Whether you’re in town for Sziget Festival or visiting Budapest any time of year, here are some tips for more unusual activities beyond ruin bars and the city’s classic sites.
Every year a certain energy hits Budapest when the Sziget Festival is in full swing. While crowds of people from all across the globe congregate on the “Isle of Freedom” on Óbuda Island in the Danube (Sziget means Island, by the way), having Budapest on the doorstep adds an extra dimension to the festival.
Despite having lived in Budapest for a while, I have never been to Sziget to date and will be going for the first time this year, and to get into the spirit, I want to share a few extra-festival activities you can get up to while you’re in Budapest for this crazy island revelry, or if you’re visiting the rest of the year, you can still experience these more off the beaten track activities Budapest has to offer.
Hit Up Budapest’s Craft Beer District
Did you know that Budapest has its own district densely packed with craft beer bars? The IX District was once an industrial hub full of factories and warehouses that have been revitalised. Since then, this district had a dose of rehabilitation and gentrification injected into it, but not as much as the old Jewish Quarter in the VII District. In fact, you’ll find 18 craft beer bars in the space of 1999 metres and 99 beers on tap. So if you love beer, skip Szimpla and head over to the IX. You can also explore the city’s craft beer scene with Budapest Local’s Craft Beer tour.
Swim in the Turkish Baths
Budapest is not called a “City of Spas” for nothing since there are over 200 caves under the city carved out by thermal water and numerous springs. While many flock to the famous Széchényi and Gellért Baths, you might want to try some of Budapest’s historic Turkish baths built during the Ottoman occupation. The Rudas might be high up on the tourist radar, with long lines, but with good reason. For a less crowded experience, head down to the Király or the Veli Bej baths.
Party on a Boat
If you missed out on Sziget or need a break from the island, A38 is an old Ukrainian stone carrying ship that has permanently moored on the banks of the Danube and has been turned into a cultural and music hub. You can find concerts, parties, and events here and it’s definitely one of the cool places to party in the city.
Ride into the Hills on a Train Ran by Children
Go to a Farmers’ Market in a Ruin Bar
Szimpla might be a tourist hotspot, but that doesn’t stop the bar from being a spectacular place and a legacy in Budapest’s nightlife scene as the first ruin bar in the city. On Sundays, head over in the morning for the farmers’ market, complete with artisanal and local produce, a live band and even a charity kitchen where you can get a cheap soup or stew, where the proceeds go to the Budapest Bike Maffia, who help out local families living below the poverty line. If you want to go all out and see the city’s markets and ruin bars from a different angle, try Budapest Flow’s alternative tours!
Following on from the spas, Budapest has a lot of caves, some of which can even be visited. While the show caves at Pálvölgy and Szemlőhegy are amazing and unique to visit, you can even get down and dirty on a spelunking excursion into nearby Mátyáshegy with a guide and all the equipment, throwing in a little adventure into your city break.
Dine in an Apartment Restaurant
Food is one of the best experiences you can have while travelling, and while the touristy restaurants of the city downtown might promise authentic Hungarian cuisine, it can be hit and miss. Get an authentic culinary experience at one of the apartment restaurants. Eat & Meet is perhaps one of the best, hosted by local foodie Zsuzska Goldbach, whose family cook delicious and seasonal feasts for guests. And if you’re travelling alone, no problem, their dinners are social affairs and you’ll always meet new people.
Do a Room Escape Game
Budapest is home to the live room escape games, so where better to test out your logic skills by getting locked in a room? Parapark is the very first of its kind, in the gritty heart of the VIII District in the heart of a ruin bar, but you’ll also find over 50 in various basements and hidden rooms all across the city.
Visit a Subterranean Hospital
Combine 20th century history with subterranean adventure. Head to Hospital in the Rock for an interactive experience about the hospital’s history and learn about the city under siege in during World War II and during the communist uprising.
Visit the Unicum Factory
Unicum is a unique liquor, whose recipe is a closely guarded family secret. The herbal concoction is supposed to be a great digestive, with some health properties, but what’s interesting about this Hungarian liquor is its unique history and its story intertwined with the Zwack family. The Unicum Factory & Museum is fascinating since you not only get a glimpse into how this enigmatic drink is made (complete with a taste), but you also learn so much about the country’s history through the eyes of this uniquely Hungarian drink.