Why I’ve Fallen In Love With Budapest


budapest parliament building

If you had asked me for my opinion on Budapest at any point over the previous year, you would have been met with an awkward silence and a lot of eye rolling.

I visited Budapest in August last year and it was one of the most underwhelming cities I’ve been to. 

It was too big.

It was dull.

It felt like “just another European city”

It was boring.

I had no plans to return to Budapest but when Dave and I began planning our Interrail adventure, I discovered that he’d always dreamed of visiting. Now was my opportunity to give the city a second chance.

Almost one year later to the day, I arrived in Budapest.

cathedral in budapest

Despite having a mostly negative view of the city, there were several places I’d enjoyed on my previous visit and I was more than happy to head back and show Dave around.

I revisited the impressive Heroes’ Square, the largest square in Budapest and one of my favourite places to hang out and relax. After taking hundreds of photos of the beautiful Millennial monument, we wandered across the road and found Budapest’s City Park. It was here last year that I discovered a bizarre and extremely loud Hungarian Bryan Adams tribute band at one of the worst restaurants in the world ($5 for one lukewarm, soggy chicken leg).

In the heat of the midday sun however, the crowds head to nearby Szechenyi thermal baths leaving the park quiet and serene – this was much more enjoyable. Sitting on a park bench under the shade of a tree, I couldn’t help but smile. To my surprise, I was having a wonderful day and seriously enjoying exploring the city.

My feelings for Budapest were beginning to change and I was struggling to understand why. I felt uncomfortable, embarrassed that I had been so quick to judge this city the first time around.

I wanted to tell Dave about my changing feelings but I knew what his reaction would be, I knew the amount of mocking I would have to endure for the rest of our time here. Lost in my thoughts, I bit down on my lip, forcing myself to remain silent.

It was too soon to come clean; I needed more time.

budapest parliament building

Passing St. Stephen’s Basilica on our way to the Houses of Parliament, I found that not even the approaching thunderclouds could dampen my spirits. As we wandered through cafe-lined streets, I felt tears welling in my eyes as I soaked up the wonderful atmosphere and stunning architecture.

I was finding it increasingly hard to keep my growing love for Budapest a secret.

I didn’t get a chance to see the Houses of Parliament up-close on my first visit, opting instead to view it from the other side of the river. This was a big mistake. From afar you just can’t appreciate how large and intricate the design is – it is even said that Imre Steindl, the guy who built it examined every single spire individually to make sure they were up to standard.

At this point, I honestly had no idea why I had found Budapest so dull and ugly the first time around – this city was seriously beautiful.

lauren in budapest

So what’s changed? What’s so different this time around?

Several things. 

Last year, I was staying in a hotel quite far away from the centre of Budapest. As you know, walking really isn’t one of my strong points (I have bad knees), so having to walk for half an hour before I’d even see anything would have me in pain, exhausted and ready to head back to my room. This time, I was staying in a very central area, within a ten minute walk from the main sights.

The fact that I’d visited much of the tourist attractions while I was here last time meant that I didn’t have to rush around and try to cram a ton of sightseeing into a few days, which is something that I find extremely unenjoyable. Instead, I was able to take my time and explore the city at my own pace.

Finally, the first time I visited Budapest, it was straight after Ljubljana, one of my favourite places in the world. This time I visited after Frankfurt, Prague and Bratislava – three places that left me feeling very underwhelmed.

Could the place I visit previously really affect my opinion of somewhere that much? 

Whatever the reason, I was slowly starting to fall in love with Budapest…

budapest architecture

And then there was our final night. 

We met up with Julia and Scott, another travel blogging couple who also met through the wonderful medium of Twitter, for dinner and an evening of checking out the ruin bars of Budapest.

How had I never heard of these before?!

From the outside, they look no different to most of the buildings in the Pest district but inside each bar has a unique and quirky personality. Located in the old Jewish quarter in the ruins of abandoned buildings, these bars are filled with mismatched furniture and decorations that look like they’ve been sourced from junkyards and flea markets.

We went to Szimpla Kert, which has been open since 2004. It’s the first, and most well-known, ruin bar and arguably an institution of Budapest.

It was the best bar I’ve ever been to. 

The place was huge. There was a haphazard array of torn-up sofas, old chairs and benches thrown together around unsteady tables. The front half of an old car was being used as a table; bathtubs and dentist chairs as seats. Rooms were filled with sewing machines, birdcages and old film projectors showing Russian cartoons and bizarre silent movies. From the ceiling hung a mixture of mismatched lampshades and smashed chandeliers.

