21st Year Eurotrip: Guide to Budapest, Hungary

February 15, 2017

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A sunny gal from Cali living in the south of France. I adore slow living, magic, and celebrating the simple joys of daily life. I’m a self-proclaimed Disney nerd (as is my husband!), obsessed with cats and cocoa, and you can often find me swimming with the fishies in the salty sea. Come along and enjoy the magic, the simple joys of life with me...



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As per usual, I arrived in Budapest, Hungary tired and smelly from the day-long train ride from Prague. Luckily, with my 2 month Eurail unlimited train pass, could travel on local trains easily from Prague to Budapest and didn’t have to pay any extra fees for the three train transfers. But still, I was exhausted and hungry. 


The train station in Budapest (Kelati) was beautiful, and my usual cheerfulness was restored with the hope I had for the amazing adventure I was about to embark on here in Hungary! That was, until I realized hardly anyone spoke English at the train station. One long line after another and multiple people spoken to later in the tourist offices and no one could help me.  “Sorry, no English,” “I don’t understand,” and “Next!” were my three responses for help in obtaining a map of the city.

I finally located a map from a woman who spoke English outside of the station, and with my mind dedicated on finding adventure and going the longer route, I decided to trek out the 2 miles and find my hostel on foot. Holding my map in one hand, I set off and looked in awe at all the beautiful buildings, fountains and shops lining my way to my hostel. 30 minutes later, I arrived on a quiet, tucked-away alley and rang the buzzer to my hostel. The hostel in Budpest was one of my favorites I had during my EuroTrip. It was more like a giant apartment with 3 huge bedrooms filled with bunk beds and tables and lots of natural light coming from the open windows. The kind woman gave me my key, after I showed her my valid passport, my phone with my HostelWorld reservation, and gave her the allotted Euros for my 3 day stay.

I lugged my backpack into the huge, circular room and sat on my cute twin bed near the open window in the corner. Ah, my ideal type of bed in a hostel… (after sleeping in rooms with 15 people, boys with smelly feet, and drunk teenagers, I felt VERY content.) I looked around the room and saw there were bunk beds and small twin beds outlining the walls, with plenty of windows near each bed and a small wooden table with chairs in the center of the room. Two girls my age were sleeping loudly at 3:00 in the afternoon (How are they sleeping in a city like this…I thought.) and I quietly unpacked my bag and began planning my sights for the next three days with the map I was given. 30 minutes later, the girls began to wake up and we instantly started chatting and hit it off right away – both free-spirited hippie types who travel for months every year just because they want to see the world and don’t want to stay tied down. These are my kind of friends…I thought. Both girls had backpacked Europe and Asia before, and one had lived in Australia, New Zealand and even been to Antarctica! They dreamt of seeing the world and living fully. These girls inspired me. An hour passed by quickly as we chatted enthusiastically around the bunks, when another young girl walked in with her heavy suitcases. She was an American, living in Germany with her husband (whom she met and moved in with after a week in Germany while she was backpacking several years earlier) and decided to come to Budapest for a week just because.

With the daylight escaping us, the four of us decided we should go out and explore the nightlife of Budapest. Dressed up with sneakers and makeup on (except me. I’m queen of the bare-faced.), we took the 15 minute walk to Szimpla – a famous Budapest ruin bar.

Ruin Bars

In 2002, a group of young artists negotiated with representatives of Budapest’s Seventh District (historic Jewish quarter), to take over one of the city’s many heritage buildings that had fallen into disrepair. They made a roof out of tarps, filled the space with found objects and sold cheap beer. They turned these outdoor buildings into ruin bars, where you’ll find rooms with bars, lounges, dance clubs, restaurants, and (my personal favorite) karaoke. The first one created called Szimpla Kert gave rise to dozens of copycats. (Szimpla now even hosts a popular farmer’s market and film series!)

This is what I got. *DROOLS* The menu describes it as: “Homemade Hungarian Smoked Cheese with Red Pesto. ” All I can say is that I’ve been dreaming of going back to Budapest just so I can get this again.

As we stepped inside the wooden doors of Sizmpla, we stood in amazement: all around us were colorful lights and lanterns, giant objects – mismatched furniture, a discarded bathtub, an old East German Trabant sedan – and decorative vintage pieces floating above our heads, split bathtubs with people sitting in them and sipping beers, foosball and pool tables, and small bars with colorful drinks on either side of us. Ahead of us was a long corridor with a giant burger kitchen in the back filled with tall, round tables and stools complete with netting and twinkling Christmas lights overhead. We ordered burgers, and our trip to Szimpla could’ve ended perfectly right there. The burgers were HEAVENLY. We sat down at a high table in the middle of the room and devoured our burgers in silence.

“You know the food is good when you don’t want to talk to anyone while you’re eating.”
“Fuck you guys, this burger is my new friend!”

We all laughed in agreement and continued to devour until there was nothing left on our plates.

God, that was the best burger I had ever tasted. Seriously. And I still dream about it 8 months later. I am a vegetarian, and my burger was filled with Portobello mushrooms, weird vegetables and these strange European cheeses and sauces I had never tasted before. As we finished eating, two cute English guys began speaking to us. Recently graduated from college, these two best friends decided to backpack Europe and see the sights together. We all had an entertaining night sitting around the circular table and chatting. I didn’t feel entirely safe getting drunk that night, so I let the rest of them get silly and made sure they all got back to the hostel safely. I believe there should always be one sober person in a group of drunk people. So, I walked everyone home, making sure no guys tagged along or tried to take advantage of my new kindred spirits, and we all crashed the minute we got safely back.

