Budapest, Hungary! Jon and I have a standing joke, well more like a phrase when we travel to a different country. Perhaps, like most married couples that have been together for over 20 years you develop your own language. I could barely sit still on the plane with excitement on our way to Hungary. Consequently, I researched and have written countless itineraries as a business and never have visited this country. I knew where the highlights would be located. The Baths, Danube, and historic architecture, yup, right up my alley.
If you’ve seen Forrest Gump, there’s a scene where he tells Jenny he is going to Vietnam. “It’s this whole ‘nother country.” That’s our language. Having lived in Alabama for ten years, there’s a lot of Forrest phrases in our speak. This is one of my favorites.
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The Baths in Budapest are world-renowned and is an absolutely MUST do if you are visiting even for a short time. I am such a bath freak. After living so close to Baden-Baden and having our own fine one right here in Böblingen. Of course, I was all over going to Szcehenyi Bath. This Baroque Style bath was built in the late 1800s and was so ornate and opulent we felt like we were walking to the entrance of a castle.
This spa was built in the early 20th Century to drum up tourism for the city, as well as several baths located throughout the town. We only made it to one. I know quite the bummer, but a reason to return.
What you need to know!
If you only have a few hours for the bath
1) Bring your own towel and flip flops
2) Pay for a DAY PASS – then its only €20
We were kind of duped and we paid about €53/person, OUCH! For just the amenities of having the towel and flip flops provided. I know! I make mistakes so you don’t have to – you’re welcome.
You’ll receive a wristband watch which will serve to LOCK your locker. If you forget your number there are scanners around the lockers, you can just scan it and it will tell you which locker belongs to you. JUST don’t lose the watch.
The outdoor pool was our favorite. Although getting to it in January was UBER cold. I want to believe that my northern NY (Polar Bear) swim upbringing helped me endure the moments of “OMG!” Once in this super big pool the lazy river, (not so lazy) will whip you around and you’ll hear a lot of chuckling. The laughter reminds me of when we were kids. On the outer loop there are hot springs in different areas you can monopolize these for a bit to get warmer.
Inside you’ll have the option to visit 15 more hot tubs if you have time.
Uh… oh! 😳
Be careful of taking your phone/camera with you. There are signs everywhere to keep watch of your personal belongings. Be careful about taking pictures around the pool might be tough if you get your phone stolen. Or waterproof case it and take it with you.
We ended up spending about three hours at the spa and had such a short time in Budapest, so we needed to hit the road.
You can speak English! But try some Hungarian
I must say it is pretty awesome to just walk around and talk! EVERYONE spoke English and really quite well. I did learn a little Hungarian, especially Köszönöm – (Koshonomb) thank you. Remember Google Translate is only so good. Try Duolingo too.
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We stayed in Pest in the former Jewish Ghetto, Gozsdu Court. Our location was perfect for walking to everything you would want to be close to seeing including Parliament, the Danube, and old town.
There were many, many things we like about Hotel Gozsdu Court. First, our room/apartment was impeccably clean and functional. We had a big kitchen, living room, big bedroom and pretty good internet. The ease of everything and the friendly helpful front desk were AWESOME.
However, Gozsdu Court is definitely the PARTY district for Budapest. Our accommodations were lovely, great price, reception, very nice, breakfast – ahh (a little too crowded for my taste) BUT the biggest downfall was the karaoke and strobe light til 4:45 a.m.
Without a doubt, I am definitely a party-girl but maybe not that big of a party. If this is your thing, book ’em. I did talk to the front desk upon check out and have a few ideas to help them out. I think with just a few tweaks it would be a FABULOUS place to stay. Rouladens and partnerships with local restaurants at the base of the apartments would alleviate the morning crush in the breakfast room.
Don’t ever feel bad about leaving constructive comments to a hotel or restaurant. The whiners who only whine, make me mad. I have worked in the industry a long time and helpful suggestions HELP properties, some things are unavoidable but ideas can help spur creativity and create solutions for a better experience for them and future guests.
Pest or Buda
Most everything is on the Pest side of Budapest. The views of the hill of Buda is also stunning, with the castle on this side of the city you have a full view of Pest. However, if you want the majority of restaurants, cruises, tours, and sites to see, you’ll want to stay on the Pest side.
Tours to take
It was so cold in January we decided to take the Hop-on/Hop-off bus around the city. It was in the negatives and windy. On day one, I had to buy another winter coat. Luckily it was only about $30, so well worth it. I would’ve paid double to not freeze. It was cold in Germany when we left but not this windy. Brrrr
Additionally, the Hop-on/Hop-off buses are not the best in Budapest. Nonetheless, I get it, I think the Budapest does a great job at transporting you around town to the most popular sites. Especially, the pink line. This is a live English speaking tour and runs all year long from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. She was very good with details and interesting tidbits but sometimes was hard to understand, you really had to listen. The pink line also has the upper deck open but there was no-way I was going up there with that wind.
