There is much to learn and discover when you study abroad in Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. For example, I hadn't realized that the country of Hungary is smaller than the U.S. state of New York, and its population is about half the size. Likewise, Budapest is home to the oldest electrified underground railway system in Europe (the oldest subway/metro). Plus, the city is very safe, affordable to visit, and welcoming. It is full of beautiful walks through unique architecture, street art, wonderful views, coffee, food (the best burgers I’ve ever had!), and lots of eclectic thrift shopping and concept bars. In addition to historic must-see spots like the Hungarian Parliament Building (pictured above), here are a few of my favorite places in Budapest:
For Views: Citadella
Citadella, meaning citadel in Hungarian, is located on the top of Gellért Hill. This lookout point offers an incredible view, a good dose of history, and allows the viewer to experience the map of Budapest from above and therefore better understand the city's geography. There are a few ways to get to the top of this large hill, including by foot or taxi, but there are also Segway companies in town that offer tourist deals on fun tours led by knowledgeable locals.
For Nightlife: Ruin Bars
You need not indulge in alcohol to enjoy the magically mysterious and eclectic ruin bars in the old District VII of Budapest. Ruin bars developed recently in this district after most of its factories and buildings were abandoned and left to decay post-World War II. These bars bring new life into old spaces and create thrifty adult fun houses and dance floors. Szimpla Kert, which opened in 2001, is the first to adopt this concept by renovating an old factory building with mismatched thrifty furniture, art, light shows, themed rooms, and tons of open space to hangout with friends, dance, or mingle. Another space is Instant, which occupies an old apartment building and houses multiple DJs and colorful atmospheres. More and more of these experience focused, concept-based, ruin bars are popping up in Budapest and becoming popular with abroad students and tourist. They are a fascinating and fun must-see attraction. Some even serve food during the day!
For Coffee: Historic Coffee Houses
Like many European cities, Budapest is not short on coffee houses and café culture. Today, you can find Starbucks chains and other modern coffee shops in Budapest. However, similar to ruin bars, historic coffee houses are a space where old meets new and Hungary’s past becomes intertwined with its future. In these coffee houses the decadence of old spaces and architecture meets modern life. For example, New York Café, open since 1894, is known as ‘the most beautiful café in the world.’ Likewise, Artist Café (Muvész Kávéház in Hungarian) has been open since 1898 and offers a uniquely decadent coffee house experience with options for breakfast, lunch, and pastries.
For Thermal Baths: Széchenyi
Széchenyi is the largest and most popular thermal bath in Budapest. Its popularity is no surprise as its facilities are picturesque, clean, and unforgettable! Széchenyi is open from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. every day, and although it is fun and social during the day or evening, it is much less crowded in the morning. My roommate and I even got up to go at 6 a.m. and were amazed to have the whole place to ourselves! Visiting in the morning offers the ability to float, relax, and experience a treasure of Budapest in a more intimate or personal way.
From Citadella, to ruin bars, thermal baths, and hidden covered street markets -- Budapest is a unique place where art, history, and hopes for the future intertwine to create magical moments, incredible food, spontaneous exploration, and a lot to learn.
Alexandra Isabell is the Spring, 2018 Alumni Ambassador in Paris, France, and is currently studying at University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.