Upon selecting the perfect exploration destination for our very long inter-semester break, we had but two criteria; the place had to be as yet undiscovered by us, and it had to be cheap. Budapest achieved both. It is a city where east meets west, where one can easily walk within its confines exploring the beautiful monuments that ancient and hilly Buda, and the modern shabby-chic neighbour, Pest, have to offer. A place where taking shelter in thermal baths after a day of sightseeing in the frost is followed by an exotic dish to cleanse the pallet, strangely the city’s prices are incredibly student-friendly.
We navigated Budapest mostly solo, but did take the highly recommend hostel-culture free walking tour. In the three-hour tour, covering most of the city’s sights, we not only got a taste of what makes the city so unique, but we were taught about its incredibly history. The buildings seemingly become more meaningful when you hear of how three-quarters of the ancient city was bombed during the Second World War, and that it had to be fully reconstructed from the ground up. Notable sights including the Opera House, St Stephen’s Basilica, Castle Hill and last but not least the Fisherman’s Bastion, which boasts the best panoramic view of Pest.
As art lovers we also visited a few galleries, but if you are cheated for time, choose to view the Hungarian National Museum, where you can get acquainted with talented Hungarian artists who are virtually unknown to us in the West.
Not all our time was spent walking, as we had one lazy afternoon spent in the art-nouveau Gellert bath. For an entrance fee of 5000HUF you can explore thermal baths, saunas and steam rooms, and for an extra charge you can receive a massage. Though not primarily on a gastronomic tour, we couldn’t help indulging in the fine cuisine of the city; from delicious pastries to the must-taste Goulash soup. Best of all, even in the trendiest restaurants, portions were bigger and much cheaper than the western standard. Standout places included the oriental Maiman café near the Opera, and Szatyar, an artsy restaurant near the Gellert baths.
Nightlife was varied and entertaining. At the quirky ´peanut bar´, drinks were pricy but peanuts were free (and all over the floor); we were entertained by Hungarians singing cheesy Americana (the highlight being ´Sweet Home Alabama´). Our best venture out was when we finally braved the Budapest nightlife and went to Instant, a two-story club with great electronic music in multiple rooms ideal to dance the night away.
Though highly recommended by travellers, Budapest has unfortunately been associated with organized crime, as well as a rapid westernisation. We, however, left Hungary immensely satisfied with our trip, unaware of crime and (by virtue of boycotting) fairly untouched by the apparent westernisation. We certainly achieved a truly unique Hungarian experience.
Flights: Return journey London Stansted-Budapest: £30
Accommodation: 3 nights at the Treestyle hostel: £20
Food and other costs: £80
Total cost of four-day trip: £130
Photo credit: Wiki commons and Saeuun Gísladóttir