A tale of two cities in one, Budapest is split down the middle by the Danube river, with Buda on one side and Pest (pronounced ‘pesht’) on the other. It’s got all the friendly, edgy and arty vibes of Berlin, with a dash of unique history and shedload of decent spots to party. Not forgetting the world famous spas, gigantic bath houses that play music late into the night during the summer. It’s also home to one of our favourite ever festivals, Sziget, so well worth ticking off your dream destination list. Oh, and it doesn’t break the bank either which is always a bonus, eh?
Where we stayed…
Art’Otel, Park Plaza - Sat right alongside the river near the Chain Bridge and opposite the impressive Hungarian Parliament buildings, this four-star hotel is in perfect walking distance to a metro station, Buda Castle and the city centre too. As you can probs guess by the name, the rooms here have an arty vibe, with cute details like bird statues suspended from the walls and safety pin motifs on the carpet. Bonus tip: if you re-use your towels or bed linen, you’ll get money off the hotel’s bar and restaurant for being an eco-queen.
A double room in the Art'Otel Budapest with free wifi and a castle view starts from Dhs460 per night, but you can score it cheaper if you book last minute (up to 20% if you book more than 30 days in advance).
For cheaper options, try:
Bazar Hostel - We dare you to try and find a better located hostel in the heart of buzzy Budapest (I mean yeah, you can try but you won’t be able to) – Bazar Hostel is only 220m away from the city’s famous ruins bars (more on these later) and all of the action. Oh and did we mention it also does free tea and coffee 24/7 and sometimes has a friendly dog loitering in reception? Because it does. (Heads up: when we tried to book a few months in advance, the website said nothing was available – when it actually is. Drop them an email instead with what you’re after, the staff are super friendly and speak great English). If you do stay here or end up in the area, head to the nearby Italian Kitchen for a late-night gelato, it’s opposite Elizabeth Square which is where all the locals hang out listening to music and drinking Dreher. Rooms start from Dhs43 per night.
What we did…
Partied at Sziget - If you’re torn between doing a festival or taking a holiday, then heading to Budapest when Sziget festival is on is the dream solution. This year it takes place between the 9th – 16th August, FYI. Quite possibly the happiest, prettiest and twinkliest weeklong festival on the planet (it all goes down on the secluded Óbuda Island on the Danube river, known locally as ‘the island of freedom’) it's one of the largest in Europe and has a cracking line up – last year saw Rihanna, MØ and Sia bossing it on stage. This time around expect the likes of Major Lazer, Wiz Khalifa, Clean Bandit and The Chainsmokers doing their thang for 490,000 revellers. We can hands down say this festival has some of the greatest vibes going and the weather is *usually* on point (so don’t forget your sun cream). The forest is absolutely magical at night and the island's snoozy beach spots are the perfect place to recovery from antics the following day.
You can reach the festival site from the Art’Otel in 30 minutes by jumping on the metro (it’s only a short walk either side and costs the equivalent of Dhs5 per journey), or check out the camping and glamping ticket options on the Sziget website (just make sure you spend at least one day resting your liver and exploring the city instead). A weeklong ticket to Sziget costs Dhs1,050, but tickets for fewer days are cheaper.
Hospital in the Rock - One of the creepiest (in a good way) places we’ve ever been. This museum is part of a 6-mile long row of caves and cellars under Buda Castle Hill (which is also dead pretty, while we're on the subject) and is a former nuclear bunker and emergency hospital. So, y’know, has some real Batman and Robin meets World War II feels going on. Entry is Dhs53.
Where we ate and drank…
Szimpla Kert - Budapest is most famed for its ruin bars and pubs that sprung up in the early 00s, in buildings and factories set for demolition. Okay yeah, they’re now a tad touristy but for good reason – they’re super cool (and Instagramable). Grab a beer under the disco ball (and a host of other assorted novelties lurking in the ceiling rafters, from bikes to plants) in one of its most famous watering holes, Szimpla Kert, where you can expect to find old bathtubs doubling up as sofas and mermaid murals mingling with rough graffiti. We spent a happy couple of hours perched up with an apple shisha (for around Dhs38) and people watching until we were cross-eyed. There’s also a great farmers market on every Sunday from 9am till 2pm, with an all you-can-scoff brunch if you’re after something a little more wholesome.
Instant - If you’re after a proper dancey night out, we recommend heading to Instant, a former apartment building turned nightclub. Where better to get blisters than dancing in a 26-room bar with gigantic owls hanging from the ceiling, that stays open until an eye-watering 6am? (Answer: literally nowhere).
Zona - This restaurant serves up plate after heavenly plate of non-pretentious (yet still fancy) food for a decent price, making it a must-visit dinner spot. It’s also only an 8-minute walk from Buda Castle and is close by to the city-splitting river (which you can see from certain tables), which makes for a nice post-munch stroll. Main courses cost between Dhs48 - Dhs86, check out the menu here.
Spinoza Café - Our breakfast spot of choice (those pancakes though), which in the evenings also has a live piano player – it’s authentic Hungarian and independent, so a bit of a gem.
Where we relaxed…
Széchenyi Thermal Baths - On Saturday nights during the summer, this particular set of baths play host to naughty house remixes until 3am (make sure you book a ticket online first to avoid disappointment). But by day the Széchenyi thermal pools are the ideal place to kick back, either inside or out, and re-charge. The water is pretty soothing too, which is fab if you’ve been trekking around the city by foot for days on end and need some healing. Bring your own towel to avoid faffing around, book massages in advance and head there early if you’re set on bagging a sun bed.
How to get there...
Fly to Budapest from Dubai from Dhs2,500 Emirates (directly in 5h55), or from Dhs2,000 with Air berlin (via Berlin, Germany in 10h05).
– Heads up, most of the city’s many museums are closed on a Monday, so maybe spend that day getting drunk in the ruin pubs, wandering around the city or hitting up a local farmer's market instead.
– Investigate getting a CITYPASS which gives you access to all the city's buses, trams and the metro. It also gives you free/discounted entry to the spas (it also includes travel on boats to and from Sziget festival too). Prices start from Dhs63 for a two-day pass.
Note: Flight prices based on Skyscanner.com, to travel in August 2017
Originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk