Budapest is Still My Favourite City in Europe

The first time me and my sister visited Budapest, we had been aiming for Vienna instead, but the pricing worked out better to stop in Budapest between Turkey and Spain. I’ve written a ton of blog posts about the city already (see here) and everytime someone asks for Europe advice, I try to get them to go to Budapest.

Needless to say, we were really happy that we ended up in Budapest despite knowing almost nothing about the city. I’ve been saying I wanted to return since the day we left, and I made it happen in fewer than two years!

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Look, here’s me last time! I look exactly the same.

I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I left Budapest loving it even more than I remembered. I basically repeated all the stuff I had loved on my first visit and then did the stuff I had missed. Also, I napped a lot, because I was overtired from two overnight bus rides. Sorry for making you miss the sunset, Alex.

First, a note on our hostel….it was amazing! We stayed at Gaia Hostel and when we left all I could think about was how I wanted to live there. Our room was impeccably decorated, the kitchen was well stocked with things like free pasta (the key to my heart), and the owner Judit was the sweetest hostel owner I’ve ever met. She let us check in at around 7AM, right into the room, and stay until around 7PM. So we DEFINITELY got our money’s worth. She also let us borrow free towels for the Szechenyi Baths (more on that later), and she didn’t charge us extra for anything! So awesome. Also, this was the view from our room!

Excuse the obnoxious Snapchat sticker.

Fisherman’s Bastion & Batthyany Ter

I will always remember me and my sister’s glorious first view over Budapest from Fisherman’s Bastion, which we basically discovered by accident. I knew we had to come back here, but this time we took a bus as far up as we could, because I’m lazy.

The view was just as beautiful as I remembered, although this time the bar was closed and we couldn’t enjoy a drink while overlooking the most beautiful part of the view. If you don’t pay to go up to the top there is a pole blocking some of the panorama – it’s still beautiful, but we couldn’t get that perfect shot of the entire Parliament building. After a while here we headed down to somewhere we would be able to – Batthyany Ter!

This was new for me, but it was so beautiful. It’s just a town square/subway station, but the sidewalk alongside the river has an incredible panorama of the river, and especially the Parliament building. We had a little mini photo shoot here and it was lovely.

Szechenyi Baths

The one thing we really missed out on the first time I was in Budapest were the thermal baths. The city is famous for its variety of ornate hot springs facilities, and Szechenyi Baths captured my attention with its bright yellow paint and gorgeous outdoor pools. Getting in was a very confusing system, but we shared one cabin and each got a bracelet that allowed us admission for as long as we wanted.

Honestly I really do enjoy hot springs like this, but I always wander around for a bit and then get kind of bored and listless. I’m not good at relaxing! Anyway, we checked out all the pools as well as one of the saunas, but I’m a baby and couldn’t stay in the heat for very long. The outdoor pool was obviously the highlight. However, it was SO unbelievably cold getting from the main building to the outdoor pool; it was maybe 20  steps away, but in February with a bitter wind it felt a lot longer.

Next time I’d love to check out the Gellert Baths as well, and maybe the notorious Saturday night party at the Szechenyi Baths, but for now this was a great introduction.

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I will always limit the extent of my restaurant recommendations to a few random shoutouts in random posts, but when I write about a restaurant, know that I really loved it! I dragged Alex to this vegan burger joint that had amazing reviews on Yelp. It’s also near Gellert Hill, so we wandered on up there after we were done. This burger was the best veggie burger I have ever had in my entire life, and I eat quite a lot of veggie burgers. Eastern Europe has never been my first thought for good veggie options, but with the places I’ve tried now, especially in Prague and Budapest, it just may be working its way up the list!

And that’s that for my random list of highlights and revisits in Budapest: the moral of the story is that Budapest is awesome and you should go.

