One month in Budapest: Experiences and impressions
This weekend we’ll be celebrating a month in Budapest. Someone asked me yesterday how I liked Budapest. It’s something I’ve been putting off answering because, honestly, I’m not 100% sure myself how I feel. And then I remember that we felt the same way after a month in Prague last year – a city that we ended up falling in love with. So I’m not going to make a decision on Budapest yet. Instead I’ll write about some of our experiences and impressions to date.
– First impressions on the people: Laszlo, our Airbnb host, is exceptionally friendly. He’s a farmer and works a plum/peach/apricot farm outside the city. We were greeted with a basket of peaches along with Hungarian beer. Airbnb hosts take note: food and beer after a long flight are great things and will always earn you points towards a fantastic review .
– Cities can be ugly first thing in the morning. We were up at 6am the next day and decided to explore. Central Pest, in the area around Deák Ferenc tér (tér means square), is not the best place to get a good first impression of Budapest. Young foreigners were drunk and drinking beer in a couple of dingy sidewalk bars. Old bums were laid out on park benches. Broken beer bottles and crumpled up cans were strewn on sidewalks. Gritty and dirty, those were our first impressions of Budapest.
– Comparisons to Prague. You can’t help make comparisons to Prague, there are so many similarities between the two cities. As far as beauty goes, Prague is more impressive. Everywhere you look in Prague is a fairy tale. Budapest has many beautiful buildings but in between them you’ll also see many not-so-attractive modern buildings. And the skyline along the river, looking at either the Buda or Pest side, is in no way comparable to the views along the river in Prague. Especially on a grey and dreary day. Honestly, we weren’t that impressed with what we saw that first day in Budapest.
Update: Prague or Budapest
– Signing up for the gym. Starting year 2 of our travels, we decided that our priority would be to get back in shape. So, after just a few days here, we signed up for memberships at the gym down the street. It has totally changed the way we regard the city. From our quirky indoor cycling teacher (who sings as she rides her bike) to our aerobics teacher (who started giving instructions in both Hungarian and English when we started her class) to our gruff young weights teacher (who’s always bringing more weights for me to add to my bar), they’ve all bent over backwards to introduce themselves, make conversation, and make us feel included. Warm and friendly, younger people love a chance to show off their English and we are incredibly impressed by the level of English spoken in Budapest. In a short time we’ve made a lot of acquaintances, both among the staff and other people in the gym.
– Budapest is hip, cosmopolitan, and easy to live in. A 3 minute walk brings us to the gym. Across the street is a yoga studio. Within two minute walks on either side of us are groceries stores. Directly across from us is a wine bar (and there are tons here). Turkish kabab restaurants are all over the place. There’s a sushi restaurant close by (excellent). Budapest has a very international feel. Add to that the previously mentioned proficiency in English.
– Thermal baths and Spas. Budapest is the city of thermal baths. The most famous are the Széchenyi Thermal Baths which are the largest thermal baths in Europe. The different baths there all range in different temperatures, the warmest approximating 38 C. In all, there are 15 public thermal baths in Budapest (that’s not including some of the hotels that have their own spas). We’re going to visit as many as we can while we are here and write a post at a later date on our favorites.
– Hungarian language. Croatian and Czech (two languages we’ve recently been exposed to) were in many ways similar being Slavic languages. This whole region is full of Slavic languages so you would think Hungarian would somehow be similar. It’s not. Hungarian is actually part of the Uralic family of languages, the closest relatives being Finnish and Estonian. I find that really interesting. So it’s a completely different language to that of its neighbors. The two words we’ve learned to date: ‘Szia’ which means both hello and good bye (but really easy to pronounce and remember as “See ya”). Thank you: “köszönöm”.
– The people are very attractive. Their colouring: ‘like they’ve all been dipped in honey’ according to Lissette. True, in varying degrees, as you can get from quite pale to quite dark. The woman are beautiful, enhanced by the way they dress which is very feminine and sometimes very sexy: lots of dresses, high heels, tights pants, short shorts or skirts. The guys tend to be boxy, well built, well coifed and the ‘work uniform’ seems to be tight pants and tight shirts.
– Store Hours oddity. Hungary has a right-wing government that is going against the flow of most EU countries. Since March of this year, there’s a new law (the “Sabbath Law”) that requires all stores of over 200 square meters to close on Sundays. We didn’t know about it – our first Sunday we were surprised to see all grocery stores closed. We’ve adapted, stocking up on Saturdays. Still, strange to walk around on a Sunday when parts of the city seem like a ghost town. Montreal used to feel the same way about 20 years ago.
– Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities, anywhere, at night. I mentioned earlier that we weren’t that impressed with what we saw on our first day in Budapest. It’s a lot more attractive, like any city, on a sunny day. But when Budapest is in its most amazing is at night. I don’t think we’ve seen a more beautiful city at night than Budapest.
– Immigration brouhaha. I mentioned stores being closed on Sundays. But the other political issue that Hungary is known for these days is its anti-immigrant stance. The government is having a wall built on the Serbian/Hungarian border in the hopes of stopping immigrants coming from Serbia (which seems to be a major overland crossing point for them). Signs have also come up in Budapest, telling immigrants that they have to stick to local laws and not to try to take jobs away from Hungarians. Are they behind the times or ahead of them? My feeling is that you’re going to be seeing more and more walls coming up around Europe.
So that’s it, impressions and experiences to date. We don’t know yet if we will feel the same way about Budapest as we did some of the other places that we’ve fallen in love with. We will say however that it is an easy place to live and that we really like the people.
Have you been to Budapest?
Update: We Spent 2 months in Budapest. Here is what to See and Do (and what to Skip).
Related: Eger (Hungary) and why it’s worth a Visit
Related: Prague or Budapest – which to visit?
Related: Impressions of Kiev (Kyiv). And comparing it to other European capitals
Ps If you find our blog helpful, please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page.
If you haven’t subscribed yet and want to get our posts and newsletters sent to your email, just insert your email address below
We loved your post…We’ve been to Budapest this year just one week, but reading your post makes us want to stay one month. Thank you. Continue the good job:)
Hey, thanks guys! Really appreciate 🙂
Very good review, I am planning a trip to Budapest this year! I love that NEGRO sweets, which I haven’t had for 20 years at least! I already forgot them 🙂 Thanks a lot for reminding, I will definitely buy some package!
Everyone needs a little bit of negro once in a while, right? 🙂
Such a weird name.
I wrote that a few weeks ago, we’ve really ended up liking the city and could easily come back.
Have a good time when you visit!
Gritty and dirty, beautiful at night, cosmopolitan, hip and easy to live in. Even though I was only in Budapest 11 nights, I think your description sums it up perfectly. About the gym: I’ve always wondered how everyone remains so trim – even though walking everywhere for many hours a day my last trip should have been called 5 pounds in 5 countries! BTW: have you tried the popular Hungarian Pöttyös Túró Rudii chocolate candy bar? Go on, you deserve it after all those hours in the gym! Looking forward to your Budapest and Hungary impressions after month 2.
Hi Rebecca! Hmm, we’ll have to try out that chocolate bar. Despite having a mission to get back in shape we’ve still managed a piece of cake (shared) at the different coffeehouses. So we can splurge on chocolate 🙂 I’ll give you our impressions when we’ve tried it.
Thanks for taking the time to comment!
I’m so surprised to read that Budapest is more expensive than Prague, probably because I tend to associate tourism with higher cost, and I assume Prague is more commonly visit. I’m glad you’re warming up to the city, though. It often takes me a month to fall in love with a place as well, so I’m looking forward to your Month 2 Roundup to see how your thoughts have changed. It sounds like they’ve already begun to!
Hey, thanks Jessica. You know what? I think Prague can be more expensive if you go to a fancy hotel for a few days and live it up in touristy restaurants and bars. In fact I read a hotel study that the average room rate and occupancy is higher in Prague than Budapest. So yes. BUT, if you live there as a local, shop at the grocery store, stick to beer, and don’t eat at all the outrageous spots – then Prague is cheaper. At least that’s our experience.
I’ll recalculate everything after month 2 and also factor in the currency devaluation of the Canadian dollar. We’ve also found a grocery store nearby (Aldi) that is about 30% cheaper than where we’ve been going (Spar). So costs should come down, because our first month here was quite expensive.
Love hearing from fellow slow travellers who get what I’m talking about. Yes, to properly get to know a place, you have to spend time. 2-3 days doesn’t cut it.
i only got to stay a few days in Budapest, but i must admit I thought it was a pretty awesome city and was very disappointed I didnt get to stay longer. Looks like it’s not too bad for living too! thanks for sharing!
Thanks Andy. Budapest an awesome place to live.
Good post, and a nice introduction to Budapest, Frank. First impressions of cities (unlike Nature and countrysides etc) are often over estimated , and as with most, if not all places, they ‘grow’ on us with Time and Experiences, no matter what the initial impressions may have been. I can never get too excited about the initial ‘friendliness’ , or not, of the people . So much of such outward demonstrations as ‘friendliness’ are simply part of a Culture’s Expression – formal (French, Germans), informal and casual (N Americans, Aussies) more private (Argentinians), extrovert and brazen (Brasilians) emotional (Italians) , reserved (English) or aloof (Spaniards) …( hows that for a terrible generalisation of Peoples , many of whom have various mixtures of any or all the above !!!) Much of the secret is for us, as the visitors, to be able to find the ‘keys’ to that Culture, and be able to act and react accordingly.
