Beer in Budapest

Budapest surprised us in so many ways. The sights were more awesome than we expected, the people were more friendly than we anticipated, the sweets exceeded my wildest dreams, and Beer in Budapest did not disappoint! Budapest was markedly the end of the “wine phase” of our European adventure. From this point out, things definitely shifted over to a Beer focus. Kevin was ecstatic. In his words, “About freaking time!”

Budapest is every beer-lover’s playground. The Craft Beer scene is absolutely going nuts there right now! You almost can’t walk anywhere without stumbling past a craft beer bar or bottle shop, which is dangerous for my liver, but wonderful in a city where you have to pay $1 to use public restrooms. I’d rather pay for a $2 beer!

I’m not sure I’d even call Budapest’s craft beer scene young anymore – there are far too many breweries for that now. But even though it has matured and really become a fun part of the city, the beer is still incredibly inexpensive! In this post, I’ll take you in a photo tour of a few of our favorite bars and bottle shops in Budapest.

The bars below are ordered in the same way you should consume your beers and wines: the best first, and the less exciting stuff later. Cheers!

Élesztő Bar

By far our favorite spot in Budapest for beer is Élesztő Bar. Élesztő is the Hungarian word for yeast, so they get points with me for being clever. Élesztő is technically a ruin pub, which means it was opened up in a building that may otherwise have been left abandoned or demolished. That means one thing: ambiance. Élesztő is enormous, with a giant, awesome outdoor area and even more indoor space.

Peering into the Élesztő courtyard. This is such a fun place to sit and enjoy a beer when it's nice outside.

Peering into the Élesztő courtyard. This is such a fun place to sit and enjoy a beer when it’s nice outside.

The only bad thing about Élesztő is its location. It’s a bit of a hike from the tourist core of Budapest, but is totally worth the walk or the cost of taking a tram. Anything in Budapest seems to take an hour to walk to anyway, and I’m promising you great beer at the end of the walk. Clearly, you must go.

Inside the Élesztő, where all the magic happens. (I'm talking about the magic of pouring beers.)

Inside the Élesztő, where all the magic happens. (I’m talking about the magic of pouring beers.)

There are TWENTY ONE BEER TAPS at Élesztő. That’s right. TWENTY ONE. We had our work cut out for us. Luckly, you can get small sizes of every beer, and most beers are priced so that you’re not saving money by ordering the large size. I liked that, because I didn’t feel like we were wasting money to try more of a variety of beers.

Look at that beer list!!

Look at that beer list!!

We focused on beers that were from Hungarian Breweries, but you can find beers here from all over Europe.

Left: Propaganda Pilsner. Right: Pineapple Noir Saison.

Left: Propaganda Pilsner. Right: Pineapple Noir Saison.

Left: Sorostyen Red Lager (Yum). Right: Mosaic in Black Porter.

Left: Sorostyen Red Lager (Yum). Right: Mosaic in Black Porter.

The Facts:

Csak a Jó Sör (Only Good Beer)

The first thing you should learn when arriving in Budapest is that the Hungarian word for Beer is Sör. Once you know that, you can handle anything. Our favorite stop to buy bottled beer in all of Budapest was an awesome little bottle shop called Csak a Jó Sör, which translates to Only Good Beer.

We tried a couple of the beers they had on tap and weren’t very impressed. You actually get a lot more bang for your “Forint” (Hungarian currency) when you buy bottles, so we recommend focusing on those.

Beers on tap at Csak a Jó Sör. Kevin had the Citron IPA and I ordered the Coffee Porter. I'm STILL experiencing a coffee buzz from how much coffee they put in this puppy. TOO MUCH COFFEE.

Beers on tap at Csak a Jó Sör. Kevin had the Citron IPA and I ordered the Coffee Porter. I’m STILL experiencing a coffee buzz from how much coffee they put in this puppy. TOO MUCH COFFEE.

Kevin took the opportunity to try as many Belgian beers as he could while we were in Budapest. Most bottles were $3 or less, which is WAY more reasonable than anything you’d pay for Belgian beer in the States.

A few of the Belgian beers Kevin enjoyed from Csak a Jó Sör:

Yum.

The Facts:

Schimpla Kert Ruin Pub

For ambiance alone, this puppy is ranked #3 with us. Élesztő was our first ruin pub, but Schimpla is decidedly more ruin-like. I’m pretty sure that most of their furniture has been scavenged from the side of the road or from junk yards, but it actually lends the space a really fun vibe and looks pretty cool! Schimpla is located in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest, so it’s really easy to reach for most tourists. We definitely categorize this as a not-to-be-missed stop on your beer tour of the city.

We weren’t super excited about the drinks we ordered, but that’s ok. You’re there for the experience.

Kevin's dark beer, my cider, and a shot of Unicum, Hungary's most famous (and most disgusting) liquor.

Kevin’s dark beer, my cider, and a shot of Unicum, Hungary’s most famous (and most disgusting) liquor.

Unicum has been described to be "like Jagermeister, but with a distinctly stronger flavor". Everyone says you have to try it, so we clearly did.

Unicum has been described to be “like Jagermeister, but with a distinctly stronger flavor”. Excellent… Everyone says you have to try it, so we clearly did…

And here's what Kevin thought of it.

…and here’s what Kevin thought of it.

The best part of Schimpla is their awesome outdoor area. You can even sit in a car-turned-dining-table!

The outdoor area of Schipmla, with the old converted car.

The outdoor area of Schipmla, with the old converted car.

Schimpla even serves food, if you're there when the kitchen is open.

Schimpla even serves food, if you’re there when the kitchen is open.

The Facts:

Hopfanatic

Hopfanatic Pub in Budapest

Hopfanatic Pub in Budapest

If you’re craving an IPA, head to Hopfanatic, as that’s just about all they brew. They have 10 beers on tap, most of which are IPAs or Pale Ales. They also had a Porter on tap.

Beers on tap at Hopfanatic.

Beers on tap at Hopfanatic.

The bartenders aren’t very friendly or knowledgable at Hopfanatic, but that’s not why you go. You go to Hopfanatic because of their awesome urinals:

Why don't we have urinals like these in the States? It's almost cool enough to put in my house. Almost.

Why don’t we have urinals like these in the States? It’s almost cool enough to put in my house. Almost.

The Facts:

Léhűtő, a bar for the Hipsters

Every city has a gathering place for hipsters. There’s Brooklyn in NYC, Capitol Hill in Seattle, and the Pearl District in Portland. I’m not trying to call anyone out here – I love skinny jeans and mustaches as much as the next person, and usually these neighborhoods are among my favorites. I just think it’s amazing how an entire area can feel like it falls into this category. In Budapest, the hipster neighborhood is the Jewish Quarter, and the epicenter seems to be Léhűtő.

Léhűtő, a fun little bar in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.

Léhűtő, a fun little bar in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.

Their beers are a bit pricier than what we found elsewhere, but they’ve got a huge selection and the bartender was nice enough to help us pick our poison. Added bonus? This bar is easy to find and close to the tourist core of Budapest.

The Facts:

Unconventional Drinking

One of the greatest things about Europe is that you can drink almost anywhere! There are no fenced off beer gardens here, no one is waiting to give you a citation for holding a beer on the street, and it’s borderline acceptable to BYOB on a train ride. If I’m being honest, I think a more casual attitude towards drinking by a culture as a whole makes kids less likely to sneak alcohol and overdo things. Drinking is not something that is forbidden; it’s something you do socially and responsibly with friends. It’s ok for kids to see that!

Let me set my soapbox aside and show you some of Budapest’s finest unconventional drinking spots.

Drinking at a VW Beer Van!

Budapest's VW Beer Van.

Budapest’s VW Beer Van.

If you ever find yourself at a festival in Budapest, look for the cute little blue Kézmüves Sör VW van selling pints of beer!

Kevin ordering up a pint.

Kevin ordering up a pint.

Nothing beats drinking a delicious dark wheat beer next to an old-ass castle.

Nothing beats drinking a delicious dark wheat beer next to an old-ass castle.

We stumbled onto the beer van by sheer dumb luck, and you should certainly stop for a drink if you happen to find it. If you speak Hungarian (or arm yourself with Google Translate and some patience) you might be able to figure out where they are from the Kézmüves Sör Website. Good luck.