The next morning while the rest of the girls were nursing their hangovers and sleeping until noon, I hopped out of bed early, skyped my boyfriend for 15 minutes on the steps of the hostel (he was actually teaching in Wuhan, China at the time! *boyfriend points*), and headed out to explore!

Jewish food is hugely popular right now in the Seventh District, and I spotted tons of food trucks serving knishes stuffed with lamb and other things like latkes and “Jewish Egg” (chopped hard-boiled egg with duck fat and stewed onions).

With the spectacular decorations at Szimpla the night before, I was intensely curious to see what the building looked like in the daytime. I got my own little table and observed all the people drinking their beers at 11 o’clock in the morning while I wrote in my journal. After exploring Szimpla some more (and another popular ruin bar called Instant , I needed some rest and relaxation…

Budapest is well-known for their beautiful and relaxing thermal baths, and I highly recommend experiencing a traditional Budapest bath if you visit here.With two very popular thermal bath spots, I chose the one that was closest to my hostel and just over the Szabadsag Hid (or the Liberty Bridge).

Gellert Thermal Bath

Also known as, heaven on earth,. I mean, just look at these pictures…

I lounged in the many different baths for 3 hours. My favorite bath was the one next to the giant indoor pool with the fountains in the water, as many people (myself included) would put their bare backs against the fountain and get a nice massage :)I also rather enjoyed the others downstairs inside the beautifully tiled dome, as I read a lot of my book inside while I relaxed (and yes, I was reading none other than Elizabeth Gilbert’s masterpiece, Eat Pray Love.)

Gellert also has outdoor lounge chairs, pools, a sauna, a WAVE POOL (which was so awesome! I was having so much fun in the waves, but then embarrassingly took my face of shame out of there when my bikini top FELL down and people saw me…#neveragain), so there are a ton of great things to do included in your admission ticket.

The other famous thermal bath is Szechenyi but between the rival two, I thought Gellert was perfect to all my needs.

After a long first night of checking out the ruin bars with new gal pals followed by a full day lounging at the famous Hungarian thermal baths, I decided to spend my third and final day strolling and admiring the beautiful Hungarian architecture.

Gallert Hill

I slept in, awaking to the natural sunlight streaming through my window at Green Bridge Hostel (really amazing hostel if you get the chance to stay there!) before making breakfast in the large kitchen, packing a lunch for the day, and heading out to explore the sights. The first thing I did was cross the Danube River, by walking across the Szabadsag hid (Liberty Bridge) to a steep, forest-filled mountain: Gallert Hill. The hill is a 771 ft high hill overlooking the Danube River and the city of Pest.

After a few hours of wandering around the sloped mountain, hiking through the forest and observing countless religious statues on the hill, I finally came across the most spectacular and beautiful landmark of Budapest: Buda Castle.

Buda Castle

I know what you must be thinking: “BUDA castle? As in, THEEE Buda once lived here?” No.I’m not really sure why it’s called Buda Castle, but I did learn that back in the day (14th century to be exact), the two parts of the city, separated by the Danube River, were once called different names. Buda Castle was once called the city of “Buda” and the other side (where my lovely hostel is) was called “Pest.” Eventually the two titles merged and became “BUDAPEST.” #Funfact! But anyway, yes…Buda Castle is beautiful and worth exploring,

The architecture is breathtaking, and I bumped into many people and walls while staring up at the majestic cone-shaped towers. The historical palace complex is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Just beware of the tourists, because there are a lot of selfie sticks and tour groups cluelessly strolling and bumping into things. I didn’t read or research much about the magical castle, as I was too caught up in the moment with all of its beauty and splendor. I often notice that when one focuses too much on the history or information of the subject, one can forget about the incredible work of art that is right in front of them. It’s like that for me at the MET in New York City: when I focus on the history of the work and the artist by reading the little white box next to the painting, I don’t become one with the painting as I would if I simply observe and see the painting for what it is: shapes, colors, and plenty of meaning behind the canvas. Sometimes it’s just nice to marvel.

Hungarian Parliament

After marveling, I walked back to the other side of the river and took many selfies (and of course, I had to ask someone to take a picture of me!) in front of the infamous Hungarian Parliament, which is way more spectacular in person than on a photograph. I took a 20 minute nap on the grass next to Parliament, took some more selfies (hey, I’m a solo traveler), observed the guards outside of Parliament, played in the sidewalk fountains with the other little boys and girls, before continuing on.

Something I wish I had done before visiting all of these breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Sites was learn about them. I didn’t plan on visiting Budapest initially, and I only checked wifi for 10 minutes every morning at a cafe before heading out to explore. I think I would have appreciated Budapest and all of its history more if I had read up on its history beforehand. Sure, everything was gorgeous, the statues were stunning and the architecture exquisite, but I definitely wish I had known a little thing of two before wandering off to marvel. I will say that there were a lot of “ooooh”s and “ahhhh”s coming from me when I would see another beautiful piece of architecture.

Last stop before heading back to the hostel: KIT KAT FIX.

The Kit Kats are so good in Europe. Technically they taste exactly the same in the states, but in Europe they are long and traditional candy-bar looking. Thus, I bought four.

The next day will be a long one as I will be waking up at dawn and taking four trains to Interlaken, Switzerland!

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I'm Helena, your new kindred spirit.

Sunny free-spirit, writer and creator in love with documenting the simple joys of life. I am passionate about noticing light and truth around me and reflecting it back to others.

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