Walking through a maze of equally quirky rooms and feeling overwhelmed by all the options, we eventually settled on staying in a small, slightly quieter room, taking a seat overlooking the downstairs courtyard. With beers priced at just $2 we were set for the night and spent the rest of the evening talking about how amazing this place was.

If I lived in Budapest, I’d be going here every night. 

ceiling of budapest cathedral

I awoke the next morning with a heavy heart and a pounding headache. Our two days in Budapest had been far from enough. Our bags were packed, the keys to the apartment had been returned. It was now time for us to leave. As we plodded towards the train station, I tried to ignore the waves of sadness that were washing over me like an emotional tsunami.

My opinion of Budapest had completely changed and there was only one more thing left to do. 

“Dave…”

I cleared my throat, hesitating; opening my mouth before shutting it tightly again.

Could I finally say the words out loud? Could I finally tell Dave what I’d spent the past few days thinking?

It was time for me to swallow my pride and come clean.

“Dave, I… I really, really like Budapest… I don’t want to leave.”

 

My trip through Central and Eastern Europe was made possible by the lovely people at Interrailnet.com.

[Image via: webmoof/Flickr]

Previous Exploring The Stunning Town Of Eger And Not Drinking Its Wine
Next Month 15: Travel Summary and Statistics

56 Comments

  1. DebbZie
    October 17, 2012
    Reply

    I love Budapest ! It’s a pretty city. Too bad I had only one day. YAY! Now you love it too :D

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      It is a gorgeous city! I can’t believe I thought it was ugly on my first visit…

  2. Scarlett
    October 17, 2012
    Reply

    …and what did Dave say? Lol, ahhh Lauren you’ve made me really want to visit now! xx

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      He laughed. A lot. And mocked me quite a bit. And made the assumption that I loved it because I was with him this time around.

  3. October 17, 2012
    Reply

    It’s wicked that you changed your mind… I love how that happens! Gives you more reason to revisit the places you’ve been to before.

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      I love it too – I always feel HORRIBLE when I visit a place and end up hating it. I know I can’t love everywhere I visit, but I get so upset when I don’t.

      So happy I can remove Budapest from my hate list!

  4. October 17, 2012
    Reply

    Revisiting a place and discovering things that make you like it so much better than the previous time around is a rare joy in travelling – I’m so happy for you that you liked it better the second time around! What was Dave’s reaction?

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      Thank you, Lindsey! It was so unexpected! :)

      Dave found it extremely funny after I’d spent months telling him how lame Budapest is.

  5. October 18, 2012
    Reply

    Szimpla Kert bar has been added to my To-Do-Go list for Budapest. Glad you liked it this time!

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      Great decision – it’s amazing!

  6. Sunee
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    I think the fact that you rediscovered the city with someone also helped changed your opinion of it. Good company often makes a huge difference.

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      I visited previously with an ex-boyfriend of mine so I wasn’t travelling solo.

      But I agree that sometimes the people you travel with can affect your opinion of a place :)

  7. October 18, 2012
    Reply

    Love the idea of the ruin bars – never been to Budapest but I’ve always wanted to see them!

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      They were seriously cool, you’d love them!

  8. Jeremy Branham
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    I first visited Budapest 5 years ago and loved it immediately. I spent some time traveling in Hungary and think it is one of the most underrated destinations in Europe. I’ve done photos posts and written a little about the country but it’s very beautiful and interesting. Glad you’ve come to like Budapest!

    • October 18, 2012
      Reply

      After seeing Eger and Budapest (in a new light!) this time around Hungary has certainly gone up in my estimations!

  9. Ian [EagerExistence]
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    Szimpla is probably my most favourite bar in all Budapest too

  10. Kerri
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    Love your photo of the Parliament Building; looks stunning! Glad your opinion changed too, I’ve never been but it’s on my wish-list!

  11. Amanda
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    HA! I KNEW you couldn’t truly hate Budapest. :P

    I’m so glad it treated you better this time around!

  12. Sarah
    October 18, 2012
    Reply

    Loved reading this post. I’m so happy you gave Budapest a second chance… it’s my favorite city!

  13. Hitting the Travel Links - October 19th
    October 19, 2012
    Reply

    […] Changing My Mind: I’ve Fallen In Love With Budapest […]

  14. Mike
    October 20, 2012
    Reply

    What a timely post… I’ve been in Budapest for the last week – my first time. It is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, and big. After a week I’ve barely scratched the surface!

