Even for a New Yorker, Budapest in June can feel overwhelming. Imagine this: you’re carrying three heavy bags, and after five minutes of figuring out how to buy your metro card and get past the weird turnstile-less ticket validation process, you face your first real obstacle: riding the massively long and vertically inclined escalators to the metro trains without developing a case of vertigo.
You make it through with ears popped and you’re slammed with wafting heat that greets you into a city pulsing at all times of day. Welcome to Budapest.
It’s a massive city and has become a hotbed for rowdy British tourists and Italian fashionistas alike. It has a “watering hole” appeal where everyone can find their thing and leave happy. Outdoorsy person? Head on over to the hills of Buda. Foodie on the go? Spend a late morning in Great Market Hall. Spa lover? Take a dip in one of the delicious thermal baths scattered throughout the city. With all of the activity happening in Budapest, a first- time visitor who doesn’t speak more than “puszi” in Magyar, can easily get confused while attempting to navigate a day-to-day itinerary.
Exhibit A: We were so discombobulated by the wham-blam of Budapest that we forgot to double check our hostel booking for the exact address. A quick few metro stops away from the main train station and we get off at Ferenciek Tere, finding ourselves smack dab in the middle of the city center. Next thing you know, we’re walking into what we thought was our hostel; “The Maverick,” a majestic palace from the Hapsburg dynasty, (excuse me?!) with a beautifully preserved marble spiral staircase running through the heart of the building and intricately carved details on the crown moldings of the ceilings. I’m sorry, this is a hostel right? Cause it looks like a Trump Tower.
We walked into reception to find out that yes, it was actually a hostel, but it just wasn’t our hostel. The Maverick, the original in Budapest was a sister hostel of where we’d be staying. Our actual hostel, “The Maverick City Lodge,” was down a few streets and around the corner on Kazinczy Ulica, the restaurant and nightlife hub on the Pest side.
Ten minutes later, we shlepped our way over to The Maverick City Lodge feeling the four S’s: sweaty, stressed, starving, and in desperate need of a shower. A quick check-in process was crucial.
Right away we noticed that this hostel seemed to be the modern chic twin of The Maverick we were just in ten minutes earlier. City Lodge welcomes you with upbeat music, freshly painted walls, and a common space so well designed, you’d think you were walking right into page 8 of a Pottery Barn Catalog.
Emesa, or Meshy, the bright-eyed Hungarian girl at reception checked us in with personality and efficiency; yes Meshy! Within minutes, she informed us about all the goodies inside of the hostel: free WiFi on all floors, my eyes lit up for not having to worry about crappy connection, AC throughout the building so we’re not sweating even when we’re standing still, free coffee and tea in the kitchen, um hello, is that not the way into our hearts? And last but absolutely not least, the “Call Yo Mama Skype Phone” where guests can freely call their parents to let them know they’re safe and sound. Parents, take a sigh of relief knowing your babies are safe here.
Like a typical tourist in Budapest, we asked which bath was the best. Meshy advised us to go to Széychinyi if we were only planning on visiting one due to time constraints. She informed us that the hostel sells tickets for the same price as at the bath but they give you a towel and a “skip the line” wrist band. They are seriously looking out for you here!
Then Damon spoke up, inquiring about vegetarian food in Hungary because the cheesy clichéd joke of being hungry in Hungary could easily be the case for a non-meat eater. Meshy once again saved the day when she wrote down at least five of the best and cheap vegetarian-friendly Hungarian restaurants in the city.
And thanks to Meshy, we spent our first Hungarian afternoon cooling (and steaming) off in the various medicinal pools of Széychinyi. After feeling like royalty and having spent only 14 € for the whole day at the spa, we headed to one of Meshy’s restaurant recommendations. Lo and behold, we spent less than 7 dollars to eat the best vegetarian Goulash and scrumptious vegan pizza in an underground yogi-type restaurant far away from the tourist traps.
Satisfied and exhausted, it was time to retreat and prep for our night out in Budapest’s poppin’ nightlife scene, which was conveniently on the same street as our hostel. We chatted up some Irish travelers by the bean bag chairs on the way to the dorm rooms, and made friends with more front desk employees who convinced us to go on the pub crawl to celebrate thirsty Thursday. Free pálinka or 40% proof Hungarian brandy, for everyone who showed up between 8-10 for the pre game party. And you all know how we feel about free things, especially free cultural things!
The pálinka tasting brought all of the hostel guests together with the shared taste of intense Hungarian dry spirit in our mouths and smirks on our faces. Paulina, a Budapest native led the pub crawl to the first ruin bar, Szimpla, that’s on all of the top “must do in Budapest” blogs.
The rest of the night involved roaming the streets by the hostel into Goszdu Udvar and passing artsy looking outdoor terraces with 90s hip hop music that had people dancing in the street, us included. We scarfed down some Hungarian burgers and went to bed in our cozy dorm room, curtain privacy and all.
In the morning, although there was no breakfast at the actual hostel (at least not yet, but they have a restaurant under construction scheduled to open in the next few months), the front desk staff recommended where to get 5 € breakfast that once again had us feeling like the fanciest backpackers around.
The staff never failed to smile and welcome us back home, answer all of our crazy questions about Buda and Pest, recommend where to buy new clothes so we could finally have five shirt options instead of four, and invite us to free walking tours by day and pub-crawls with free booze at night.
Budapest is a city where you could very well find yourself wandering for hours without finding exactly what you’re looking for; which is why it’s critical that you have the mavericks on your side to help recommend the hidden gems of the city.