Drinking in City Park

One of our favorite places to sit and enjoy a beer was in City Park, which is essentially Budapest’s answer to NYC’s Central Park. We were staying in an apartment only a few blocks away, and took every chance we got to soak up some sun while enjoying a German hefeweisen.

If you find yourself in City Park, wander around, you’ll find a bar eventually. There’s even one in an old repurposed railroad car in the NE corner of the park!

Drinking while Biking

Especially huge in Budapest is “Beers on Wheels”, the drink-while-you-pedal bars rolling all over the city. You bike to power the cart, and a bartender will keep your beer topped up. I’m not sure who mans the steering wheel.

Drink while you get your exercise in Budapest.

Drink while you get your exercise in Budapest.

The downside? It doesn’t seem like you can book just a couple spots in one of these moving bars. You need to be traveling with a group and have to book out the whole thing.

Drinking on Trains

Remember when I said it’s borderline acceptable to drink on a train? I’m not sure it’s 100% legal, but locals won’t bat an eye. The best way to make a several-hour train ride from Budapest to Vienna fly by is to BYOB. Trust us, you won’t regret it.

Enjoying some cider with my lunch on the train to Vienna.

Enjoying some cider with my lunch on the train to Vienna.

We Want to Hear From You!

Where in the world did you have your most memorable beer/wine/cocktail? Mine will forever be Oktoberfest in Munich in 2012, but we just got home from Prague which was also awesome. (Posts on Prague to come soon!)

Leave us a comment to let us know!

Desserts in Budapest

The main reason we chose Budapest for our last full month-long home in Europe was the huge selection of awesome Airbnb apartments for dirt cheap prices. But a very, very, very close second was all the decadent desserts in Budapest. Hungary is a country with an incredible cake scene – it was like a dream come true for a self-proclaimed cake lover like me. After all, this is the country where the Dobos Torte was invented.

This blog post will be a quick photo tour through the desserts we tried in Budapest. If this blog post makes you Hungary (har har), I highly recommend you walk straight to your kitchen and make your own Dobos Torte using this recipe, which is easy to make and guaranteed to impress family and friends. I made it once and love it.

Without further ado, let’s eat!

Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake)

Oh. My. Goodness. This dessert was a revelation, and was hands down the best sweet we ate in Budapest. Chimney Cakes are made from a sweet dough that is rolled out onto a wooden roller, then rolled in sugar, then either grilled over hot coals or baked in an oven. After it’s cooked, they’ll roll it in your choice of topping: chocolate, walnut, almond, poppy-seed, vanilla, cinnamon (our fave!), or coconut.

The best Chimney Cakes we had during our time in Budapest were from Molnar’s Kürtőskalács. Their chimney cakes cost 990 Forint (about $3.68), and were by far the best we found in all of our time in Budapest.

Molnar's Kürtőskalács. This place is my idea of heaven.

Molnar’s Kürtőskalács. This place is my idea of heaven.

One of the bakers, working hard on making those Chimney Cakes.

One of the bakers, working hard on making those Chimney Cakes.

They’re located in the heart of the downtown tourist area, so it is inexcusable not to stop by, in my opinion.

Ahhhhh Molnar's is so good. My mouth is watering looking at this photo...

Ahhhhh Molnar’s is so good. My mouth is watering looking at this photo…

A very close runner-up to Molnar’s is any charcoal-cooked Kürtőskalács stand at outdoor festivals in Budapest. Here’s the caveat, though, make sure it’s a food stand where lots of locals eat! We picked the one below, which had a CRAZY line, and it was fantastic.

A Kurtoskalacs stand at an Easter Festival in City Park.

A Kurtoskalacs stand at an Easter Festival in City Park.

The key to Chimney cakes is getting them fresh and hot! Never, ever, ever buy a cold Chimney cake. Here’s a peek at how they’re made:

The dough is rolled onto these wooden rollers.

The dough is rolled onto these wooden rollers.

At festivals, they're usually cooked over hot coals!

At festivals, they’re usually cooked over hot coals!

Here's Kevin with our Chimney Cake. At the festival, they usually run about 1000 Forint (about $3.72), but are quite a bit bigger than the ones you'll get at Molnar's.

Here’s Kevin with our Chimney Cake. At festivals, they usually run about 1000 Forint (about $3.72), but are quite a bit bigger than the ones you’ll get at Molnar’s.

Best Bakery in Budapest: Pasha Turkish Bakery

In a surprise move, we decided to name Pasha as our favorite bakery in Budapest. But it’s Turkish, you say, and this is Hungary, you say. Tough cookies (har har). Make one visit to Pasha and you’ll be singing a different tune, I promise.

Pasha Bakery, the best in Budapest.

Pasha Bakery, the best in Budapest.

The downside to Pasha is that it is pretty far out in the Northern Suburbs. In fact, you have to take the H5 commuter rail to the Békásmegyer stop to get there, then walk a couple blocks. We think it’s totally worth the trip if you’re in Budapest for five days or more. Their amazingly tasty sweets and rock bottom prices make the trip totally worth it! We got four baklavas, two bureks, four cookies, and a big sesame pastry for just 2265 Forint, or about $8.45.

Pasha serves Burek! We loved the apple and spinach varieties.

Pasha serves Burek! We fell in love with Burek in Croatia. At Pasha, we loved the apple and spinach varieties.

Best pastry we tried there was this tahini and sesame pastry. It had just a hint of sweetness, which Kevin and I both LOVED.

The single best pastry we tried there was this tahini and sesame pastry. It had just a hint of sweetness, which Kevin and I both LOVED. It balanced out the honey-doused baklava.

Delicious baked goods at Pasha!

Delicious baked goods at Pasha!

Cookies, cakes, and Turkish Pizza, oh my!

Cookies, cakes, and Turkish Pizza, oh my!

Two words: Chocolate Baklava. Or as I called it, Choclava.

Two words: Chocolate Baklava. Or as I called it, Choclova.

Clearly, we bought the chocolate baklava, which completely blew my mind. It is so good. They also have a superb traditional Baklava, which would've knocked my socks off if I had eaten it before its chocolate sibling.

Clearly, we bought the chocolate baklava, which completely blew my mind. It is so good. They also have a superb traditional Baklava, which would’ve knocked my socks off if I had eaten it before its chocolate sibling.

Rumor has it that Pasha bakery may open up a chain in downtown Budapest sometime in the future. Check their website often to see if it happens before your visit!

The Dobos Torte: Hungary’s Gift to the World

The Dobos Torte is a Hungarian sponge cake layered with chocolate icing, topped with a crunchy layer of caramel. It was invented way back in the 1800s by a guy named Jozsef C. Dobos. If I could time travel, I would love to go to the 1800s and give this man a well-deserved pat on the back.

Check out this Dobos Torte. I can definitely get onboard with this ratio of icing to cake.

Check out this Dobos Torte. I can definitely get onboard with this ratio of icing to cake.

Nearly every Cukrászda (the Hungarian word for Bakery) in Budapest sells this tasty creation. We only tried it at one bakery, but I’d challenge you to try to find the BEST Dobos Torte in town and leave me a comment once you do!

Ruszwurm Bakery in Castle Hill

Ruszwurm Bakery in Castle Hill

We got our Dobos fix at Ruszwurm Cukrászda, which claims to be Budapest’s oldest cafe! It’s a family business started back in 1827, and is located a block from the Matthias Church at the top of Castle Hill. The bakery has been through a lot – the building was damaged in bombings in 1849 and 1944, but they are still dishing up tasty cakes today!

Ruszwurm's Dobos Torte

Ruszwurm’s Dobos Torte

There is no shortage of cakes to choose from at Ruszwurm.

There is no shortage of cakes to choose from at Ruszwurm.

The Dobos Torte was good, but the cake Ruszwurm Cukrászda is most famous for is their Ruszwurm Kreme cake. It’s a heavenly vanilla custard sandwiched between two pieces of puff pastry, then topped with a hefty amount powdered sugar. This slice of cake was absolutely the winner at Ruszwurm – if you visit, you MUST try this one!

