Budapest is a stunning destination that’s actually two cities in one: Buda and Pest.
These two cities have their own cultural identity that are fun exploring. It’s great to be able to experience two different tastes of life, practically in the same place, just by crossing a bridge.
Buda is the more historical side of the city with cobblestone streets and an incredible castle you can visit. Pest is the modern side with a vibrant nightlife and a younger, edgier vibe.
Whatever kind of atmosphere you might be looking for, Budapest may just offer it.
Budapest was definitely the surprising “underdog” of my Europe trip. But it quickly became one of my favorite places to visit and it may just become one of the top places for you as well.
Here is what I would highly recommend if you ever visit:
1) Go to a ruin bar (and the food truck spot beside it)
Ruin bars are famous in Budapest and with good reason. These are really interesting bars usually found in the ruins of abandoned buildings.
Szimpla Kert is the original and most well known one. Since everyone mentioned this bar, I couldn’t wait to go.
And it didn’t disappoint.
Szimpla has multiple rooms you can explore and each immerses you in a different theme- with its mismatched furniture and unique art decor.
I would pretty much describe the atmosphere as kind of a blend of being hipster, grungy and very eclectic.
It seemed like a bar you could find in Berlin and it was great to experience this similar type of vibe in Budapest.
Whenever I return, I plan on visiting a few other ruin bars to see how they compare.
But Szimpla Kert was definitely worth the hype.
And located right beside this ruin bar is a great food truck spot called Street Food Karavan.
It’s essentially an outdoor food court offering all sorts of cuisines. There are tables and chairs provided so you can sit and eat after getting your food from one of the many food trucks parked there.
There are so many options offered. I honestly wanted to try them all. But since I had just graduated from college, my travel budget was strict. (Otherwise I just might have had one of each haha).
I ended up getting a nice hot and gooey cheeseburger from one truck and an Asian fusion dish from another. The dish was an interesting teriyaki chicken “sandwich” with sticky rice as the buns.
I’m not sure this exists anymore as the food trucks may change over time, but I really enjoyed it.
I would highly recommend trying this spot after visiting Szimpla Kert.
2) Go to the cave where “Dracula” was imprisoned
The story goes that Count Dracula was imprisoned in the caves beneath the city. If you want the chance to explore this yourself, then you have to visit the Labyrinth.
The cave is filled with historically dressed mannequins (which are honestly kind of creepy) along with statues and stone monuments which you’ll encounter as you venture around the cave (including a dark surprise involving Dracula that can be easy to miss).
You are given a lantern to light your way as you walk through the foggy and poorly lit passageways.
For the more adventurous, there are also completely dark and chilling paths to explore.
One of the scariest parts about walking around this cave came when my friend and I reached what we assumed was pretty close to the end and the fog suddenly became incredibly dense.
We could not see a thing in front of us.
Then, without warning, all the lights went out.
I will gladly and happily admit that we hightailed it out of there so fast!
But as creepy as that was, this became one of my favorite memories from that trip.
I highly recommend this if you want to do something a little on the “unsettling” side while visiting.
It’s certainly one of the most unusual things to do in Budapest.
3) Have a medieval dinner
This was a surprise gem my friend and I stumbled on near our airbnb and we absolutely loved it.
The Sir Lancelot Medieval restaurant does a great job of re-creating the whole medieval atmosphere.
Medieval music is played, everyone is dressed in medieval costumes, there are paintings depicting medieval scenes. There are even suits of armor against the walls.
You get the point.
You are fully immersed in the whole medieval theme.
The restaurant also looks like one of those historical dining halls that you usually see in books or movies. And the food and drinks are served in plates and cups reminiscent of the time.
The portions are also huge and decently priced.
We ended up ordering a dish that had these very thick pieces of meat, which I don’t recommend eating too late in the night. (But we certainly did try.)
If you want to go to an interestingly themed restaurant in Budapest, definitely try this place out.
4) Do a free walking tour
Free walking tours are one of the best ways to see and learn about the history of a city (otherwise I’m just filling up my phone with pictures of beautiful architecture with no context whatsoever).
I’m always a strong proponent of these kinds of tours, especially if you’re traveling on a budget.
As the name says, they are actually free, with no gimmicks. Of course, since you’re not charged, it is great to at least provide your wonderful tour guide with a tip.
The free walking tour showed me the importance of Liberty Square and the significance of Shoes on the Danube Memorial, which has a pretty dark history.
Free walking tours are a must if you want to further appreciate and immerse yourself in the city.
5) Go to a Hungarian Opera
While we did not get the chance to see an opera at the opulent and grand Hungarian State Opera House, we did manage to see a show at the Erkel Theater, which serves as the second location of the Hungarian State Opera.
We decided to just go and see an early midday showing (a pretty affordable time to go), and ended up watching a modern twist on the Marriage of Figaro called Figaro 2.0.
It was a pretty funny show.
But I didn’t understand a single word (haha).
I’m honestly not entirely sure what the show was all about (except from what I remembered about the original story, which at the time wasn’t that much).
But from the audience’s reaction and my sometimes great ability to get context clues, it seemed really funny and was just an entertaining experience overall.
And that’s one of the best parts about traveling and trying new things: you don’t have to fully understand what’s going on to have a great time.