Budapest was formed in 1873 by the unification of the two cities Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east side of the river Danube. To describe these two sections of the city in a way that is easily understandable to the average Irish tourist, clinic Buda could be equated with the south side of Dublin and Pest with the north side.
Unlike the Liffey, discount the Danube is a major focal point of the city. You can’t miss it. The riverboat tour will take tourists, and or indeed locals, to any of the many islands situated on the river and some of the bus tour tickets will include a trip on the riverboat which is worth taking just for the spectacular views of the city on either of the banks.
Those of us less informed will be surprised to learn that although Hungary is in the EU it has not yet adopted the Euro and uses its own currency; the Hungarian Forint.
The currency exchange rate is currently favourable towards the Euro, making a trip to Budapest rather perfect for students who are strapped for cash but still want an unforgettable holiday experience. Good hostels can be found in Pest for as little as €4 per night (per person in a room of eight). Just don’t be put off by the appearance of the building from the outside.
The dark alleys at night, the graffiti covering most of the available wall space and only the occasional passer-by to be seen may scream “horror movie” and leave you wondering which of your group will be the first to die…but sometimes first impressions are inaccurate.
Staying in Pest also provides the advantage of cheaper places to eat, as you can get a croissant and a coffee for less than €3 or something more substantial for breakfast for less than a fiver.
If you’re visiting Hungary you simply have to try some of the local cuisine, even if it’s just to say that you did. Specialties include chicken paprika; Lecsó, a mixed vegetable stew; and, of course, Hungarian goulash.
The recipe for goulash varies from restaurant to restaurant, with some places serving it as more of a soup than a stew and substituting beef for pork or Hungarian sausage. Taking this into consideration, it’s worth trying to find somewhere decent so you can really experience the dish at its best.
Once you’ve tried the traditional Hungarian dishes, if you want a truly unique dining experience you’ve really got to try the restaurant Kaja.hu, also to be found on the
Pest side of the city. It offers what the menu terms “cybergastro”.
On the table where your placemat should be there is a computer screen and a mouse is on a little shelf under the table. This is an interactive menu where you can place your order, which the waitress will bring to the table shortly.
The computer system will also calculate your bill and give you the option of paying either for the whole table or just for your own meal, which saves a lot of counting and re-counting and fumbling with unfamiliar notes and coins, trying to ensure that everybody gets the correct change.
But possibly the best thing about visiting Hungary, if you’re a student and looking for the night-life and a bit of craic, are the incredible, unusual, and unique to Hungary, “ruinpubs”.
Derelict buildings are renovated and decorated, furnished with rejected furniture from cinemas, community centres, grandmother’s flats and, quite possibly, the local junkyard. The pubs have a unique feel with cheap drinks, friendly people and a great atmosphere. It is truly an experience not to be missed.
The only other advice I can offer if you’re travelling to Budapest is: don’t lose your boarding pass in Budapest airport.
It’s a relatively new destination for Ryanair and some of the staff haven’t quite got the company policy figured out yet. Translation: they will stop you from boarding. Other than that, happy travels!