Travel is one of the great pleasures of life and for the gentleman, its one of the most important. A gentleman should challenge himself by exposing himself to a different way of life, a different way of thinking. It opens him to new insights, new possibilities, to grow. I was fortunate to spend a month making my way through Europe in anticipation of the New Year. On my journey I visited Budapest, Hungary, a haven known for it’s natural hot springs and it’s position directly on the Danube river. From it’s location at the top of the Balkans, Budapest is a change of pace from destination Western European cities, which lack the Eastern influence found in Budapest. Budapest is actually comprised of two cities, Buda and Pest, which are bisected by the Danube river. Each is unique; Pest offers more cultural opportunities, dining options, and nightlife, while Buda is a more residential area.
Another reason to love Budapest: the US Dollar (USD) exchanges very favorably with the local currency. With an exchange rate of 284 Forint to 1 USD, a large beer can be had for two dollars or a three-course lunch for six dollars.
Seeing the scenic and fun parts of Budapest is possible over a span of three days. For the walkers out there, Budapest is an easily walkable city with beautiful vistas and paths around the Danube. With an interconnected public transportation system featuring buses, trams, and subways, it’s a snap to get from one place to another; a three-minute subway ride will get you from Buda to Pest. If you choose public transportation, I recommend buying a 24-hour pass. The pass only costs 1,300 Forint (five USD) so it's a smart bet if you’re going to be bouncing through the city. It saves you the headache of having to purchase one-way tickets, which cost 400 Forint (1 USD). Cabs are also pricey in Budapest, but if you have the cash and a beautiful Hungarian woman that wants a ride to wherever you’re staying then go for it.
WHERE TO STAY
Having stayed in only one place, I can’t evaluate other lodging options, but I recommend that you find a location off the Danube River on the Pest side of the city. If you land near the Jewish Quarter, you’ll be a stone’s throw away from some of the best bars and restaurants that Budapest has to offer. For cash-strapped travelers, consider a hostel - I was glad to call the Budapest Bubble home for five days. The bubble offered a great community, along with a sense of hospitality that allowed you to get the most out of Budapest.
WHAT TO DO
1) Join the free walking tour that meets at Vörösmarty Square at 10:30 AM each day. I found it to be a leisurely way to learn about the city and meet fellow travelers.
2) Dip in the Hungarian and Turkish baths, which are among the most iconic landmarks in Budapest. In fact, go multiple times! Each bath is unique from the other. It’s a welcome escape from Budapest’s frigid winter temperatures.
3) Visit the Hungarian Castle, located at the peak of the Buda side of Budapest. Make it interesting by renting a bike or segway to explore the top, despite the goofy appearance segways are a great time.
4) Of all the sights in town, my favorite was the natural caves under the streets of Budapest. You can go cave for just 6,000 Forint (22 USD). Not for the claustrophobic, but I found the experience to be a perfect way to release your adventurous side in the city.
5) If you travel in December, go to Budapest's endless Christmas markets and sample some mulled wine, which is hot wine infused with spices and fruits. Hell, go ahead and have three if you desire, however, I do not recommend you go caving immediately afterward.
6) Want to go out at night? Check out the ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter for a bar experience that you’ll never forget, or one that you’ll surely forget if you aren’t careful. Szimpla, Kuplung, Super 8, Racskert, Ellato Kert, and Instant are Budapest’s most popular ruin bars. Each bar has a style all it’s own so check them out, if you have the time and stomach for a mini bar crawl.
7) Before the ruin bars, try Budapest’s Escape Games as a pre-activity to a night on the town. You’re locked in an apartment and your exit depends on your ability to solve a series of riddles and puzzles (think Saw without the death and terrible sequels). It’s not as dangerous as it sounds; I didn’t get murdered and it was some of the most fun I had in Budapest.
WHERE TO EAT
Puskas Pancho Sports Pub - Yes, it’s a sports pub, but surprisingly it featured the best Hungarian cuisine during my visit. Go in for Hungarian favorites such as goulash soup and fried pork. It’s close to the area where you go caving so after your workout go for lunch and get a three-course fixed price meal for only 1100 Forint (4 USD)!
Vintage Garden - A more expensive dinner option in the heart of the Jewish quarter, but an elegant dinner for two can still be had for less than 8000 Forint (30 USD). An excellent date option if you’re traveling with your significant other.
Almarium Bisztro - Another restaurant offering a three-course lunch menu for a grand total of 1850 Forint (7 USD). The food here is choice, but the menu changes every few weeks. Go between 11AM and 4PM to score the lunch deal.
Párizsi Nagyáruház - For those with a sweet tooth, check out this cafe that doubles as a book store. It’s a little on the pricier side, but the desserts are divine.
Have any unique tips or information about Budapest? Join the conversation below.