An Insider's Guide to Budapest
Describe your time in Budapest.
I lived there for a year and opened a writing school for both expats and locals.
What was your favorite attraction?
Although it's less famous than some of the major attractions, I loved going to the Hungarian House of Photography (also known as Mai Manó House or Mai Manó Haz). Many of the photos on display provide a unique perspective into Hungarian history. Plus, the museum is centrally located just off busy Andrássy Avenue, making it an easy stop between places you may already be visiting.
What are three things a first-time visitor can't miss?
1. Take a dip in the baths.
Budapest's thermal baths are famous, and for good reason. The top two are Gellert, with its Art Nouveau style, and Szechenyi, which feels like a palace. Both are beautiful, have indoor and outdoor pools with varying temperatures, and offer spa treatments for an extra luxurious experience. Although other bathhouses may be more popular with locals, you'll still see some Hungarians at Gellert and Szechenyi, lounging and playing chess.
2. Spend a night out at the Ruin bars.
These bars in Budapest's old Jewish Quarter aren't your average watering holes. Instead, they're abandoned buildings and outdoor spaces that have been brought back to life with eclectic furniture, decorations, and clientele. While they certainly retain their alternative vibe, some are becoming a bit more posh, so there's something for everyone.
3. Make time for both Buda and Pest.
Until the late 1800s, Budapest was two separate cities divided by the Danube River. Although now united, each side has sites you can't miss. In hilly Buda on the west bank, you have the Castle District, Fisherman's Bastion, and incredible views over Pest below. On the Pest side, be sure to visit Parliament, St. Stephen's Basilica, Great Market Hall, and Hero Square. And to get a good sense of both sides at once, book a river cruise. My husband and I went on one during our last week in town and it was a great way to say farewell to this beautiful city.
What's the best insider tip you can offer future visitors to Budapest?
Most people don't think of Hungary as a wine destination, but there are quite a few vineyards in the region, many of which specialize in a dessert wine called Tokaji. You can take a day trip into the countryside to visit the cellars, or stay local and book a wine tasting tour in the city.