Ruszwurm's famous Kreme Cake. You have to try it!!

Ruszwurm’s famous Kreme Cake. You have to try it!!

Fair warning, Ruszwurm is definitely on the tourist radar and full of people wildly waving around selfie sticks and taking photos. Excessive photo taking is always slightly annoying, but this is one case where I think the Kreme Cake is worth the hassle of feeling touristy.

Auguszt Cukrászda

Speaking of Kreme Cake, we also gave it a shot at Auguszt Cukrászda. They’re also known for their Kreme Cakes, but the only reason I’m putting this section in here is to encourage you to get it at Ruszwurm instead.

Kreme Cakes at Auguszt Cukrászda. Regular ol' Kreme Cake on the left, and their Chocolate and Orange variety on the right.

Kreme Cakes at Auguszt Cukrászda. Regular ol’ Kreme Cake on the left, and their Chocolate and Orange variety on the right.

Ruszwurm’s Kreme Cake was far superior to the one we got at Auguszt, and Ruszwurm’s service was more friendly.

Fröhlich Cukrászda

For something different, be sure you stop by Fröhlich Cukrászda, a bakery in the Jewish Quarter that specializes in a few traditional Jewish Cakes.

Check out this unassuming storefront! Fröhlich is located smack dab in the middle of the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.

Check out this unassuming storefront! Fröhlich is located smack dab in the middle of the Jewish Quarter of Budapest.

This bakery is family run, and the woman behind the counter was one of the nicest people we met in town. They had a dizzying array of cakes, and I’m certain they are all delicious.

The cake selection at Fröhlich Cukrászda

The cake selection at Fröhlich Cukrászda

They even have a Dobos Torte. We didn't try it, but I bet it's awesome.

They even have a Dobos Torte. We didn’t try it, but I bet it’s awesome.

First, we went for the most chocolatey thing we could find:

Fröhlich's Chocolate Torte Cake.

Fröhlich’s Chocolate Torte Cake.

And obviously, we got the cake they are famous for, Flodni. Flodni is an apple, poppy-seed, and walnut dessert cake. It’s a traditional dessert commonly made in Jewish households in Budapest, Fröhlich is just about the only bakery where you can find it in Budapest.

Flodni cake from Fröhlich Cukrászda.

Flodni cake from Fröhlich Cukrászda.

Hungarian people are absolutely bonkers for poppy seeds for some reason – the entire middle layer of this cake was just a bunch of poppy seeds held together by a sweet syrup. It’s not really for me, and I didn’t 100% enjoy this cake because the poppy made it pretty earthy, but it was definitely fun to try. Plus, Fröhlich has some of the most reasonable cake prices in the city, so it’s impossible to steer yourself wrong here.

Cookies for the Cookie Monsters

If you love cookies as much as we do, Budapest has you covered. I’m sure that the Great Market Hall is already on your radar if you’re planning to visit the city. It was built in the late 1800s and is known for its awesome colorful Zsolnay roof tiles.

Budapest's Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok)

Budapest’s Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok). Look at that roof!

After you enter the main doors of the Great Market Hall, turn left, and there will be a bakery immediately on your right. This gal sells some of the best cookies in town, for rock bottom prices! The minimum purchase is 100 grams of cookies, which will run you 100 Forint, which just south of 40 cents. Go ahead, buy a whole Kilo of cookies, you know you want to.

Cookies at the Great Market Hall. We loved the round Chocolate and Vanilla ones at the front here - they are great dipped in coffee or tea!

Cookies at the Great Market Hall. We loved the round Chocolate and Vanilla ones at the front here – they are great dipped in coffee or tea!

Stand back from the cookie booth and watch what locals order. There were older men literally buying several Kilograms of cookies from this gal. It’s gotta be the best bargain in the Market Hall!

If you’re looking for a cookie experience that is a little more… interesting… head to Castle Hill and seek out Pethes János Cukrász. They’re located in Castle Hill at Donáti Utca 42 (map), way off the Tourist track, in a basement.

The unassuming Pethes János Cukrász, a basement bakery in Castle Hill.

The unassuming Pethes János Cukrász, a basement bakery in Castle Hill.

This place is more of an industrial bakery than a storefront, but don’t let that deter you! They bake and sell cookies to other stores in the city, so they know what they’re doing. No one there spoke a bit of English, but I got by with some hand waving and gesturing. Be sure you take small bills, I doubt they have a lot of change lying around.

I managed to buy a bag mixed with the cookies we love to dip in coffee, and these delicious peanut cookies that I think are called földimogyoró. They're in the top-right in this photo.

I managed to buy a bag mixed with the cookies we love to dip in coffee, and these delicious peanut cookies that I think are called földimogyoró. They’re in the top-right in this photo.

Because of the language barrier, I bought more cookies than I intended to. I'm not complaining, it was still just $3! Look at all these cookies!

Because of the language barrier, I bought more cookies than I intended to. I’m not complaining, it was still just $3! Look at all these cookies!

Rêtes (Strudel) in Budapest

I’ll leave you today with some sweets that are completely acceptable to eat at breakfast. I’m from a family where a slice of Pie is a perfectly normal way to start your day – in fact, that is one of my favorite things about the holiday season. So when I got wind of the strudel situation in Budapest, I was super excited.

I did a little digging on the internet and found Rózi Néni Rétesei, a little food stand that is allegedly the reigning Strudel Specialist in Budapest. This place has been family owned for over twenty years, and deserves its reputation for being delicious.

The Rózi Néni Rétesei Strudel Stand

The Rózi Néni Rétesei Strudel Stand

They have an all-Hungarian website and a Facebook Page, and are located in a food stand that sits here.

So many strudels yum!

So many strudels yum!

We tried Cherry Cheese, Sesame, Sour Cherry, Imperial Cheese, Peach Cheese, and Apple.

We tried Cherry Cheese, Sesame, Sour Cherry, Imperial Cheese, Peach Cheese, and Apple. All these for about $5.

They were all delicious except for the sesame, which was earthy and not for me. The Peach strudel is one of their most popular, and was delicious! I actually liked the Imperial Cheese the best, which is the fanciest of the strudels in the photo above (top left).

PRO TIPs: Go in the morning, or they may run out of the good stuff! Also, take cash. Also, you should absolutely get the powdered sugar topping!

We Want to Hear From You!

Which country in Europe has the best sweets? Paris? Italy? Belgium? Hungary? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Eating in Budapest

If you do a little research about Hungarian food, you’ll start to see some common themes. Words like starchy, heavy, and fattening will come up regularly. It’s heavy on the meat and bread, and light on the vegetables. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago that ordering a “salad” in Hungary meant getting a plate full of pickled vegetables! Even in recent years, with imported foods showing up in more stores, you’re still hard pressed to find leafy greens anywhere.

Word on the street is that much of the food here is made with lard, making it extra filling and heavy, and some would say extra yummy. The occasional meal where my plate is loaded up solely with meat and starches definitely hits the spot every once in awhile, but I also like to fit into my clothes and feel good about life.

So we adopted a go-out-twice-a-week rule for Eating in Budapest, and I’m happy to report that we’re more or less the same size as when we arrived in this city. I think it was a smart move, because I’m here to tell you that I saw with my own two eyes a pork dish that came with rice AND potatoes, and they also brought out a bread basket. SO MANY STARCHES! What is this madness?

As unhealthy as it sounds, Hungarian food can actually be extremely delicious. If you look in the right places and visit the right restaurants (and cook some healthier meals for yourself in between trips to restaurants!), you’ll fall in love with the local cuisine. The paprika dishes are out of this world, the duck dishes STILL make special appearances my occasional food dreams, and the local lunch institution known as the “Napi Menü” is every budget traveler’s fantasy.

In this blog post, I’ll show you a few of our best experiences of eating in Budapest. I should note here that there will be a conspicuous absence of sweets. Don’t worry, we’re not off sugar. Not even close. The cookies and cakes in Budapest are just so damn delicious that they deserve their own blog post. Stay tuned for a post on desserts next week. Without further ado… let’s eat!

