48 Hours in Budapest

There is no doubt that the majority of eastern European countries are cheaper than the rest of the continent. Budapest is a prime example of this, consistently ranking among the most affordable holiday destinations, not just in Europe, but worldwide. History, culture, and striking scenery – Budapest has it all. Even better, the nightlife is amazing, but won’t set you back like other European destinations.

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Where to stay
Carpe Noctem Original. 
Perhaps my favourite hostel that I’ve stayed in to date. It is especially catered to solo-travelers and doesn’t permit larger groups so was perfect for me. It had a great social ambience which didn’t feel forced as it sometimes can in other hostels. The staff were always on hand to give you advice for navigating the city by day, and then join you on bar crawls by night. Prices start at £10.50 for a standard 8 people mixed dorm in low season, £26 for the same in high season. Book in advance as it fills up quickly.

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Carpe Noctem <3

Time difference
+1

Getting around
Before the unification of 1873, Budapest was actually three separate cities: Buda, Óbuda and Pest. Óbuda was located where the current third district is, with Buda and Pest lying either side of the river. You can always tell whether you’re in Buda or Pest because the former is hilly whereas the latter is extremely flat. Therefore, you can explore most of Pest by foot, or hop on the extensive metro or tram network if you’d prefer.

To easily access the higher points in Buda, we bought tickets for the Hop-on-Hop-off bus. Granted –  they are a little pricey, but they are valid for two days and you can use them as a form of public transport. It will help familiarize you with the layout of the city and come in handy when you’re dreading the ascent to Castle Hill.

Getting there
Direct flights using Wizz Air or RyanAir. Cheapest to fly from London. Typically around ~£150 return in high season and ~£90 return in low season. Flying time 2 hours 20 minutes.

Currency
Hungarian Forints

Day 1
Arrive early and spend your first day doing the majority of the sightseeing. Catch the Hop-on-Hop-off bus from Andrassy Ut. This shopping area is worth a stroll down, it’s the longest street in Budapest, and bares a striking resemblance to Champs Elysees – one of the reasons why the city is so often dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’. Get off at Gellért Hill (a UNESCO world heritage site) where you will find the Liberty statue and the Citadella for amazing panoramic views of the city. Hop back on and then get off a little further down at Castle Hill to wander around. Check out the Hungarian National GalleryBuda Castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion all ideally located near each other. You can walk down from here and walk across Chain Bridge which will take you back across to Pest.

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Road leading up to the Liberty Statue
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View from the Citadella
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Fisherman’s Bastion
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Hungarian National Gallery

I’ve visited in both summer and winter, and I’d highly recommend going in the latter. Summer definitely has its perks: the weather, the musical festival Sziget, the parks. However, not only is it the low season in winter and therefore cheaper, I also found that it gave the city more of a magical atmosphere. Plus, you can take advantage of the markets. Definitely on parr with other top European Christmas markets, with an array of gifts, and better yet, food to feast on.

Have dinner at Drum Cafe, a trendy eatery which serves traditional Hungarian food. Portions are large and it is ridiculously cheap. Head back to the hostel to pre-drink with everyone else and then head to Morrisons 2 (not the supermarket, but a bar with six dance floors and a heated garden). You’ll pay an entry price of around £5. This entitles you to free drinks all night: actual ones, too, not ‘free drinks’ in the sense of a dodgy bar crawl where most spirits and anything half decent is off limits. This is the perfect time to try pálinka, the national spirit of Hungary. It’s a fruit brandy available in flavours like cherry, apricot and plum.

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Christmas Market
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Enjoying our mulled wine

Day 2
Soothe your hangover with a trip to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Since you’ve spent so little on your trip so far, you can even afford to indulge in a spa treatment.
This is ideally located within the park, which is adjacent to Heroes Square. This area also contains the Hungarian National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts (although MOFA is currently being renovated until the end of 2017). Unless you have a burning desire to explore either, then I suggest skipping both and heading straight to the House of Terror for an alternative insight into Budapest. The museum is a memorial to those who were detained, tortured and killed in the building during the communist and fascist regimes which terrorized Budapest in the 20th century.

Also not to be missed are St Stephen’s Basilica, and the Shoes on the Danube Bank.  The latter is a poignant sculpture created by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer to honor the memory of the people (mainly Budapest Jews) that were ordered to take off their shoes before being shot by Arrow Cross militiamen during WWII. End your cultural day with a stroll along the river, where you can admire the Hungarian Parliament Building (which was actually modeled on Westminster’s Houses of Parliament).

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Heroes Square
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St Stephen’s Basilica
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The Shoes along the Danube
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The Hungarian Parliament Building

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For your second night out, head to the seventh district (the former Jewish Quarter) and begin with dinner at The Hummus Bar for a quick and healthy bite. You’re now perfectly located in the home to an array of quirky ruined bars, housed in abandoned buildings, where the average price for a glass of wine is 91p. Some of the best include SzimplaInstant and Aker’t. Depending on the days that you’re there, the hostels arrange an array of activities, including a boat party. I’m not a huge fan of the boat parties as I feel like they are kind of overpriced and not long enough to get a party vibe going. However, it is undeniably a beautiful way to see Budapest, especially the Hungarian Parliament building, lit up.

