Budapest is a covertly luxurious city. This Eastern-European capital’s slightly crumbly facade masks a subtle glamour and elegance that is within every visitors’ grasp. There is great food, eclectic bars, spas, and exquisite architecture. And, overall, many activities are very affordable. Here are seven ways to feel like a king or queen in Budapest that don’t break the bank.
1. Excellent food in beautiful restaurants
Budapest’s New York Café apparently boasts the title of “Most Beautiful Coffee House in the World.” So, I really don’t know who goes around giving out these titles. However, despite my skepticism, I am inclined to agree with this one. The gilded Italian Renaissance-style architecture bathes the cafe in luxury. And after taking a bite of their ultra-rich “New York chocolate cake,” I felt like royalty. Although it’s not exactly cheap by Budapest’s standards, the cake was 2150 HUF ($9.60 USD), and my fancy coffee drink, the “Melange,” was 1340 HUF ($6 USD), it was worth the splurge. If you want to feel fancy at a slightly reduced rate, then check out the Alexandra Bookcafé. Located above the Alexandra Bookstore on Andrássy Avenue, the Bookcafé has much of the opulent splendor of the New York Café but the prices are a bit lower. The café is decorated with beautiful chandeliers and a fresco-style ceiling by painter Károly Lotz, who also decorated the Parliament building. The grandiose, palace-like interior leaves visitors in awe. Wear fancy clothes for a truly glamorous afternoon.
There will be more details on this point in our next post. (There is just too much awesome to be confined to one bullet point on a list.) But let’s just say that Budapest is known for its geothermal waters and there are many public baths in which to enjoy its relaxing benefits. Budapest is literally spa city.
3. Grand boulevards lined with stunning buildings
Budapest is a city that feels elegant and gritty at the same time. The buildings are crumbly in a way that feels like they have been there forever. The wide boulevards and grand avenues a always buzzing with activity. There is a reason that Budapest is also known as the “Paris of the East.” The architecture is so sumptuous and impressive that even while just strolling around Budapest I felt a little bit like royalty. Budapest pro-tip: Don’t forget to look up. The buildings are gorgeous and many feature ornate and intricate decorations. Or colorful graffiti.
4. Coolest bars in Europe
Ruin bars are a somewhat recent nightlife phenomenon in Budapest. The only really unifying feature of ruin bars is that they are housed in abandoned buildings, stores, and lots. Outside of that very broad criteria, each bar has its own flavor. Some may decorate along a theme, but generally the decor is a whimsical mismatch of eclectic items salvaged from local flea markets and second-hand shops. Ruin bars are a delightful re-purposing of otherwise dilapidated buildings and vacant outdoor spaces. More importantly perhaps, they are pleasantly chaotic bars where you can still get a large beer for less than $2. For a list of ruin bars in Budapest, check out this website.
5. Stately bridges to connect the two halves of the city
Budapest is actually two cities in one, divided by the Danube River. There is Buda, the old town and historic center of Hungary to the West of the river; and there is Pest (pronounced “pesht”), the metropolitan, youthful, commercial core of the city. Buda has Castle Hill with cobblestone paths that hold a distinctive old world charm. Pest has the majestic Andrássy Avenue (Budapest’s answer to the Champs-Élysées) and Heroes’ Square. Both sides have sights worth checking out, and, honestly, the splendid bridges that connect the two halves of this city are a tourist attraction of their own.
6. Live entertainment
Budapest has a rather robust music, theater, and art scene. The opera house is renowned for its beautiful Renaissance architecture and rich acoustics. Tickets are very affordable and start as low as 500 HUF ($2.50 USD). These cheap tickets don’t offer much visibility, but they are a great option if you don’t want to pay 2500 HUF ($11.15 USD) for the official opera house tour. You are almost guaranteed to spend a classy evening here.
7. The view from atop GellÉrt Hill and the Fishermen’s Bastion
Boy do I love a city with some hills. There is just something so pleasantly serene about getting above the buildings and seeing a city from up high. I like seeing just how far the urban landscape stretches into the horizon. The panoramas offered from atop Gellért Hill and from Fishermen’s Bastion (both on the Buda side) are simply magnificent. The walks may be a bit steep, but they are so worth it. Bonus: Atop Gellért Hill lives Budapest’s own Lady Liberty. Erected in 1947, the statue was built in remembrance of the Soviet occupation of Hungary during World War II, which ended the occupation by Nazi Germany. After a full week spent wandering Budapest’s streets, soaking in its spas, devouring its street food, and absorbing the culture, I felt like I could stay forever. Have you been to Budapest? We heard from some other travelers that they didn’t like the city as much as we did. What did you think?