Things Not to Do and What Not to See in Budapest

img_2175If you are a fan of tourisiting and have been to many European cities you might want to think again about going to Budapest. Perhaps you’ve heard of the beautiful architecture, happening art scene, abundance of culture, or some of the many world famous spas. These things are all very alluring and wonderful but may not be for you if you really thrive in a tourist setting.

I’ll be very honest, Budapest is probably turning into my favorite city, though to be fair I’ve only been to about 20-25 major cities around the world, New York City being my home grounds, but nonetheless there are far more well traveled persons than myself. What I like most about Budapest is the way it hasn’t sold out to tourism. Meaning it is not uncommon in my experience to meet people who speak little to no English at all, actually a lot of people are more likely to speak German (which I speak very little of). I really enjoyed this because it has allowed me to hear the language, get a small glimpse of the culture, rather than just going to another version of a European city where everyone speaks English and you don’t have those fun language barrier moments that to me make encountering another culture interesting. Of course there are still many people who do speak English and actually I’ve met more Hungarians than tourists (outside of the hostel of course!), so there’s still opportunity to learn things about Hungary, their customs, the way they interact with each other, with others, which in my honest opinion you don’t get to experience in very tourist-driven cities.

After three plus weeks in Budapest it seems to me that the city is very much underground. In a way it reminds me of a great hole-in-the-wall cafe in the heart of a big city. Not as heavily visited as other cities such as London, Paris, or Rome, which allows it to have the real quality taste and flavor of a home cooked meal. There is definitely a quietly bumping art scene that is open for visitors. There are tours that you can take of the art district and I was lucky enough to run into a small artists studio that is open for anyone to join, do some art, hang out, whatever you want really. Not to mention the abundance of music. I’m not necessarily a music junkie but it seems that you can go almost anywhere and run into music, be it an independent music festival, which was going on by my hostel the week I was there (causing me to extend my stay to last the weekend,) or a fiddler on the street, tourists playing guitar and singing on the top of the citadel, oboe and electric guitar groups freestyling in the park, R&B rappers outside your window… the list can go on. These little things seem to pop up everywhere, at random, almost where you least expect it. And the best part is that the doors are open, you can come in.

My mom, whose father was Hungarian, told me that Hungarians are some of the most welcoming people you’d ever meet, and I can definitely attest to this. I think the general mannerisms of most Hungarians that I’ve met aren’t as “friendly” as central Europe or my homeland, America (yes, I know we are excessively friendly,) in fact at first it seemed a bit cold to me, but after just talking and getting to know people they’ve been more than willing to open up, show us around the city, to all the “spots” and “underground” scenes. For me and my random groups of travel friends the inviting nature of Hungarians has been a really, really pleasant surprise. One semi-underground thing that I found really cool is the “ruin bars” or they may be called “ruined bars,” some Scottish guys that I met said that it just seemed like a regularly trashed Scottish pub (*spoiler alert Scotland). Maybe because American bars tend to be more dingy than ruined, and never more than 240 years old, I found these old trashed bars pretty fascinating. There’s one in the Jewish courter that’s a bit touristy called Szimpla. It’s massive. And intriguing. I don’t know how to respond to it, but it was great. I went on a random weeknight and it was still packed with tourists but some Aussies in my hostel went in the late afternoon/early evening and said it was quite a nice experience. Drinks and hookah/shisha, sometimes live music, interesting artwork,  and of coursed the raw ruin-like walls covered in graffiti.

A Belgian guy from my hostel made it a habit to go to these bars and then hike up to the citadel for sunrise. I think in general he just liked to (maybe pop some molly and) stay up for the sunrise at the citadel. There are two bridges south of Margaret park, near the University, that lead to the citadel, it’s landmark feature being the Liberty Statue, an angel that comes out from between the green rolls of the hill. Definitely worth the short hike up to the top, be it sunrise, sunset, or any time of day, easily enjoyable before or after a relaxing day at one of the two more famous spas in Budapest, Rudas or Gellert, conveniently located at the base of either side of the hill.

