Budapest and Bratislava: Castles, Thermal baths and Food!

Following a conversation with a tour guide who claimed Budapest to be his favourite place in Europe, and working with a Hungarian girl, who also claimed it was great, I recently decided to book flights to Budapest, visiting Bratislava on the same trip so I could tick more than one country off my bucket list in one trip!

Day One

The plan on day one was to arrive in Budapest by midday and explore. However, after a 7 hour flight delay this didn’t quite go to plan. We arrived in Budapest after a 2 and a half hour flight and booked the airport shuttle bus to our hotel. The desk is just to your right as you go through arrivals and it is fairly cheap and easy to just book when you arrive.

We stayed in the Budapest City Central which is located in the city centre close to the Great Synagogue. The entrance itself is fairly hidden as you need to go through a large gate which is locked by an intercom system. The receptionists were very hospitable and helpful, and the rooms themselves were clean and comfortable. There are only a few rooms in the hotel so it was quiet too.

That evening we headed out to explore the locality and to grab some food at an Italian restaurant near to the Opera metro station. There are plenty of restaurants in Budapest to choose from, and there were at least some vegetarian options on most menus.

Day Two

On the second day we grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe before jumping on the Giraffe hop-on, hop-off bus. We jumped off at the stop before the castle and walked along the riverside to check out the views of the bridges and Pest from the Buda side on the Danube. We then took the funicular up to the Castle District which costs around 1200 HUF (about £3) for a single ticket and 1800 HUF (about £4.50) for a return. This is pretty fun and will save you walking up the steep incline.

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Funicular ©2016

The Changing  of the Guards was taking place in front of the Hungarian Presidential Palace when we arrived. You can check out a video of this here.

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Changing of the guards ©2016

We spent a fair amount of time wandering around the castle grounds which were fairly big and full of interesting nooks and staircases. We grabbed some lunch at Korona Kávéház just by the castle, which was cheap and delicious.

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Castle Grounds ©2016

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Budapest Royal Palace ©2016

Next we headed to the Fisherman’s Bastion passing the ornately decorated exterior of Matthias Church. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a highly decorated series of lookout towers, with amazing views over Budapest. You can pay to go up to the towers and turrets, but we decided not to and still managed to see the majority of it and thought it was an amazing attraction.

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Fisherman’s Bastion ©2016

After the Fisherman’s Bastion we walked over to the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker museum. The only way to see the museum is by guided tour – the cost for an adult being 3600 HUF which is just under £9. The tour itself lasts about an hour and traverses the military hospital and nuclear bunker used during World War 2. The tour is fairly interesting, and I would recommend it to history buffs, although if you’re aren’t too into this then perhaps visit somewhere different if you are on a tight schedule.

Following the tour, we jumped back on the hop-on hop-off bus to Szechenyi Baths. A ticket with a locker is around 4900 HUF (just under £12) and you can rent towels if you don’t want or remember to bring your own. The outdoor pools are large and despite it raining were hot enough to lounge around in for the rest of the afternoon. The pool at the far end is a bit cooler and has a whirlpool in the centre of it which is fun to try.

That evening we decided to visit Govinda, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that had been recommended to us. We may have just visited at a bad time, but the food was lukewarm and with little flavour. After a bad experience with food poisoning on one of our last trips we decided to grab food elsewhere.

Later that evening we headed over to Szimpla Kert a run pub popular with visitors to Budapest. The pub itself is huge and fascinating to walk around with really fun decor. Cocktails and beer is cheap, and there are also shisa pipes, pickled carrots and pretzels so there is something for everyone.

On our way back we went into the Yellow Zebra Bar which had more of a local feel and live music. You can also rent bikes from here so worth a visit either way!

Day Three

We spent most of Day Three on Margaret Island. There is quite a bit to see on the island and I would recommend a visit if the weather is nice. We hired out a four wheel bike to see one half of the island before wandering around the rest of it. The musical fountains are fun to watch and there are jogging tracks if you enjoy running. There are plenty of boats to Margaret Island from the docks on the Pest side of the river.

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Margaret Island ©2016

For lunch we went to the Hard Rock Cafe, not our usually our preferred place for food but our options as vegetarians were fairly limited. The food turned out to be fairly reasonable and the staff were very accommodating to our preferences.

That evening we dropped by Brklyn bar which was a bit pretentious but served nice drinks and had live music on. 

Day Four

On Day 4 we caught the train to Bratislava. Getting to Keleti station from our hotel by metro was easy and cheap, the ticket sellers in the station spoke good English and the trains were also cheap and clean. I would definitely recommend this way of travelling between the two countries as you get to see so much more than if you flew and the journey is only a couple of hours long.

We stayed at the Garni Hotel Virgo which was cheap, modern and close to the city centre. If you do stay here I would recommend that you request a room not on the bottom floor, as we were given one that was street facing and next to reception which was fairly noisy throughout the night.

For dinner that evening we ate at a local Italian restaurant. The food here was again cheap and enjoyable. We then wandered further into town, trying to choose which of the many amazing cakes we should try, before settling on Mondieu cafe where we indulged in some seriously yummy goodies.

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Mondieu sweet treats ©2016

Day Five

Food options in Bratislava were much more wide-ranging and we found some great places to eat. For breakfast we headed into the city and there was so much to choose from.

Next we caught the metro and then the bus to Devin castle, which doesn’t take as long as it may sound. The castle itself is high up on a hill and is mainly in ruins, however the walk along the river and around the hill is very enjoyable, especially in the summer, and there are also some interesting Iron Curtain memorials along the way.

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Devin Castle ©2016

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Iron Curtain memorial, Devin ©2016

On our way to our next stop, Bratislava castle, we came across a cat cafe, which we stopped off at for some cake and a play with some super cute kitties. Well worth a visit if you’re missing your cat back home.

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Bratislava Castle ©2016

Bratislava Castle is much smaller than Budapest Castle but also offers amazing views across the city and it is free to walk around the grounds.

After wandering round all day we decided to head back into the town centre for dinner. Again we found another great place to eat.

Later that evening we headed out to a local shisha bar, Habibi cafe, for a chilled out evening watching the world go by before our flight home the next day.

Day Six

On our last day we had a fairly early flight back home. The airport is about 20-30 minutes from the centre, so it is worth booking a taxi in advance.

We really enjoyed our time in Budapest and Bratislava and I hope this post helps you plan your visit!

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