It’s with good reason that the ‘hidden treasure chest’ that is Budapest inspires songs. This capital city of Hungary has bounty enough for its exploration to take up a good portion of a gap year without any loss of enthusiasm or excitement. Selecting the top 10 things to do in Budapest during a gap year is, therefore, no easy task.
Discover the wonderful watering holes
Budapest is a backpacker’s dream as far as pubs go. This city has found a unique solution to what to do with run-down buildings; simply turn them into an enormous maze of retro and artistic pubs that serve as really cool meeting places for local and foreign students. Szimpla Kert is one such ‘ruin bar’ that has been dubbed ‘simply the best’ for atmosphere. However, traditional drinks and dishes are celebrated in diverse settings throughout this dynamic city.
Fun, festivities and food in a 13th Century setting
Castle Hill is considered the heart of Budapest and its elevated position and huge green dome makes it visible from practically anywhere in the city. Buda Castle dominates this extensive limestone plateau, and the ruins, which once housed Hungarian royalty, still provide a majestic view of the Danube. Besides its historical value, Buda Castle is also the chosen venue for festivals that celebrate Hungarian culture, like the sausage for which the country is famous, as well as palinka; a fruit brandy that’s name loosely translates as ‘rocket fuel’, which says it all.
Enjoy a thermal bath
Szécheny Bath is a very popular, century-old site that boasts the largest labyrinth of warm medicinal waters in Budapest. Open every day throughout the year, the 18 geothermal pools that make up Szechenyi Bath have lent their healing properties to millions who travel here to enjoy an underwater aqua massage, saunas, whirlpools, or simply a rejuvenating poolside drink.
Experience the Turkish Baths
You cannot claim to have experienced cultural Budapest without having enjoyed its famous Turkish baths. It is a custom that has been practised for centuries, and the two dozen baths dotted throughout the city along with 13 spas offer hot baths, cold baths and, for the more adventurous, even a naked bath. It is important to check exactly which is on offer, so as to arrive properly equipped or just with a smile, whatever the case may be.
Grab a bargain at Central Market
Those on a tight budget will literally enjoy a feast of affordable dishes at the bustling Central Market. From the famous Hungarian blood or liver sausages piled high with chillies and pickles to cheap, but delicious, dishes like langos, these meals will sustain a hungry traveller through many hours of sight-seeing. It is also the place to find affordable souvenirs.
Enjoy the freedom of the city
For a highly informative, very enjoyable and extremely affordable day out, join the no-obligation-to-pay walking tours offered by a groups who know this city and its rich history backwards. Those who cannot afford to pay don’t, but tips are welcomed from those who can. A walk to the city’s Jewish Quarter, which is also a renowned party place, is amongst those offered.
Remembering the Heroes of Hungary
The Heroes Square is a gap year must-see whilst in Hungary. Being at the end of Andrássy Avenue, which is a World Heritage site of great historical significance, it is a salute to the Hungarians who arrived in the Carpathian Basin over ten centuries ago. This avenue is also home to the State Opera House among many other famous turn-of-the-century buildings created by the most distinguished architects of the period.
Taking a boat ride on the Danube at night when the city is magically lit is a must during gap year travel to Budapest. A cheaper option is to walk across any one of the magnificent central bridges like Elizabeth Bridge, Liberty Bridge, Margaret Bridge or Chain Bridge – to enjoy the spectacular views.
Hungarian Parliament Building
For those interested in studying architecture, this famous landmark has been a major draw-card with its Gothic revivalist style and remarkable statues and paintings. For many Hungarians, this building is a symbol of their freedom and commitment to true democracy.
The Museum of Fine Arts
To view one of the largest collections of works by Italian, Spanish and Dutch Masters, this magnificent 19th century, classically inspired structure is a masterpiece in its own right. It is Budapest’s primary art gallery filled with architecturally inspiring spaces designed to display its treasures to their greatest advantage. No gap year in Budapest would be complete without viewing the stunning Egyptian and ancient art, as well as the modern and graphics collections.