Hungarikum: Best Restaurant in Budapest

Every once in awhile, you visit a restaurant that knocks your socks off. For Kevin’s birthday, we decided to try out Hungarikum Bistro, one of the top-rated restaurants on Trip Advisor in Budapest. Normally, I’m more impressed with small eateries that are off the beaten path, outside the major tourist areas. The kind where you have to order your food using hand signals and broken attempts at using the local language.

Once in a blue moon, though, a touristy popular restaurant far exceeds my expectations. Hungarikum has everything: incredibly friendly service, wonderfully delicious food, live music, and a few extra freebies that they throw in to make your meal extra special. PRO TIP: Hungarikum is extremely popular, even on random weekdays at lunchtime, so reservations are absolutely a must-do.

Without further ado, here’s a photo tour of our meal at Hungarikum:

First, they bring out complimentary bacon and onion bread topped with sour cream and paprika. And Freebie #1 steals my heart. Nice work, Hungarikum.

First, they bring out complimentary bacon and onion bread topped with sour cream and paprika. And Freebie #1 steals my heart. Nice work, Hungarikum.

Everyone gets a plate of peppers to spice up their meals. PRO TIP: The one on the bottom is fantastic in Goulash.

Everyone gets a plate of peppers to spice up their meals. PRO TIP: The paste on the bottom is fantastic in Goulash.

Kevin and I shared a bowl of Goulash as a started, and they split it out into two bowls without us even asking!

Kevin and I shared a bowl of Goulash as a starter, and they split it out into two bowls without us even asking!

Then the live music started! Check this guy out - a total badass.

Then the live music started! Check this guy out – such a badass.

Our waitress offered to take our picture when she brought out our food. She was super sweet and helpful.

Our waitress offered to take our picture when she brought out our food. She was super sweet and helpful.

We ordered the Pork Tenderloin (with BACON) on noodles with Paprika Sauce...

We ordered the Pork Tenderloin (with BACON) on noodles with Paprika Sauce…

...and the Crispy Duck Leg with braised red cabbage and onion mashed potatoes. This was our single best plate of food we had in Budapest. It was SO delicious.

…and the Crispy Duck Leg with braised red cabbage and onion mashed potatoes. This was our single best plate of food we had in Budapest. It was SO delicious.

When they bring out your check, they give you a free shot of Plum Palinka liquor! And freebie #2 seals Hungarikum's place as my favorite restaurant in Budapest.

When they bring out your check, they give you a free shot of Plum Palinka liquor! And freebie #2 seals Hungarikum’s place as my favorite restaurant in Budapest.

If you’re in town, you definitely should make a reservation well ahead of time and arrive hungry. Visit their website to reserve a spot. The total damage for this entire dinner was just 7810 Forint, which is about $29.

Kisharang: Second Best Restaurant in Budapest

If you’re in the mood for something a little more casual or didn’t manage to snag a reservation at Hungarikum, Kisharang is a great alternative. It doesn’t have a huge presence on Trip Advisor like Hungarikum, but they have friendly service and serve up delicious Hungarian food at reasonable prices.

Enjoying the outdoor seating at Kisharang in Downtown Budapest.

Enjoying the outdoor seating at Kisharang in Downtown Budapest.

Probably the tastiest dish we ate there, this is Lecso with sausage. It's a traditional Hungarian dish that is sort of their answer to ratatouille. Highly recommend.

Probably the tastiest dish we ate there, this is Lecso with sausage. It’s a traditional Hungarian dish that is sort of their answer to ratatouille. I highly recommend it.

When you're in Budapest, you MUST try some Hortobágyi Palacsinta, which is savory pancakes with a meat filling topped with a heavenly paprika sauce. These will set you back about $3.90.

When you’re in Budapest, you MUST try some Hortobágyi Palacsinta, which is savory pancakes with a meat filling topped with a heavenly paprika sauce. These will set you back about $3.90.

They also serve a less soupy take on Pork Goulash, which comes with noodles. This one was $4.97.

They also serve a less soupy take on Pork Goulash, which comes with noodles. This one was $4.97.

We also tried their stuffed pepper and meatball dish. Yum.

We also tried their stuffed pepper and meatball dish. The sauce was a bit on the sweet side for me, but still tasty.

PRO TIP: Kisharang is cash only.

The Napi Menü: A Hungarian Institution

When you’re in Budapest, you have to try at least one Napi Menü, if only for the thrill of getting lunch at the most incredible bargain EVER. The Napi Menü is something restaurants cooked up to try to entice office workers to eat lunch at restaurants during the workweek. It’s served only during lunch hours on weekdays, and consists of 2 or 3 courses. Most times, a restaurant offers just a single Napi Menü option per day – there are no choices, and no substitutions. You eat what they’re serving.

It’s a little bit of a bummer to be robbed of your choices, but sometimes I like to just eat whatever’s being served. Plus at just $3-5, a 2 or 3-course meal is an absolute steal!

Here are a few of the Napi Menü lunches we had while we were in Budapest:

First Napi Menü experience, Nador Restaurant, which serves up 2 courses for 990 Forint (about $3.70) or 3 courses for 1350 Forint (about $5).

The first course was better than it looks. Soup with chicken and gnocchi.

The first course was better than it looks. Soup with chicken and gnocchi.

Second course at Nador, Chicken Schnitzel with potatoes.

Second course at Nador, Chicken Schnitzel with potatoes.

Course #3 was a tasty dessert crepe with jam.

Course #3 was a tasty dessert crepe with jam.

Nador restaurant is down the steps in this huge cellar-like room! Such a fun stop for lunch.

Nador restaurant is down the steps in this huge cellar-like room! Such a fun stop for lunch. The big white thing in the foreground is a CANDLE, if you would believe that. The wax drippings have accumulated over years and years, making the huge white blob you see here.

Look for a sign like this: the magic words are Napi Menü.

Look for a sign like this: the magic words are Napi Menü.

Our second, and definitely weirdest, Napi Menü was at Ruben’s Eatery. They serve up 3 courses for 890 Forint (about $3.30).

The day we visited, the first course was a chicken and dumpling soup.

The day we visited, the first course was a chicken and dumpling soup.

I'm still not sure what the second course was. Noodles with saurkraut and maaaaaybe some meat? It was tasty, but unidentifiable.

I’m still not sure what the second course was. Noodles with saurkraut and maaaaaybe some meat? It was tasty, but unidentifiable.

The weirdest course of them all, dessert was an apple! I like apples as much as the next lady, but it just made me chuckle when they brought this out. How do I eat it? Do I take it with me when I leave or eat it here? Should I slice it or just go for it with my hands?

The weirdest course of them all – dessert was an apple! I like apples as much as the next lady, but it just made me chuckle when they brought this out. How do I eat it? Do I take it with me when I leave or eat it here? Should I slice it or just go for it with my hands?

Our last, and maybe tastiest, Napi Menü stop was at Vendiak. They’re situated on a sunny little square that is perfect for people watching. For just 980 Forint (about $3.60), we got a glass of honey-lemon tea, soup, and a bowl of cheese ravioli. It was really tasty, definitely a good stop!

Enjoying Vendiak's honey-lemon tea.

Enjoying Vendiak’s honey-lemon tea.

Course #1: Vegetable Soup.

Course #1: Vegetable Soup.

Course #2: Ravioli with plenty of parmesan.

Course #2: Ravioli with plenty of parmesan.

The cute outdoor eating area at Vendiak.

The cute outdoor eating area at Vendiak.

While Napi Menü lunches can be a great money-saving option on weekdays (you HAVE to do it at least once!), we think it’s definitely worth it to visit Hungarikum or Kisharang so you can pick out some of Hungary’s best dishes.

Langos: Hungary’s Most Unhealthy (and Delicious) Snack

It’s possible that I’ve insinuated that Hungarian food is not the most healthy in the world. Brace yourself – here’s the most unhealthy thing we ate while we were in town.

Langos are something of a local delicacy, and you’ll never find a festival in Budapest without at least two booths serving them. Sort of the savory cousin of the funnel cake, langos are just fried dough that is usually topped with sour cream and cheese. Ours also came with pork knuckle, jalepenos, caramelized onions, and paprika. It. Was. Delicious.

If you're in town, you have to try Langos. But only once, if you know what's good for you. :-)

If you’re in town, you have to try Langos. But only once, if you know what’s good for you. :-) I know the photo makes it hard to tell how big this is – it’s larger than my face, if that helps.

