Despite the cold streak that kept us company during our week in Budapest, we were determined to see as much of the city as possible. A smarter person would probably have traded in walking for public transportation – and we did, occasionally. But mostly, we braved the cold and when we couldn’t take it anymore, we found ourselves popping into cute stores along our routes.
It’s how I got an ugly holiday sweater and a new coin purse at Szputnyik, a vintage blouse at PSTR, and even deliciously exfoliating lemon soap at a vegan grocery store. Turns out I’m a terrible window shopper.
But despite all these random stops, we did manage to make it to a few purposeful sites. One of the first places we went to was the Central Market Hall. We had been warned by friends to skip it, but we had been to some great food halls in Berlin and just couldn’t take their advice to heart.
Unsurprisingly, our friends were right. Other than the shot below, there isn’t much to recommend the market. Maybe if we needed to buy some veggies, it would have been worthwhile, but the first floor was too practical and the second floor too touristy. We didn’t stick around for long.
That said, I’m glad we went, because our next stop turned out to be only a few minutes away.
To say Chandler is a big fan of craft beer is an understatement. Which is why we found ourselves at Jónás Craft Beer House.
Not much of a beer drinker myself, even I had to admit the ambience was lovely – and the surrounding shopping didn’t hurt either! You see, Jónás is housed inside The Bálna (whale), a really cool shopping complex with cafés, bistros, souvenirs, and a stationary shop, not to mention an entire bottom level dedicated to marketplace items like antiques, handicrafts, textiles, decor, and organics. It was everything I had wanted from the Central Market Hall and more!
Plus, the building is gorgeous from the outside, made of glass and designed to look like a geometric whale, complete with tail. In the summer, around front (near the whale’s head), there’s clearly outdoor seating for Jónás, however, in the winter, the area is filled with a skating rink and a mini-market of food, containing the usual mulled wine, lángos, and more.
Not a fan of sour cream, the woman making my lángos offered to replace it with mashed garlic. It was amazing and reminded me so much of the Indian flat bread of my childhood. And with only a handful of other people around skating, it was made fresh.
Other outdoor markets did not go as well for us. While I loved the vibe at Karaván, it was just too cold to eat a meal outside! So we made our way to the bar first and got our food from Karaván to go. While our paneer sandwiches turned out terrible, the sweet potato fries were delicious and there were plenty of other food trucks that could have enticed us to try again if only we’d had more time.
Touristy as it is, one thing that did not disappoint was Szimpla Kert. The first of its kind, a ruin pub in Budapest: it is an assault on the senses, in the best possible way. Each room/bar has its own distinct vibe and, sometimes, its own distinct crowd. We found our tribe in the laboratory-like craft brew room, but the open floor plan meant that I could get my cider on tap from another room and join Chandler.
We had way more fun here than expected and stayed a lot longer than planned. I know some people hate places that are overtly touristy – and this place certainly is. There are other, more low-key, ruin pubs in Budapest, but half the fun was watching everyone take selfies and photograph the quirky decor. Szimpla Kert is a place where you can 100% be a tourist and it isn’t a problem.
Another wonderful respite from the freezing wind outside was the Szabó Ervin Central Library. This place was a world away from touristy atmosphere of Simpla Kert. We encountered only a handful of other tourists at the library. Despite its beauty, the majority of its occupants are university students, who were busy studying for their final exams of the semester.
It made me wish I had had such a stunning place to do my research in…though it’s possible I would have been too distracted to get much work done!
The rooms were formerly part of the Wenckheim Palace, purchased by the City Council in 1931 and turned into reading rooms. And the rooms aren’t the only historical part of the modern library. We couldn’t help but notice that all the computers in the building ran on Windows XP!
Another stop was St. Stephen’s Basilica. Popping in after visiting the Christmas market outside, it wasn’t much warmer, but the domes were beautiful to look at.
It was one of the quieter churches we visited on our trip – later on we would be appalled by the tourists inside St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna. But for the time being, we enjoyed the peace and quiet and watched the staff set up all the Christmas trees.
Our last major stop in Budapest: the baths. Originally, we planned on going to the outdoor baths at Széchenyi – not only because they claim to be the largest medicinal bath in Europe, but also because of the skating rink nearby. But our last day in Budapest proved to be just as blustery as the rest and we opted for the indoor baths at Gellért.
The pools and decor were stunning and from the photos, you may be confused to hear this was one of our least favorite things to do in Budapest. Because, beautiful though they may be, all the pools warmer than 36 degrees celsius came with their very own bacterial warning. Hard to relax when thinking about all the prokaryotes we were sharing the water with.
Many people, friends included, love the baths and the relaxation, but it just wasn’t for us. Not to mention it was hands down our most expensive experience in Budapest. But, once again, I can’t say that I hated walking around the art nouveau decor and experiencing another side of Budapest.
I can’t say when we’ll be back (although we’ll definitely pick a different season!), but I can say we enjoyed our time in Budapest. Even if we never could quite find our way to being “cozy.”