Whenever someone hears that I used to live in Budapest, the thing they immediately tell me is how the beer is so cheap and it’s a great city for stag/hen do’s. It sure is, but having lived there for 12 years as an introverted non-drinker artsy girl, I can tell you there’s another side of this wonderful city you might not know if you’re just there for the parties and beer :)
There are some lovely gems in the capital of Hungary, and if you’re into independent shops, art, and lesser known venues, you might want to check these out next time you’re there! They definitely have a Brightonian vibe, it’s no wonder I feel so home now in ‘London by the sea‘.
Here is my Budapest indie guide!
Coffee, coffee, coffee
Forget the chains! Budapest is busting at the seams with amazing cafés who pride themselves in quality roasts and the best flat whites the city has to offer. Café crawl, anyone?
Butter Brothers — if you like great bread (and why wouldn’t you!), you have to visit these guys. Their bread and pastries are amazing! Try kakaós csiga (literally: chocolate snail), which is a Hungarian speciality, and is basically a cinnamon roll with chocolate instead of cinnamon. I know, right? It should be a thing EVERYWHERE. They also do amazing coffees, so much so that they opened up a separate coffee shop called Bean Busters, which also serves their home made bakes & cakes. Highly recommended for breakfast!
fekete — London style coffee, bistro food, the best outdoors seating area in the city. Always a great combo in my book! If you fancy a cuppa after visiting the Great Synagogue, visit fekete for an afternoon pick-me-up.
My Little Melbourne — while this Aussie-inspired speciality coffee shop is still independent, they now have several locations in Budapest and also opened up a barista school! If you like prefer filtered coffee, check out My Little Brew Bar.
mesterbike — part bike shop, part café, mesterbike is a unique little place in the 9th District, just a few minutes walk from the cult party street, Ráday. If you’re nursing a hangover after a night out, clear your head with a brew from mesterbike!
Centrál Kávéház — old school atmosphere, historic art noveau building, great coffee. If you’re done with the new wave hipsters (he-he) and want to step into a café with history (opened in 1887!), definitely visit Centrál. Sit by the window and do some people watching!
Ice Cream & Cakes
Hungarian desserts are more in line with French patisserie than British cakes, so you’re in for a treat. Literally! Since summers can be really hot in Budapest, you don’t even need an excuse to overdose on amazing gelato. Just do it!
Valdocco — There are lot of cheap ice cream places in Budapest, but most of them use poor ingredients. Not Valdocco! They do one of the best gelatos in the city, and the value is amazing — as per Italian fashion, the scoops are twice the size as everywhere else, for the same price (around 240 HUF). It’s just next door to fekete, so make a double date out of it! :)
Damniczki — Natural ingredients and the most unique flavours are Damniczki’s speciality. So if you’re not a vanilla kind of person, you might just meet your match here. I’m still talking about gelato! :) Sweet corn, red wine & raspberry, pumpkin seed… the list is endless, and they are all amazingly delicious! There are several sugar free and vegan (sorbet) options as well, and you can also choose from a cake selection!
Azték Choxolat — A proper chocolatier in the heart of the city. Handmade bonbons, amazing hot chocolates and all the cocoa you can consume. Open all year round, but such a delight in Winter! Johnny Depp not included, but who cares? CHOCOLATE.
La Delizia — You can find the best biscuits and cake in this family-run shop. They have two locations in Budapest, and there are several gluten-free options as well! Stock up on sweet and savoury treets so you always have something to snack on while you’re out and about town. :)
Indie souvenirs from local artists
If you really want to buy a memento for yourself (or a loved one), avoid the tourist shops which are stocked with overpriced red-white-and-green kitsch and opt for one of the many independent art fairs and design shops instead! This way you’ll truly get something unique while also supporting local businesses. Win-win!
Paloma — this seemingly unassuming building actually houses more than fifty art studios & shops! You can meet the artitsts and purchase their work right there on the spot! For lovely handmade jewelery, I highly recommend Vadjutka, and don’t forget to check out Studio CikkCakk, which is also the home of PlayPlants (succulents & plastic dinos; what’s not to love!) and natural-dyed clothing & accessories from Botanika.
LoveBug Vintage — If you like quirky, second-hand items, Violetta’s quality curated shop is going to be your mecca. I once bought a vintage tiara here. Worth every penny!
Imogen Clothing — if you consider yourself a fashionista, and you like unique pieces, shop the newest collections of up and coming Hungarian fashion designers! Wearable items, clean outlines and affordable prices – you can buy a bespoke designer dress for less than a 100 pounds. Bargain!
Wild Flower Bar — Floral studio with breath-taking displays and all the loveable unruliness of nature. Their Instagram page is swoon-worthy! You can also join watercolour & calligraphy workshops here, hosted by the truly amazing Fanatic Calligrapher.
