What have come to be known as the “kerts” are a series of ad hoc pubs assembled in the courtyards of once grand, now ramshackle, buildings. There is a very boho vibe to them and they have become a Budapest alternative institution since emerging from the rubble a couple of years ago.
To find the kerts, go to any of above mentioned bars and ask where the nearest kert is
Rudas is a 16th-century Turkish bath It's finally turned co-ed on certain days after 500 years of being men only. Mixed days include Sunday. An amazing experience can be had there - go early in the morning before the crowds and chill under the cupola in one of the five hot pools and watch the shafts of light coming through the coloured glass octagons in the ceiling, wrapped in clouds of steam. It's the most relaxing place you'll find in a capital city anywhere in Europe. You might even spot the probable future Hungarian prime minister and his cronies there, if you're unlucky.
Döbrentei tér 9; situated on the Buda side of Elizabeth Bridge. The number 7 bus stops there, and all the taxi drivers and locals know it
A museum looking at communism in Hungary and the effects of the terror caused by the Arrow Cross Party (Hungarian Nazis). It's located in a beautiful street, made to look like an American boulevard but inside this lovely neo-renaissance building lies many secrets. It was once home to the Arrow Cross Party HQ and within its labyrinth of corridors are cells, where the captured were tortured. A very sad museum but most interesting. You need to get the headset to fully appreciate all that's gone on within the walls of this eerie building (available in English and German).
Andrassy Ut, near Vorrosmarty
Beautiful spa bath in the open air.
Get a day ticket, and hang on to all pieces of paper you are given - if you leave after a couple of hours, they will refund some of the entrance fee. Ladies and gents' changing rooms are separate, one at each end of the entrance hall. You go downstairs and through a turnstile (not necessarily in that order). I can only speak for the ladies' but assume both are the same from here: an attendant will meet you and find you an empty locker. When you are changed, you put your stuff in the locker and call the attendant, who will lock it and give you a wristband. You have to remember the locker number.
Once you come out of the changing rooms into the courtyard, you will be reunited with your bathing companion - Szechenyi is not segregated, which is why I like it. You take your towel and your book and your glasses and whatever else out with you and leave them on a bench. If it looks like rain, make sure you have a plastic bag.
The two pools at each end of the courtyard are the best; the one on the left as you come out of the changing rooms is slightly cooler, so go in this one first, or it will feel really cold. The one on the right is warmer and old men play chess in it. You can also go inside through one of the creepy looking doorways in the walls, and there are more medicinal baths, steam rooms, and great big tubs of ice. I have no idea what those are for. Do explore; no-one will challenge you. Do be brave enough to go to the baths, it's quite an experience. You can get drinks and snacks inside, too.
To get there, you take the yellow subway (also known as foldalatti, which means underground - it's the oldest line in europe, or something) to the Szechenyi Furdo stop (furdo means bath). Come out of the metro and walk towards the yellow building. The entrance hall for the baths is round the side, not the first one you come to out of the metro (that's the door for the medicinal baths).
Or you can walk there - all the way along Andrassy Ut, across Heroes Square, and through the park.
Using the subway: you have to buy tickets in little ticket offices at most of the stations. Good luck with that, they won't speak any English. Ha. Pointing and waving the correct fare might do it.
The trains and trams do get checked and you will be fined if caught without a ticket - for the minimal price of the fare, it's not worth the bother. You can buy a book of tickets if you get lucky with someone to help you - they come in tens and twenties and you punch them on the tram/platform.
It might be possible to buy them at one of the big train stations, where English-speakers may be found. Maybe.
Budapest is divided into two parts. Buda is the smarter residential area on the south of the river. The main attraction here is the castle district, which you can get to via a tiny funicular railway from the Buda side of the Chain Bridge. Don't eat up here, it costs the earth.
Pest is the busy happening side, where real people live and all the best restaurants are. The city centre is surrounded by a wide main road known as the korut (which means circle, or something). Near the river is the more expensive touristy part, including Vaci Utca, which is a street with all the designer shops and tourist trap cafes. Also nearby is Vorosmarty Ter, a pretty square that is frankly better visited in winter.
The main boulevard is called Andrassy Ut, starting at Ferenciek Ter and finishing at Hosok Tere (Heroes' Square). If you walk along Andrassy, you will find Liszt Ferenc Ter which has very good restaurants, if a little pricey. There's an Italian called Pompei (sic) which does onion soup in a roll - recommended. Incidentally, soup in Hungary is usually pretty hefty and you won't want a second course. Try the jokai bean soup and the tarragon chicken soup as well.