My Little Melbourne: Best Coffee We Had in Europe

I know sound like a broken record when I complain about the coffee in Europe. I’m happy to report that we finally stumbled upon a cafe where the coffee was delicious! My Little Melbourne is a cute little cafe located in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter that scores well on our coffee meter.

My Little Melbourne, such a cute little coffee shop.

My Little Melbourne, such a cute little coffee shop.

Enjoying some coffees in Budapest!

Enjoying some coffees in Budapest!

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you been to Budapest? What did you think of the food? Good? Bad? Heavy? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Everyday Life in Budapest

We Love Budapest!

We Love Budapest!

Budapest was never more than a tiny blip on my travel radar until this year, mostly because I’ve focused a little more on Western Europe destinations. Let’s face it, a lot of these countries in the Eastern half of Europe are expensive to get to from the US, which can be a huge turnoff when you’re looking at flight prices.

If I had only realized how completely wonderful Budapest would be, I would’ve pulled it way further up on my travel list. It’s definitely an underdog city in Europe (at least for many of the Americans I know), one that many more people should consider visiting. They have something for everyone. There’s a world-class opera house, clothing-optional thermal baths, some of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, and an incredibly fascinating history. Reading about WWII and the communist history here in Hungary could occupy my spare time for weeks.

This city should be on every traveler’s list. Of all the cities we’ve visited in Europe, we’d definitely rank Budapest as #1 for being the most livable AND as #1 for being the most appealing for a tourist. Whether you’re doing slow travel or just planning a week-long trip, Budapest is perfect.

In this post, I talk about everyday life in Budapest. What it’s like to live here as an expat, where we go running, what our apartment here is like, and what we spend our time doing. In the next few posts, I’ll talk more about the tourist side of Budapest.

Our Apartment in Budapest

This might be the #1 reason we love it here so much – we rent a fantastic Airbnb apartment from a really nice gal, and it ran us just $570 for 4 weeks. That price includes all utilities, and the Airbnb fee, and averages out to just $20/night. The apartment has high ceilings, huge windows, a nice open kitchen (important since we only go out to eat twice a week), a washing machine and dishwasher, and super comfy furniture. We love working and living here, and we hated to leave.

Here's Kevin in our sun-drenched living room working on the sofa.

Here’s Kevin in our sun-drenched living room working on the sofa. Look, REAL house plants! So fun!

We’re glad that the apartment has been so great for working. We usually camp out at the dining room table to work each day, and the fast internet has been great for us. There aren’t many cafes in our neighborhood with free wifi, so it’s good that this worked out so well.

Doing a little cider-aided development in the evening in our apartment.

Doing a little cider-aided development in the evening in our apartment.

We even have a little balcony with a table and chairs! We’re on the 3rd floor of the building, so it’s fun to sit out there and enjoy the sunshine.

Having lunch out on the balcony.

Having lunch out on the balcony.

Here’s a quick little video tour of our home for the last 4 weeks:

This spot has been a great home base for exploring this awesome city. We’ve been working 5 days a week here, and doing all of our tourist things on Mondays and Fridays. It has been fun to settle into a routine, do a lot of studying and learning, and finally kick off our job search!

Enjoying our Neighborhood

We’re definitely not located in the most central location in Budapest. We’re about a 1-hour walk towards the downtown tourist area, which is certainly a hassle at times. If you stayed here for a short trip to Budapest, you’d definitely want to spring for bus tickets to get in and out of the city quickly. But we think that the neighborhood (and the general awesomeness of the apartment) make it worth the hassle of being outside the urban core of the city.

For one, we have lots of awesome flowers and gardens around here:

Purple and Gold tulips in a neighborhood garden, just like the colors of our house in Seattle.

Purple and Gold tulips in a neighborhood garden, just like the colors of our house in Seattle.

But mostly, we love walking a few minutes to City Park to visit any of the handful of outdoor bars. Nothing beats soaking up the sunshine on a warm day with a half liter of Hefeweisen in your hand:

Tasty beers on a sunny day at a cafe/bar in City Park

Tasty beers on a sunny day at a cafe/bar in City Park

Relaxing in City Park.

Relaxing in City Park.

If sitting still while drinking isn’t your thing, there are lots of these riding around Budapest, too:

A pedal bar in Budapest. We see these all the time riding around in City Park!

A pedal bar in Budapest. We see these all the time riding around in City Park!

Running in Budapest

I admit it, we are now extremely picky about which Airbnb apartments we rent. One of the top things we look for is that an apartment is near to an outdoor location where we can go running. I’m training for a marathon, so having a nice place for my 22-mile runs is super important.

Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park. Can you imagine my surprise the first time I went to run and stumbled past this?!

Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park. Can you imagine my surprise the first time I went to run and stumbled past this?!

Luckily, Budapest came through! The apartment we picked is a few blocks away from enormous City Park. This huge tree-filled park is also home to the Szechenyi Baths and Vajdahunyad Castle! It can get crowded on weekends and I sometimes get filled with tourist rage when people obliviously block the entire walking path, but most of the time it’s a pleasant place to be.

Here's Kevin running in front of the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Can you believe those tulips?

Here’s Kevin running in front of the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Can you believe those tulips?

The Perks of Slow Travel: Going to Holiday Festivals!

One of the great things about being in town for 4 weeks is that you’re inevitably going to be around for some sort of festival. As it turns out, Budapesters throw a huge shindig for Easter! The castle area of City Park filled up with food stalls, craft booths, and beer vendors. It was a great way for us to celebrate Easter.

First, we discovered a Hungarian specialty called Kurtoskalacs, or Chimney Cake! Dough is rolled out onto a wooden roller, is covered in sugar, then roasted over hot coals until the dough is cooked through. We ordered ours dusted with cinnamon, but you can also get walnut, chocolate, vanilla, coconut, or poppy! It’s a massive, filling pastry that costs just 1000 Forint (less than $4). Hands down, this is my favorite dessert we’ve had in Budapest.

Chimney Cake at a fair in Budapest's City Park.

Chimney Cake at a fair in Budapest’s City Park.

Crowds at the Easter Festival in City Park.

Crowds at the Easter Festival in City Park.

The next best thing about festivals is the beer vendors! In Europe, you don’t have to stay in a beer garden to drink, you can take your beer wherever your heart desires. It’s amazing. But not as amazing as this cute little VW Van that has been turned into a little tap house on wheels!

Check this thing out - is it cute or what?! I want one.

Check this thing out – is it cute or what?! I want one.

Kevin really enjoyed the dark wheat beer he got at the festival.

Kevin really enjoyed the dark wheat beer he got at the festival.

There’s something for everyone at the Easter Festival. Do you want to listen to country music and enjoy a platter of “Befalo Bill” Barbecue? We can accommodate that.

Barbecue at the Easter Festival

Barbecue at the Easter Festival

The wonderful Easter Festival in City Park.

The wonderful Easter Festival in City Park.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you visited Budapest? Did you love it as much as we did? Leave us a comment and let us know!

The Budapest Baths: Our Guide to the Széchenyi Fürdő

Budapest's Amazing Széchenyi Baths!

Budapest’s Amazing Széchenyi Fürdö (Fürdö means bath in Hungarian)

Budapest is famous for its many thermal baths, which are these huge, centuries old, awesome indoor/outdoor pool/spa facilities where locals and tourists go to relax and unwind. The entire city sits right on top of a whole bunch of thermal hot springs (as evidenced by the occasional VERY strong smell of sulfur).

We visited the Szechenyi Bath, which is located out in City Park. This is arguably one of the most tourist-friendly baths for a handful of reasons. First and foremost, most signs have been translated into English and many of the bath employees speak English. That is ALWAYS good news when you don’t know the Hungarian word for “Men” or “Women”. I shudder to think what would I would’ve seen if I wandered into the wrong dressing room.

The Szechenyi baths are also in a really awesome, old, beautiful building that is located in a wonderful area. The beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle is located right across the street (definitely worth a quick visit), Heroes’ Square is nearby, and, if you’re staying downtown, you can either walk up Andrássy Út (Budapest’s Champs Élysées or Broadway) or take the Metro to get out here. Easy as pie. Or in Budapest, I suppose I should say easy as strudel.

