We landed about midday and had decided we'd give public transport a shot. I expected it to be a nightmare but actually thought it was pretty straightforward. Head to the BKK desk in the airport and ask for a transfer ticket (530 ft). The 200E bus leaves from just outside the airport and takes you to kobanya-kispest where you jump on the metro. The connection is well signposted (in both directions) and it took us 1h 10 to get from airport to hotel (even though our bus broke down!) and 50 mins to get from hotel to airport on our way home. No complaints!
After unpacking etc we headed to cafe central for a late lunch. It was rubbish. I'd heard the service was bad but the food pretty good. In our experience the service was terrible and the food mediocre. Without any exaggeration, the waiter did not utter one word to us. The food was overpriced and overcooked (noone wants tough goulash!). Worst meal of the holiday. Just glad we found out then rather than going there for dinner as we'd planned.
By the time we'd eaten it was getting on so we decided to wander around and get our bearings. Spent a few hours wandering the castle district and generally taking the city in then over to vorosmarty ter to check out the Christmas market. Which was great! Much bigger than I expected and more variety. In the past we found that every other stall at Christmas markets sells variations of the same thing. Budapest was much more diverse and felt more targeted at locals and tourists, with a bit of something for everyone.
We headed to cafe bouchon in Pest for dinner, which was fantastic!! Arguably the best dinner of the holiday. The waiter was excellent - the right level of attentiveness and really knowledgeable about the menu. He recommended a great Hungarian rose for less than 3000 ft. 2 courses, a bottle of wine and soft drinks came to about 11,000.
We had a bit of a late start but when we eventually got up and out headed to the castle district. we had a walk around the back of the castle (which i recommend!) then went to the budapest history museum.
We didn't opt for an audio guide as what we could see of the ground floor seemed to have English translations. Ground floor was mainly about the building itself but upstairs had a great section on the history of the city - a really good way to get a feel for the context of the other places we were planning to visit and the city generally. The basement was really good - a bit maze-like with interesting, atmospheric spaces. Unfortunately they seemed to have given up on translations in the basement so we had no idea what we were looking at and wished we'd got an audio guide. We spent a couple of hours in the museum and saw a fraction of it. If museums are your thing you could probably spend half a day here easily!
We had lunch at 21. Food was pretty good (though my duck ravioli beat the boyfriend's chicken paprikash hands down) but pricey. 11k for one course each, a glass of wine and some water.
We wandered up to the tomb of gul baba after lunch. The steps/hill up to the tomb seems to be a bit of a teen hangout but not in a particularly offensive way. The tomb was good - really beautiful and peaceful, but a bit run down. We didn't need more than about 20 mins there but on a warm day I think it would be a really good place to just sit and relax.
Back to the castle district and matyas church - beautiful and well worth a visit. Note the ticket office is across the road from the entrance. We then visited the labyrinth. I'm a wimp and was ridiculously creeped out but it was pretty awesome. A bit random - they've set up waxworks of famous opera scenes and have opera music playing - but good fun.
Dinner looked like it would be disasterous. We couldn't get a table at our first choice (marvanymenyasszony near gellert) so headed to a Jewish restaurant in pest, completely failing to realise the significance of it being Friday night! Eventually we got a table at kaltenberg etteren, and it was well worth the previous disappointment! A bit off the beaten track, this place was ace. The food was homey Hungarian comfort food, the place had a great atmosphere with lots of locals and a folk band playing and the waiter was friendly and helpful (I liked the bib he brought my boyfriend so he brought me one to take home as a souvenir!). We had a great time and it was the kind of place you could comfortably stay for the rest of the night enjoying a few drinks. 2 courses, plenty of wine and soft drinks was about 12,000.
City park day!! We did house of terror in the morning and spent way longer there than we had expected. Loads and loads of info (possibly too much!?), videos, pictures etc. having visited a fair few sites relating to the holocaust and soviet occupation elsewhere I thought I knew what to expect but was surprised at how confronting I found it. In my opiniOn, here in the UK these things feel a bit like part of "history" and, while you're aware of how barbaric these regimes were, I think it's easy to feel quite detatched. Personally I think it's really important to acknowledge and respect this aspect of the city's past, especially as for a great many people in Budapest it's not just "history", but something they lived through and to some extent are still rebuilding from.
From there we wandered up Andrassy to Hero's sq. Then over to Bagolyvar Etteren, Gundel's little sister, for lunch. Food was good, as was service. But it was maybe a bit formal and stiff for lunch/my tastes. I think it was about 13,000 for 2 courses, a glass of wine and water.
After lunch we went to the zoo! I'm a massive child and love zoos. If you want to do it properly I think you need a minimum of 3 hours. The polar bear (!!) was a highlight as was the bat cave in the Australia section, where you just walk into a room full of bats. The silverback in the gorilla enclosure was also incredible.
We had a stroll around city park, taking in the castle and church and checked out szchenyi baths for prices and opening hours. The baths were packed (though, granted, it was a Saturday evening). I adored the park and we spent a fair bit of time just wandering and sitting on benches watching the ducks and the ice skaters. Eventually we decided to have a go on the ice rink - part of the lake had been drained and turned into an ice rink. Note that the entry fee doesn't include share hire - but it's only 700 per hour. This was a real highlight for me - lots of fun and super festive!
