Budapest is a haven for the nostalgic traveller. While some European cities prefer to sacrifice the old for the new, in Budapest, they co-exist beautifully. The streets are a patchwork of distressed brick walls in pastel shades, peppered with wooden shutters and vibrant murals. Budapest’s famous ruin bars embody this timelessness, with their artfully refurbished crumbling interiors. Mazel Tov is one of the best ruin bars in Budapest’s Jewish quarter. Ivy cascades down its stony walls, and it is lit by comfortingly warm lightbulbs, suspended above heads like a series of good ideas.
You do not have to break the bank either, to see this breath-taking city for yourself. The average price of an evening meal in Budapest is around £8 per head, far cheaper than Paris’s whopping £18. A regular AirBnB, complete with kitchen and bathroom, will cost between £25 to £30 per night; this money would only stretch to a single bed in a hostel in Rome. A little more pricey – but definitely worth the money – are Budapest’s Thermal Baths, with entry prices starting from £25.
Do not be put off from Széchenyi’s outdoor thermal pools in the winter: watching snow fall from the comfort of the steaming 38°C water is an incredible experience. Having to run half-naked across snow to get to said steaming waters is less enjoyable; I would highly recommend arming yourself with slippers and towels. The indoor thermal pools at Gellert Baths are more spectacular than Széchenyi’s. Blue-green mosaic tiles and cherub fountains line the walls, and some pools reach a dizzying 40°C. Be warned that to swim in several pools in Gellert, including the one lined with Roman columns, you have to wear a swimming cap. You can save a few pennies by taking your own, instead of renting one. They have everything here from ice-baths to saunas, massages to mud treatments – it just depends how far your wallet stretches.
“I was forced to tie plastic bags round my feet to keep the frostbite at bay”
If you are visiting in the winter, be prepared for the cold. Temperatures can reach -6°C, and there will almost certainly be some snow. On discovering that my shoes were not waterproof, I was forced to tie plastic bags round my feet to keep the frostbite at bay. Having to remove my shoes at airport security was, as you can imagine, humiliating. You can also combat the cold with Hungary’s famous soups and stews – Goulash, a warming broth of beef and vegetables, is available in most Hungarian restaurants.
“Its elegant spires of white stone feel like something from a fairy-tale”
The best view of Budapest can be seen for free at Fisherman’s Bastion. Its elegant spires of white stone feel like something from a fairy-tale. From here, you can see the Parliament Building across the River Danube in all its pointy neo-Gothic glory. A tour inside for roughly £15 will reveal a decadent interior, dripping in 40 kilograms of 24-carat gold leaf. Towering turrets of slate and stone at Vajdahunyad Castle will make you feel like you have stumbled into Dracula’s Transylvania. Budapest’s ageless aesthetic is perfectly displayed in this castle, which combines Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque styles in one enchantingly ambiguous structure. In winter, you can find Christmas markets here; cheerful wooden stalls spill over with faux-fur accessories and aromatic spiced wine. Buda Castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, where with a student discount, you can enjoy exhibitions including the work of renowned artists, such as Bacon and Freud, at a reasonable price.
If you are deliberating about going to Budapest – just do it! Even constrained by the tragic student budget, I can promise you this beautiful city will go above and beyond all your expectations.