1. Drink in the romkerts.
Everyone who has been there gets caught in the unique atmosphere of the “ruins gardens.” Located in the courtyards of old buildings, these bars are known for their offbeat atmosphere. Szimpla Kert is decked out with colorful lights, bikes hanging from the ceiling and old TVs on the walls. A few streets over, set in an old social club, is Gondozó. The space is filled with plants and wooden tables for a laid-back beer garden experience. Check the programs for events like film screenings and electro concerts, and enjoy long nights of tipsy fun.
Kazinczy u. 14, Budapest, 1075. +36 20 261 8669; szimpla.hu
Vajdahunyad utca 4., Budapest, 1082. +36 63 061 95447; facebook.com
2. Dance at the Iskola bàr.
You’ll have the time of your European life at the Iskola: That’s a promise. This funky bar took up residence in a former school. Enter the front door and follow the track marks on the floor to enter the playful universe. The schoolyard was transformed into a concert hall and the gatekeeper’s lodge is now a restaurant. Art exhibitions, karaoke nights and cheap Hungarian meals are only a sample of the excitement you will find there. Entry is free during the week. Go learn a thing or two.
1061 Budapest, Hegedű utca 3. +36 1 951 6079
3. Take a bath at Szént Lukàcs.
What are your thoughts on relaxing in the most incredible baths Europe has ever known? We thought as much. Enter the beautiful yellow painted bath of Lukàcs, built at the end of the 19th century. There you can swim, enjoy artificial currents and soak your muscles in a Jacuzzi. If you’re feeling brave, try a bracing ice bath. Or you might prefer the atmosphere of the four-centuries-old Rudas with its Turkish rooftop made of colorful glass. Or go modern and stylish at the Gellért spa. Most baths close around 10 p.m.; for a group dip, organize a sparty (a portmeanteau of spa and party) on the weekend. Life in water is so much better.
4. Sip Fröcss spritzers.
Instead of the delicious and sweet Tokaji wine, we recommend you try the drink popular with Hungary’s hip youth. Fröcss is a fizzy cocktail of wine and sparkling water. The bigger they get, the funnier the names become: The polgarmester (in English, the mayor) is the second-biggest serving, while the bakteranyos (translation: the stepmother of the stationmaster) is the grandest of them all. After a few polgarmesters you’ll be giggling like an off-duty politico.
5. Dive into the underground pubs.
The underground pubs in Budapest can literally be found ... underground. You’ll run into them all around the city, in various neighborhoods, just by walking down a random street. These bars are tucked away in the basements of ordinary residential buildings; expect simple furnishings, like communal tables, with billiards to spark your competitive spirit. Friendly bartenders round out the thoroughly local experience.
6. Seek out hidden vistas.
Budapest is known for its many stunning views, like the one next to Buda Castle. Pass the cobblestone streets and the architecture that dates back to the 13th century and along the walls you will discover an epic view of the glistening Danube below. For a more secret viewpoint, go to the fancy Rozsadomb neighborhood. To find the best views, you have to be willing to explore and get lost. Fortunately, this is exactly where you want to do such a thing.
7. Chow down on beiglis and chimney cake.
Kürtőskalács is a chimney-shaped cake that dates to the 15th century; back then, it was popular mostly among Hungarian nobility. The tubular treats are made from sweet dough spun into a cone shape, basted with butter and topped with sweets like ground walnuts or cinnamon.
Leave room for a beigli: These rolls made of sweet yeast bread are filled with poppy seeds or walnut paste. Beiglis are a popular Christmas treat; snack on one for an instantly festive mood.
8. Spend the summer at the Balaton.
With the arrival of warm, sunny days, Hungarians migrate to the largest lake in Europe. Whether you prefer to sail or to sunbathe, Balaton will offer you all the activities you can dream of for a perfect vacation.
Visit the resort town of Balatonfüred for its shops and swanky ports, and snap photos of the traditional 18th-century mansions. To hobnob with a younger crowd, check out Siofok and its exciting game rooms, free beach and nightclubs. One favorite spot is an even smaller town on the north coast, Csopak: Among the verdant hills you will find the best wines in the region.
9. Shop on Teréz körut.
You don’t want to go all the way to Budapest only to return home with the same souvenirs as every other tourist. So hit the lesser-known shops of Teréz körut. Hidden inside the courtyards of buildings along the avenue are shops stocked with clothes, shoes and accessories at prices that will make your travel budget very happy.
10. Walk along Margaret Island.
In the Middle Ages it was called the Island of Rabbits. Nowadays, Margaret Island isn’t as well-known as the one that hosts the Sziget music festival, and it’s mostly frequented by locals. This is a peaceful paradise that offers a respite from the hectic city. Margit-sziget is filled with gardens, walkways, medieval ruins, a musical fountain, swimming pools and even a zoo; it also plays host to the Budapest summer festival. And should you get tired from all that strolling, you can always rent a bringo cart.