The Szechenyi Baths, the place where other bathers will get awkwardly close to you, especially when you're taking a photo. (See the guy near me in the pool in this photo.)

The Szechenyi Baths, the place where other bathers will get awkwardly close to you, especially when you’re taking a photo. (See the guy near me in the pool in this photo.)

There’s something intimidating about the Budapest Baths, though. I had all these unanswered questions before we went. Am I supposed to go naked? Will it be weird if Kevin wears trunks instead of a speedo? Is a bikini ok? Are there changing facilities or do you just get naked in the locker room? Can I bring beer or food? Should I bring my own towel? Can I rent a swimsuit? Where do I enter the baths? Is it ok to pee in the pools? (Spoiler alert: the answer to that last question is always, ALWAYS a resounding NO.)

In this post, I’ll share our experience with the Szechenyi Baths and answer some of the burning questions I had before we became resident Budapest Bath experts.

Question 1: Am I Supposed to Go Naked?

You may think I’m being silly, but this is actually a very valid question. Remember, Budapest has a bunch of bath facilities, and some of them are nudie-friendly (like the Rudas baths). Usually, nude thermal baths are gender-segregated. They’ll either have separate areas for men and women, or different days of the week will be for men or for women only.

You may be thinking, “Gee, but nudie baths sound like such an authentic experience.” I assure you, though, you’ll see PLENTY of skin at the Szechenyi Baths without the pressure to avert your eyes. Honestly, speedos don’t cover nearly enough skin for my liking. I am now fully topped up on my man thigh quota for the next decade or so. If you’re more into chest hair than man thigh, the baths definitely have you covered. They’ve got the whole back hair thing covered, too. Something for everyone, right?

Kevin was the most covered-up man in the entire Szechenyi Baths. Silly American... :-)

Kevin was the most covered-up man in the entire Szechenyi Baths. Silly American… :-)

The bottom line of what to wear? Whatever makes you comfortable as long as you wear something. Kevin was easily the most covered man there with his American swim trunks on. Women will fit in just fine in a bikini or a one-piece suit.

Question 2: Can I Rent a Swimsuit or Towel?

Yes and yes. But I feel like we should talk about the first thing. Do you really want to RENT a swimsuit? This turns me off for obvious reasons. I’m even more turned off now that I’ve been to Szechenyi and seen the swimsuit rentals. Men get one choice: speedo. It’s actually hilarious to try to pick out American men who had to rent a speedo and are clearly uncomfortable with it. Women are issued a pretty modest one-piece, but it’s made of alarmingly thin material. Make of that what you will. In short, pack a swimsuit. It hardly takes up any space, anyway.

An Awesome Sunny Day at the Baths!

An Awesome Sunny Day at the Baths!

Towel rental at Szechenyi is easy. Choose from a small towel for about $1.50 (plus refundable $5.50 deposit), a Big towel for $2.50 (plus $15 deposit), or treat yo’self and rent a bath robe for $4 (with $40 deposit). YOLO, right? We brought our own towels, but I sure would’ve felt fancy wearing around a robe.

You can pay for towel/swim suit rental at the cashier desk with cash or credit card and pick it up at the towel/swimsuit rental office once you’re inside. If you wait to pay for your rental inside, it’s cash only.

Question 3: What Else Should I Bring with Me?

If you’re fair skinned and headed to the baths on a hot day, bring along some sunblock. Part of the baths are outdoors and there isn’t much shade. The other half of the bath facilities are indoors.

We also highly recommend bringing along flip flops, a water bottle, and snacks. People didn’t really go barefoot at the baths – most wore flip flops from pool to pool. We definitely needed the water bottle after spending so much time soaking in hot water and sitting in saunas. (There are water fountains in a few places to re-fill your bottle.) And obviously, I know myself well enough now that I never, ever, ever go anywhere without snacks. We spent almost four hours at the baths, and I can tell you I would’ve been one angry lady without some food towards the end.

There is a snack bar at the Szechenyi baths where you can buy snacks and drinks if you’re desperate. Prices are reasonable, too! They also sell beer, though you can bring in your own. Just don’t bring anything glass into the baths and you’ll be fine.

Question 4: How Much Do the Baths Cost? Should I Get a Locker or Cabin?

The baths are not as cheap as I thought they’d be. With good planning and time management, though, you can definitely get your moneys worth. It’s important to realize that there are two very different areas at Szechenyi, and they each have different hours. The outdoor pools are open 6am-10pm every day, but the indoor thermal baths and saunas close at 7pm! Many, many tourists have been disappointed when they arrived to find the indoor part closed.

The Southeast Entrance to the Szechenyi Baths. We didn't go in this way, but it's definitely the best side to take photos. I love the spring tulips!

The Southeast Entrance to the Szechenyi Baths. We didn’t go in this way, but it’s definitely the best side to take photos. I love the spring tulips!

The latest bath prices are available on the Szechenyi website. In general, it costs slightly more (about $1 extra) to visit on weekends, and costs slightly less (about $1 less) if you visit super early in the morning or after the indoor pools close at 7pm. Go when it’s convenient for you, but realize that crowds will be smaller on weekdays, especially before about 3pm.

When you buy your ticket, you choose either a cabin or a locker. You cannot enter the baths without paying for either a cabin or locker, you have to choose one or the other. There is a “Visitor Ticket” available for 1650 Forint (about $6) if you want to take a 15-minute tour of the baths without swimming; check out the Széchenyi Baths guided tours site for details.

Lockers are exactly what you’d expect and are located in gender-segregated locker rooms. Cabins are more private – you are essentially renting a tiny private room where you can change and leave your belongings.

Cabins on weekdays cost 5000 Forint ($18) and lockers are 4500 Forint ($16.25). If you’re going to the baths with a friend, you can share one Cabin. In this case, one person pays the Cabin price and the other pays the locker price even though they don’t use the locker. Cabins are not gender segregated – Kevin and I shared one without any problems.

Question 5: Where/How Do I Enter the Baths?

I’ll tell you exactly what we did, because I would do things the same way if we visited again. This is based heavily on Rick Steves’ recommendations.

  1. Enter the baths on the Northwest side. This is the side nearest to the zoo. If you’re heading towards the baths from the Metro exit, or if you’re walking towards them from downtown, this is the far left-hand side of the building.

    The Northwest Entrance we used looks like this.

    The Northwest Entrance we used looks like this.

  2. Once you’re in the lobby, go to any of the cashiers. Some take only cash, some also take cards. Check the sign on their window and make sure you’re in the right line.

    The lobby looks like this. Beautiful, right?!

    The lobby looks like this. Beautiful, right?!

  3. Pay the cashier for your cabin or locker, and he/she will issue a bracelet that you’ll use to enter the baths and open your locker or cabin. If you choose a cabin, he/she will go ahead and give you a cabin number.

    My Széchenyi Baths Bracelet.

    My Széchenyi Baths Bracelet.

  4. Head towards the turnstile and scan your bracelet to get in. Once you’re inside, follow the cabin number signs to find yours. Cabins are on the main floor or upstairs. Locker rooms are downstairs. We left our belongings in the cabin and felt totally safe doing so.

    Our cabin was the last one on the left!

    Our cabin was the last one on the left!

Question 6: What Are the Baths Like Once You’re Inside?

Once you find your cabin or locker and change clothes, it’s time to enjoy the baths! Before you get wet, we recommend walking around to get your bearings. After all, there are 18 pools and 10 steam room / saunas to explore! Go upstairs to check out the view down of the baths to get the classic Széchenyi baths photo. There are also sun decks and a fitness center to check out, though they were closed when we were there.

This one is the "Relaxation Pool". It's the one with the chess boards!

This one is the “Relaxation Pool”. It’s the one with the chess boards!

Walk around and check out the outdoor pools. Each pool is a different temperature; the pool temps are usually posted on a plaque nearby. The lap pool is the chilliest of the outdoor pools, and is the one in the middle where everyone is wearing swimming caps (they’re required). Fun fact: apparently bringing a flimsy shower cap from your hotel meets the swim cap requirement. Who knew?!

