. Some of the ferries have an open air top-deck, so it’s almost the same thing!
I headed back to the hostel to pack for my departure first thing the next day, before returning to Kiskakukk Etterem for dinner. This time I had chicken breast in (lots of) cheese, with vegetable risotto (rice with a hint of vegetables!) – as with all of my other meals, not healthy but still delicious! I thought I may as well finish my Hungarian food experience with some somloi galuska, a sponge cake with orangey and nutty bits, and chocolate sauce – yum!
The obvious way to spend my final night in Budapest was to go and see the city by night again. This time I caught the yellow tram number 2 down along the river, to get the full view as it emerged – beautiful. After another evening walk admiring the view, it was time to go back to the hostel and to bed, to be picked up by the airport shuttle bus at 8am the next morning.
I had a wonderful time in Budapest! It would have been lovely to have been able to spend a couple more days there – there’s lots I didn’t manage to fit in, such as City Park, Statue Park, the Jewish Quarter, the thermal baths, the House of Terror, the other museums, or any trips down the Danube to other towns. However, I think I did manage to see as much as I could in two days, and I really enjoyed my time there. I found it a really welcoming destination for a solo traveller; the restaurants seemed happy to have me, the city felt very safe, the public transport was brilliant and efficient, and I encountered many other solo travellers – usually when we were offering to take photos for each other at the sights! I found that English was spoken everywhere that I went once it was realised that I wasn’t Hungarian (I was told I look Hungarian!), but I was glad that I’d managed to learn some basic words like “good morning/afternoon/evening”, “please”, “thank you” and “do you speak English” so I could feel like I was being polite at least, even if I just couldn’t grasp the language at all!
If you’re looking for a city trip, with lots of history, culture and things to see, I would recommend Budapest, whether you’re a solo traveller or with others. I expect I will return one day.