The spas are a whole other thing. So far I’ve been to three, Rudas, Gellert, and Szechenyi, and hands down Rudas is my favorite. I think its one of the newer ones of the baths, the architecture is significantly more modern, but in modern Hungarian style which, from what I’ve seen, is light and tasteful. There’s a really nice, well priced restaurant, which the other two have though I can’t speak to the price or quality, outdoor seating, also that the other two have though as for outdoors Szechenyi is probably the best, and a variety of thermal baths, also of course that the other two have, saunas, also, and wellness pools that the other two don’t seem to be able to compete with. I really liked the diversity of the baths and saunas there, a benefit to being young with modern and international influences not possible for earlier-established spas. For the wellness section there are two different temperature pools for staying longer-term in and two short-term (1-5 minutes max) extreme temperature pools, one 40 degrees Celsius the other 2. All of the spas use wrist bands that help you really just get into your locker and into different sections of the spa, you can rent a towel, bathing suit, and a bathing cap- which is required only if you want to use the swimming pools, which I did not.

In terms of beauty, Gellert is probably the most beautiful of the baths that I’ve been to. My next trip I will have to see more, but it really reflects the Turkish influence on Hungary. A lot of the architecture in the city is a really interesting meeting of worlds between Arabic and European influences. One thing that I completely overlooked was the rule of the Ottoman Empire in Hungary and how that’s effected the culture. You would be better off going to one of the many beautiful and informative museums to get more concrete facts about this, as all as I can do from my simple perspective is marvel in its presence. The city to me seems full of light. One of my favorite views is the view of the Parliament building from the bridge on the south side of Margaret Island. Perhaps one of the most beautiful parts of the city in general. From where I was staying in Kalvin Ter, I could take the 4/6 tram to Margitsziget, or Margaret Island, enjoying the beauty of the city for about 20 minutes, and the first thing you see when you get off is the Parliament to one side and the castle to the other. Absolutely breath taking. There’s also a musical fountain in the island, as well as many small, walk-through gardens, cafes, and more, also another worthy day trip.

Along a similar line of beautiful parks and spas, Szchényi lies in the center of a sizable park. Take the opportunity to discover this park a little bit. There’s a metro that goes direct to the spa, as well as several trams that surround the park. There’s a beautiful lake in the center of the park, a museum, some gorgeous architecture, a pretty alright bar that you can get the quality of food that you would expect from a bar in a park. You can follow the park to what my boyfriend described as a Pokémon Arena, only because it was a big building and about 50 people were outside on their phones. There’s a dam, a water fountain, some more eateries, and if you follow the protruding statue from the main road, you will make your way to Hero’s Square. My mom, or someone generally better versed in history than myself, can fill you in on some pretty interesting facts about this square, but at the very least its a pretty nice place to take a photo of your boyfriend making a weird face (as seen above.)

What I love about Budapest is the way that it just unfolds. During my grand total of three and a half weeks in Budapest the maximum amount of planning I’ve done has been one thing a day. My recommendation to visitors is to let the city unfold before you. Choose something you want to do or see and follow it wherever it goes. Follow your heart, maybe. Relax and enjoy the smooth taste of Budapest dancing upon your tongue. It’s a beautiful city, meant to be enjoyed. Slowly. Calmly. Maybe that’s also just my life advice in general.

I think one of my biggest fears would be to see Budapest turn into another tourist-catered city. Yes, of course, it’s nice to be with people who speak a common language to you but I think that more market-driven “do you want a watch with your salad” type of through-the-roof tourism would really take away from the city. So please, please, if you are planning to visit Budapest for the touristic aspect… skip it. There are a million tourist cities in the world. If you are more interested in any of the things talked about above, than I most definitely recommend going. Be gentle to this beautiful city, help it preserve its uniqueness, its magic.

harmony, peace, love,

Julie

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