I had never intended to visit Budapest. I’d heard it was “the new Prague”, which made me want to visit even less. But I found myself in Cluj-Napoca, Romania with some time on my hands, and the staff at my hostel recommended I hop on an overnight bus (neglecting to mention it dropped off passengers on the outskirts of town at 4:00 am, an hour before transport started running) and visit Budapest. Wanting to escape a mildly shameful hostel hookup I agreed and booked myself on an overnight bus that evening.
If you’re staying in Budapest for any significant length of time I’d recommend buying a Budapest Card. This will give you full access to the public transportation system, two free walking tours and even (at the time of my visit) access to the hop-on, hop-off tour bus and a boat tour. I did both free walking tours (they run on alternate days) and they were a great way to meet other travelers and get to know the city. Wear comfortable walking shoes as Budapest is a pedestrian’s dream, and certainly best explored by foot. The tours will take to landmarks such as Fisherman’s Bastion (above).
Spoiler alert! The best thing I learned on my first day riding that hop-on, hop-off bus? That Budapest is actually made of Buda and Pest! Each was a separate city, on its own side of the Danube River, until they were united 1873. When two became one the need for bridges dramatically increased, and today Budapest is famous for its bridges that span the Danube. I was amazed by how friendly locals were when tourists wanted to take photos on the bridges; I would always try to let them pass before we snapped a picture, and they would always stop and say, “No, you first, really!”
I do enjoy a good weird museum. I’ve been to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb, Barcelona’s Museum of Erotica, the Toy Museum in Tartu, Estonia and, while in Budapest, the grandly-titled Zwack Unicum Heritage Visitors’ Centre. Luring you in under the pretenses of sharing the history of Hungary’s national drink (Unicum, the long-long identical twin sister of Jagermeister), this museum is actually an eerie, egotistical altar to the family that produces the beverage. In addition to housing their precariously-balanced collection of miniature bottles, this museum houses photos of the smiling family on their yacht, photos of the smiling family in their mansion, photos of the smiling family playing polo, photos of the smiling family with deposed dictators and photos of the smiling family rolling in piles of their own wealth. Just when you think one more photo of the smiling family will actually make you vomit the staff bring out the free samples, which may just push you past your vomit threshold. It’s obnoxious, it’s bizarre, it’s offensive and it’s almost-free alcohol… what are you waiting for?
And finally, what is any good trip report without a dining tip? Coming from Canada my falafel opportunities are limited, which is why I fell head-over-heels for the cheap falafel at Hummus Bar in Budapest. They have a few locations around town and a big pita stuffed with falafel, veggies and sauce will run you less than three euro (800 Hungarian forint). In addition to falafel they have other Middle Eastern treats, both with and without meat. Their motto is “Hummus is Sexy”, and while I can’t say I saw any hummus in the aforementioned Museum of Erotica, I also can’t really disagree.