Budapest weekend details

Where I walked, which bath houses I enjoyed, and where to shop

Weekend planning followed the usual MO: pick a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops to try, identify the main sites to see, and just start walking with that in mind. On Saturday, after brunch at Cirkusz, I walked from the Jewish quarter, past St. Stephen’s Basilica (it’s huge but I didn’t go inside), to Espresso Embassy, and across the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge over to Buda. (One side of the river was known as Pest, and one was Buda, and they were combined to create Budapest). From here I walked up to Fisherman’s Bastion for the best views of the House of Parliament across the river. Adjacent to the bastion was Matthias Church with its distinct tile roof that reminded me of St. Stephen’s in Vienna. I didn’t enter the church, as there was some sort of admission/ticket situation that I didn’t have the patience for. (With rare exceptions, I avoid paying admission to churches and cathedrals in Europe. Given that Notre Dame and St. Peter’s are free, the site of a ticket queue tends to put me off right away). From here, I walked from the castle district over towards the National Gallery where I accidentally caught an open air military march complete with drummer and rifle handling demonstration, before scaling the hill up to the top of the Citadella. If you need some exercise to offset all the goulash, this brisk uphill walk is perfect. If you are tired or don’t have time on your agenda, I’d say skip the Citadella climb, as you’ll be closer to the view of the main architectural features from Fisherman’s Bastion.

From Citadella, I descended to take a look at the Gellert Hill Cave, a chapel built grotto-like into the side of the rocky hill. And then I continued on to Rudas Bath for my first Budapest bathhouse experience. I had read that this was one of the smaller, more manageable bath houses with excellent massages, both of which I found to be true. It also has an Ottoman theme going on which I’m partial to ever since my first hammam experience in Turkey. I booked a 45 minute thermal massage with basic spa access and began the labyrinthine ritual of locker cabins, rooms of baths, showers, saunas, resting rooms, and massage rooms, that are pretty confusing to navigate but you just go with the flow and figure it out as you go along. There was a rooftop bath that I was quite keen to try as it had views of the river, but my basic spa access didn’t afford me access so I would ask more questions at the beginning and try to make sure you buy a package with rooftop access. My massage was wonderful, and, maybe it was a total placebo effect but I did feel some healing power from the water. I loved spending a few hours here relaxing after a long morning of walking.

On Sunday, I went to Széchenyi Thermal Baths, which is one of the largest bath houses in Europe, and seemingly the most photographed in Budapest. The main attraction is the enormous, steaming, outdoor bath, but there are rooms and rooms of smaller plunge pools and baths of seemingly every temperature, as well as wet and dry steam rooms inside. The baths were filled with older Hungarians who have been coming here to gossip with friends and play chess in the baths for years. It’s a real mix of locals, tourists (mostly French, Spanish, and Chinese when I was there), and people of all ages. It would have been more fun to go with a friend and just hang and chat, but since I was alone, I got a bit bored and antsy just moving from bath to bath. This was a much less relaxing vibe than at Rudas, and the spa appointments were all booked for the day. The cashier at the front desk was one of the meanest and rudest people I’ve ever interacted with, but somehow it all added to the authenticity. (Literally there was graffiti in the changing stall that said ‘why are Hungarian people so angry’ and I laughed assuming this person must have been to the same cashier as me, before expressing their sentiments on the wall of the changing stall).  If you feel you need to see Széchenyi because it’s famous, or you really want the large open air experience, then come here. But if you only have time for one bathhouse and want a relaxing and restorative experience, I found Rudas to be far more pleasant.