  15. October 21, 2012
    Reply

    Beautiful photos of Budapest. I’m glad to see your take on the city. I hope someday that my travels take me there. It looks amazing! I understand completely how lodging location can affect a trip. Being more centrally located makes a huge difference and really makes it easier to see the heart of a city. I’m enjoying your blog.

  16. Kieu ~ GQ trippin
    October 21, 2012
    Reply

    So how much mockery did you get from Dave after that last line?! Lol, I can’t wait to get there in a month!

  17. Tracey Livingston
    October 22, 2012
    Reply

    A girlfriend spend six weeks in Europe last year and said Budapest was her favourite city. I loved her photos of the intricate tiling designs on the rooftops.

  18. Scott
    October 22, 2012
    Reply

    Yeah, those bars were damn cool, weren’t they? Still regret passing up our free glass of champagne though.

  19. jules the traveller
    October 24, 2012
    Reply

    It was exactly the same for me, first time I visited I wasn’t overly impressed and had no desire to return but it was in my destiny to return and this time round I had such a good time. Sometimes either your mood, state of mind, stuff happening in your life at the time can can have an effect on your visit in either a positive or negative way.

  20. October 24, 2012
    Reply

    Glad you changed your mind about Budapest! :)In my opinion, it’s one of the most gorgeous capitals of Europe – would go back in a heartbeat.

  21. George
    October 27, 2012
    Reply

    Yes yes yes so glad you changed your mind. Hungary is probably my second favourite European country. The people omg they go so out of their way to help you. And you never feel scared or anxious what more could you want I love it x

  22. Crazy Travel Adventures By Debra
    October 28, 2012
    Reply

    During the day, I felt the same – I wasn’t overly impressed. Maybe it was also the scorching heat. I fell in love with Budapest at night. We made friends with the lions at, and spiders on webs weaved along, the chain bridge. After we crossed the bridge, we walked up a path by the light of a cell phone to Citadella, stopping for night time photos along the way. There are some great views of the city from that path and Citadella.

  23. November 5, 2012
    Reply

    Dear Lauren!

    I love this article, so I shared it on Hungary Tourism Plc’s official Facebook page!

    http://www.facebook.com/HungaryTourism

    Best regards,

    Peter
    e-marketing team

  24. Steve
    November 5, 2012
    Reply

    I’m hoping to go to Budapest next summer. We want to travel around Hungary and see the sites. I have relatives in Ajak that I have never met or even talked to. My Grandparents moved to Canada in the 1920’s from Hungary.I’m really looking forward to experiencing my family’s heritage for the first time.

  25. Yvette
    November 6, 2012
    Reply

    My brother lives in Budapest (near the covered market/ Corvinus University) and Szimpla is his favorite bar too- he heads there about once a week.

    Come to think of it I haven’t been there in awhile, need to suggest we revisit when I visit him this weekend. :)

  26. November 17, 2012
    Reply

    I visited Budapest about 3 years and really loved the city. I visited in October and there was a food and wine festival on which was great. Unfortunately it rained most days whilst we were there and I seemed to make a habit of slipping down the wet stairs to the subway…very embarrassing!

  27. hris
    May 13, 2013
    Reply

    i love budapest, went there a year ago today and i will always have a place in my heart for it.the city itself is very big and very beautiful but what also made it for me was the hungarian people ,they are very proud and are lovely and are always asking what you think of budapest.when you tell them you think it and their women are beautiful(very beautiful) they are over the moon about it.i really dont have a bad word to say about budapest only good things about it and its people and after ireland it is my 2nd favourite destination.

  28. Mary Akis
    June 5, 2013
    Reply

    I happenned across your page through another blog and when I was initially sad..my 19 yr old daughter and I had only 3 days in Budapest…and had a wonderful walking tour for 3 hrs that took us to see amazing sights. I read through your update..and was thrilled to see your 2nd visit changed your mind.

    This is a city that I fell in love with even at the old age of 50..and I will be back..I also look forward to reading more of your journey/travels. Hi from NW Ontario (Canada)

  29. July 10, 2014
    Reply

    I love Budapest, too! There are so many beautiful buildings. The city is even more stunning at night when everything is illuminated.

