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Budapest at Christmastime + Ryan Air, Solo Travel, Food...

This was both my first time traveling alone and my first visit to Budapest. (Thanks to all- especially Mr. E.) I figured I'd focus on itinerary since that is the most common request around here. I wanted to do a lot in my 3 days, so I prepared (a very theoretical) hour-by-hour itinerary that I could use as a guide. I mapped out travel times to make it more accurate.

I had been traveling 22 hours when I arrived and thought I would crash, but I was too hungry and excited to sleep.

My first stop (after checking in) was Bors Gastro Bar for a cup of soup and it was perfection. (I don't know that I've ever seen a place with thousands of reviews that has a full 5 stars on tripadvisor?) It's a small shop run with culinary precision and everything is homemade. I was not dressed appropriately for the weather because I thought I'd zip right out and back in. I walked the Christmas markets, which were as stunning and enchanting as people say they are, and a shopkeeper chided me about my red fingers and not wearing gloves, haha.

I also went to the University Library (partly to warm up) and they said I needed a library card for entry. I still had a student ID from a technical program which the guard was happy to use to sign me up. The library is stunning and I was nerding out over having a Budapest University library card. I also got a chimney cake at Molnar's and it's just one person's opinion, but NOT OVERRATED.

I am a cookie fanatic so I went to Cookie Beacon for a cookie and coffee. This, I feel, is a little overrated. It was so stuffed with chocolate and what little cookie there was, was dough, so I ended up throwing most of it away and I generally don't do that. Coffee was good.

I started at St. Stephen's Basilica and downloaded a free audio guide online so that I could get some background info as I walked. I relished every moment I was inside because it was SO cold.

I took an orientation walk with Ultimate Budapest (pay what you want) and the guide not only gave recommendations about what to see, but told us what lines to use to get there, the cost, how long it would take, etc... She gave us a historical overview, went over some current things, and covered decent ground on the Pest side. The Shoes on the Danube were a priority to me, but I dreaded it a little too. She walked us by and gave everyone a few moments.

After the tour, I took the metro to Buda and went to Fény Street Market for lángos. (Note: the lángos stand here only takes cash.). Lángos is also not overrated, but I carried that dang thing around all day and still couldn't finish it! There was an old piano in the market that had a sign suggesting passersby play it. I used to play for a traveling church band and the market was not even a little busy, so I sat down a played for a few minutes. So out of body to be somewhere I never thought I'd see, with no one I knew inside a thousand miles, playing the piano in a market.

The funicular to Buda Castle was a cute little jaunt, but I did not take the museum tour in favor of seeing Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion. The church was my favorite of my trip (including many beautiful churches in Italy). I also walked through the old town and it was very dreamy and "European".

After warming up at the hostel, I got lost on my way to Kisharang Étkezde. It was delicious, comforting and inexpensive. (Also tiny and busy, so I had to wait a few minutes outside.). There was only one very sweet waiter (also the host), but he was getting it done. By then it was jet-lag-o'clock, but I still couldn't resist another stroll through the Christmas Markets on my way back.

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Vajdahunyad Castle, which I had to myself, is beautiful and bizarre since it has been converted into an agriculture/hunting museum. I’m not into taxidermy, but I was glad I went. The statue of Anonymous was cool and it was neat to see the towers inspired by Bolognese architecture when I was headed to Bologna the following week. I passed the ice rink at the City Park building and there was actually a group off to the side recreationally curling!

I took the M1 line (the oldest underground “on the continent”, as they say) to Heroes’ Square. It’s worth a trip just to experience the old trains and Heroes’ Square is stunning. I was surprised to find I was over an hour ahead of my projected schedule without rushing, but I didn't feel I had enough time for the Museum of Fine Arts.

Terror Háza museum has had some criticism, but the museum itself is put together with a high level of artistic expression and contains a great deal of information, take it how you will. I had the English audioguide, which is necessary to get much out of it, but there is an audio component to many of the spaces and it clashes with the audioguide. The entire experience is a bit of an overload, but still important and interesting.

I had lunch at Norbi Étkezde, which was warm, welcoming and... dusty. The special that day wasn’t my speed either. It was the only time I was at a place where no one spoke English and they were so kind and patient with me.

I showed up for a WWII history walk, but the guide didn't. Ultimate Budapest had sent me a ticket noting the wrong time with no way to reschedule, so I walked a long time (loved this little shop: Rhododendron Art & Design Shop) and saw many beautiful buildings (those roof tiles!).

I planned to skip thermal baths, but the hostel didn't have hot water and I needed an indoor activity. I didn’t bring a swimsuit, but I found one in a clearance shop, got flip flops at an Asian grocery, and went to Gellért. I thought it would be a lot of locals and older people at 5pm on a weekday, but it was busy with the early twenties crowd. A lot of them were comfy enough to "neck", as the old folks say, in the baths. I was, at least, warm for the first (and last) time in Budapest.

I stopped to see the light show projected onto St. Stephen’s as I passed the Christmas market, and they were advertising a concert in the church. I was still damp, but I’m glad I stayed for it. An opera soloist in his 70s easily filled the room with his voice.

My hostel was a minute from Szimpla Kert and I wanted to see at least one of the famous ruin bars. It was fantastic- the rooms went on forever and there were a half dozen bars set up inside. The atmosphere was loud and friendly but not wild.

