A weekend in BUDAPEST

February

Thermal baths, elegant cafes, and amazing Israeli & Mediterranean restaurants (really!)

Duration: Weekend

I had wanted to come to Budapest for years and was really excited when it finally came together for a quick weekend in February. For me, a weekend felt like the perfect amount of time and I didn’t feel the need to stay longer. I stayed in a fantastic Airbnb in the Jewish quarter, which ended up being the liveliest and most central neighborhood to use as a home base. Great coffee, great food, fun bars, and good shopping are right at your doorstep.

  • Sight Seeing 70% 70%
  • Food 80% 80%
  • Ease of Transportation 90% 90%
  • Activities 70% 70%

I centered my weekend around a few places where I knew I wanted to eat or have coffee, and then snaked my way around the sites accordingly. It’s a small and very walkable city. I worked off my coffee, pastry, and goulash indulgences by walking across the bridge to Buda, where you can get the best views of the famous Parliament building from Fisherman’s Bastion. The hike up to the Citadella was also worthwhile, and gave me an excuse to soothe my weary bones in a few of the famous thermal bathhouses. I found a few fantastic restaurants in the Jewish quarter that wouldn’t be out of place in London or New York, and the coffee scene in Budapest deserves a special mention. 

Best Food & Drink

The surprise of my Budapest visit was the prevalence of Israeli, North African, and Turkish cuisine. I saw everything from corner kebab shops to hipster chic Israeli cafes, and I ate a few of my best meals around the Jewish quarter enjoying a break from heavier traditional Hungarian fare. The third wave coffee scene is popping off, and the city is full of cafes that wouldn’t be out of place in SF or Portland (although here ironically, the service was much nicer). Finally, Hungary has a similar culture of grand, traditional coffee houses like Vienna, where you can eat all manner of cakes and hot chocolate in an elegant, OG setting.

1. Dobrumba

This was the best meal I’ve had in a LONG time, and I would absolutely come back here to work my way through the menu. I walked by on Saturday night (somehow this didn’t pop up on any of the where to eat lists I had!) and it looked buzzy and fun so I tried to get a seat. They were fully booked, and luckily I made it for an indulgent late 3pm lunch on Sunday. This restaurant has a great vibe, a nice feeling of artsy locals dining here, and an amazing menu. There is a mezze selection of six mezzes that I still wish I’d gotten, even though I was there alone. Instead, I opted for a hot hummus starters served with a spicy lamb ragout that was coated in chili oil and fresh parsley and was fucking delicious. (Hummus ma lahma). It was served with hot, thin, crispy flatbread to dip, and under normal circumstances this could have been a meal unto itself. The Lillet spritzes caught my eye but I ended up ordering a glass of dry, crisp local white wine (I didn’t know anything about the names of Hungarian wines so I just described what I liked and didn’t like and let the waitress recommend). I also ordered the chicken Jerusalem salad, and calling it a ‘salad’ doesn’t do it justice. Grilled vegetables lay over tahini paste, with olives, and chunks of spiced chicken and fresh herbs and parsley. I was dipping everything in everything and there were a dozen other items on the menu that looked unbelievable to try. This is like the Budapest sister restaurant to The Palomar, and Barbary in London that I love, but might be even better. The food quality, price, portion size, and ambience were A+.

2. Mazel Tov

This popped up on every foodie list, and I was curious based on the fun name alone. When I went by Saturday night, there was a line 30 people deep (apparently they only take reservations before 7pm). I came as soon as they opened for brunch on Sunday and was the first person to sit down in the big, open air, greenhouse-like building hung with fairy lights (instagram bait, as you can imagine). The food is a fun take on Israeli/Mediterranean, and I really wished I was dining with a few people because this is the type of place to order the mezzes for 2, and a bunch of different dishes so that everyone can try them. Alas, with a lone diner unwilling to completely embarrassed myself ordering sharing platters for one, I settled for the Turkish eggs that came with merguez sausage, tahini, flatbread, and a fresh salad of cucumber, tomato and parsley. I ordered some pear juice with ginger concoction that ended up being a full blown mocktail but was unbelievably tasty. The soul playlist they had going was excellent, until the end of my meal when an awkward soundtrack switched on for a live saxophonist to accompany songs like ‘killing me softly.’ Cue my sign to leave. I would love to come back and try dinner here. 

3. Koleves

My Airbnb host recommended this for quality food at a good price in the Jewish quarter and, for my first meal in Budapest after arriving late Friday night, it really delivered. Tired from travel, I arrived in town as partygoers began filling the streets heading out to ruin bars. I hadn’t quite realized what a weekend party destination Budapest is (more on that later), and was beginning to worry I had completely misjudged my upcoming weekend. I walked into Koleves and it was an oasis of warmth, buzz, kind waitstaff, and full wine glasses. They welcomed me inside and in no time I was sipping a glass of Cote du Rhone and waiting for my beef cheeks with spaetzle to arrive. Heavy and hearty, but really well executed, and flavorful, this was a perfect meal to arrive to when I was tired, cold, wet, and worrying about the thumping music and party goers in the street outside. 