    • July 30, 2014
      Reply

      Yes! I loved exploring at night :-)

    • Mary Akis
      July 30, 2014
      Reply

      I didn’t venture out at night being that it was my first time in Europe, I was a bit leery. I stayed at the King’s apartments and I was amazed, although there were bars on the opposite side of the street we heard nothing at night. On my next trip I will make sure to take a siesta and enjoy some of the night life

  30. Sofia
    January 29, 2015
    Reply

    Lauren,

    I thoroughly enjoy your blog, and I’ve only just now found your posts about my hometown! How lovely! I’m so glad you got to like it!

    Next time you happen to be in the area, get in touch and I’ll give you a list of places to visit that will make Szimpla Kert look boring and touristy. :))

    Best wishes. Looking forward to your book,

    Sofia

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Amazing! Thanks so much, Sofia :-)

  31. Louise Nicholls
    February 1, 2015
    Reply

    This was so interesting to read as I’m planning a short inter-railing trip this summer with my friend and we’ve decided to spend 3 nights in Budapest. We’re interesting in find cheap, safe accommodation as close to the city centre as possible and I was wondering where you stayed and if you would recommend it? Thank you!

    • March 21, 2015
      Reply

      I stayed in an Airbnb apartment — take a look, it’s super cheap there!

  32. Ian
    June 10, 2015
    Reply

    It still looks remarkably dull.

    It looks to me that you can wander around for a day or 2, and that there are some old buildings which are very nice to view.

    On top of that you’ve got bars, which again, are nice.

    But if you compare to somewhere like Paris with its galleries, modern art, beautiful tourist attractions, amazing outdoor spaces, fantastic wine and cheese, sitting outside with a glass of wine in a lovely small street or square … Budapest looks boring. I’m going to avoid.

    • June 10, 2015
      Reply

      I haven’t been to Paris, so I can’t compare the two, but bare in mind that I’d already spent a week in Budapest during my first visit, so had visited most of the tourist sites already. You could easily spend a week in Budapest and not get bored :-)

  33. Anita
    February 16, 2016
    Reply

    I had the same feeling the first time and then I’ve changed mind!

  34. Fonzo
    February 28, 2016
    Reply

    I get the feeling that the next time you visit Budapest – you may feel “underwhelmed” again. But to say even Prague does nothing for you, what are your expectations? Budapest pictures look very boring from the outside with no significant main square, a split personality requiring river navigation and over-used brand pics of just a parliament building. Give me the old town square in Prague or Kracow any day to get me going. First impressions count.

    • February 28, 2016
      Reply

      I guess I just don’t find European cities very exciting in general.

  35. Andrew Darwitan
    April 10, 2016
    Reply

    I really love Budapest too. Yes, it’s too big and when I first arrived and having to walk through the long, long Andrassy Avenue where some parts did look “just like another European city” felt underwhelming; but whatever beautiful spots there are in Budapest, they are soo strong: walking along the Danube during sunset, Hungarian Parliament Building, the Castle District, watching the city lit up at night from Gellért Hill. And it’s chilling learning the history about the city as they overthrew communism.

  36. December 13, 2016
    Reply

    Thanks so much for falling in love with one of my favorite places in the whole world. I fall deeper in love with each visit. All the best to you in travels and life!

    • December 13, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you! I’m the same: the longer I spend in Lisbon, the more I fall in love :-)

  37. Fer
    August 12, 2017
    Reply

    Hi Lauren!
    I was reading your post on Balaton as well and I have to admit that Hungary is shocking at first sight and different from other countries in Europe (communism till late 80s has a lot to do). However as you stated here, when you get there with no expectations of a typical European country and you allow yourself some time, to understand what a beautiful life people do about it, and where and how they find their sweet spot, you are surprised. Hungary is a country that gets better with the subsequent visits, until you start missing it. Hungarians think differently, and are very very creative.

    I guess in general many people go to Hungary thinking, would I call this place home? But from my experience is once you are there, you should ask yourself, what is that so different from my country that keep the people moving on? And there lies the treasure.

    All this is just my opinion as a Spaniard married to a Hungarian, being lucky enough to see the country through her eyes (and also the gem of Balaton where you can find more activities to do than anywhere else).

    Big hugs and happy travels!

    • August 23, 2017
      Reply

      Ah, I think it was probably shocking because I went there when I first started travelling and it was my first time outside of Western Europe. I don’t find it shocking now, with 80 more countries under my belt! I love Hungary now and even considered moving there a few years ago.

  38. Claire
    March 22, 2019
    Reply

    I went for a week in 2008 to visit a friend…returned for three weeks at the end of a solo backpacking trip later that summer…then moved there for nine years!

    it’s a grower!

    You’ll be back!

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