Although I inevitably enjoyed my time in Budapest, I didn’t really ‘like’ the city that much. I’ll admit, I was intimidated by how industrious the whole place was. Regardless, here are some things I liked, didn’t like, and the things in between.
Top three things
1. Dining at Zeller Bistro
Possibly the most recommended restaurant by locals, it’s fine dining at a very affordable price. Their welcome drink is a house-made elderflower sparkling wine called Bozzante. It is absolutely amazing; I’ve never felt that about any alcoholic drink before, and this drink alone is one of the highlights of my whole trip. (I bought two bottles to take home.)
Aside from that marvel, their food is delicious and service is also excellent. Although reservations are required, the restaurant is far from full at the opening hour (lunchtime) and the staff are friendly and attentive. They’re sensitive to the fact that some people may want a more personal interaction with the staff, and they’re quite happy to answer questions that no fine diner should have to ask.
To add to the list of ridiculous things you’ll read on this blog, I realized that:
Going to a restaurant isn’t always just about eating; it’s also a human experience.
2. Gellért Hill / Citadel / Liberty Statue
Watching the Chain Bridge from sunset to late was underwhelming for me. Looking out from Gellért Hill over the city was much more significant. That’s how I felt, anyway.
3. Walking around
At the start of my trip I vowed to reevaluate all my hobbies. It took me all this time to realize how much I enjoy walking alone. Mentally, my time is spent: navigating; looking at the surroundings as if I just woke up from a long coma; trying to figure out why something is the way that it is; daydreaming; and involuntarily recalling cheerful memories from throughout my trip.
I’m not an architecture enthusiast, but I enjoyed the streets of Budapest a lot. The buildings looked good somehow without necessarily… looking good.
Milka shake (with Milka chocolate instead of Oreos) at McDonalds. This is amazing, but for some reason there’s no McDonalds at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD)… o(TヘTo)
EPIC Burger (Dohány u. 12). Their Oreo shake is the best I’ve had in its category (including the Milka shake above). Their sweet potato fries are also great. Burgers are good. Exceptional customer service for a ‘mere’ burger place, almost good enough for me to go back just for that. (But of course it was the Oreo shake.) They really pay attention to the small details that no one else does.
Free Budapest Walking Tour. Three other cities and a Budapest city tour later, I finally started to understand why Hungarians have such an attitude that’s evident enough to be detected in their everyday mannerisms. Or in terms of something more normal, as with any great walking tour, they’ll leave you with at least one fact you’ll never forget.
Danube river, Chain Bridge, and other bridges. Generally great views, but I’m sure that the best places to chill by the Danube are not in Budapest.
Cafe Vian. Both restaurants are pretty good.
Szimpla Kert. OK, it is pretty unique.
WestEnd City Center. One of the larger shopping malls. The layout of the mall is more practical than those I saw in Wroclaw and Bucharest, but somehow the selection of stores was too normal (lacking in extravagance or tourist appeal) for me.
Jewish District Walk (Free tour, run by same company as above). I found it boring. The content and route really threw me off. Other people seemed satisfied, although maybe that’s because we ended at Szimpla Kert, the celebrated ruin pub.
Rudas Bath. I get the impression from online sources that Rudas Bath is probably the second least touristy thermal bath in Budapest. [Veli Bej is the least touristy one with the genuine naked men experience (optional frontal loincloth, rear coverage is possible if you’re desperate, and trunks are allowed if you don’t mind looking out of place).] It’s meant to have six thermal baths and a swimming pool, but I only found one large thermal bath and four smaller thermals. I’m not sure if the swimming pool was closed or where it was hiding, because no one else seemed to find it either. Not that I would have swum anyway wearing glasses, which thankfully didn’t get fogged up except in the steam room. While I’ve never been in anything like this thermal spa before, my reaction after spending 10 seconds in the large bath was “What was I expecting? This is literally all it is, a big spa like in the picture. I’m bored already.” I like watching and listening to water, but not really being in it. Things only got more interesting as I subjected myself to various degrees of torture between the cold spa (28°C?!), saunas, and steam room. Maybe that’s the whole point? I don’t know. Ever been curious about how it feels to be roasted alive? Try the 60-70°C sauna.
Photos. It’s difficult enough to take good photos in Budapest (you’ll find out), but to make matters worse everyone has a way more expensive camera than you, every tenth guy looks like a professional photographer whose only purpose is to take pictures, and when you finally find a perfect frame there’s guaranteed to be one or more tripod campers in your way; if there aren’t any, then trust me one will appear and set up right in front of you. You might as well set out to take pictures of tripods and photographers… and make an exhibition out of that…
Photos. Have you seen those photos? They look amazing, and then you go see the real thing and it looks dull in comparison. Chain Bridge. Hungarian Parliament. New York Cafe. These photos don’t capture reality, and they’re probably heavily edited too.
Photos. The general standard of Budapest postcards are pretty good compared to postcards from the other cities I went to. The main drawback? The photos (if one can even call them that) are definitely not real, but that’s the reason why they look good…
Locals. The people of Budapest are even less friendly than Hungarians in general. I admit they’re generally civil, but ‘thanks’ seems to be absent from everyday vocab and I was surprised to hear “leave us 5 stars or nothing” in speech. I figured that nine full days in Budapest would be more than enough to meet up one-on-one with locals. Not so; only travelers, expats, and newer residents were willing.
Budapest snobs. Despite my limited tools, I think I did figure out what makes a Budapest snob. It doesn’t have much to do with what attracts tourists. Rather, it’s in the normal hustle and bustle. Busy by day and active at night. The freedom to be selfish while having a healthy social life. Favorite places to eat or get away. Options for whatever you’re into.
It’s about niche.
Restoration work. It’s mind-blowing how much restoration work goes on in Budapest. It feels like an unstoppable feedback loop of tourists, reputation, investors, and restoration.