The Ten Places I Most Want to Live

Sometimes I visit a city and absolutely adore it, but would never want to live there. Examples that come to mind are Goreme in Cappadocia (too small and remote), Dar es Salaam (too bustling, although I’d probably give it a shot), and Florence (too touristy for its size). On the other hand, there are the places that I visit, completely fall in love with, and immediately develop a burning desire to settle down and stay a while. There are so many places I haven’t been, and I bet there are hundreds of other cities that would give me this feeling, but so far here are the places topping my list for a sojourn. Realistic or not, these places are constantly in my dreams and wishes! Without further ado, here is an excessively long article detailing the ten places I most want to live.

BUDAPEST

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When I wrote about Budapest previously, I described my total lack of expectations and how quickly me and my sister realized that this was a special place. We still talk about Budapest an annoying amount, sometimes just texting each other ‘ugh I miss Budapest’ and spending a few minutes reminiscing. A girl who went to my high school also interned there for a summer, and I stalked her Instagram excessively to see her incredible photos of Budapest living. The cost of living is unbelievably cheap, the history and sights are amazing, and compared to some other places on this list its hardly touristy at all. If I ever settle in Europe, it just might be here!

VIENNA

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The instant I walked outside in Vienna I decided it was the most livable place I’d ever been. I still don’t really know what made me think this – maybe it’s just the combination of everything that makes Vienna great. It’s a little more modern than places like Budapest or Prague, but almost just as cheap. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, with my favourite architectural cities sprinkled everywhere. There’s also amazing access to the outdoors (by that I mean vineyards) when you’re basically still in the city. There are so many cultural events and a famous orchestra to indulge in, it’s got amazing transport connections, and I speak a little bit of German. It’d be much easier to learn and communicate in German than it would in something like Hungarian or Czech!!

PARIS

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So typical. Every time I think about living in Paris, I imagine myself sipping a cappuccino in a cafe while writing a book, speaking French to handsome waiters and taking evening strolls along  the Seine. I know that Parisian life is less romantic than we all make it out to be, but it’s undeniably more romantic than a lot of places. I wouldn’t want to be in Paris long-term because it has its issues too, but I think for anything under a year I would love pretending to be a Parisian. And maybe I could finally become 100% fluent in French! Honestly I don’t even feel the need to tell you the other reasons I want to live in Paris because who doesn’t have the same dream?

SHANGHAI

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Ah, Shanghai. My solo trip to China was full of firsts so I look back on the whole thing as an amazing memory and experience in my life. Shanghai is my fondest memory, though – despite the rain and my total exhaustion while I was there. Beijing was too smoggy, Datong too….everything, Xian too touristy, but Shanghai was just perfect. I obviously love big cities, and this is one of the biggest, but it’s so easy to get that small town feel in areas like the French Concession. There’s access to every amenity you could want, but you also get the feeling of being somewhere so exotic and cool. It’s VERY high up my list to learn Mandarin, and what better place? The airport can get you anywhere, the public transit system is practically flawless, the food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I really just want to walk along the Bund and see that skyline again.

BRISBANE

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This one is kind of cheating because I have already lived there. To be fair, I was 3. I have always felt a connection to Brisbane despite my foggy memories of the city; my desire to go back and revisit my childhood stomping grounds has only gotten stronger as I’ve understood more about travel. A working holiday visa for Australia is definitely on the cards for me; it’s a place full of places for me to see again and places for me to visit anew: Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth…the list goes on. Now it would be great if flights to Australia would stop costing like $6000. (Just kidding, you can find way better deals than that. Promise!)

BUCHAREST

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I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was buzzing and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour (with a very cute guide, which is always nice) was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.

NEW YORK CITY

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And yet another very typical response. I’ve been to New York four times now, and each time I remember why I love it so much. The hustle and bustle of this city makes you feel like anything is possible and it’s got the same reasoning behind it as Paris – it’s just so easy to imagine myself living that stereotypical 20-something life here, albeit with much less money than anyone I’ve wanted to emulate on Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Even if it’s just for a month, I’d love to see what New York living is really like – I don’t think I could afford any longer than a month!!