And never underestimate the importance of language. I tend to believe that a very large part of Liz’s enjoyment and preferences for Budapest over Prague has to do with the fact that she speaks Hungarian . Speaking the language – no matter how proficient the locals may be in yours – opens up an entirely different world and dimension of appreciation, enjoyment and fun. How can it not ? Real Communication is, after all our very ‘raison d’etre’ especially as travellers and Voyageurs.
Pity about the graffiti and the ‘bums and beggars’ but unfortunately, they both have become a world-wide symbol of most of our economies and Cultures , in particular our “Western” ones. In the Third-world or emerging countries, there may be a valid or at least understandable reasoning for both, but I have noticed they are often less evident in many poorer nations, and less afflicted by the ‘problem’ than in our own richer Western ones. The graffiti blight is often worst in the happiest and wealthiest countries (Amsterdam, Copenhagen- and yes, in Canadian cities) but beggars have become a world-wide phenomenon that seems to be only growing by leaps and bounds – a reflection of our ever widening income gaps and impossibly low minimum wages (or as in the UK) zero-hour contracts; the impossibility for our economies to generate sufficient jobs, especially ones that pay a living wage, and our ever reduced social services that seem to believe that the streets are the place for people who require mental (and often physical) help ! Its almost impossible to walk down a short block in the commercial or tourist parts of any Canadian city,without having to face a spectrum of beggars and street-people – something that was near to non-existent only a decade or two ago . And it seems to be much the same almost everywhere these days.
And I’m afraid to say that you are bang-on regarding the immigration and refugee problem in Europe, Frank. Yesterday Germany announced that they are facing the influx of 800.000 migrants this year – 4 times last years’ influx – a number close to 1% of their population. Both the UK and France are looking at an influx of 400.000 to 500.000 as well – and then theres Scandanavia, Belgium and Nederlands etc .In all its possible that there could be over 2 million refugees and migrants into Europe over the next year. There is no way any country, any culture, any people can accept and absorb such numbers especially year after year, and especially when the vast majority of the migrants are educationally, culturally and otherwise unsuited to the host culture itself. Its not like the Italians or Irish migrating to the US 100 years ago, nor is it like the ‘choice-selected’ immigration of Australia or Canada, where only the pick of the crop is basically allowed in. Its just common sense. And a popular backlash is only a question of Time away – the early signs of it are already pretty much everywhere .
I have to make a rather tongue-in-cheek comment to Liz, about her remark on migrants in Sweden. As an Australian, Liz, I believe it would be rather hard to make or suggest migrant policies for other countries, when your own nation is practicing the toughest, most harsh – but undoubtedly also the most “successful” – policies anywhere, towards migrants and refugees coming to Australia, . Non-refugees are returned to Indonesia immediately (or the country from which they have come), while refugees I understand, are banished to various islands or the Outback until their cases are heard – which can take 2 or 3 years – and for which the acceptance rate is very low . As mentioned by Frank, I believe the rest of the world will be adopting the Australian approach, long before Australia accepts or applies the (present) European approach .
I have not visited either Prague or Budapest yet, but both of of you (Frank and Liz) have given me the taste, insight and interest to travel and visit both – no matter what the differences may be ! Happy Travels !
You always have insightful comments and numbers to back them up Tony!
So true about beggars in Canada. We were actually shocked about the number of beggars when we came back to Montreal. I don’t know if the problem got worse when we were away or if we had just never noticed how many there were – but we really noticed them after having travelled for the last year.
Dee (Dee's Butterfly Garden)
I will take a pass on the dicksaft…lol. I’ve never seen so many people out in a storm, going about their business, biking driving and walking through flooded streets. Hungarians sure don’t let the weather stop them! I loved the photos of the river at night, that’s a beautiful sight. Great job with the exercise classes, keep up the good work there!
Thanks Dee. The storm hit hard and fast. We saw the clouds come in and jumped on the bus back. 15 minutes later it was raining. 15 minutes after that you see what’s it the video. We were stuck at the bus stop until we decided to make a run for the apartment which was just a couple of blocks away. Crazy.
Liz Posmyk (Good Things)
Hello there fellas… read your article with great interest… particularly as my man and I had just visited Prague and then Budapest. I loved both and each one is a very beautiful city with charm and character of its own!
I will say first up that I am probably biased towards Hungary, given my Magyar family origins, but then my maternal grandmothers were Czech and Swabian respectively, so maybe not, too. That said, Budapest gets my vote hands down on so many counts. Prague, we found, was far more expensive, and those lovely old buildings were often covered in graffiti. Most disappointing. We found the people were less warm in Prague, to Budapest, but that could be a language issue too… fortunately I speak Hungarian.