Dip your toes in the Relaxation Pool and the Fun Pool. The hottest of the outdoor pools is the Relaxation Pool. This is also where the chess boards are located! On any given day, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see some older Hungarian gentlemen sitting here playing chess while they soak. The Fun Pool is a bit cooler, and is filled with jets and currents to play in.

The Outdoor "Fun Pool". The circular thing in the center has a current going around the circle. If you go in, you can float leisurely around in circles!

The Outdoor “Fun Pool”. The circular thing in the center has a current going around the circle. If you go in, you can float leisurely around in circles!

Head inside to explore the thermal baths! Room after room after room has pool after pool after pool. They vary in temperature from an super cold 16 Degrees C (60 F) to a nice and hot 40 Degrees C (104 F). Each of the indoor pools have different mineral contents in the water. Some are a murky green and stinky, others are eerie blue, and some are crystal clear, but none of them are chlorinated. Lots of locals use the thermal baths for medicinal purposes – there’s even a special medical entrance to the Szechenyi bath complex! Doctors will sometimes send their patients here with a prescribed list of baths to soak in!

One of the many indoor pools at Szechenyi.

One of the many indoor pools at Szechenyi.

And of course, definitely DO NOT MISS the steam room and the saunas! Each steam room or sauna is located next to a cold bath, so you can heat yourself up then dunk in the cold water. It is absolutely wonderful – you should definitely give it a try. I didn’t want to, and it ended up being my favorite part os the whole bath experience! I loved the steam room and the aromatherapy sauna. There is also a light therapy sauna, and a super-hot 100 deg. Celsius sauna that was absolutely roasting inside!

Probably the coolest room inside the baths! In the pool in the very back of this photo, you sit inside a big, bright room with tons of windows in the dome. It was amazing.

Probably the coolest room inside the baths! In the pool in the very back of this photo, you sit inside a big, bright room with tons of windows in the dome. It was amazing.

Whatever you do, just remember: be bold and explore! You might get some funny looks, or you might feel awkward wedged between two large Hungarian gentlemen in the hot tub, but you’ll be glad you gave everything a try. I know we were.

We Want to Hear From You!

Have you visited a thermal bath anywhere around the world? Leave us a comment and let us know!

No More Tuesday Blog Posts

Hello from Budapest!

Hello from Budapest!

It’s crazy to think that Kevin and I will be home in Seattle just two weeks from tomorrow! What does that mean for us? It’s job application season. *SIGH*. What does this mean for the blog? It means I’m devoting so much time to writing answers to the question “Why would you be a good fit for our company” that I need to go back down to writing just one blog post per week. It also means that chocolate consumption in our household has seen a recent uptick. I have a hunch that these things are all related…

In lieu of a “real” post today, I thought I’d just throw some information at you. Here goes!

Where in the World Are We?

Kevin and I are currently based in Budapest, where we’ll be based for just 1 more week! Here’s where we’ll be for the next couple of weeks:

  • Now – April 28: Budapest
  • April 28 – May 1: Vienna
  • May 1 – 5: Prague
  • May 5 – 6: Frankfurt
  • May 6: Fly home to Seattle!
  • May 6-7: Olympia, WA with Kevin’s folks
  • May 7 or 8: Back in our wonderful home in Wallingford. YAY!

Do you have any tips for our upcoming time in Vienna, Prague, or Frankfurt? Leave us a comment and let us know!

Curious where we’ve been? Here’s an interactive map showing our travels over the last year:

 

Kevin Has a Milestone Birthday This Saturday

That’s right, this is the year that Kevin and I both turn 30. I’ll save my gripes for later this year since my birthday is in December, but I will say, 30 sure looks good on my wonderful husband.

Be sure you send some birthday love Kevin’s way!

Calling All Beer and Cider Drinkers

You should see the list of beers Kevin plans to brew once we get back home. It has everything from a Watermelon Wheat to a Chai Hard Cider to an Experimental IPA made from an experimental hop variety.

Clearly, we cannot drink all this beer and cider ourselves. Consider this our public service announcement that we need your help, family and friends. If you live in Seattle, you better plan to stop by often. If you don’t live in Seattle, be advised that our basement has a “rustic” guest room. :-)

We Spent 4 Months in Europe for Less than $29 a Night. Here’s How to Save Money on Airbnb.

Reason #1 to visit Split, Croatia in March? It's a beautiful waterfront city. Reason #2? We found an awesome Airbnb for $23.24/night.

Reason #1 to visit Split, Croatia in March? It’s a beautiful waterfront city. Reason #2? We found an awesome Airbnb for $23.24/night. For more about our Split apartment, see my previous post.

There’s a lot of press out there right now about how strong the US Dollar is becoming against the Euro. I just about can’t log onto Facebook without seeing some sort of article in my News Feed about why now is absolutely the time to travel to Europe. I totally agree with the articles – now is the time to go! But there are a few other tricks we’ve learned that can save you a ton of money on European travel.

We’ve traveled through France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and are heading soon to Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany. In our four months here in Europe, we managed to spend an average of just $28.95 per night on lodging!

Reason #1 to visit Florence, Italy? The crazy food/wine scene. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $42.79/night.

Reason #1 to visit Florence, Italy? The crazy food/wine scene. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $42.79/night.

If you pull out solely the Airbnb Apartments we’ve called home (this is definitely our favorite form of lodging in Europe), our average nightly rate drops down to just $27.89.

In our entire four months here, we’ve spent 7 nights in small Guesthouses or Hostels (averaging $37.85/night), will have 1 night in a hotel in Frankfurt for a whopping $91.80 per night, and spent a night on an overnight Ferry from Italy to Croatia which set us back $196.62. We also managed to spend 6 nights in Paris with family friends for free.

Reason #1 to visit Budapest in April? It's a beautiful city with beautiful weather! Reason #2? Our Airbnb costs us $20.65/night.

Reason #1 to visit Budapest, Hungary in April? It’s a beautiful city with beautiful weather! Reason #2? Our Airbnb costs us $20.65/night.

To put all this in perspective, the average 1-bedroom apartment for rent in Seattle right now is $1,434. (Remember, that’s an unfurnished apartment that doesn’t include utilities. Airbnb rentals are furnished and you don’t pay utilities.) That works out to about $47.80 per night, which is about $20/night more than we’ve averaged here in Europe. That is bananas, AMIRITE?

Willy Wonka, you're so smart.

Willy Wonka, you’re so smart.

Clearly, Airbnb rentals are the way to go. They are certainly cheaper than hotels in the long run, and are almost always more comfortable and have more amenities. Our current 1-bedroom apartment here in Budapest is huge and bright, has a great kitchen with dishwasher, a sunny balcony, and a washing machine, and we’re paying just $20.65 per night.

Reason #1 to visit Sevilla, Spain in January? It was always sunny, even though it was Wintertime. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $28.86/night.

Reason #1 to visit Sevilla, Spain in January? It was always sunny, even though it was Wintertime. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $28.86/night. For more about our Sevilla apartment, see my previous post.

I hope this post will help save you money on your travels in Europe. Read on for my tips on how to save money on Airbnb.

Reason #1 to visit Zagreb, Croatia? The Pizza and Beer specials at Pivnica Medvedgrad Bar. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $43.23/night. (This one's a bit higher because it was only a 4-night rental, not longer term.)

Reason #1 to visit Zagreb, Croatia? The Pizza and Beer specials at Pivnica Medvedgrad Bar. Reason #2? Our Airbnb cost us $43.23/night. (This one’s a bit higher because it was only a 4-night rental, not longer term. Don’t worry, we made the difference back in what we saved on pizza and Beer during Pivnica Medvedgrad’s Happy Hour.)

First, Sign Up and Create Your Profile

Sign up for Airbnb. If you use this link, you get a $25 credit towards your first Stay and I get a credit, too. Win win!

Vacation Step 1: Sign up for Airbnb.

Vacation Step 1: Sign up for Airbnb.

One of my tips below is to ask for discounts. Airbnb Hosts are MUCH more likely to lower their rate for you if they think you’re a solid person who will treat their apartment with respect. So you should spend some time creating your Airbnb profile. Add a photo, write about who you are, what you do, and what your hobbies are. Trust me, this will help, and it only takes a few minutes.

