Budapest's Best 5: From Ruin Pubs To Thermal Baths

14 October 2014

Dubbed the ‘Pearl of the Danube’, the enchanting city of Budapest has more than 1,000 years of history. Today, the city is renowned for its pulsating nightlife and abundance of thermal springs. Unkown to some, Budapest is divided into two parts by Europe’s second longest River – The Danube – with Buda lying on the west bank and Pest on the east.

Built within the hills is Buda, where you will find the 14th Century Buda Castle, perched atop Castle Hill, which showcases an architectural ensemble of Gothic and Neo-Baroque influences. From the Castle, you're rewarded with panoramic views across the mighty Danube to Pest’s flat and bustling city of sunset-orange roofs sprinkled with green foliage.

Boasting a heady mix of historic landmarks and trendy neighbourhoods, there is so much to discover within these former twin cities, so we’ve put together a list of our top things to do when visiting Budapest.

 Two cities split by the Danube River: Buda and Pest

1. Have a Drink in a Ruin Pub

Ruin Pubs, what the locals refer to as ‘Kerts’, are a quirky and unique concept where makeshift drinking dens have been set up within the courtyards of ancient ruins. Each one is different from the other, transformed to create a junk-shop-chic vibe.

Szimpla Kert is one of the originals, where you’ll stumble across jam sessions and an open-air cinema, while Kertem resembles an 80s-style beer garden complete with rainbow coloured deck chairs.

 Budapest's mouth-watering markets

2. Find Artisan Goods in Budapest’s Markets

To remember your time in Budapest, be sure to pick up a few unique mementoes from the many boutiques and market stalls, whether it be a piece of embroidered clothing, traditional Hungarian folk-art or hand-painted porcelain.

The Great Market Hall is the oldest and largest market in Budapest, welcoming travellers through its grand entrance since 1897. Inside await three levels brimming with stalls where you can sample local delicacies of goose liver, fried ‘lángos’ bread and Unicum – a Hungarian herbal liqueur.

At the Ecseri Piac flea market you’ll find antique treasures, while a range of boutiques sell an eclectic mix of traditional souvenirs and unique items including vinyl-crafted jewellery, Gubolyka leather bags and, of course, cross-stitch prints of the Hungarian Puli cattle dog.

 Soak it up, Budapest style

3. Visit a Traditional Thermal Bathhouse

Renowned as the ‘City of Spas’, Budapest is home to more thermal and mineral hot springs than any other major city in the world. With around 118 springs and 15 public thermal baths, you won’t be hard-pressed finding somewhere to immerse yourself in mineral-rich spring waters.

Szécheny is one of the largest and most famous bathhouses in Europe, with 18 indoor and outdoor pools varying in temperature. Pick your pool (or switch between multiple baths) and spend the day rejuvenating, admiring the Neo-Baroque architecture and looking on as locals play chess together neck-deep in water.

Built in 1918, Gellért Bath is a divine example of an Art Nouveau bathhouse with geothermal pools and spa rooms. One of its biggest crowd-pleasers is the spectacular Indoor Palace Pool, lined with marble columns and set beneath a glass atrium that allows sunlight to pour down upon the bathers below.

 See the beautiful city from the Danube

4. Cruise along the Danube River

Discover the city from the water by taking a river cruise along the glistening Danube. Stand on the deck and admire the World Heritage-listed Buda Castle and the stunning 19th Century buildings along the banks of Buda.

On the Pest side, you’ll spot Gresham Palace, Hungarian Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica. River cruises vary from cocktail, party, lunch or dinner cruises, and even themed operetta cruises. No matter your style, Danube River cruises are a great way to explore the city’s highlights.

 Jump on the funicular to Buda Castle

5.Take in the City Sites on a Guided Walking Tour

Budapest has so much to see and experience, making guided walking tours an easy introduction to finding your way around the city.

These interactive tours divulge the city’s history and culture through knowledgeable guides, and include stops at all major highlights including the Danube Promenade, the Castle District, Chain Bridge and the world-famous Heroes’ Square.

Exploring the surrounds with a tour group is not only a great way to take in the sights and sounds of the city, it also provides great photo opportunities and a chance to chat to others in your group, exchanging exciting travel stories, holiday tips and suggestions.

Sophie Leask

Although born and bred in a small Far North Queensland town, I also feel at home in big bustling cities. When it comes to holidays, I tend to plan most of my trips around where to wine and dine, whether it’s fine-dining in New York City, or sampling local delicacies in Siem Reap.