4. Vas Manci

I stumbled on this little gem of a restaurant after striking out at 3 or 4 others on my list on a busy Saturday night. It ended up being the kind of place I would eat at regularly if I lived in Budapest. Reliable, charming, with delicious food that is well executed, but unpretentious. I found out the hard way that, even as a solo diner, you should make a reservation at many of the popular restaurants in town (like Mazel Tov, and Dorumba) on a Saturday night. Turned away from one after the other, I was tired, cold, and hangry when I came across Vas Manci on google maps with the highest reviews in the area. Mediterranean wine bar? It seemed like a safe bet. With only a few tables and a bar that seats 3, I was lucky to get the last table as the server (and perhaps owner?) welcomed me inside and presented me with a wine list of mostly Spanish wines. The menu spanned Spanish tapas with some Middle Eastern and Brazilian flourishes. Everything I had was made with quality ingredients, well executed, and super tasty. I saw a pork belly dish go by that looked amazing. I had some combination of dips and the grilled trout with tabbouleh. It was simple and relatively light. The few tables were filled with artsy couples, and this is the type of restaurant I would eat at regularly if I lived in Budapest. 

5. Cirkusz

I went for brunch in the Jewish Quarter and the food was excellent. It was definitely a brunch scene inside (I would recommend going as early as possible), but my cappuccino, fresh juice, and mediterranean eggs in yogurt were delicious.

6. Espresso Embassy

Widely touted as the best coffee in Budapest, this place was fantastic. I would go every day if I lived in Budapest. Fantastic coffee, a really delicious selection of pastries (I opted for a crunchy, flaky pastry swirl made with walnut paste and it was superb), this place checks every box. The ambiance is lovely with light wood, clean minimalism, people working on laptops or sitting with their dogs. A bit hipster but the baristas were super nice.

7. Gerloczy cafe

I came here for a little taste of Paris meets Hungary (the pictures online really made this look like a Parisian bistro). I think because it was February and there was no outdoor seating, it was a little less Parisian, but I did have a decent lunch here. I tried a local dry, white wine and ordered a salad with baked cheese (salty, like a halloumi but not quite), as well as goulash, which as it turns out is more soup-like in Hungary than the typical stew you might be expecting.

8. Auguszt Cukraszda

One of the traditional, old school Hungarian coffee houses noted for it’s pastries, I came here to enjoy the classic Esterhazy torte. I felt like I needed to try one of the super traditional desserts, but being a chocolate fiend, this didn’t totally satisfy me so would probably just opt for some chocolatey dessert next time.

9. Szimpla Kert

The most famous of the ‘ruin bars’ that Budapest is known for, if you only go to one, make it this one. I somehow missed that Budapest is a major party destination for weekend revellers in Europe. My flight was full of British guys on ‘lads lads lads’ weekends, and when I arrived in Budapest, the 2 for 1 shots signs and ubiquitous liquor stores made me realize that most people don’t come here just to walk around parliament for the weekend (Sidenote: I’m an idiot). So yes, come to Szimpla Kert to see the warren of various rooms with different atmosphere. The entire place reminded me of being at a warehouse party where you wander from space to space finding the room you like best (or just losing all your friends in the process). I came early to have a drink when it wasn’t in full on party mode, and made a mistake of getting an aperol spritz at the main bar you enter front and center when you walk in. Take your time, wander around, find the area you like best. If I went back, there is a calmer more wine bar-type room upstairs overlooking the street. This is where I’d probably come back to next time.

10. Blue Bird Cafe

Another charming coffee shop, this one in the Jewish quarter facing the Otto Wagner designed synagoge. This was filled with locals catching up and working on their laptops, and serves really tasty, high quality cappuccinos and cortados.

Friday 

I landed at 9pm on Wizz Air, hopped the 100E shuttle bus from the airport to Astoria, and walked 15 minutes to the thumping Jewish quarter where the streets were filled with people just starting out their night. I went to Koleves for a delicious Hungarian meal before heading to my Airbnb. 

Saturday

Walking and more walking! The Jewish quarter, Szechenzyi chain bridge, fisherman’s bastion, Matthias Church, the top of Citadella, and a restorative soak and massage at Rudas Baths. Brunch, coffee, lunch, coffee, dinner, a drink at Szimpla Kert, and a bit of vintage shopping. 

Sunday

Brunch at Mazel Tov, a steam and soak at Szechenyi Thermal Baths, coffee, strolling and shopping around the Jewish quarter, and a late afternoon indulgent meal at Dobrumba before heading back to the airport for my evening flight to London.

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