Budapest is buzzing with activity and a result, there's more than enough to see during your visit. Just as the challenge with what to do, it's the same when deciding on what to see while here – there's just simply too much choice. I've narrowed it down to my Top 5, which comprises an eclectic blend of bars, hipster hangouts, awesome views and impressive architecture. Enjoy!
1. JEWISH QUARTER
If you've read my guide on Belgrade and are wondering how the Savamala district may develop over the next few years, then look no further than Budapest's Seventh District for a preview. In the same way that Savamala in Belgrade is developing now, Budapest's Seventh District – the historic Jewish Quarter – started to experience a period of gentrification around ten years ago, with locals turning abandoned and derelict buildings into hip places to hang out. And hip they are indeed – Budapest's Seventh District is like the lovechild of Berlin and East London, with a little of Stockholm design cool thrown in for good measure. One of the highlights of the district is the 'ruin bars', which are exactly what they say on the tin: watering holes housed inside 'ruined' buildings and spaces. But more on that below. I was in my element in the Seventh District – with every corner turned offering a new surprise: cafe design shop hybrids such as Schatzi, eco boutiques with workshops attached and an open-door policy to see the labels' founders at work (Printa), and Massoulit – a bookstore come cafe where you can while away the hours amongst the shelves or its lesser-known garden hidden out back. The best way to discover this district? Simply dive in, roam, explore and enjoy.
2. RUIN BARS
The ruin bars are a must-visit when in Budapest, but going to a bar alone as a woman in a strange city can seem somewhat of a daunting prospect. This was exactly the dilemma I found myself in: wanting to see the bars without joining a boozy tourist crawl or wandering around on my own at night. Luckily the ruin bars offerings extend far beyond just drinking. In fact, for locals, they are more of a cultural hub – a place to relax and meet friends during the afternoon, watch films or listen to a live band and enjoy good food, rather than the party animal experience tourist stag parties have now turned a lot of the bars into during the weekend. For the best experience of the bars, do as the locals do and opt to visit them one evening during the week or if you must go on a weekend, during the afternoon before the tourists arrive. Here were my top 5 favourites:
Szimpla Kert – hailed as Budapest's first ruin bar. Sit in an old car while you sip your drinks, or visit on Sunday to pick up some fresh food from the Farmer's market
Liebling – recognisable by the iconic red lips adorning it's frontage from above, Liebling is the laid-back haunt belonging, and next door to, infamous ruin bar Fogasház. Wind your way up the spiral staircase for a drink on the balcony which feels like an extension of home.
Mazel Tov – a modern beauty which pays homage to the Jewish district it is situated in. A community centre, chic eatery hybrid (with some delicious Middle-Eastern food on the menu), this new bar on the block still remains under the radar of tourism...so go, quickly.
Mika Tivadar Mulato – an open-air colourful courtyard where you can while away the hours sipping on a drink in one of the bar's wooden boats.
Corvintető (+ secret tip) – a rooftop locale situated atop a shopping centre. As well as being a cool place to party the night away during the hot summer months, this bar also puts on movie nights. Tip: below, inside the shopping centre, also make sure to check out Muszi – a community centre and creative space with studios for artists & NGOs alike.
3. THE FISHERMAN'S BASTION & MATTHIAS CHURCH
To take in a truly impressive roof (that of Matthis Church) and a truly impressive view (Fisherman's Bastion), then head over to the Castle District. Make sure though not to part with any money to walk along the Bastion because it's simply not worth it – the same views can be enjoyed a mere few steps away, completely free.
4. ST. STEPHEN'S BASILICA
When gazing upon the ginormous St.Stephen's Basilica, it's hard to imagine that it's still only the third largest church building in Hungary (there are bigger ones?!) The interiors are also nothing short of impressive. If you are lucky, you may get to witness one of the organists practising for one of the many concerts held here – and who are held in high esteem by the musical community.
5. DANUBE PROMENADE
The Danube is the dividing force which separates Buda from Pest. In the same way that it divides though, the river also brings everything together: the sights, sounds and smells of both sides of the city. Some of the best views and atmospheres can be felt walking along its pleasant promenade which extends along its banks. If it's summer and you really want to do as the locals do, then grab yourself a beer from the supermarket and some snacks to nibble on, and sit on one of the many benches – or even some of the bridges themselves – and watch the sunset over the waters.