Our Hop-on/Hop-off ticket cost about $35/person and included a boat tour. I really wanted take a night tour on the Danube. My travel girls Heather and Lisa said, “You just have to do this!” They were right. For the extra €3/person it was REALLY worth it. This one-hour tour began at 1830/6:30 and we finished just in time to have dinner.
Arrive early because we were there 15 minutes early and the line wrapped down the street. Luckily we scooted inside and got an outer seat. Thankfully, so I could snap some video.
Just around the corner from Gozsdu Court is this tucked away breakfast/brunch restaurant that served an amazing morning menu. I was UBER thankful they had yogurt, oatmeal and fruit. I am trying to be healthier. Jon had the sausage and cheese omelette and it smelled and looked super yummy. The service was real good and we were sitting next to a bridal shower who were loving the ambience to take amazing photos. Put a pin in this one if you are in the neighborhood. #vintagegarden
Absolutely, one of the BEST tips I got was “YOU HAVE to try the burgers in Budapest!” O.k. well, twist my arm. Everyone knows, Germans know pork, but red meat, hamburgers… eh! Sorry Deutschlanders. We were thrilled to stop by Meatology and actually GET IN! This really popular swanky meat restaurant was packed and luckily, I think because it was just two of us, we got in. PHEW! Loved the service – loved the attention to detail and the Chef was super creative too. I loved how they served our burgers with a combo of sweet potato fries and regular fries… BRILLIANT!
Right after the night cruise along the Danube, we were super hungry and I found Corso. This is a restaurant in a hotel it might be a little pricey but Oooh, so good. Our waiter Gregor was fabulous and helped me order a wonderful meal of farm range chicken with Bernaise sauce, and steamed vegetables. I’m still thinking about my dinner, it was elegant and the presentation was unforgettable. We also split a chocolate praline mousse and with the wine selection, it was perfectly paired.
Beyond Parliament, in the same neighborhood is this really cool restaurant. DON’T WALK too fast or you’ll zip right by it. The food was VERY tasty, service amazing and everyone greeted us with welcomes and warm smiles. What a concept! We felt at home instantly. I had no idea we would be tasting some of the most flavorful Hungarian food of our trip. YUM!!
Other things to know
Unless otherwise specified the SERVICE CHARGE or TIP IS INCLUDED in Budapest. You do not want to tip on top of a tip. Additionally, we only came across one restaurant where the tip was NOT included. When asked most other restaurateurs said this is not common practice, you’ll see it on the bill.
We did tip our taxi driver about 10% because it was a long ride from the castle to our restaurant and in an obscure place to get in and out of – that could be your choice.
Most restaurants we went to asked if we had made reservations. I know this was a “rookie” mistake but it was only the two of us and it is January. I just thought we could wing it. Consequently, we were seated at both busy restaurants but their dining areas were small and they weren’t interested in “turning” tables as we do in the States. They were happy for us to just chill and enjoy our meal and chat.
No one was on their cell phones!
Definitely, this must be commonplace in Hungary and personally, I am so guilty of “checking my phone.” However, I noticed very quickly, NO ONE had their cell phones out. Maybe to take a picture here or there but not pervasive as I see in other parts of Europe and America. It was actually quite nice, Jon and I made an effort to take a few pictures and put it away. I used my big Canon for a lot of video too and this seemed much more acceptable.
Try the wine
I was pleasantly surprised how much I like Hungarian wine. I’m not sure why I didn’t think I’d like it, but I was really impressed with wine from the Villany (southern Hungary) and from the Eger mountains in the north. I tried several red wines and if you follow me on Vivino (wine app) you’ll see what I’ve had to say. If you are budding wine connoisseur like me this app has been super helpful and constructive in a non-cork-dork kinda way.
Why you need to visit
Budapest reminds me so much of what Prague was like 20 years ago. Striving to keep up with growing tourism, reconstructing itself from years of occupation and a city filled with hope for the future.
The Hungarians and their culture have been influenced by every culture that has occupied them. First, the Turks to the Hapsburgs (Austrians), Germans, and Soviets. All of these cultures can be tasted in their cuisine, seen in their architecture, and echoes in their land.
Budapest was super cold and for this New York girl in January, we were still greeted with warm welcomes and smiling faces. I will absolutely visit Budapest and Hungary again, maybe this time on a wine country tour. Hmmm ~