I just fell in love with Budapest when I visited last year. Whether it was relaxing outdoors in a thermal bath after an invigorating Thai massage, hitting up a ruin pub with a cute boy or drinking some of the local wine, I swore to myself that I’d return for another visit. By the time I finished writing this post, I booked my flight and will soon be visiting this city for a second time. I hope I can convince you to do the same with these “5 Reasons to go to ….. Budapest”.
1. The Thermal Baths
Budapest was awarded the title of “spa city” in 1934 and rightfully so, with over 130 thermal springs pumping out 70 million liters of water daily. A great way to pamper yourself and soothe your sore muscles after a day of exploring the city is to hit up one of the local baths and take a dip in their hot therapeutic waters.
Szechenyi Baths is one of the oldest and largest spa complexes in all of Europe and is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Equipped with 15 indoor and outdoor pools, the most popular are the two heated outdoor ones that feature a jacuzzi, neck/back massaging showers and a whirling corridor.
Szechenyi Bath and Spa via hook.hu
Some say that a visit to the baths in Budapest will change your life forever and I’m in complete agreement. Visiting Szechenyi on a cold December night last year was the highlight of my visit. It was surreal standing outside in a bikini in the middle of winter! Running quickly to the pool, the freezing temperatures were soon forgotten once I joyfully immersed myself in the warm waters.
Other baths to visit in Budapest?
Gellert Baths and Spa is more upscale than Szechenyi and said to be the nicest in the city. Located at the super posh Gellert Hotel, it has 8 pools complete with one of the world’s first artificial wave machines.
Gellért Thermal Bath via ibusz.hu
Rudas Baths, built in the 1560’s during the Turkish occupation takes one back to the Middle Ages with it’s octagonal pool and 10 meter dome. Cooler than cool are the monthly Cinetrip parties held here. Called “Sparties”, this is Budapest’s version of an all night rave in a truly hedonistic setting.
Admission to the baths is quite affordable, ranging from 10 – 15 euros for for 3 – 4 hours, allowing use of the pools, steam rooms and saunas. Spa and other special services are usually extra.
2. The Ruin Pubs
The proliferation of trendy “ruin pubs” in Budapest’s seventh district, helped revive what was once a derelict and neglected area and turned it into one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods. Channeling Berlin (a city with a penchant for opening night clubs in warehouses and bunkers), ruin pubs are typically contained in old abandoned buildings with large vacant lots. Take your pick from plenty of funky, off-beat spots and tour of all the city’s best ruin pubs.
Start with Szimpla kert, the most well-known of all ruin pubs and certainly my all time favorite. An institution to locals and a haven to tourists, here you’ll find an eclectic but charming decor, filled with wooden benches, lawn chairs, a bath tub (said to be a popular make-out spot) and even a couple of tables made from old cars. Drink cheap beers and cocktails, listen to the DJ spin some beats and even smoke some shisha (possibly while sitting in the car or bath tub)!
Szimpla Kert via Szimpla.hu
Szimpla Kert via Szimpla.hu
A relative new comer to the ruin pub scene is Fogas ház. Highly recommended by a local, my friend advised me that it’s more low-key than Szimpla and attracts far less tourists. Fogas ház is also not just a place to drink, it’s a cultural center which hosts parties, film screenings and concerts.
Fogas ház via Kristoff
If your liver is still intact and you’re ready to take on another ruin pub, go to Kuplung. Nestled away in a hard-to-find location (make sure you look for sign displaying the building’s number), Kuplung occupies a former motorcycle repair shop. Like Szimpla, it’s grungy atmosphere draws a lively crowd who come for the cheap beer, lively beats and numerous foosball tables.
3. The Caves
Budapest isn’t just the city of spas, it’s the city of caves! Extreme sport enthusiasts and even wannabe enthusiasts (like me) can enjoy the 100 kilometers of caves that lie below the city. Specifically, the Pál-völgyi-Mátyás-hegyi cave system, which is about 20 kilometers long, takes one under some of the city’s residential neighborhoods.
You can book cave tours lasting 2 1/2 – 3 hours where you’ll don a protective jump suit and helmet equipped with a bright light. Led by a professional caving guide, you’ll climb down a ladder and begin an incredible intense journey through dark, wet passages that will take you 50 meters down and then up again.
Caves in Budapest via Jessica’s Weblog
At first excited to take part in the excursion, I eagerly put on my gear and followed my group down the ladder into the cave. Upon seeing how dark it was and hearing about some of the maneuvers we’d need to perform (like edging through slits so small they can only be entered sideways or stomach crawls through long narrow passages), I started to panic and wanted out immediately. Supportive group members convinced me otherwise and hours later, I emerged dirty, bruised and incredibly happy. It sounds cliché, but I’m proud of myself for going through with what turned out to be a remarkable experience. Not only was it fun crawling and sliding my way through the cave, there was a lot of beauty to take in.
Maybe you’re claustrophobic or the physical effort of caving seems too demanding. No worries, as you can participate in no-climbing walking tours which allow you to experience the caves in a different way. The spaces are wide, the walkways are lit and you won’t need to much more than climb a short ladder.
For those of you who do want to take on the extreme caving challenge, check out Caving in Budapest.
4. The Castle Labyrinths
Museum meets haunted house, a tour through the labyrinths under Buda Castle is another way to experience the city’s caves without having to spelunk. Divided into various sections each with it’s own theme, you can explore the caves with a guide or on your own. You’ll see replicas of cave paintings from around Europe and even a fountain of wine. While you may be tempted to drink from the fountain of wine, please don’t. Quench your thirst in their cafe instead.
The best time to visit the labyrinths is between 6:00 – 7:30 PM where they turn off all the lights and give you oil lamps to guide you on your way through the caves.
Wine Fountain in the Labyrinth of Buda Castle via Citadella Top Event
Labyrinth of Buda Castle via Citadella Top Event
Note – the museum is temporarily closed. Locals are fighting to keep it open via an online petition – sign it to ensure this fun site remains available to the public.
5. The Wine
Hungary has been producing wine for thousands of years and boasts such miracles as the sweet desert wines out of Tokaji and the bikavér (Bull’s Blood) in Eger. If you want to sample the country’s wines without leaving Budapest, visit the House of Royal Wines and Cellar Museum located at Buda Castle. Begin by exploring different cellars (some of which date back from the time of the Renaissance) and learn about the country’s various wine regions. Afterwards, take part in a tasting where you are catered to by a professional sommelier. You can sample anywhere from 3 – 6 wines including whites, reds, desert and sparkling. The portions are quite generous so be prepared to feel tipsy quite fast.
Admission to the museum is free if you take part in a tasting and you even get a wine glass to keep as a souvenir!
Wine Tasting in Budapest via Jane O Connor Blog
So now you have 5 reasons to go to Budapest. What do you think? Have you booked your flight yet?
If you’re looking to go to Budapest and don’t feel like staying at a hotel, we recommend you have a look at the listings over at only apartments where everyone is sure to find a great rental apartment for a few days to a few months that fits their budget and preferences.