Mondays are truly awful for celebrating birthdays. Especially, when you actually have a romantic weekend planned and there is no chance to extend the stay over Sunday. But when two nights is all you have, there still is a chance of making the best out of it. Join me on this fast-forward weekend escape to beautiful Budapest and learn how 24 hours can sometimes be enough for a perfect stay.
The biggest concern we had, when planning this trip, was the time factor. Since I work for the airlines, getting there was not the problem at all, but it was more the question of how and when. Was it worth it to take the first flight in the morning and be literally exhausted the entire day, because we would not be able to catch the last flight on Friday night?
And since the weather forecast had not been the most pleasing, would it make sense to fly in and run around sleepy in the rain?
Both options were not too convincing. And taking a bus simply failed because of comfort issues.
So my partner came up with the best opportunity there was: The night train from Munich Central Station to Budapest Keleti. With a departure at 11:30 pm and an arrival to Budapest at 9:20 am, this formed not only the most comfortable, but also the most time-efficient alternative towards the plane. And since we decided for a private sleeping compartment, arriving refreshed and well rested was not a problem at all. But I will tell you about this experience in a specific blog post.
From Keleti station, it was only a short 10 minutes walk to the hotel (find the review here). The room would not be ready before 1:00 pm, but we had already taken that into account by bringing a backpack with us. We stuffed our swimsuits, two large towels and a pair of flip-flops for each of us inside and left the remaining luggage in the hotel for storage until later that day.
Since the morning coffee on the train was not enough for me, we decided to walk by the nearby Café New York (one of Budapest´s most popular and glamorous Vienna style coffee houses) to see, if they had a seat available. But the cafe was already overflowing and a large line had formed in front of the counter. To be honest, it is a beautiful marvel that you should definitely have a look at, but if you do not make it inside, not really a miss either. I think.
So we walked the few blocks from there towards the Danube River, grabbed a coffee to go en route and followed the Kossuth Lajos main road that would eventually lead to the Erzsébet Bridge.
It was pretty cold and the sky looked like that it would begin to rain any moment. I had researched ahead of our stay about the different kinds of bath houses available. And even though the Art Nouveau Gellert Bath was tempting to visit, we figured it would be as overcrowded on this Saturday noon as the Café New York had been. So we decided for a much smaller, less touristy spot: The Rudas Bath.
This bath lies right to the bottom of the famous Citadel, just left off Erzsébet Bridge, and was built around 450 years ago. During the 16th century and the Turkish occupation of the city.
It is therefore one of the original bath houses and highly popular with the locals. The octagonal swimming pool underneath the dome serves as therapeutic swimming facility and the whole area features four additional small pools, each with a different water temperature.
The therapeutic means do well show in the composition of the thermal waters in the pools: As stated on the bath´s website, radio-active hot spring water with calcium-magnesium-hydrogen-carbonate also containing sodium and sulphate and with a significant content of fluoride ions.
- degenerative joint diseases
- chronic and sub-acute arthritis
- discus hernia
Sounded good to us! Escaping from the wet cold outside while doing something good the body, not the worst idea. So we bought tickets only for the original thermal area (4000 HUF pp, this equals about 13 €). Each one of us received a coded bracelet which we would need to enter the wellness area and to activate a private locker room.
A digitalized wall-mounted system allocated an individual locker room to each bracelet once you held it for a few seconds in front of it. Inside the cabinet, you could leave all of your clothes and personal belongings and the door could be locked and unlocked just by holding the bracelet in front of the sensor. Just like on modern cruise ships these days.
The thermal area also offers two steam rooms and a Finnish sauna as well as various shower areas and massage rooms. Massages and treatments were performed in the style of a Turkish hammam and were available at extra charges.
In-between you could relax on loungers inside the dedicated relaxation room. As mentioned in various blogs and travel websites, the crowd inside Rudas bath was absolutely local and very mixed. From young to old, everyone enjoyed the warm soothing waters.
As the clock passed noon, the bath filled up quickly. We did not know that it had started to rain heavily outside, so coming early on the weekends may be a good idea for you if you prefer to enjoy this wellness retreat in a more quiet atmosphere.
We left around 1:00 pm. But not only because it was getting a bit loud inside the bath, but primarily because both of us were feeling a bit hungry.
Luckily, we had packed umbrellas that protected us from the immense rain that was falling down while we walked back over the bridge towards Astoria Café.
The bistro is situated inside the 1914 built Astoria Hotel which was designed in the opulence of the so-called fin-de-siècle architecture. In other words, a great alternative to the Café New York in terms of magnificent interiors. But with WAY fewer visitors.
Now that we have been there, I would definitely recommend this place for the beautiful, beautiful decor that it was designed in. And for sure it is a wonderful place to enjoy a hot drink along with some sweet dessert or cake, yet the cuisine (we came for lunch) was simply disappointing.
We had ordered the Hungarian Beef Stew and the Beef Tenderloin Brassó way and both were simply warmed up and looked like a meal in any cheap restaurant. The Brassó dish contained mostly luke-warm potato pieces and just 5 little slices of beef (and this for 4000 HUF) and my stew was also just a small amount of meat adjoining a huge portion of egg barley. The whole dish including the accompanying cucumber salad tasted like a convenience product and I doubt that it was completely made inside the bistro´s kitchen. The breaded pork loin and the fish on the plates of our table neighbors did not look much better. So, come here only for coffee, cake and beautiful interiors. The rest is not worth it!
