A city that once was once two, bisected by the Danube river – Budapest is still very much a tale of two halves. Whilst Pest buzzes and whirrs with city life, Buda basks in the late-afternoon sunshine; unpretentious, leafy and understated.
Once upon a time, Budapest might have been overlooked, shadowed by its major European neighbours, but those days are long gone. These days Budapest rests firmly on the map; beautiful sprawling architecture frames picturesque views of the Danube twinkling at sunset, whilst the world’s largest collection of thermal baths keeps tourists flocking to the city, not to mention the cheap, flowing beer and eccentric ruin bars that keep Budapest rocking every night of the week. Yes, the secrets out on this once Soviet city. But, lucky for us, there are still some extremely unusual, quirky and cool things to do in Budapest.
1 Party in a pool
You won’t spend long in Budapest before you hear hushed whispers of the infamous “Sparty” (spa-party) that descends on Budapest’s largest thermal bath complex – Széchenyi Thermal Bath – every Saturday night of the summer. Lasers, lights, DJ’s and impromptu orgies are all on the menu for those who dare. Fancy something a little tamer? Try partying the night away at Budapest’s biggest indoor waterpark – Aquapark – which hosts occasional party events complete with dance floor and fire-jugglers. You can also check out Rudas Baths late night opening hours every Fri and Saturday from 10pm-3am for a beautiful view of the city from their rooftop hot tub. In the daytime visit Palatinus Bath on Marget Island, where you can soak up some sun alongside a full bar. If you’re feeling extra fancy splurge at Rudas Baths with an exclusive red wine bath soak, or how about an hour of free-flowing bath-side beer whilst soaking in a tub of hops at Széchenyi Thermal Bath’s Beer Spa.
2 Picnic with a view
Time to get out of the city and ride the children’s railway (yes, a railway service run by children – with adult supervision, of course) up through the Buda hills. A throwback to Budapest’s Soviet past, the Children’s Railway is a cute, noisy 30 min ride through the green hills. Hop off at Normafa Station and walk to Anna’s meadow for a picnic with a spectacular view of the city, before riding the kitsch Zugliget Chairlift back down. Expect breathtaking views of the city with a charming Wes Anderson vibe.
3 Novelty pubs
Why get drunk in a regular, boring bar when you could be sat straddling a giant hamster at Szimpla Kert. Or improving your Scrabble game at Game Up Pub, lounging on the deck at Pontoon, playing some air hockey at Füge Udvar or seeing how time stood still at “ruin pubs” like Előre 57 Pub. These are just a few of the options on offer courtesy of Budapest’s vast collection of eccentric watering holes.
4 Niche museums
Skip the crowds at major city museums by going underground figuratively, and literally – in some cases – at Budapest’s collection of niche interest museums. Try Hospital in The Rock for a museum based in an old nuclear bunker. Try your hand at some antique pinball courtesy of the Flipper Museum. Alternatively, for something a bit more educational head to Budapest Agriculture Museum to feast your eyes on a ballroom of antlers or The Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum for some seriously weird artefacts such as ground-up mummy powder, taxidermy-aplenty and the occasional severed head.
5 Visit the Michael Jackson tree
Admit it, life has never really quite been the same without him. Thankfully, in Budapest, you can pay your respects to the late, great MJ at an unofficial – although somehow now a recognised location on Google Maps – tree shrine that has appeared in the city opposite the Kempinski Hotel; Micheal’s go-to spot in Budapest. Just a nice idea which was thrown together by some fans, which has somehow stuck. All hail The King of Pop.
6 Use the facilities at Budapest’s nicest toilet
And finally, no alt-trip to Budapest would not be complete without a tinkle in its most decadent of toilets – located inside the New York Palace Hotel. One way to gain access is to dine at the very beautiful, although wildly overpriced, New York Cafe which is adjoined to the hotel. Another way is to wander in looking like you belong there and hope for the best. I would recommend the latter. If all else fails, run.
Jodie Taylor is a freelance writer and eCommerce entrepreneur. She writes best about the romance of travel, life as a digital nomad and the quirks of our beautiful, weird world.