DesignPassage — Held bi-weekly, this open air design market hosts a whole range of independent creators. You can get all your souvenir shopping done in one go! Definitely check out the wonderful paintings of András Szoboszlay, whose lovely yellow tram art is in the above picture. He also sells his art as bookmarks — cheap and useful gift for anyone! After shopping, go to Panificio il Basilico for the best pizza in town. Seriously.
Le Petit Design — tucked away by the quaint Károlyi Kert (a hidden garden in the inner city), Le Petit Design offers a range of gifts from Hungarian designers, also catering to little ones. If you’re into cute household items and pastel colours, this place is for you!
BomoArt — paper HEAVEN. If you’re into notebooks, leather bound diaries and old-timey-looking postcards, you’ll love BomoArt! Why not buy a small notebook and start your Budapest travel journal there and then?
Grab a quick (vegetarian) lunch!
Hungarian cuisine is famous, but as a vegetarian, I had a great quest of finding my way leaving all the beef stew and spicy fish soup for others to enjoy. Budapest nowadays has a buzzing vegetarian scene, more and more restaurants recognise the trend, and realise that the reason for vegetarians not eating meat is not because we don’t like good food (or we don’t have money :)). We do, and we’re here. Feed us! Here are just a few of my favourites, it’s hard to mention everyone.
Nemsüti — a tiny vegetarian bistro close to the Danube with daily offers and great food. You might not find seating space, but that just adds to the charm!
Leves. — take away soup place, great value for money. A godsend in winter! Mostly frequented by hungry University students who want to eat good, but don’t be put off by the queue, it moves fast!
Anker — Great value set lunch in the heart of Budapest. Buzzing during lunchtime, so probably not the best place for have a chat, but you’ll be stuffing your faces anyway, so just go! :)
Castro Bistro — Eastern European Cuisine, shabby and charming interior, good music, free wifi. It’s like being in someone’s living room! :)
IÑEZ Bagel Shop — Fresh bagels are always a great option for lunch. Have a soup as well, and you have a well rounded meal! :)
Taverna Dionysos — a tiny piece of Greece in the middle of Europe. Complete with blue and white interiors and balalaika music, they also serve fresh and tasty greek food. The vegetarian platter (Piato tis amaltheas) was one of my favourites, and the chocolate cake is divine!
Other things to see: off the beaten track
Alternative City Tour — instead of cramming yourself on one of those big open tourist buses, why not buy a ticket for Tram 2! It will cost you less than a pound and you’ll have a wonderful view of the city. Slowly rolling by the Danube, you can watch the buildings (including the Parliament), catch a glimpse of Buda Castle, and enjoy the sunshine. Priceless.
Start at Jászai Mari tér and go until Fővám tér. There you have a chance to visit the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest market in Budapest (markets are some of my favourite things to visit when I’m in a new city!). Then walk down by the Danube — it’s especially lovely during warm summer evenings, the closest Budapest can get to beach vibes. :) To end your day, visit Esetleg, this well-placed bar & bistro, order a lemonade, and watch the sun go down over Buda.
Pinball Museum — the coolest place in Budapest, period. This museum is a private collection of pinball machines (the biggest in Europe!) from the 19th century, and the best thing is, it’s an interactive exhibition. Which means you can play all of them! Yes, seriously, unlimited playtime is included in your ticket. Don’t rush, you can honestly spend hours in here. Great fun with friends, too!
Budapest Improv Show — established by Hungary’s longest running improv company Momentán, Impró Theatre hosts Budapest Improv Show, an English-language comedy night with improvised sketches and fun games. With a glass of wine in your hand, you can enjoy an evening of improvised fun (the best kind in my opinion).
Good news if you cannot make it to Budapest in the near future: one of the acts from Momentán had their debut in the UK recently! Check out Re:Verse – they crowdsource lyrics from the audience and make up songs on the spot. After their two amazing gigs on Brighton Fringe 2017, they’ll be back for more. Join their list & you’ll know everything ahead of time! :)
Botanical Garden (Füvészkert) — hundred-year-old trees, plants from all over the world & beautiful flowers everywhere, this garden is a nature lovers dream. Bring a blanket and throw an impromptu picnic! If you can, visit during cherry blossom season in April. Simply amazing.
St. Stephen’s Basilica — This impressive building is hard to miss if you’re in centre Budapest, but did you know you can witness one of the best views of the city from it? That’s right, you can access the dome via stairs or elevator, and admire the hustle and bustle below you in 360°.
Uránia Film Theatre — The most beautiful cinema ever, if you ask me. Just pop in even if you don’t have a ticket — there’s a café upstairs! Uránia hosts Titanic Film Festival every year, and they regularly do NTL screenings as well.
Whether you’re going on a mini break, want to spend a long weekend somewhere close (it’s just 2 hours from Gatwick!), or planning an alternative-indie hen do, I hope you found some great ideas for your Budapest itinerary. Jó utat! ;)
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