There’s an awesome controversy about Budapest: it is the city that constantly flourishes, no wonder then it’s quite modern in a way, but at the same time, everything is beautifully devoted to Hungarian traditions there. What is really luring about this enchanting city is its vivid, stirring and exuberantly molded energy. Part and parcel of the city’s current characteristics are forever marked by a historical past that is all-pervading, yet petrified in the atmosphere and the architectural marvels, culture alike, which, I hasten to add, show no signs of fading. Not only is Budapest a titillating destination due to its uplifting vibes, but also, it has plenty to offer when it comes to culture, art, cuisine, cathedrals, spa culture, ruin pubs and of course nightlife as well. It is also a fairly affordable destination (in comparison to other European countries) that can be accessed easily from Cluj (this is definitely an added bonus).
As Budapest has just completely blossomed into a downtown garden with blooming trees lolling around the squares, spring is just the right time to fall head over heels in love with this urban jungle, but regardless of the season, you’ll want to book a follow-up trip here. In a nutshell, the capital of Hungary turns out to be the perfect spot for a three-day weekend getaway with your pals. It is out of the question to tackle the whole city during a 72-hour trip, however, here are some tips and recommendations for you and your mates that you should consider in order to have a whale of a time in this restless city. As a hint, provided you are attentive enough to the details while wandering around or sightseeing, the odds are that you might recognize several settings of various Hollywood films, since Budapest often plays the role of some other cities (e.g. in such films as: Spy, Inferno, Houdini miniseries, The Martian, Red Heat).
Day 1: Through Thermal Baths and Phenomenal Markets to Ruin Pubs
If you hop on a train at 2:28 a.m. in Cluj-Napoca on a Friday, the whole day is yours to explore some of the attractions Budapest has to offer, as you will arrive at Keleti Railway Station by the clock hits 9’o clock in the morning (if you are a student, in order not to pour money down the drain, be aware of the fact that you can to travel for free till Oradea, only the route from then on, to Budapest should be paid). You can find some really nice and affordable apartments right in the heart of the city for you and your gang, reservations made through Airbnb are more than satisfying in all imaginable aspects. Apartments along the Danube river, right some steps away from the Great Market Hall and a well-known pedestrian shopping street called Váci Utca, are really worth calling the shots due to the fact that basically the best of Budapest is more or less within a walking distance from there, not to mention that one can easily run out of superlatives when catching a glimpse on the city-center from a balcony in the so-called Ferencváros neighborhood.
In spite of the fact that you’ll have to carry your luggage with you, I advise you to get on foot from the railway station to your apartment. Indeed, you will have to walk approximately an hour or so, but this is a great opportunity to slowly savor the city. En route, absorb a diverse array of scenic landmarks, idyllic streets and Art-Nouveau buildings that stood the test of time. While wandering around, a dazzling variety of architectural works is to unravel before your eyes as you’ll find those that remained flawlessly untouched from both the Ottoman and the Austrian rule, as well as once bombarded buildings (it happened during World War II and an extensive fragment of the city was destroyed then) in a completely new mold along with the modern ones. The acoustic oasis, laden with the morning razzamatazz will give you the uplifting feeling of experiencing what it’s like to be in one of Europe’s biggest cities. After checking in and dropping your bags, cross the Danube River on Elisabeth Bridge in order to get to Rudas Thermal Baths.
Surprisingly, just amid the hustle and bustle of the city-center, you can find yourself at ease while lounging by any of Rudas Thermal Baths’ pools (it has 6 therapy pools and one major swimming pool), and also, there is an octagonal rooftop pool where life is seemingly stopped for a while and you can enjoy your stay in the swells under air full of bird clamor. If you are lucky enough and the weather conditions are in your favor, the blur of sunlight will caress your cheeks amicably, so don’t hesitate to pack in some sunscreen. Take your time to soak in the compelling, postcard-worthy panoramic view of the Pest side of the Danube river while luxuriating in the rooftop pool (the dividing line between Buda and Pest is marked by the Danube river, flowing just in front of the bath complex). You really need to see it to believe it! If this marvelous spa-lookout spot combo isn’t your cup of tea and you crave for something more of an opulent or upscale type of experience, then head to Gellért Baths, a bath complex built in Art-Nouveau style, singular for its glass-roofed gallery type of main hall. Don’t be surprised if you spot some A-list celebrities at Gellért Baths, this place being the apple in some well-known public figures’eyes. I hasten to add that this experience is rather for those who aren’t on a strict budget.
Crossing the picture-perfect Liberty Bridge (where you can as well have yourself seated on some of its aesthetical chains, like many tourists do), you’ll find yourself at Great Market Hall. The so-called “Központi Vásárcsarnok” is a phenomenal market where you can find some delicatessen full of fresh local goods, traditional meals, along with several closet-sized boutiques with knick-knacks and souvenirs. Once you get there, the traditional Hungarian dish called gulyás soup is a must and after feasting on it, you will definitely lick your lips in anticipation.
