Though it is very unlike me, I only visited one city in all of Hungary: Budapest. The whole thing is a bit of a blur! Ah Budapest; mentally and physically prepare yourself for this city (by which I mean detox your liver) before entering. In Budapest I can recommend two main hostels both of which offer completely different experiences, so it’s up to you to decide.
Retox Party Hostel: think dirty insane partying. You will meet a fantastic group of people and constantly have a drink in your hand. You may not sleep and even if you try to, all I can say is good luck. You may wake up with permanent marker all over your body or to vodka being poured down your throat but each night promises a crazy nightlife experience as long as you strictly follow the hostel drinking rules. We even had a fantastic mascot, Bernard the purple Dolphin – though unfortunately after a night out he was no longer part of the family…
Even though my time in Budapest is a little fuzzy, I had a wicked six nights at Retox and I am still in touch with some of the friends I met there. As with most Retoxers, I left Budapest having seen very little of it, but I have absolutely no regrets. Though beware, Retox is a very large hostel, and while I was lucky enough to fit right in, some solo travellers hated their stay and found it difficult to make friends.
A night at Retox Party Hostel will cost you $AUD28-$32 (€19-€22) during the peak season, but if you’re in a group make sure to book in advance as the beds sell out extremely quickly! The name says everything, it is a party hostel, so if you’re looking for some quiet nights and not wanting to socialise then this definitely isn’t the place for you. The hostel is in a fantastic location and in the district of all the nightlife and major hot spots. Retox is a hostel run by backpackers, for backpackers; so get ready for the Pub Crawls, Jager Trains, Open Mic nights and costume Backpacker parties.
Carpe Noctum Hostel: more and more people are telling me that this is where it’s at. Carpe Noctem, being one of the four Budapest Party Hostels, is a five minute walk from Retox and is in the same price range, $AUD27-$30 (€19 – €21). Because you still party with the BPH group, Carpe Noctem offers the Retox experience but in a different environment. There are only 22 beds, which makes it more of a family hostel, and you get to know everyone staying there. Major bonus is no bunks! If you’re a solo traveller I highly recommend staying at Carpe Noctom over Retox, because you’ll get the chance to party hard but also see the city and meet fantastic people. No check out time, no stay limits, no worries! Even if there’s no room, the staff will happily give up their beds for the night so that you can stay – as with many other hostels I’ve been highly recommended to stay at but happen to be booked out, e-mail in advance and the hostel will usually try sort something out for you. However, if you are in a group, Retox would be my choice.
Though I don’t remember much, one bar is etched in my memory: Ariba, a Mexican bar with a two hour happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Happy hour means $2 frozen margaritas and cheap burritos – need I say more? When it comes to food there’s no better option than street food; it’s cheap, delicious and the kebabs taste good without alcohol. For more traditional Hungarian food, head to the Central Market Hall for fresh food, freshly squeezed juices, tourist-tastic souvenirs and angrily-gesturing locals. What more could you want?
When it comes to the city itself, unfortunately I didn’t have the time or energy to explore. But with the help of LTG Editor Olivia, who fought her hangover to get her tourist on, we can give you some tips so you can make the most of your time in Budapest. Like most European cities, Budapest offers a fantastic free walking tour, which is the best way to see the city without paying a hefty price. This tour covers both sections of the city (Buda and Pest) and easily covers many sights that are interesting but are unnecessary to seek out yourself. The best way to truly see Budapest is from the balcony of the St Stephen’s Basilica. Pay the entry fee, because this panoramic view is worth it.
A visit to the Torture Museum provides an entirely new perspective on 20th century history, and the museum is conveniently on the way to City Park and Heroes’ Square. Save around two hours for the museum then head towards to park. Sit in a deck chair in front of the castle, stroll the market stalls, read a book in the sunshine or wander through the trees. This park is so large that there is always something new to find. A hidden gem to look for is the beer garden, where you can find cheap drinks and mouth-watering burgers. Budapest has a rich Jewish history, so take the time to visit the largest Synagogue in Europe to be amazed by the beautiful roof tiles, then be horrified by the Holocaust memorial, which commemorates the Jews who were forced to remove their shoes and jump into the river to their deaths. It is eerily haunting and one of the most poignant Holocaust memorials in Europe. If you are spending several days in Budapest, you might enjoy a guided tour through the ridiculously decadent Parliament buildings. It makes for a mildly amusing hour, but the real fun is seeing the thousand-year-old crown jewels of the now defunct monarchy. While we’re talking about what not to do, don’t bother with Buda Castle. Take your picture in front of it, be in awe of its imposing awesomeness but beware: it’s fake. Yep, it’s a reconstruction and now houses only museums.
Budapest is a city to get lost in. By wandering the streets you’ll find bakeries full of highly addictive traditional pastries and antique bookshops selling ornate leather-bound books. The shopping is also very cheap and has a lively vintage culture. Ask a local where the best vintage shops are.
The Budapest bath houses are infamous the world over. Take the metro up north to the baths and pay only 3400FH entry. There are dozens of baths, hot and cold, big and small, indoor and outdoor – it’s the place to be to cure your hangover. Make sure your stay in the city falls over a weekend because it’s one thing to lounge at the baths during the day, but it’s another entirely to get down and dirty until the wee hours of the morning. It’s called Sparty, and every Saturday night the usually tranquil baths turn into the dirtiest, wettest, most disgustingly awesome party you’ll ever see. Put young travellers in skimpy bathers, give them alcohol and a DJ and tell them to go nuts in a giant swimming pool and you have a Sparty. Be aware, it really is gross, but it’s a hilarious experience.
What is the easiest way to get around Budapest? The city has a fantastic public transport system and you really won’t have any trouble using their trains and trams. I’m hopeless when it comes to public transport and I end up walking everywhere when available, so don’t be afraid to do the same. When coming to and from Budapest, most people will make the journey from Prague or Split, both of which are close to Budapest. I always choose a bus over a train as it’s much cheaper and and ideal if you have no time constraints. Travel is also easy and cheap from Krakow or Bratislava, so the options are limitless. Prague, Czech Republic to Budapest: €19 with Orangeways. Zagreb, Croatia to Budapest: €16 with Orangeways. Krakow, Poland to Budapest: €23 with Orangeways. Bratislava, Slovakia to Budapest: €13 with Orangeways.
One last word of advice is to be careful in Budapest and keep track of your money. The people in shops/supermarkets/bars will try to rip you off and short change you, so hold your ground and be aware. Aside from this, Budapest is a truly remarkable city and though I didn’t see a lot of it, it’s really just more motivation to go back!