I wasn’t expecting the great vintage shopping I found in Budapest. Although it’s worth noting that the prices were on par with London (I found this surprising), and most of the stores are CASH ONLY which is particularly annoying given the aforementioned non bargain pricing…

Retrock Designer Vintage Store – a beautiful, well organized store with great window displays. There was some cool stuff here, but in general the prices were on the mid-high London range which seemed surprising given the exchange rate in Budapest, etc. My baseline to establish the pricing in vintage stores is the price of kimonos. I love vintage kimonos and have the beginning of a collection going (does 3 make it a collection?). However, they aren’t exactly rare. Every vintage store and booth these days has an entire rail of kimonos and the going rate seems to be about 100€. More than this, and it’s a really overpriced place, less than this, and it’s a potentially well priced shop with some real finds, and at 100€ I don’t get my hopes up that I’m going to find ‘deals.’  Annnnnnyways, the kimonos are 100€ at this store which puts it right at average/somewhat upscale European pricing. There were some interesting pieces, after about 45 minutes of browsing and trying on a bunch of things, I came up with three dresses I wanted to buy for €30 each, only to encounter the CASH ONLY problem. By that point, I was annoyed waiting in the long cashier line, and felt like the universe didn’t want me to blow 90€, so I left the dresses I’d tried on and bounced, with nothing to show for my 45 minutes of browsing.

Ludovica- All was not lost after Retrock, because I then stumbled upon this much smaller shop. Packed and well organized, this had a bit more of the ‘diamonds in the rough’ feel that you want in a vintage store. The window displays were again well merchandised, and two cute girls in cool outfits were working the register. I ended up finding a sweet Belstaff ski sweater for 25€, and a faux fur chubby coat for around 50€ that was more than I wanted to spend, but I had been looking for a coat like this for a while. When I encountered the same CASH ONLY problem, for some reason, I decided it was worth it and went out to get cash for my Budapest souvenirs. The heart of a vintage shopper is a fickle thing.

Mono Art & Design – This concept store had some beautiful items, all made by local designers. It was pricier than I was prepared for (the clothes I liked were over all came in 200€), but they had a variety of notebooks, jewelry and odds and ends worth perusing. If you wanted to get someone a unique gift, this would be the place. The shop called to mind some of the clean, spare Scandinavian design stores I saw in Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Antifactory Vintage Shop – I walked past this place and it looked really cool, I’ll have to check it out on my next visit.

Printa – I initially found this coffeshop /print store online, and wanted to check it out. It’s worth popping in for super local design, or just for an espresso from their hipster coffee setup.

  • Her Majesty the Rabbit – this is supposed to be a cool cocktail bar in the heart of the Jewish quarter.
  • Frohlich cafe – apparently you’re meant to come here and order flodni
  • Kisuzem – I walked by here a few times and it was always packed and looked fun
  • Stika – supposedly one of the best places for brunch, this tiny cafe was packed when I went by.
  • Fricska Gastropub – highly rated for a sophisticated take on modern Hungarian cooking. Sadly they didn’t have space for me when I tried to get a table at the last minute, and they don’t let you dine at the bar.
  • Menza – this came recommended by my Airbnb host for retro ambience and traditional Hungarian cooking
  • Piccolo Cafe – this was meant to be on my third wave coffee tour but was inexplicably closed went I went by during their normal hours.
  • Brokonyha – Michelin star restaurant, recommended by my Airbnb
  • Costes Downtown – Michelin star restaurant in a buzzy atmosphere, my brother loved his meal here
  • Gerbeaud – one of the most famous of the traditional Hungarian coffee houses. I meant to get here to sample pastries but didn’t.
  • Central Cafe – another traditional coffee house and pastry cafe on the list
  • Frucola – has a popular, healthy brunch (probably the reason I didn’t make it on my visit)
  • Central Market Hall – One of the grandest neo-gothic markets selling produce and groceries of all sorts. I really wanted to get here but missed it on Saturday and they’re closed Sunday.
  • Tereza – Mexican restaurant by the same group behind Mazel Tov. As a Californian in London, I’m pretty skeptical of any attempts I’ve seen at ‘Mexican’ thus far in Europe, but I am curious about this. Anyone been?
  • Ruszwurm – the oldest cafe in Buda, this was packed when I walked by.
  • Déryné Bisztró – Hungarian/French brasserie in Buda