We headed back into town and spent a bit of time at the Christmas market at st Stephens, drinking mulled wine and watching the light show on the basilica (which I thought was great) before attempting to get dinner at trofea.
I say attempt... We headed to the one near deak ter where the staff were charming but told us they were booked up all night. So we walked to the one near parliament which was booked for a private party. So... We crossed Margaret bridge to the next nearest one. I thought margaret bridge was the nicest to cross by far, and the view if margaret island at night was lovely. Given that we were starving, however, we decided not to take a detour onto the island. After 4k of walking in total we were told trofea could fit us in at 10 (score!). We were just grateful they were willing to feed us by this point!! We wandered around trying to find a bar and came across an awesome little bar/cafe near gul baba's tomb. It was called something like bookem. Downstairs the walls were lined with rolling bookcases filled with books about politics and philosophy and it was quite studenty (in a European, lets drink coffee and play guitar kind of way). I loved it. We stayed for a couple of drinks then went for dinner.
Dinner was...ok. Though I'm not sure I was justified in expecting more for all you can eat. The selection downstairs was limited and we didn't realise until we were leaving that the selection upstairs was different (the waiter didn't mention it!). We weren't offered refills of our drinks at all, which was annoying as it was a nightmare to try and grab a waiter. Getting the bill was also a long, drawn out process. That said, it was a Saturday night and the place was packed! The food was mainly Hungarian fare, which I liked, but just average quality-wise. After 9 they only charged 5,000 each though, which was very reasonable!
After dinner we went up to fishermans bastion as we'd noticed the wine bar was open til midnight. Unfortunately, they'd closed early (I guess last orders was at 11.30 maybe) so we just sat on the bastion taking in the views and chatting until we were too cold to sit still any longer.
Up bright and early we took a walk across Elizabeth bridge and up gellert hill. I thought the citadel was disappointing. We couldn't find a way to walk through the inside that didn't involve paying entry to a WWII museum, so we strolled around the outside. The views were great (though personally I prefer the views at night). We wandered down the other side of the hill and visited the rock church, which was beautiful and really unique. Be aware though that it's a functioning church so the tourist bit isn't open on Sundays and there's no visitors during mass (obviously!). You are allowed to look at the church before/after mass but obviously just need to be respectful of anyone who's there as a churchgoer rather than a tourist.
We stopped at the Alexandra bookshop for coffee, which was a well needed respite from the cold and chance to rest our feet then went to the great synagogue. We had a tour of the synagogue which I highly recommend and then spent a bit of time in the museum.
For lunch we headed to the st Stephens Christmas market and tried langos. They were awesome. Well, the first 10 bites were awesome. After that we both just started to feel a bit sick...!! We then went into the basilica for a look around and climbed up to the tower.
We had coffee and cake at cafe gerbeaud in the afternoon. The food (and coffee) was delicious but, as you'd expect, quite pricey. We did feel a bit crammed in like sardines but it was a pleasant enough atmosphere nonetheless.
After more random wandering we headed to szimpla for a few hours which was excellent!! We then met a Hungarian friend (who had flown into Budapest that day) for a rather late dinner. He took us to a place called erzsi mama which was out past liberty bridge (the only time we decided we really couldn't walk it and got a taxi - which our friend arranged for us). The restaurant was great. Our friend told us beforehand it was "the kind of food your Hungarian grandmother would cook you" and that's exactly how it felt. Really homey food, a tiny, snug little restaurant and an incredibly welcoming hostess (who seemed to appreciate my my wine-fuelled attempts at Hungarian more than our friend!). A main meal, soft drinks, a few glasses of wine for 3 came to 11,000. And we had some Hungarian shots thrown in for free. This place was the other competitor for the best meal of the trip.
Last day :( So we made the most if it...
We left the hotel at 5.30 and walked up to the szchenyi baths for 6am. Sitting in the outdoor pool with very few other bathers around on an icey December morning and watching the sun rise was well worth the early start! It was total perfection. We investigated all of the pools but, frankly, I could have happily sat in the outdoor bath the whole time. We had 2 hours in the baths and felt that was just about right.
We headed down to gerbeaud for breakfast as we were starved (and possibly a teeny bit hungover, though the baths had largely sorted that our for us) and had spotted some fantastic looking spreads on their menu the previous day. We burn opted for the chef's choice and it was fantastic!! About 3,500 each but worth every penny and more!
We'd planned to try and fit in parliament but by the time we'd got back to the hotel and packed we thought it might be a squeeze to do that and the central market hall, so sacrificed parliament (on the basis we'd just have to make a return trip to Budapest in the hear future and do it then!). Central market hall was interesting, though we didn't buy anything. The fishmongers in the basement were pretty unpleasant - I didn't like seeing the fish all crammed nose-to-tail into those tiny little tanks, but maybe I'm just being a girl!
From there we went and grabbed a quick lunch at one of the Christmas markets and then headed off for our flight.
All in all we had an amazing break and will definitely be paying Budapest another visit soon - there's just so much more that we didn't manage to see!!
Huge apologies for the ridiculously long trip report! Hopefully there's something in there of use to someone though...!!