TRIESTE

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This is also cheating. However, I only lived in Trieste for about a month and a half, and I’d like to experience actually living in my own apartment rather than feeling constantly uncomfortable in my au pair house and dreading the next day of work. Side note, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about au pairing! I’ve just added it to my to do list. My friend Pam, who blogs in Italian and English, lives in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Trieste and her life is basically what I would want to do next time. But about Trieste itself – what a shock this city was to me. When my au pair family said they were moving there I googled the location, thought, “Oh! Near Slovenia and Croatia! Ok cool!”, said yes, and then proceeded to move there. Trieste deftly combines Italian, Slovenian and Croatian influences into one melting pot of incredible coffee, a gorgeous main square, and the nicest people in Italy. This is where I learned Italian and the base I used to explore Venice, Verona, Ljubljana and more. Best of all – there’s only ever a fraction of the tourists that crowd the rest of Italy!

PRAGUE

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I have just noticed an interesting trend…four of these destinations (Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are in Eastern Europe, or maybe Central depending on where you draw the line. I’d also consider Trieste pretty Eastern European. I had no idea I had even been to that many places in Central/Eastern Europe, much less that I wanted to live there!! Anyway, so Prague. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the numerous disasters that befell me on my January 2015 trip to Prague. It still shocks me that I’m able to look back on Prague so fondly, considering that I felt like I was going to die, but I guess that really says something about the city. Honestly, my main reason for wanting to live in Prague is pretty stupid. There’s the cheap cost of living, great transit, same good connections as Vienna, beautiful architecture….but what I’m really interested in is the fact that it’s a winter wonderland. I may complain about winter every single day that I’m cold, but as a Canadian I’ll take shivering in my parka over sweating in my shorts any day. It sadly didn’t snow when I was in Prague, but it was still magical, and I’d love to spend the winter revelling in the magical feeling of Prague in winter. (Told you it was dumb).

ZANZIBAR

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Ah, Zanzibar. I spent 2 days in Stone Town and 3 days in Kendwa at the end of my recent trip to Tanzania. When I was little, I thought that Zanzibar was a made-up place because the name was so exotic and it sounded so cool (maybe also because I was stupid). However, Zanzibar is absolutely real and absolutely perfect. Kendwa was legitimately paradise. There are not enough positive words in the English language to describe how perfect the water is. I swam, lay on the beach, went to a full moon party, tried scuba diving, watched sunsets, and basically died over how great life was. I am too high-strung to live on an island paradise for long, but I can’t imagine anything better than settling down on Zanzibar (maybe even in Kendwa?) for a few months. I would get so tan and so happy. To quote my Instagram caption from the following photo, “Messy hair, messy heart, messy life, but it’s okay cause I’m in paradise.” I can’t think of anything that better sums up how I felt on this incredible island with so much culture to offer alongside its beauty.

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Danube River Cruise in Budapest

Our pre-planned itinerary for our three nights in Budapest was uncharacteristically sparse; we waited until we arrived and borrowed guidebooks to plan out our sightseeing route. The one thing we planned in advance, however, was a river cruise: how could we miss such a highlight in the city dramatically set on the Danube?

We booked a very classy 20 Euro cruise that lasted an hour and included a free drink, wifi and an audio guide with Legenda, one of the most popular companies. I recommend booking your departure time so that sunset will fall during your trip – just like at Fisherman’s Bastion, we got to see the city in three different lights!

We arrived ridiculously early because we were nervous about not finding the correct dock, but once we made it we settled in to some primo chairs and requested the classiest drink we could order, champagne, which led us to reminisce on our amazing champagne cruise down the Seine in Paris. We were in for a treat.

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The rain, my lack of photography skills and the difficult night lighting stopped me from getting a lot of awesome photos – these are the best of the batch. The views of the city we had already explored were stunning. The river is the best vantage point for a lot of the city’s buildings, both on the Buda side and the Pest side. I can’t really speak for the quality of the audio guide as I spent most of my time either pressed up against the window or battling the rain on the top deck for pictures. Obviously taking pictures through the windows generally failed, so I had to miss out on most of the narration while running up and down the stairs to capture the amazing vistas I was seeing.

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This next (crappy) picture was taken by a Texas businessman who innocently offered to take my picture when he saw me on the top deck alone, which was nice of him. However, he then proceeded to ask things like “Are you here alone?” and “How old are you?” and I quickly got a MEGA creepy vibe from him and his buddies. Slinking back down to the safety of my sister’s company, I figured at least I got a picture of myself on the cruise!

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There is really nothing more magical than cruising past a city on a boat, sipping champagne and marvelling at the amazing architecture in a city that you’re quickly falling in love with. If you’re visiting a river city – check out river cruises!

The Best Views of Budapest

Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve had the pleasure of exploring. That Parliament building is stunning enough on its own, but when you get to see a panorama of the city’s unique mixture of different architectures it’s just breathtaking. As I tend to do in Europe, (see my guide to towers in Prague) I made a point of seeking out all the viewpoints I could find during my three day stay: here’s your guide to the best views of Budapest!

Gellert Hill

You can see the hill itself from almost any point in Budapest: that alone tells you it’s going to have a pretty epic view of the city. Walking up this hill was killer – I genuinely thought I was going to have a heart attack, and the lack of other tourists as I struggled through the wooded area made me think I was going to be kidnapped. Struggle aside, once you’re at the top you get a sweeping vista down the Danube along with the hill’s own statues and monuments. I did feel like you were a bit too high up to see any real detail in the city, and it has a poor angle on Parliament (yes I’m obsessed), so if you’re not in the mood for exercise you might give Gellert Hill a pass.

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Cost: free

Budapest Eye

We walked by this ferris wheel in Erzsebet Square on our first night and did a double take, having had no idea that it existed. After a quick Google, we learned that it was brought to Budapest from Plymouth, England and while I don’t think it’s permanent it will be there at least for the summer! We considered going up at least four times on our way by, but for some reason never did. When Anna headed to Rome on our last day, I had a few hours to myself and decided to go on up. I got several pitying looks from the attendants, an unavoidable part of solo travel, but I also got a private cabin! One ticket includes 4 or 5 rotations, and while it’s hard to get good pictures through the glass the view provides a unique perspective on the city and especially the Basilica.

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Cost: 2,400 HUF

St. Stephen’s Basilica

I have never been happier to see an elevator in a building – this was still the early days of travelling and my feet were adjusting to the fact that I was going to force them to wear the same leather sandals, all day every day. I loved the view from the top of this gorgeous Basilica! Most of the best views are from the other side of the Danube, so this one provides a different perspective on the city and allows you to see Castle Hill. I also enjoyed a lovely rest sitting on the basilica stairs and catching up with my journal! Make sure to head into the basilica itself; it’s free and quite beautiful.

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Cost: 500HUF

Fisherman’s Bastion

The very first thing my sister and I did in Budapest was clamber up Castle Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion. The structure itself is quirky and gorgeous, as is the very unique church in the same area. We arrived at the ideal time, just before sunset, which allowed us to get incredible dayitime, sunset, and nighttime views. There’s a restaurant on the ramparts where you can sit and have a glass of the cheapest wine on offer like we did, or perhaps if you’re not so broke you could get an actual meal. We spent several hours here as I photographed every possible angle of the amazing view. In my eyes, this place is a must-see: don’t leave Budapest without visiting Fisherman’s Bastion!

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Cost: free

Buda Castle

Castle Hill is an area you’re likely to visit on your trip to Budapest; an area perfect for wandering and learning some history. Obviously, since it’s a hill, the whole thing has a good view, but we especially enjoyed wandering the ramparts! As usual, I forced my sister into a photoshoot, and saw that her skills were finally starting to improve – I love this candid of myself!

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While we were on Castle Hill, we went into the Budapest History Museum since admission was included in our Budapest Card. Nothing gets me interested in history like the chance to wander a castle and pretend I live there.

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Cost: free

The River

Last but certainly not least, one of the most memorable ways to see Budapest is on a river cruise. I wrote a whole post about our experience!

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My sister and I received Budapest cards free, but this in no way influences my writing.