Budapest: trendy bars and fairytale towers

… she wore a perfect smile in Budapest… hot night in Budapest (Jethro Tull)

titlebudapest-01Budapest, it was a pleasure to meet you! And yes, it was very hot indeed, during the day and at night!
The capital of Hungary has been on my cities-to-visit list for a long time and it didn’t disappoint, even though it wasn’t what I expected. I was ready for another town with beautiful old buildings and wide boulevards, with cafés full of history and narrow cobbled lanes. A city built on the bank of a prominent river traversed by magnificent bridges. And of course Budapest was all that. What I didn’t expect, though, was the modern side of the city, the trendy restaurants, the interesting little shops and the unique bars. That’s what made me fall in love with the place.

budapest3aWe flew into town one late afternoon in August and started by visiting Nagy Vasarcsarnok, the big market hall. I love visiting market halls, so I had to see this one. The building is very beautiful, especially from the outside, and the market stalls are nice too. On the ground floor they mainly sell food: vegetables, fruit, fish and meat, and dried peppers of course. On the upper floor there are a few small stalls selling souvenirs, you could easily skip that part as it isn’t really interesting. As opposed to many other market halls around Europe, there aren’t many possibilities to stop for drinks and food. However, there is a small self-service restaurant upstairs that is lovely, we only stopped for a drink so I don’t know how the food is, but I liked the atmosphere. In the late afternoon the hall was nearly empty, but some stalls were already closing down.

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Next we visited the Jewish Quarter behind the great synagogue (Nagy Zsinagoga) and that’s when it happened for me, the wide eyes, the heart beating faster, the butterflies in the stomach, … the falling in love. We were following the path suggested in my travel guide to reach Szimpla Kert, the oldest ruin bar in town, but all around it there were bars and cafés as pretty and quirky as the “simple garden”. I had to peek into every courtyard, behind each door, and through all the windows just to be amazed again and again at the creativity used to decorate the places.

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After a few drinks and snacks we got back to Erzsébet Tér for a ride on the big ferris wheel. The sun was setting and the view was stunning, what a shame for the dirty cabin windows…

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After the ride we went down to  the Danube planning to eat on one of the boat restaurants. Unfortunately one of my friends was seasick so we had to change our plans and ended up eating in Padthai Wokbar, where you can assemble your own wok dish. We loved it!

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On the following day we started with a small breakfast at the Butter Brothers Bakery and Bistro. It’s a very small bakery so it’s really cozy! There are only four tables inside the café and you sit on cute little wooden ladders. My hazelnuts twist was delicious and the cold chocolate was nice too (I’m not much of a coffee person, but of course there was a nice selection of that as well).

Later we decided to take a hop-on hop-off bus tour, I’m not sure if I would do that again as we spent a lot of time in traffic, did a few long stops (not sure what for) and got to drive through not so interesting places. Also, the view you get from these buses is never too good…Anyway, the plan was to get off in Buda, that’s on the west shore of the Danube, and take the Castle Hill funicular. We quickly changed our plans when we saw the long queue and decided to take the bus to go up the hill. We went to the Matthias Church and walked on the Fisherman’s Bastion walls. I loved loved loved all the small white fairytale towers! I felt like Rapunzel watching out of the arched windows, if it wasn’t for the missing prince :)

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We later stepped down towards the Danube again to enjoy a great view of the Parliament building where we stopped for a few pictures.

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We then walked to the famous Chain Bridge and its lions. I think it’s a pity that there isn’t a nice promenade on the Danube riverbank in the centre of Budapest. You can walk along part of it, but they could do something much prettier with only a little effort.

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After crossing the bridge, and checking if the lions really don’t have a tongue (not sure yet), we reached St.Stephen’s basilica where we stopped by Gelarto Rosa for the prettiest ice cream I ever had. I know, I should have chosen other flavours for a more colourful flower, but I just had to try the salted caramel and oreo gelato. We then continued our bus tour to the eastern part of the town.

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For dinner we came back to the basilica area and ended up eating an exquisite Japanese meal on the terrace of Tokyo restaurant. Another thing I really like about the city is that a lot of its life seems to take place outside, every bar and restaurant has a patio or at least a few tables on the street where you can enjoy your drinks and food. And the prices, oh the prices, everything was so cheap, I can’t believe the city isn’t flooded with tourists from all over Europe!

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We started our last sightseeing day by walking over Szabadsàg Hid bridge, which I think is as pretty as the Chain Bridge. On the other side there is the Gellert Hotel and Spa and a small, interesting cave church hidden under the hill.

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After visiting it, we continued our walk on the Danube shore to find a spring water fountain, which apparently has an anti-ageing effect on people who drink from it. It took us ages to find the place and in the end we were very disappointed when we saw that it was closed. Well then, we’ll grow old like everybody else… We visited the shoes on the Danube Bank memorial, before going for a shopping spree at WAMP market, a small designer market held on Erzsébet Tér on Sundays every two weeks. There was some interesting jewellery and a few nice t-shirts too. Of course we had to stop for a home-made lemonade,they are everywhere in Budapest, even on the street you can find sellers vending lemonades in different flavours.

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We went back to the Jewish Quarter for dinner at Mazel Tov. The location was great, it’s like a ruin bar but a bit more elegant. The food was good and there was a band playing some nice acoustic music. The only downfall was the heat, it had been a very hot day and under the roof of the restaurant it was still pretty hot. To cool down we walked to an open-air bar I had spotted two days before called Mika Kert. Well, the cooling down thing didn’t really work, but we had fun anyway.

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For our last breakfast in town we went to Bägel Budapest. Unfortunately, contrary to most places in town, this one only had a small table outside and nowhere to sit inside, so we had our bagel to go. It was still delicious. After a little shopping it was time to go home but I’m sure, I will visit again soon! And just so I won’t forget, here’s what goes on my to-do list for the next time I’ll be in town:

  • visit Széchenyi Bath and possibly a few other spas and baths
  • take a boat trip on the Danube
  • go for a walk in the City Park, visit Vajdahunyad Castle and maybe ride a car-shaped boat on the little lake
  • spend more time exploring the Jewish Quarter and its cafés and bars
  • try some làngos and some Hungarian cakes
  • eat goulash in the bread bowl
  • go to the top of Gellért Hill
  • visit the Parliament building
  • go inside the great synagogue
  • visit the terror museum
  • explore Ràday street and its surroundings
  • go for a picnic on Margaret Island

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