Hungary’s capital city, Budapest, is split into two areas, Buda and Pest, by the Danube River. As the saying goes ‘visit Buda, stay in pest’ but for the big kids amongst us, there are heaps of fun things to do in Pest. The perfect accommodation location for dining and drinking would be the 7th District, Jewish Quarter. There are plenty of hostels in this area but check out the prices of Airbnb too, especially if there are two or more. Pest is easily discovered by foot, however, there is also a subway system for speediness. Remember to punch your ticket or you may be in for a fine.
» Visiting in winter? Check out our Budapest Christmas guide
Eat Hungarian Food
No one ever went hungry in Hungary, boom boom! Said every tourist. Honestly, the food in Hungary is extremely filling, and surprisingly good. Goulash is Hungary’s most popular dish and is often served in a bowl made from bread but there are other treats which are just as appealing such as Làngos (Lang-gosh), pancake style pizza with sour cream and cheese; Meggyleves (Medjy-levesh), fruit soup which is served hot or cold; pickled goods (beets, garlic, peppers, pretty much any vegetable) often served with meats; cabbage which goes with everything and is very well used!
Hurka (Hoor-ka) sausage is similar to England’s black pudding. Gyros (Jir-osh) is the Hungarian kebab and is available everywhere! Cool spots to dine can be found in the Jewish Quarter, there is even an American style food cart area called Karaván (18 Kazinczy / Coz-in-skee / Street), where you can try many of these foods. Take a food tour if you are a true foodie, there’s too much to mention here! Just to finish, paprika is the main spice used in Hungary, cottage cheese is often used in desserts, and it is all washed down with lots of wine… In summer it’s common to see locals drinking on Budapest’s scenic Margaret Island too!
Get ‘Ruined’ in Pest
Budapest is the cheapest city to drink alcohol in Europe, so don’t be surprised when you see stag (bachelor) parties pedalling along the Élysées of Budapest, Andrassy Avenue, while a bartender pumps their pints full. Drinks not to be missed are Palinka, the best stuff will be home brewed by a Hungarian Granddad from his fruit patch; Unicum, a herbal liquor, the secret recipe has withstood war and communism! Beer is average (according to Craig) but cheap, £1 a pint so he’s not complaining.
There are twenty – two winemaking regions in Hungary, and my favourite fact about wine in Hungary is that Hungarians drink most of it! That surely is a solid reason to make socialising one of the local things to do in Pest! Red drinkers, look for Bikavér (Beek-ou-ver) on the label, it means bull’s blood and as the legend goes, this type of wine helped an outnumbered army of Hungarians regain control of the city Eger from the Ottoman (Turkish) army in 1552.
If you have a really sweet tooth, try the dessert wine, Tokaji (Tok-aye), the higher the number on the bottle, the sweeter the wine. Most of the tourist drinking takes place in the Jewish Quarter ruin bars, be warned, it is like Blackpool in some areas. Ruin bars are bars set up in abandoned buildings and decorated with anything the owners could get their hands on! Bathtubs, cars, plants etc. Szimpla (Seem-pla / Kazinczy u. 14) is the most touristy and expensive ruin bar but it’s still fun! Party animals – check out this extensive guide to Budapest’s nightlife.
Slow it Down with Spas in Budapest
An aspect of Hungarian culture which continues today is the use of spas for relaxation and socialising. Regardless of its tradition, soaking in the thermal waters is still a recommended thing to do in Pest. The most popular spa in Budapest is the Széchenyi Thermal Bath (Sits-win-ey / approx. 4700 FT / £12), that’s the big yellow building in City Park; you’ve probably seen it in the Lonely Planet. Although many ‘touristy’ things can be dismissed, there is a reason that this spa is so well attended.
There are lots of thermal pools set at different temperatures (inside and out), a small river rapid, jets, and beauty therapy treatments (book quick). The Gellert (5100 FT / £13) in Buda is also popular with locals as is the Rudas (approx. 3200 FT / £8) however it is clothing optional on weekdays and women can only go on Tuesdays (weekends, both gender, wearing bathing suits). Now the biggest hobby in Budapest, drinking, has been combined with water, I give you… bath parties (which sounds like one of my biggest nightmares, let me know how you get on!)
The baths are still open throughout winter. Here’s our guide on the best things to do in December in Budapest.
Budapest’s House of Terror
I’m in no way trying to insult you by saying that the only things to do in Pest involve shots or sugar, for those looking for a bit of history of the Hungarian people and the two terror regimes that they have survived, look no further than the House of Terror (Terror Házá Múzeum / 60 Andrássy Avenue). The 2 – 3 hour audio journey through the rooms of building used to terrorise and torture is a sobering experience but one you will remember, as many Hungarians try to forget.
Even More, Things to Do in Pest
Close to the House of Terror you can reflect, nurse the hangover, or digest the ‘food-baby’ by taking a stroll through the 302 acres of City Park, check out the handbag dogs in tracksuits! If you’d like to do more animal-related activities, this is where Budapest zoo lives. Vajdahunyad Castle is also found in City Park and will have given you that Harry Potter feeling. Close to City Park is Heroes Square, which then links back on to Andrassy Avenue, which takes you back to the Jewish Quarter. Phew, you deserve some Palinka after that walk. 48 Hours in Budapest? Check out more ideas from Make Time To See The World.
As you can see, Budapest is built for debauchery so pack your bathing suit and your beer goggles, it’s time to make a splash!