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Ruin Bars are the best
Ruin Bars are the best
The view of the Hungarian Parliament from a boat party
The view of the Hungarian Parliament from a boat party

Interrailing: Rite of Passage or Waste of Time?

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Let’s all take a moment to thank the old Gods and the new that interrail.eu have confirmed that Brexit will not affect our eligibility to obtain an InterRail pass. For many teenagers, European and otherwise, InterRailing (or for the latter group, EurRail) will be their first experience traveling without their parents. For me, it was at least the first extended period of travel that I’d taken without my family. I’d been to Paris for a week, but that didn’t seem like such a big deal. I just had to take the Eurostar, and everything was pretty easy. With InterRailing, you’re thrown into taking flights, planning an itinerary and booking multiple places to stay.

For those who don’t know what it actually is, an InterRail pass is one ticket which gives you access to Europe’s largest network of trains and ferries for up to one month. You can either opt to buy a pass which covers transport in one European country, or the global pass which covers 30 countries. This is arguably the biggest perk of InterRailing – being able to see so many places in such a short amount of time.

Take our route for example:
We flew from LONDON, ENGLAND →

MADRID, SPAIN (two nights in The Hat Hostel, our favourite hostel of the trip – spacious, clean and complete with a rooftop bar)

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The Hat Hostel
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Plaza Mayor, Madrid

BARCELONA, SPAIN (three nights in Hostel Tierra Azul)

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Tierra Azul
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Parc Güell, Barcelona

From which we spent over 24 hours on various trains →

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (four nights – one in a random hostel we stumbled into on the night we arrived earlier than expected and then three in Infinity Party Hostels)

St Stephen's Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica

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VIENNA, AUSTRIA (one night in Hostel Ruthensteiner)

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Schönbrunn Palace

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC (two nights in Miss Sophie’s)

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View of Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

BERLIN, GERMANY (two nights in Lett’em Sleep Hostel – they really do let you sleep, not recommended for those looking for a more sociable experience)

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall
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The Reichstag building

AMSTERDAM, THE NETHERLANDS (two nights in the White Tulip Hostel)

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One of many pretty bicycle strewn bridges

From where we flew back → LONDON.

Due to chaotic nature of InterRailing, it is unlikely that you’ll get bored. How can the novelty of a place wear off when you’re only there for a few days before being whisked off to somewhere new? Of course, this has its downsides. It’s unrealistic to expect to achieve anything more than a basic understanding of a location if you’ve only got a couple of days to spare. This is fine if you just want to sample a variety of places and then plan your future travels based on which ones you found most appealing. If you don’t particularly like a place, then you’re free to simply move on. However, it won’t appeal to you if you’re the kind of person who likes to take their time with getting to know a place and doesn’t like to be rushed around.

Another positive aspect is that you’ll probably be able to cover most of the touristic sightseeing in any given European city in a few days. You should do your research though as some places require longer than others. For example, two nights in Amsterdam was just about manageable, where as two nights in Prague was nowhere near enough. We went out both nights and were pretty exhausted during the day. This caused us to do the majority of our sightseeing at 5am on the last morning, guilt stricken, having just come out of Karlovy Lazne and realizing just how scenic Prague is. The streets were empty and the sunrise was magical, but I didn’t feel like I had gotten as much out of my time there as I could’ve done, leading me to go back to Prague last December.

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Charles Bridge
Prague at sunrise
Prague at sunrise

It is also important to establish what you want to get out of the trip especially if you’re going with someone else. Europe has so much to offer so it is essential to ensure that you’re on the same page. It’s not going to work out if you want a cultural few weeks peppered with art galleries and exhibitions while they are planning to focus on Europe’s nightlife. It is hard to get the sightseeing-partying balance right, especially if you’re only in a place for a couple of days, but it’s not impossible. Since my InterRail experience, I’ve learned to try to get the majority of the more physically demanding sightseeing completed on the first day so you can go out in the evening and not worry about an early start. Then, the next day it’ll be easier to cope with a hangover if you’re not doing anything too strenuous.

Most importantly, DO YOUR RESEARCH. We wandered aimlessly around Vienna in the completely wrong district, assuming Schönbrunn Palace was all it had to offer and writing it off as rather boring. We didn’t even notice that the public can enter the palace! It wasn’t until I revisited Vienna with my family that I realized just how dynamic it is, making it one of my current favourite European cities. It’s always good to go with the flow and be spontaneous, but have a rough idea of what the place has to offer, and if you can learn a few phrases in the local lingo, even better.

Visit InterRail.eu to view example itineraries and plan your trip