Can’t say I ever imagined visiting Budapest and leaving with a cat magnet to remember our three visits to three cats over three days in Budapest. Don’t worry, there’s a lot more to the city. This was my second time here and it was a vastly difference experience to my first with friends in a rainy November in 2013. This time in October 2017 as a couple we got to experience the full vibe of Budapest with ruin bars full of people and colours, and days filled with sunshine.
How to get there
With an Interrail pass for seven days of travel over one month, we caught the train from Zagreb to Budapest using our sixth day of travel. It took us most of the day to get there. Around six hours.
Where to stay
To stay centrally, we booked Central Studio & Apartments on Booking.com. The apartment was clean, comfortable, modern and reasonably priced at around €120 for three nights in a central location. We did however have trouble contacting the host to let us in, no shower toiletries and the entrance was located next to a strip club. So close you could probably stumble down the stairs.
Things to see and do
- Széchenyi Bath for a dip in the thermal springs
- Free walking tour to learn more about the history of Budapest and panoramic views
- Vajdahunyad Castle and if you’re lucky there might be food markets set up in the surrounding gardens
- House of Terror to learn about the Hungarian Nazi party and communist regime
- Parliament Building because you can’t miss it and even walking around the outside is impressive
Where to eat and drink
- Blue Rose for traditional Hungarian food at a reasonable price
- Szimpla Kert and Fogashaz ruin bars for a drink in retro surroundings
- Whiskers Cat Pub for a beer with a kitty curled up in your lap
- Szimply (not Szimpla Kert) for breakfast worth waiting in line for
- Stika as another breakfast and coffee option in the Jewish Quarter
Day 1 – Ruin bars and Whiskers Cat Pub
From the long distance train to public transport in Budapest, we caught a train to as close as we could get to our accommodation in central Budapest. For a while we walked from one potential entrance of our accommodation to the other, unable to get in and unable to get in contact with our host. As someone left the building we went in and waited inside with our bags until our host called to say she was on her way.
She showed us around the apartment and how to use everything, took our payment using a portable card machine and handed over the keys. Feeling tired I had a rest while Harry went for a walk to a nearby convenience store to get some snacks. A picnic on the bed (usually a balcony for us) was how we spent the afternoon before getting ready to explore the ruin bars.
First we went to Szimpla Kert which they say is the original ruin bar. It is certainly one of the most popular. It is colourful and full of objects and furniture that do not match and scribbles on the walls from people all over the world. We found a seat upstairs and ordered a burger for dinner before moving downstairs to watch some live music.
The next ruin bar, Instant, was one that I had visited in November 2013 when it was raining. There were puddles on the floor of the outdoor area and not many people around so we quickly exited. This time the place was buzzing, there were DJs in different sections and the dance floor out in the open was filling up with people instead of puddles.
Despite how cool these ruin bars are, as self confessed animal lovers we were most excited about our ‘find’ on the way back to our accommodation. Whiskers Cat Pub. There were people doing a pub quiz downstairs and we wondered where the cats were and if they would escape out the door as we walked in. But they were in a smaller room upstairs so after ordering a beer at the bar downstairs, we made our way up and found that no-one else was in the room except three cats Luna, Loki and Pikachu.
Day 2 – House of Terror, Free Walking Tour and Whiskers Cat Pub
If you Google breakfast in Budapest, you’ll find Stika. Which is exactly how we found it. It was busy so after a short wait we were seated inside. Their breakfast was good but their coffee is what I remember most. Its location in the Jewish Quarter was convenient for our next stop, the House of Terror about 10 minutes walk away. If you’re not awake from the coffee you’ll be awake after seeing some of the sights inside the terror museum.
The House of Terror is where the headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party was based during the Second World War, a far right fascist party led by Ferenc Szálasi. Under the Government of National Unity it became a local Nazi branch, murdering jews and deporting them to concentration camps. Until the Siege of Budapest when the Soviets came into power.
It was actually quite timely to learn about the Arrow Cross Party and the war between the Nazis and the Soviets before the walking tour in the afternoon. We chose to go with the Free Tour company for their 2:30pm walking tour starting at St Stephen’s Basilica. Highlights included Matthias Church for its colourful roof and nearby Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda’s Castle district. The panoramic views from here are worth the uphill climb.