In terms of views, I think Budapest and Prague are on par… but yes, Budapest wins on the most beautiful at night. : )
We were in Prague during a massive heat wave… it was so hot that there were water trucks driving through the streets, spraying showers of water to keep people cool. True, Hungary can be extremely hot too… it’s been a bitterly cold winter back home in Australia… climate change.
Re the building of the walls to keep out the immigrants, I have mixed feelings… in Stockholm, for example, refugees are allowed in but then the government does little to help them, so the streets are filled with beggars. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, really.
Do hope you give Budapest more of a chance… it really is one of the most charming old cities in the world. xxx
Hi Liz! Love hearing from someone who’s been to both Prague and Budapest. When we are finished here I’ll do a detailed post comparing the two. There are so many similarities.
Firstly: agree, definitely the people in Budapest are friendlier than in Prague. No comparison there. And that counts for a lot.
I had another person say that Prague is expensive; I would imagine that staying in the center, in a hotel, in the summer, is probably expensive because of all those tourists in Prague. While Budapest is touristy the numbers don’t compare to Prague (which has too many tourists in mid summer). Yes, there are overpriced hotels and restaurants in Prague (as there probably are in Budapest). But for us, living there (for 3 months in Prague and now on our 2nd in Budapest) Prague much cheaper: Food at the grocery store, booze, going out to restaurants. I don’t count rent as we had a sweetheart deal in Prague – if we stayed in an Airbnb apartment there as we have here we would have paid approx. the same.
– I’m a little surprised what you say about graffiti. I don’t remember graffiti in Prague except in some of the districts outside the center. I remember Prague, especially the Old and Lesser Town, being cleaner than most downtown districts in Budapest. I find there’s lot of bums in Budapest.
– Regarding walls. People won’t like what I have to say on this; but I agree with the Hungarian position. It is not sustainable to have thousands of people coming to your country, most uneducated, and having to take care of them. We’ve had refugee crises in the past: the Vietnamese, the Ethiopians. But that pales in relation to the mass exodus leaving Syria, Afganistan, and Iraq for Europe. Financially and socially taking them in is not sustainable. And if European governments continue doing it they won’t be in government for long – you’re seeing right wing parties growing in popularity in Europe because of all this. Give it a year or two, the discussion will be about how to keep them out, not how to help them out. Its a mess.
Thanks again Liz. We’re here another month so for sure we’ll have developed our feelings more by the time we leave in early late September.
Hey guys! Great article. I could really go for a thermal bath right now and can’t wait to see your upcoming post! Budapest looks like such an interesting city. I hope we get to check it out someday. When you wrote about how ugly cities are in the early morning, you made me think of my time in South Korea. Walking to work, stepping over passed out men on the sidewalk and what we called “pigeon pizza” -which were giant puddles of vomit from the night before. Ha ha! Like you I prefer cities in the evening hours. Great read and pics. I actually felt like I was there with you!
Urgg, thanks for the visual. I once saw a pigeon pecking at vomit on the sidewalk and those birds have disgusted me since…
Interesting read. I like the fact that you will hold off on a final “feeling” and that you recognize it was the same way when you hit Prague last year. We loved the city, but then 2 weeks and 4 days were probably not enough. Check out theworldinbetween blog. She and her husband were in Budapest for a year or two and l think you may fall more in love the way she did. It is disturbing about the wall and the signs, but l fear that like you said , it will become the norm for a lot of countries :-). Now, you make me feel like such a fattie for not joining the gym (at €60 per month per person for a tiny gym, it ain’t gonna happen. In Malaga, we paid 15/mth)., but glad you guys are spinning and lifting..and good for you, paving the way for other guys. I’m pretty sure they jack up the prices in the summer..we saw it between our two visits. Springtime was way cheaper than summer.
Thanks Kemkem. I’ll check out her blog.
Hey, maybe we’ll post some photos of our 6-packs when we’re done here. Fattie. Just kidding 🙂
Fat bottomed girl..you make the whole world go round.. Haha hahha!!!! R You’re the one for me Fattie :-). No worries..l call myself a fatty bom bom!!!
Ha! Sounds like you’re rappin! 🙂
Thanks, interesting set of comparisons.
PS. I think you’ll find agavendicksaft is German for “agave syrup” (literally “agave thick juice.”) 🙂
Thank you Paul! Our German friends at Westwards.de corrected us on facebook and told us the same. I was starting to wonder because it didn’t taste like honey. Hmmm, something is lost in translation there between the Danes and the Germans…how does ‘Agave thick juice’ become ‘dick juice”? Isn’t language a great thing 🙂