From here, we fought our way back to the hotel. It was pouring down. To be honest, I am sure I could have arranged a tour of any of the absolutely worth-seeing landmarks that the city has to offer such as the Opera, the Parliament or the Royal Palace (and you guys know now much I like architecture), but once we had checked-in into our beautiful room with the princess like bed, one thing was clear:
We would not get up for the next couple of hours. So we simply enjoyed the rest of the afternoon inside the luxurious bedding and watched documentaries. At least as long as I thought it was time for a little coffee break.
I had noted the cake shop once we were walking down Rákóczi Boulevard in the morning from Keleti train station towards the hotel. It was just a quick glance that I had taken over the cake buffet, but from what I had seen, they all looked simply delicious.
No one should ever leave Budapest without having tried some of the extraordinary desserts and sweet delights that are being served in the Vienna style coffee houses. Café Gerbeaud is probably the city´s most well-known.
My plan was to head there for afternoon tea, but just thinking of the masses of people trying to get a hold of a table inside Gerbeaud on a Saturday afternoon made me discard this idea instantly. And who said that it might not even be a better idea to sample those culinary delights in the coziness and privacy of your hotel room?
So I quickly hopped out of bed, got dressed and rushed up the two blocks from the hotel to Conditorei Hauer. Founded originally back in 1890, this bakery is one of Budapest´s best-kept secrets for outstanding pastries, cakes and confectionaries. And seriously, both, cappuccini and cakes, were to die for!
Who can stand on two legs, right? It was difficult to choose from the various offerings, but I finally managed to cut down to four different kinds:
Esterházy cake (lower left), Belgian Chocolate (lower middle), Classic Cardinal slice (lower right) and Rocher (top left). I have no idea what had gotten into me, but we ate them all! I just spilled one of the cappuccini all over the sidewalk after leaving the café. But it was raining so heavily, that the milky splash was washed away almost instantly.
After having relaxed a bit more in the room, we both agreed that it would be a heinous deed if we would not go out for a Hungarian dinner in the one night that we had in the city.
So after a bit of research (and since we were not able to celebrate my partner´s birthday IN Budapest), I had finally found a bit of an intimate upscale restaurant serving traditional Hungarian classics with a twist, a bit modernly interpreted: Alabárdos.
Located across the street from the famous Matthias Church, the restaurant is located inside ancient walls that are over 700 years old and looks back on over 50 years of history itself.
The interiors were redecorated in 2014 and Alabárdos has received honorable recognitions from Gault & Millau and Guide Michelin for decades. So just the perfect location to enjoy an extravagant pre-birthday dinner.
At the time we arrived, there were just a few other people there, but who left soon afterwards. So we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. That was one of the most romantic evenings ever! Candle light, star cuisine and outside, the rain had turned into thick snow flakes dancing in the wind in front of the window.
Of course, you can dine for way less in Budapest, especially when you are looking for traditional Hungarian restaurants, but every penny spend at Alabárdos (and it was a fortune for local prices) was absolutely worth it. The ambiance was extraordinary, the food was wonderfully presented, the taste was impeccable and service was classy, elegant and refined and always with a personal touch. A wonderful place if you are looking for a bit of a special occasion experience. We loved it!
We had shortly been thinking of taking a night-cap at either Buddha Bar, Boutiq Bar or Vinolia, but all the eating through out the day had made me really tired and the winter evening outside made us both wanting to take a long and rejuvenating nap.
So we took a taxi back to the hotel and slumbered shortly after off to dreamland. The next morning, we got up around 9:30 am, enjoyed the wonderful breakfast buffet in the hotel before checking out at noon.
From the hotel, it was only two stops by metro to Deák Ferenc Square, one of the city´s main squares and also the departure place for the airport bus 100E.
We were astonished that it must have snowed throughout the entire night as the entire city was covered with a thick white layer. It looked fabulous though and even though it was much colder than the day before, the view was crystal clear on this beautiful Sunday.
Our flight would leave at 4:30 pm, so adding the time for check-in and getting to the airport left us with roughly 2 hours walking around.
So we checked out Vaci Street, one of the main shopping pedestrian zones, and took another stroll on the shores of the beautiful Danube River. The views on this clear day were marvelous.
At about a quarter to two, we began walking back towards the square. The bus to the airport departs every 20 to 30 minutes and costs 900 HUF per person. Make sure to have cash with you as no cards are accepted.
It also would be a good idea to board at the origin Deák Ferenc Square as we noted that the buses are filling up here almost completely which makes it difficult for other passengers to join at one of the other stops.
In the end, our flight was delayed by 45 minutes. Bummer, since these three-quarters of an hour would have been greatly appreciated for a bit of more city sightseeing. But in the end, even the change in weather proved that Budapest is worth a trip in any season. Even if only for one night or 24 hours.
I hope, I was able to spark your wanderlust a bit with this article and the photos. It was again surprising to me, that apart from being tightly scheduled and all the time and work I had put into planning, the short time on site had more than made up for the effort. Because in the end, it does not count how much you have seen, but it is all about the way how you have experienced it. And in our case, I thought we did everything right. Safe travels, folks!