In the spirit of saving the best for last, (read: in the spirit of writing chronologically), here we go Day 4 & 5. Hot and steamy baths, hipster pubs, over-the-top palaces and unflattering selfies abound.
First stop: Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square) – the main entrance to the City Park. We were supposed to head directly to the Széchenyi Baths but seeing in the map that it was just a stone’s throw away, we decided to go for it. This huge plaza has statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. We didn’t get much out of it since we didn’t have a proper guide. I had no idea who these men were. There was a lot of symbolism and historical significance that we missed but one can still enjoy walking around the statues and taking pictures.
City Park also houses the Varosligeti Ice Skating Rink – one of Europe’s largest ice-skating rinks,
…Műcsarnok Kunsthalle (Palace of Exhibitions) – a contemporary art gallery,
…and Vajdahunyadvar (Vajdahunyad Castle) – a replica of a Transylvanian castle that houses a hunting/agriculture museum.
SZÉCHENYI THERMAL BATH
We walked a few steps further, and lo and behold! The Széchenyi Baths – the city’s biggest and most popular thermal spring bade us welcome. You wouldn’t know from the outside the myriad of baths that await you.
I wanted it to be a hassle-free experience so I had booked our tickets in advance. Their website wasn’t the most aesthetically-pleasing but it’s legit. Apart from tickets to the baths, they offered services like bath kits, lockers, massage deals, and pedicures. A full day entrance ticket to the baths + locker rental will set you back 17€. If spas are kind of your thing, you can spend a little extra on bath kits, private cabins or massage. We picked Package # 4 which included a towel with the logo of the spa (which turned out to be quite the cutest souvenir), fast track entry (no queuing necessary), private cabin and storage (essentially a changing cubicle where you can leave your stuff) and some freebies for 9700 Hungarian Forints (31€).
I love spas but the idea of communal bathing has always been intimidating. I’m glad we gave it a go because it was by far the best experience we had during our short stay in Budapest. Imagine shivering in your swimsuit in the freezing air as you run to the pools and finally dipping into the 38°C water. What better way to warm our cold and tired bones.
Stuff you might want to stash in your bag when you go to the Szechenyi baths:
- a swimsuit– You can rent or purchase one but in case you don’t like them or they don’t have your size, better pack your Speedo.
- flipflops or aquafitness shoes – You wouldn’t want to run on filthy floors or slip up in front of a hundred strangers.
- a towel and a bathrobe (or 2 towels) – one for moving around and one for the shower
- plastic bag – to pack your wet stuff at the end
- a camera – because what’s the point if you can’t instagram it, right? Ha ha.
SZIMPLA KERT RUIN PUB
Another thing Budapest is known for is the ruin pubs. A run-down building metamorphosed into a bar-cum-creative den, full to the brim with quirky ornaments, odd bits of furniture and graffitied walls? I’M THERE. As much as minimalist spaces win me over, the hoarder in me clapped excitedly at the thought of going to the founding father of all ruin pubs – Szimpla Kert.
If you want to take home some of them quirky prints, CDs, and mementos, there’s a gift shop in the complex as well.
I couldn’t leave Budapest without doing my staple panoramic shots. We asked our Airbnb hosts for the best vantage point for that and they recommended climbing the Gellért Hill. We walked all the way up gradually, taking advantage of the stops to catch our breath. It was quite a workout but it was amazing to see the city getting smaller and smaller below you.
Almost at the top of the hill, we could see a glowing statue of a woman holding a leaf, watching over the city of Budapest.
This is how Asians pose. Don’t make fun.
That was one hell of a climb but damn, what a way to cap off Day 4.
The following day was sadly our last day in Budapest and we had until 5 pm to fill in and then off to the airport for our flight home. We started off with a guided tour of the Hungarian Parliament. Prior to this trip, we had booked our tickets online through this website. Passes were time-specific so we had time wander around outside the building whilst waiting for our turn.
I got this wolf fur hat in an ukay-ukay (thrift shop) near our Airbnb for 5 euros. As I always say, the furrier the better… but NOT real fur. That’s cruel.
Hungary lost two-thirds of its empire and this building is a reminder of how great this nation once was.
The central Dome houses the Crown Jewels but naturally, photos are allowed everywhere except that room
Numbered cigar holders. Smoking was permitted in the corridors, but not inside the voting and discussion chamber.
This is a picture of me standing in the middle of one of the hallways. If you can’t tell, I was going for low-key fierce here.
We ran into a bit of snow as we exited the building. For someone coming from a tropical country, snow will never lose its wonder. It was like the city’s own way of asking me not to leave yet.
We finished the tour at lunchtime so we grabbed something to eat before heading to the airport. We had read nothing but good things about this place and we had been wanting to try it since Day 1 of our trip. Unfortunately, they were closed for the holidays. God is still good though because they opened on our last day in Budapest.
They specialize in takeaway soups and baguettes. Really cheap but definitely gourmet material.
If I could choose a spirit city, Budapest would be definitely up there in the list of nominees (so far). It’s hip, it’s cheap, it’s a bit overlooked but it has got an edgy alternative vibe and old world charm that I personally dig. I know there are other cities I need to visit but if I chance upon a cheap airfare to Budapest, I’d go back in a heartbeat.