If you held a gun to my head and told me I had to pick a city on this trip so far that I deemed my favorite I’d say, “You’re crazy! Why do you have a gun?! Why do you care so much about my favorite city?!” But then once you put the gun away and we agreed to have a reasonable conversation, I’d tell you my favorite is Budapest. Here are some of the highlights.

Ruin Bars

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Can you spot the gnome?

As far as nightlife goes, Budapest is the most happening spot I’ve been to, and that’s pretty much all due to the ruin bars. The backstory on this is that after WW2, Budapest’s district 7 (which was the Jewish quarter) was left to ruin. Buildings were destroyed and many of them no longer had roofs. Old apartment buildings and factories sat abandoned for many years until people started to set up bars and clubs in the ruins. There are broken walls and exposed piping, but that adds to the character.

My first night in town, my hostel roomie and I went for a walk to go exploring and find someplace for a drink. We were lucky enough to accidentally wander into Szimpla Kert, which instantly became my favorite bar in the entire world. It’s quirky as hell, filled with thrift shop furniture and bizarre antiques.

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We met some Spaniards in this antique, stripped down Traband, which is an old communist car. The guts of the car were stripped out to make room for a table and chairs inside. Everyone was so jealous of us when we sitting in the car. As one of our new friends said, “When you have the car, you have the power.”
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This bathtub has been converted into a couch. Not a comfy couch exactly, but novel enough that I couldn’t help sitting (posing) there.

Despite not looking like much from the outside, it’s actually huge. There are a ton of different rooms, most with it’s own bar. There are seven bars inside this bar! Some specialize in cocktails, some in wine, some have different types of beer from the others. You could go to Szimpla Kert every night of the week and have a completely different experience each time.

Our second time at Szimpla, we met four Brits (It’s so easy to make friends in these clubs. Something about them makes everyone friendly and open.) who had heard of another ruin bar that had more of a dance club kind of feel. I do love to bust a move, so we tagged along to a place called Instant. Instant is an old converted apartment building so there are a lot of different rooms. I don’t even think I found all of the possible rooms inside. I visited four separate dance floors that were all playing different kinds of music. When I was looking up info about these places, I saw a graphic the said “Some roads lead to Rome. All roads lead to Instant.” I can verify that this sentiment is true. The pull of a cool dance club is strong when you’ve had a few beverages.

I didn't really get any good pics of Instant, but here's a big, freaky owl with boobs in one of the main rooms.
I didn’t really get many good pics of Instant, but here’s a big, freaky owl with boobs in one of the main rooms. The decorations are insane.

We explored a few other ruin bars but honestly, it’s October and the weather is starting to turn so most of the others were not so exciting. A lot of them are open courtyards or buildings without roofs. I can picture the scene being very different during the summer though.

Ruin bars are one of the coolest things about Budapest and it kind of makes me want to come back home to Washington and open one.

Spas

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Budapest is famous for it’s thermal springs, so there are traditional bath houses all over the city. Based on a recommendation from another traveler, I ended up at one called Rudas. It’s one of the smaller spas, but it’s been in regular operation since the 16th century so they must be doing something right.

I didn’t think I was big on spas, but I do love hot tubs and there are many similarities. They have a variety of pools of several different temperatures, ranging from ultra-hot to actually filled with ice. I had a lot of fun quickly bouncing between the hottest pool and the coldest. The best pool though, is up on the roof. The view is incredible, with the city across the Danube River on one side and the lush, green foliage of Gallert Hill on the other.

Architecture and Lighting

There are lots of beautiful buildings in Europe, but Budapest has a big concentration of them right on the banks of the river. At night, the lighting makes them all the more impressive. This is a city that really knows how to light it’s buildings, which is a weird claim to fame but there are worse things to be.

The Hungarian Parliament building from a boat on the Danube.
The Hungarian Parliament building from a boat on the Danube.
The Liberty Bridge. There are several huge bridges connecting Buda and Pest, the two sides of the city. They all had to be rebuilt after getting destroyed in WW2.
The Liberty Bridge. There are several huge bridges connecting Buda and Pest, the two sides of the city. They all had to be rebuilt after getting destroyed in WW2.

While we’re on the subject of lighting… There’s a musical fountain on Margaret Island that has a nightly light show. The music was pretty eclectic, everything from Botticelli to Dire Straits. The fountains spurt and dance in time with the music, and it was definitely worth walking 45 minutes in the rain to see.

Whoa!
Whoa!

Budapest is cheap

After some more expensive places like Munich and Vienna, it was nice to go someplace where my money went a little further. Hungary is not on the Euro. They have their own currency called the Forint. Right now the U.S. dollar is worth about 274 Forint. So when I went to the ATM, I took out 100000 Forint. I felt so rich! I had so many monies! It was an exciting moment.

Here are some examples of the cheapness: A nice meal out at a restaurant was between $4-8. A beer out at a bar was usually only $1-2. My hostel was only about $10 U.S. per night. Out of curiosity, I looked up apartments in Budapest to see what the prices were like. I saw some studios and one bedroom apartments in the city center for as low as $250 U.S!

So the cost of living is very low, but so are Hungarian wages. In this case, I’m really just benefitting from a favorable exchange rate. But I’ll take it. Living more cheaply is hard to do on the road.

Budapest was great, and I hope I get the chance to come back someday. It’s maybe not the first place a lot of Americans and westerners would think of to vacation to, but trust me. It’s worth it. Put it on your list.