Perhaps you have a fetish about bathing with a group of strange adults. Or maybe you’re obsessed with Art Nouveau designs. Or you think there’s nothing finer than the sweet crisp of wine on your tongue. If any of these ring true and your nomadic soul is aching to see a place unlike any other, then pack your bags for Budapest. As the capital and largest city in Hungary, Budapest is one of the hottest spots in Europe and has been since the Romans reigned supreme. There are a thousand things to do when you visit, but be sure you don’t miss these:
Take a Bath
Budapest wasn’t dubbed the “City of Baths” on a lark. Thermal springs flow and bubble underneath its streets and visitors have trekked to Budapest for centuries to experience the healing qualities of its waters. If you do nothing else in Budapest, you simply must take a dip in one of its famous baths, for the sake of Caesar’s ghost alone. Szechenyi is the biggest and most popular thermal bath in Budapest, with 18 pools, massage treatments, and an encompassing Neo-Baroque palace. Gellért, with its Art Nouveau design, and Rudas, a medieval Turkish bath, are also very popular choices. Even if you’re not keen on stripping down with strangers, the architecture and historical elements of the bath houses make them worth the entry fee.
Escape a Basement
A voice taunts you from a walkie talkie as you stare at the locked door, your desperation rising as the clock ticks relentlessly onward and your mind scrambles for a way out. If this sounds like a good time to you, then sign yourself up for one of Budapest’s popular room escape games. Although it may seem like a scene from “Saw,” these games are more a battle of wits than a horror story. Participants willingly lock themselves in a room (usually a basement, but there are several different scenes) and must search for clues and hidden objects that will lead to freedom while being monitored (and occasionally taunted) by a game master. Don’t worry about your family finding you days later, whimpering in the fetal position as you beg for water; each game lasts one hour and then you’re released, if you haven’t already outsmarted the game master.
If you find yourself walking through a crumbling doorway into a room filled with scarred tables, mismatched chairs, and neon artwork, you’ve officially entered a ruin pub. In a stroke of pure genius, Budapest has transformed its abandoned buildings and structures doomed for destruction into pubs. People will drink alcohol pretty much anywhere, right? Without being renovated, the buildings are transformed with old furniture and contemporary art, equipped with a bar, and bam—a ruin pub is born. They often open, close, and reopen in a new spot, and some only operate during summer. Whether you want to sip on some Soproni beer, listen to live music, or watch an offbeat community performance, ruin pubs are where it’s at. Each pub has its own unique vibe and style, but a few (current) favourites are Csak Art Bar, Gondozó kert, and Szimpla kert.
Storm the Castle
A medieval knight tromping around would look perfectly at home on Castle Hill. This area has houses dating back to the 13th century and has been designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yes it’s touristy, but Gothic architecture, cobblestone streets, panoramic views, and, of course, a castle give this towering plateau a distinctly ancient ambiance. Cars are banned for everyone except residents, so leave your kitten heels at the hotel because you’ll be walking and taking public transportation to tour the castle, view the historic houses, and take pictures from the Fisherman’s Bastion lookout. The Castle District is also riddled with an underground network of caves formed by the thermal springs, which have been used for military operations, storage, air-raid shelters, and even a prison for Vlad the Impaler. Within the labyrinth of caves under the Hilton Hotel is Faust Cellar, a perfectly dramatic place to taste some Hungary’s famous wines when you tire of sightseeing.
In the divided city of Budapest, you’ll find yourself healed by water, liberated by your own smarts, and exposed to some of the most beautiful architecture in the world. The city has attracted travellers for centuries, and will be a spot you won’t soon forget.
What’s on your trip itinerary for Budapest?