Since Hungary’s landlocked, it doesn’t have any beaches as such. In fact, the nearest is a good four hours' drive away in Croatia. But, that’s not to say there’s nowhere to escape the city buzz. Hungary’s rich in freshwater lakes, which are lined with villas and resorts. And some are just over an hour’s drive from Budapest. If you don’t want to venture too far, though, there are also the city’s steaming-hot bathhouses to unwind in.
Lake Balaton – an hour and a half’s drive from Budapest – is the closest you’ll get to a beach in these parts. So much so that locals have dubbed it the Hungarian Sea. After all, it’s the largest freshwater lake in Europe. There are grass-and-sand beaches all around its edge, as well as playgrounds, showers and sunbeds. Kayaking and paddle-boarding are popular, too, thanks to the still, millpond-like water.
When it comes to bathhouses, Veli Bej is one of Budapest’s best-kept secrets. It dates back to the 16th century, and you can see remnants of the old Roman water piping system in some areas. There’s also a tiny exhibition of archaeological finds from the Ottoman era inside. You’ll find an octagonal pool under a huge dome, with four smaller pools to the side. And there are modern touches like glass ceilings and a sauna heated by infrared light. The best part? Entry prices are a fraction of the cost of more well-known complexes.
If you want to see Budapestians going about their daily shop, head for the Central Market Hall. This metal-roofed building houses the city’s biggest indoor market. Fresh fruit and veg, cheeses and meats are all up for grabs. Go a floor up, however, and you’ll enter souvenir-shopping territory. Here, you can pick up paprika and handicrafts, before stopping for a bite to eat at one of the traditional food stalls.
Vaci Street, which runs from Vorosmarty Square to Central Market Hall, is Budapest’s main shopping artery. As such, the street’s completely pedestrianised. You’ll find familiar names like Zara, H&M and Mango, plus nearby streets feature the likes of Hugo Boss, Lacoste and Tommy Hilfiger.
Andrassy Avenue is Budapest’s very own Champs-Élysées. The whole street’s been recognised by UNESCO for its Renaissance palaces and historic villas. So, it’s easy to see why luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Gucci have all set up shop along its super-sized, tree-lined stretch.
Budapest’s night scene is one-of-a-kind. The city’s best known for its ruin bars, which take abandoned buildings and transform them into bohemian bars with fairy lights, graffiti and off-the-wall seating. So, you can order pints in a former dental laboratory or watch films at a rooftop club above a rundown supermarket. For something more sophisticated, hunt down a wine bar. Most of them offer tastings of the reds and whites from Hungary’s 22 wine-growing regions.
With so many thermal baths and party-hard visitors, someone was bound to combine the two at some point. Introducing the spa party – or sparty. The Szechenyi Baths put on popular Szecska parties during the summer and Magic Bath parties in the winter. Just imagine a big rave with electronic music, laser beams and plenty of steam. The water-based parties don’t stop there. You can also venture onboard an old Ukranian cargo ship, A38, where DJs blast out techno and disco tunes.
Almost every region in Hungary has its own variety of the country’s national dish. Generally speaking, it’s a cross between a soup and a stew. So, you can expect a plate or a bread bowl of slow-cooked beef, mixed in with carrots, onions and a dashing of paprika.
You’ll probably be able to guess the main ingredient in this dish. Tender chicken is served with a generous helping of paprika, sour cream and spatzle – pasta-like dumplings.
This dessert is made from three different types of sponge, as well as rum syrup, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. The creator’s family are tight-lipped about the original recipe, so you’ll find it made in all sorts of ways.
These thin crepe-like pancakes can be stuffed with lots of different fillings. Savoury fans have hortobagyi, which is filled with fried onion, sour cream and paprika sauce. Those with a sweet tooth, meanwhile, can try gundel – a mix of ground walnuts, raisins and rum is stuffed inside, and the outside is covered with dark chocolate sauce.
With an alcohol content of between 37% and 86%, Hungary’s fruit brandy really packs a punch. The spirit’s usually made from sweet fruits, like plums, apricots or cherries. Most tourists take it as a shot, but, if you’re feeling brave, you can do as the locals do and sip it.
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