After Liszt Ter is Oktogon, which is a big intersection featuring Burger King and McDonald’s. There is also a nice restaurant called Grand Cafe Oktogon, where I have had a lot of nice food.
thehungaryyears.blogspot.com/ is written by an expat in Budapest who often talks about restaurants, bars, and general local colour
A really old, beautifully decorated hotel bang in the heart of the city. Its strategic position meant it was used as an HQ by various political movements during Budapest's turbulent history. There’s a beautiful old restaurant and café as well.
If you want to get away from modern hotel chains and enjoy some old fashioned luxury - for around the same price as a modern three-star - book in here.
Kossuth Lajos Ut 19-21; tel: 1 889 6000; www.danubiushotels.com/astoria
The underground railway in Budapest provides a quick and cheap way of getting around. Unfortunately, not all the travel instructions are printed in anything except Hungarian, which means that you don't find out until too late about quirks, such as the fact that buying a ticket on some lines does not allow you to transfer to others without making an additional payment.
I discovered this the hard way. My daughter and I worked out how to get where we wanted to go by studying the map, but after we switched lines we were approached by two uniformed officials who demanded to see our tickets.
We were then required to pay a fine. I'm satisfied that the two officials were genuine but I suspect that they saw us - two tourists - as an easy target, because they followed us as soon as we got off the first train and on to the second.
The fine would have paid for several taxi fares, so other visitors to Budapest might wish to use that means of transport instead of the underground.
High budget but they do good deals at the weekend, have fantastic views of the Danube, and serve the most amazing buffet breakfast on a Sunday.
On the No 2 tramline along the river, but you will probably get there by taxi; Apaczai Csere Janos Ut 4, Budapest, 1052;
tel: 1 26 67 000;
They are the oldest Turkish baths in Budapest and have a real faded beauty. The main thermal pool still has a domed roof with small circles of blue glass in it. I had the most relaxing feeling in my life floating in the pool looking up at it when for 10 minutes I was the only person in there. It feels authentic rather than touristy and you will see plenty of Budapest pensioners using a prescription from their doctor to get in. It's the perfect antidote to a heavy day sightseeing.
84 Fo Utca, Budapest 1027
The summit of the railway shows you the city in all its glory - from the beautifully crafted government buildings, hidden churches, right the way along the river and even into the slightly more “suspect” areas of the city. Buy an ice cream at the top and enjoy the view.
I Clark Ádam tér; Bus 16, 86, 105, Tram 19; Open: 7:30am-10pm daily; Closed for maintenance every second Monday
He really is a character, he wants to show you 'special places round the back that nobody knows', he is persistent, he will run after you if you try to leave him, he will call you stupid and insult your country but I think he's harmless and I could watch his attempts to ensnare hapless tourists all day long.
Built in the late 19th-century in Renaissance style, the glorious State Opera House is a wonderful example of the mania for historicist architecture in Budapest. A must for opera or ballet fans, and well worth a visit for the stunning frescoes and dazzling gilded interior for everyone else. Tickets are inexpensive by London standards and can be booked online before your visit.
22 Andrássy Street, VI. Budapest; nearest metro: Opera; www.opera.hu/
Vegetarium is a great vegetarian/vegan restaurant in the heart of the city. A wonderful restaurant: great atmosphere, very helpful staff, and the food is excellent. A great choice of dishes, both vegetarian and vegan, many of these are from Hungarian cuisine. They have menus available in English. The place doesn't have the feeling of abstinence that many vegetarian restaurants seem to have in Europe - very warm and inviting.
Vegetarium, 5, Cukor Utca 5; tel: 1 48 40 848
Rather than simply smash up Budapest's Communist statues after the Fall of Communism, the ingenious solution was to round them all up and give them a new lease of life by creating a statue theme park in the outlying district XXII. The rather drab setting of the park just off a main road out of town seems to reflect something of the Communist era and gives the giant statues an air of poignancy. A nice ironic twist is the on-site souvenir shop selling Communist era memorabilia at capitalist prices.
To get there from Deak ter in the city centre take either a tram No 49 or a red-numbered bus no 7 to the bus station at Etele ter, then switch to a yellow Volanbusz leaving from stop No 7 or 8. There's also a direct shuttle bus from Deak ter
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