Secret spots in Hungary’s bustling capital city.
As a relatively popular tourist destination, Budapest fulfilled all the expectations I had for this Eastern European city. Full of baroque architecture, heartwarming Christmas markets, stunning churches, delicious food, and elaborate castles, the Hungarian capital did not disappoint when it came to captivating scenery and a sense of history. Famous attractions including the view from Gellert Hill, the walk across the Chain Bridge, the vast grandeur of Heroes Square, and the unparalleled sight of the glowing Parliament Building all turned out to be just as rewarding as photographs suggest, and despite the bitter cold weather I am in awe of Budapest’s beauty.
Aside from the charm of the city’s major landmarks, the experiences I had in Budapest enhanced the vacation. Alongside two of my good friends from school in London, we enjoyed some unbelievable and unexpected adventures. For example, we booked a trip to the massive Szechenyi Bath due to its reputation as a must-see tourist destination, but it was the spontaneous visit to the smaller, less popular Rudas Thermal Bath that truly amazed us. One thing I’ve learned in my travels: never turn down a bath.
On Tuesdays the Rudas Thermal Baths are exclusively for women, so we had the liberating privilege of being naked. These baths, originally built in 1550, had a traditional atmosphere with rustic stone decor and a spacious, domed ceiling. With one large pool in the center of the hall and four smaller pools in the corners, the baths ranged from 32 degrees Celsius to 42. The calm warm water combined with steam rooms and saunas to relax and revive our cold bodies after sightseeing in the cold, rainy weather.
Another hidden wonder of Budapest is Szimpla, one of the city’s many ruin bars. After admiring the dilapidated exterior of the old building, we entered and became consumed in a maze of dark, shadowy rooms illuminated by colorful lights and hypnotic decorations. Despite the dusty brick walls and rustic piping that revealed the obvious age of the place, the ruin was brought to life with graffiti, odd statues and figurines, and vibrant wall art. The area we eventually settled into to drink our mulled wine was a small room where old televisions hung overhead and ignited the darkness with mesmerizing digital art while cables and wires strung themselves around the room like vines.
But my favorite part of Budapest was definitely the Sirius Teaház. I think the most accurate way to describe this discrete little hideaway is a cozy playhouse for tea-lovers. Considering my undying love for tea, and my childish love for climbing things, this place was heaven.
The first section of the Teahouse is an adorable dining room full of plants and trinkets, but the real magic appears once you venture to the back of the teahouse, remove your shoes, and begin to explore the many areas of relaxation. Soft, Persian rugs blanketed the floors and and tiny tables sat surrounded by cushions. The edges of the room held tunnels and ladders that led to secret alcoves at different elevations, the ceiling was painted a rich green with colorful flowers, and beautiful tapestries hung from the walls. There was even a wooden wardrobe which you could enter to find a small stairway covered with a mosaic of mirrors.
After climbing around the rooms like cats and absorbing all the eccentric decorations, we ordered our drinks from the extensive menu of amazing tea selections and spent the afternoon lounging on the pillows and soaking up the zen atmosphere. The Sirius Teaház was a heartwarming escape from the freezing city, and I’m so happy we were able to find this little oasis of bliss.
Between the thermal baths, the ruin bar, and the teahouse, my trip to Budapest truly felt like a vacation. Most of my travels around Europe this semester have been constricted by a short time schedule and an intense urge to hit every important landmark while saving money and time. Because this trip was longer and my friends are returning to the U.S. soon, we decided to slow down and treat ourselves more, which was a wonderful decision.
We were able to explore the all of the city’s famous sites, and still had time to chill in the hostel making paper snowflakes with other travelers. We meandered through endless Christmas markets, and still had time to stop and watch a local performance where school kids sang awkward duets in Hungarian. We enjoyed a wine-tasting cruise on the Danube, in which we were served seven full glasses of wine in an hour (not taster portions…FULL glasses) and still somehow made it home alive. Budapest was beautiful, and the experiences I had were unforgettable.