In the evening hours, keep an eye out for quirky ruin bars. You can find a couple of not-those-upscale-type of pubs in District VII, just in the heart of the city. In the aforementioned fragment of Budapest, eclectic buildings hold sway. Ruin pubs are remarkable: it seems as if the walls and furniture were speaking for themselves, part and parcel of these buildings, once destroyed by bombing, the abandoned buildings were taken under the arms of some locals who managed to restore them, turning them into places with outstanding character traits. The furniture in these bars is a selection of an array of the flea markets’ products, the scabby walls are wonderfully mis-matched and adorned with pieces of writings from local artists.To put it bluntly, the whole “Jewish Quarter” is turned into an entire work of art. When it comes to deciding which ruin bar is the one you should go for, I recommend three of them: Szimpla Kertmozi (a little bit over-crowded and touristy but it definitely has a gratifying atmosphere), Kőleves (they have just opened their terrace so now you can enjoy every sip of your beer from the outside) and last but not at least Ellátókert (this was our final option as Szimpla was already filled to the brim, but it is also a prominent place to enjoy your drink after a long day of sightseeing). Before you go home, don’t leave out Karaván off of your bucket list. Basically, this is kind of a courtyard where you can find scrumptious street food to tuck in while on the go.
Day 2: Culture blends well with adventure-on today’s menu
Since you have an entire day to spend in Budapest, you should hit the road and explore it. After having your breakfast at your apartment, the Museum of Applied Arts is a great spot to catch a glimpse at, however, at the moment it is under renovation, so you can’t enter, but admire it from the outside. Head towards Kálvin Square, where you’ll be blown away by the flowers in bloom all around during springtime, making the cityscape unbelievable.
Enormous and opulent as it is, the Hungarian National Museum is really one that deserves a thorough glance, especially in the view of the fact that, since the year of 1802, it stands for the history and culture of not only Hungary, but the Carpathian Basin as well, historical relics are to unravel before the eyes of the beholder if one considers entering it. After being engulfed impeccably by this wonderful museum, the Dohány Street Synagogue enhances the cultural enjoyment even more. This synagogue, named after the street itself, is the largest synagogue in Europe, and it is quite a singular one due to the distinctive Jewish architectural elements embedded in it. When looking at the clock on the top of the Moorish-looking building, don’t be surprised, as it is ceased for a while. After such a cultural experience, getting lost between the shelves of a vintage second-hand shop sounds rather promising for any shopaholic. However, if you are not a fan of hand-me-down clothes, the well-known pedestrian shopping lane, named Váci Street, is the perfect place to be snapped out by the lavish up-market’s stir. After burning a hole in your pocket, head towards Deák Ferenc Square, a popular gathering area for the young in downtown Budapest, where you can as well have yourself seated on the ground and eat a sumptuous hamburger brought from a snack bar in the nearby Király Street.
Further on, you shouldn’t leave out St. Stephen’s Basilica from your bucket list. Once you are in Budapest, it is compulsory to fill your soul with some transcendent energy as well, and this Neoclassical gemstone in the heart of the city is the perfect spot for that. While being the third largest church in Hungary, it is the most significant one because the incorruptible hand of the first Hungarian king is said to be kept in this sacred landmark. Back in the day, in the 18th Century, the site of today’s basilica used to serve as a theatre where animal fights were being hosted. Moreover, this temple, standing 96 meters up in the air, is the highest building in the country, only the Parliament building is of equal height, signifying the fact that religion and politics are equally important. Concerts are also held in this wonderful basilica. If this still wasn’t enough, visitors coming between the rather early morning and mid-afternoon hours are allowed to access its dome, thus behold a 360-degree cityscape from a bird’s eye view.
Sunsets in Budapest are meant to be gazed from a boat’s deck, during a river cruise on the Danube. Since this already counts as a night ride, the lights will be already on in the whole city, enhancing even more the purplish hues everywhere you look. Széchenyi Chain Bridge, along with the Parliament building are awe-inspiring to look at when they are bathing in lucidity. On the other hand, it’s a pity that you will not see from that distance the metal Shoes on the Danube Bank, that commemorate the poor victims who were forced to jump into the river after taking their shoes off, although, it’s good to know about this landmark as well.
If you still crave for more and your energy levels didn’t go bankrupt yet, you should put your dancing shoes on in order to paint the town red and experience the buzzing nightlife of the city. Instant & Fogas Bar (that is by the way a unique ruin party complex) is the right place to have a whale of a time, as not only you don’t have to pay an entry fee, but also, having various halls with dissimilar music displayed in each, this place guarantees that you find what meets your gourmet standards in terms of music. On the other hand, be aware of the fact that this club is laden with tourists and is sometimes a bit overcrowded.
Day 3: Enjoying the last bits of Budapest
On Sundays, the early birds are the lucky ones. Hence the train kicks off at around 2 p.m., you should have your bags already packed in so that you can afford yourself to enjoy your breakfast at Budapest Baristas, a place that could boast with its coffee, omlette and avocado, which gets no better than this. After having your scrumptious breakfast, visit the Millennium Underground Museum beneath the nearby Deák Ferenc Square, which in fact stands in the recognition of Europe’s very first subway, dating back to the year of 1896. The aim of this museum is to tell as accurately as possible the story of the extensive network of public transportation in Budapest in an authentic setting, the tale of an 1.4 billion people per year industry. The exhibited maquettes, carriages, documents and photos seemingly speak for themselves, evoking a specific means of travelling back in time.
As “all’s well that ends well”, you should end your weekend get-away at the famous New York Café, where not only the layers of the lush and triumphant dishes are superb, but also the golder than gold décor creates a feeling of having one’s lunch in a very royal way. After such a captivating gourmet experience, hop on a metro and head towards Keleti Railway Station and once again soak in that typical atmosphere of Budapest, which will linger long after you leave the city within a few minutes.