As we gave our walking tour guide money for a tip, she too gave us a tip to try Blue Rose restaurant in the Jewish Quarter for dinner. The traditional Hungarian goulash here is delicious along with other menu items like the potato scones with garlic and the beer battered chicken. We wouldn’t have found the place on our own as it is very understated on the outside. Inside it has basic decor and initially appears to not have many tables however has a whole other seating area upstairs. If you want to give it a try it’s next to the Jewish Synagogue as a nearby landmark.
It was still early so we went to see Luna, Loki and Pikachu. Unfortunately there were a few other people there this time but we still managed a few pats and cuddles. In fact Harry had Luna in his lap and Loki lined up ready for a turn in his lap once Luna moved. Probably to get away from the other people that just didn’t seem to be able to read the body language of the cats. Luna gave one guy a swipe after some obvious unwanted patting and we silently applauded Luna for making her feelings known! The downside to a cat pub. Another upside though is the cats have areas they can go where no-one can get to them if they want some time out.
Afterwards we went to Fogasház ruin bar which has since merged with Instant. As popular as Szimpla Kert is, it was our favourite. For more of a nightclub vibe though you should definitely check out Fogasház. As we were walking home, we heard sirens loudly turn on behind us and a police car skidded around the corner and past us towards people running. Shocked and still up against the wall, we watched the police jump out of the car and apprehend some of them as others made it inside one of the venues. Well, didn’t expect that on our casual stroll home!
Day 3 – Thermal bath, Vajdahunyad Castle food markets and back for more Blue Rose
Breakfast at Szimply (not Szimpla Kert) was the best during our three days in Budapest. The restaurant was full when we arrived but they took our names down and invited us to wait in their coffee shop across the courtyard. It was worth the wait for its unique spin on avocado on toast, hipster vibe and friendly customer service.
To start our day of exploring, we went to Széchenyi Bath. It is the biggest and most popular of all the thermal baths in Budapest. We chose the half day ticket with locker usage which at the time cost us 9800 Hungarian Forints for both of us. We then had to separate to get changed and put our belongings in the lockers because there were designated female and male lockers.
Spending time at the baths is an experience not to be missed. It is visited by both locals and tourists, seeking benefits from the medicinal properties of the warm thermal waters. After the walking tour yesterday we were hoping it would be good for our legs so we could continue exploring Budapest today and tomorrow. The locals on the other hand were playing a game of chess whilst in the water and I wondered if they followed the guidance of spending no more than 20 minutes in the water at a time.
When the tips of our fingers were wrinkly like the old men playing chess, we made our way back to the lockers for a shower and to change into our dry clothes. Vajdahunyad Castle is only five minutes walk from Széchenyi Bath and today there were food markets. Perfect for lunch! Some of the stalls were a tourist trap with expensive Hungarian goulash that was fatty and overcooked (I know, I tried it) but the lángos which is a Hungarian fried bread you can get with toppings was delicious.
The castle is near Heroes’ Square which is one of the city’s main landmarks to commemorate their national independence. Whilst this landmark is important, depending on your interests I’d recommend spending more time wandering around Vajdahunyad Castle and less at Heroes’ Square where you’ll find more people and their selfie sticks.
For dinner we went back to Blue Rose for more tasty Hungarian food. It was hard to order different menu items than the night before when we knew how good it was. We managed to try a few new things and used our discount voucher offered to us the night before for our return visit.
Day 4 – Central Market Hall, Parliament Building and Whiskers Cat Pub
First things first, an eyebrow wax appointment. So early a lot of the cafes weren’t even open yet. Harry found a breakfast takeaway option a short walk from the beauty salon so I met him there with my red eyebrows and we ate our breakfast on the walk back to our accommodation. We checked out of our accommodation and stored our bags in a nearby locker storage facility.
If you’re looking for souvenirs like us (we collect magnets), you can try Central Market Hall. That’s where we went next. Once you’ve seen a few stalls you’ve seen them all so you don’t need to spend too long there. We spent more time at the Parliament Building, walking around it and looking at it from different angles. It is impressive. You can take a tour inside if you’re interested, we chose not to based on the long line and our limited time left in Budapest. I was more interested in seeing inside the Great Synagogue but unfortunately it was not open. Instead we walked over the Chain Bridge, took a good look at Budapest from the view vantage points on the Buda side before one final visit to the Whiskers Cat Pub.
Have you been to Budapest? What would you recommend to see, do, eat and drink?