I took the tram to The Salgotarjani Street Jewish Cemetery early. The opulence and decay were both overwhelming- jarring to see so many extravagant mausoleums crumbling. I didn't know a lot about it beforehand, but I could see the majority of deaths were dated around the 20s. The disrepair makes sense when you consider how many families left Hungary, were deported, or lost their lives in the next decades, leaving few to maintain memorials. Heartbreaking.

I returned to town for a scheduled tour of the eye-popping Hungarian Parliament. My favorite fact from the tour is that they removed the stained glass windows and put them in the basement, buried in layers of sand. As a result, they survived the war intact though much of Budapest was razed.

I walked along the Danube and visited the Central Market Hall before fetching my backpack.

Of course I got 2 cups of soup at Bors Gastrobar and Molnar’s chimney cake to hoard on the plane on my way out of town.

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I was nervous about logistics because I am famously (minor) disaster prone. I arrived on time in Madrid, found the gate for Budapest, landed in Budapest at 4pm and walked straight to the info desk, where I bought a 72 hour transportation pass. They pointed me to the shuttle, I caught the first one, and was at my stop in District V before 5pm. I found my hostel right away and checked in. I could not believe my luck at how smoothly it had all gone.

Budapest is very walkable within neighborhoods, but the sights are more spread out than some historical centers in Italy, by comparison. I was very happy I bought a Travelcard. I was there for about 72 hours, so it matched my needs well and cost only around $15. It saved me time and money and I never had to hesitate about going somewhere.

RYANAIR (baggage allowance, delays and such)
I flew Delta base economy to Madrid, which afforded me a round trip from Pittsburgh at only 375.00 and then I purchased a Ryanair flight to Budapest (around $60) that was scheduled to depart 4 hours after I landed in Madrid. Flight stats told me delays were rare for the Delta flights (PIT-JFK-MAD) and those that occurred were usually brief, so I was comfortable scheduling with a 2-hour margin of error.

I had measured my backpack, but adding last minute things meant it did not fit in the prescribed limit when I checked the size box at the gate. I took four Ryanair flights on this trip and it was mentioned only once, but they let me go without charging me anyhow. There were people in front of me who had multiple shopping bags, large purses and backpacks and they had not paid for additional bags. They were not even questioned. It seems to be hit or miss, but I won't risk it in the future.

As of now, I have flown with Ryan 8 times and I have not been on a flight that took off exactly on time. In general, they seem to board around the time takeoff is scheduled? They must either account for this or be very efficient for making it up in the air because we were only late by more than a few minutes once.

I stayed at Maverick City Lodge (excellent location!). The lobby and vibe were nice and the staff helpful. I adored the other gals who stayed in the room, but I had the only bunk bordering on hilarious in height, especially when I had to go to the restroom at night. They had kindly put a light switch at the bottom so I wouldn’t have to climb to turn it off, but it was mistaken for the room light and roommates were inadvertently flashing the bunk light above my face as they tried to turn the room light on or off. (I finally put a post-it on it.)

My bunk area was tidy, the mattress was as expected, but the but the bathroom had major issues while I was there. Someone lost their ring and they took a sink apart and didn’t bother putting it back together. Tiles got pulled up, they fixed plaster and left the huge windows open overnight to dry it so it was only around 40F in there. Worst, they never had hot water. I tried morning, night, midday… nada. They said it would be fixed the next day, every day. I read multiple reviews before booking, but once I keyword searched them later, I saw they’ve been telling people there will be hot water “tomorrow” for years!

That said, it was $12 a night pre-tax. If cold showers and a cold bathroom was the price of making a Budapest trip accessible, I’ll take it.

It was a whirlwind of a visit, but it was also slow and contemplative at times. I felt genuinely emotional leaving and very grateful to have visited.

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What a great report. You did some great stuff! I also loved Bors (was sent there by young friends (who also sent me to Artizan near Liberty Square - both excellent!) and I couldn’t resist the hot soup, the dessert soup, AND a baguette sandwich. And I was wishing for a chair and a cup of coffee at the cemetery, just to soak it in. I am ready to be back next month and your report is making me ancy…..

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I thoroughly enjoyed your Budapest Tour with the Food Highlights! I had toured Budapest with a University Student group and can remember some things vividly... mostly how yummy the food was! I got some of my best photos there.

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We've been to Budapest twice, and we were supposed to return when the pandemic hit.

My wife wants to go back on our next trip and then take in Slovenia, Coatia and Montenegro. We hit Croatia and Montenegro off a cruise ship (from Athens) last June and she wants to see more.

Too bad you missed Zingburgers in Budapest. They're about the best burger and fries we've ever had.

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Are you going back next month? Wonderful- I'll watch for a report. My husband hasn't been jealous of my travels until Budapest, so I guess I'll have to go back as well, especially since @David says I missed the world's best burger.


Thanks. :) I wasn't expecting it to be so beautiful. I'm not a great photographer, but my pictures from there are some of my favorite as well.


4 weeks before the war, I had written out an Eastern European itinerary that included St. Petersburg and Kyiv. Still hoping I can one day Go through Riga, Tallin, Vilnius, Ljubliana and Prague and I would love to dip into Krakow and Vienna and get back to Budapest. I have no idea when I will have that much time to be away, lol, but it's a dream.

You're going to have a blast! Can't wait to hear about it and add all those places to my bucket list, lol.

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Oh my, I thought I had decided to go to London and Gdansk this Christmas season, but now I'm going to do some research and consider a return visit to Budapest for the Christmas Markets. And for hot soup from Bors Gastro Bar!

Thanks for sharing your trip!