How Far in Advance Should I Book Airbnb Lodging?

Seriously. Plan Ahead.

Seriously. Plan Ahead.

I start my Airbnb searches at least 1 month ahead of time for low-season trips, and at last 2 months ahead of time for high-season trips or for super popular destinations (like Rome, for example). I also recommend 2 months for smaller cities, like Split, Croatia, because they won’t have as much selection on Airbnb.

Why Monthly Airbnb Rentals are Amazing

I cannot convey enthusiastically enough how much money monthly rentals will save you. There are huge savings on month-long rentals for two reasons:

  1. Most listings on Airbnb have a much lower per-night rate for longer-term bookings (4 weeks or longer). For this apartment, let’s look at the numbers:
    • A 2-night stay for June 1-3 is $118, or $59/night.
    • A 2-week stay for June 1-15 is $762, or $54/night.
    • But a month-long stay, from June 1-30 is just $692. It is cheaper to stay for a month than to stay for 2 weeks! That cuts the rate to just $21.31/night!
  2. Airbnb and Cleaning Fees. For a 2-night stay in the same apartment we just looked at, the Airbnb fee is a whopping $12. That’s $6/day! Extend the booking through June 30th and the fee increases to $74, which works out to just $2.55/day. Much better. Some apartments also charge a Cleaning Fee, which is the same whether you stay for a few days or a few weeks.

If you can’t stay a full month, many Airbnb listings offer a weekly rate that’s much better than the daily rate, but not as awesome as the monthly one.

What’s the major takeaway? If you can, book your Airbnb for a whole Month! Often times, it will cost the same amount of money to book a full month as it would cost to book 2 weeks. Even if you plan to spend a few nights away from your Airbnb making day trips to other destinations, it usually still makes sense to book longer-term. We frequently book a rental for a month, then end up spending a few nights away on a little weekend trip.

This is Success Baby. He's the best.

This is Success Baby. He’s the best.

There is one single dark side of monthly Airbnb rentals you should know about. Airbnb’s Long Term cancellation policy applies. This essentially means that you can not cancel your reservation once you book it without losing all your money. If you’re booking a monthly Airbnb, you gotta make sure your ducks are in a row and the trip is really, really, really happening.

My process – How I pick an Airbnb

You’ve created your profile, and you’re ready to start searching. This can be overwhelming! Search almost any big city in Europe and you’ll be met with an absurd number of Airbnb listings – usually well over 1,000 of apartments to sort through. How can you possibly narrow these down? Here’s a peek into my process, which has been honed by many months of obsessive travel planning…

Let’s say I want to spend the month of June in Budapest, Hungary.

Step 1: Enter your Location, Dates and Number of Persons

For Budapest, this gives me 822 results.

For Budapest, this gives me 822 results.

Don’t open a SINGLE listing up yet. Seriously, you’ll go down a rabbit hole and spend the rest of the day there. You shouldn’t look at any specific apartments until after Step 5. Trust me.

Step 2: Select the “Room type”

For a month-long stay, I insist on having the entire place to ourselves. We tend to prefer to have the entire apartment to ourselves for stays longer than 1-week, and will book a Private Room for shorter stays only. I would never, ever, book a “Shared Room”. I’m almost 30 years old; that is too old for “Shared Rooms”.

That narrows things down to 712 rentals.

That narrows things down to 712 rentals.

Step 3: Select Your Must-Have Amenities

Click on “More Filters”, scroll down to “Amenities”, expand that section by clicking on the black triangle, and check off your must-haves. I always select Wireless Internet and Washer. (You do NOT want to try to send out your laundry in Europe. Just don’t do it.) If you absolutely insist on having a 1-bedroom apartment (we usually consider a studio to be acceptable for us), now is the time to add that filter.

Choose your Amenities.

Choose your Amenities.

Then click on Show Listings.

That narrowed us down to just 530 rentals! (Sarcasm, that's still a LOT of rentals...)

That narrowed us down to just 530 rentals! (Sarcasm, that’s still a LOT of rentals…)

Step 4: Narrow Results by Location

Zoom the map in to narrow down the search area. Do your legwork and figure out vaguely which neighborhoods are okay with you. On the map, make sure “Search When I Move the Map” is checked, and your results list will only have apartments in the area shown on the map.

Zooming into the Downtown Core of Budapest narrows us down to 320 rentals.

Zooming into the Downtown Core of Budapest narrows us down to 320 rentals.

Step 5: Narrow Results by Price

For a month-long rental in Budapest, a good budget is $600. I like to add a little padding to my budget because I usually ask Airbnb Hosts for a discount (explained later in this post). Narrow your Price Range until you end up with about 30 results – in this case that ended up being about $705.

Just 33 Results once we filter for Amenities, Location, and Price. Perfect.

Just 33 Results once we filter for Amenities, Location, and Price. Perfect.

Step 6: Manual Filtering. Ugh.

This is the most tedious and frustrating step.

This is the most tedious and frustrating step.

Your goal in this step is to reduce these 30 options down to just 15 apartments. This has to be done manually, because a lot of these things are total judgement calls. This part can be really annoying and painful. I recommend a bottle of Pinot Noir.

I open each of my 30 results into its own browser tab, then start a tedious process of elimination. At first, I don’t even look at photos. We all know that’s the fun part, but I always get sucked in and lose hours and hours staring at my computer screen, muttering things like “Why would ANYONE paint a bedroom that color?!” or “My God! look how dirty this bathroom is!”

Here are ways to quickly eliminate some apartments:

  • Is Smoking Allowed? If you prefer non-smoking accommodations, you should never, ever compromise on this. We rented a smoking-allowed apartment in Florence in February and it was nearly a disaster. Don’t do it.
Look for "Smoking Allowed". If it's grayed out and lined through like this, the apartment is non-smoking.

Look for “Smoking Allowed”. If it’s grayed out and lined through like this, the apartment is non-smoking.

  • Scroll down to the Reviews area. If any of the review scores are less than 3.5 stars, I eliminate the apartment. If the score for Cleanliness is less than 4 stars, I eliminate that apartment from the list immediately. (Airbnb reviewers tend to be generous with their Cleanliness scores, so that one definitely deserves a higher bar…)
Check the Star Ratings

Check the Star Ratings

  • If an apartment has zero reviews, I eliminate it unless the photos are absolutely stellar.
Zero reviews + Loft Bed + Old Sofa = Not making the cut.

Zero reviews + Loft Bed + Old Sofa = Not making the cut.

  • Sometimes there aren’t enough reviews to show a Cleanliness rating. Time for a judgement call:
Only 2 Reviews - not enough to show average stars. But the apartment is so close to my budget and the reviews are both very positive, so she makes the cut.

Only 2 Reviews – not enough to show average stars. But the apartment is so close to my budget and the reviews are both very positive, so it makes the cut.

Only 1 Review, it's $80 above my budget, and the furnishings look old. Definitely eliminate.

Only 1 Review, it’s $80 above my budget, and the furnishings look old. Definitely eliminate.

Step 7: Time to scrutinize photos.

There are a few key things I look for:

  • Red flags, like unmade beds or dirty-looking kitchens or baths. Airbnbs are never, ever, ever cleaner than they look in the photos.
  • Bed Type. I don’t know about you, but I cannot sleep on a futon for a month. I also don’t want my husband and I to have to sleep in separate twin beds for a month. I also eliminate elevated loft beds because the steps hurt my feetsies.
  • Apartment Brightness, size, and layout.
  • If you plan to work a lot while you’re there, are there adequate work spaces? Desks or a large dining table?
  • Bath/Shower type. Would being forced to take a bath each day slowly drive you insane?
  • Old furnishings. No one wants to rent an apartment furnished entirely with things the owner picked up off the curb. It should look like they spent at least a little money furnishing it. Trust your gut.

Step 8: Glance at the reviews.

If there are any obvious negative trends, eliminate the apartment. I look for comments on bed comfort, noise, and internet speed.

Step 9: Contact Hosts!

Once you’ve narrowed your search down to 12-15 acceptable Airbnb Apartments, it’s time to contact Airbnb Hosts and ask for discounts. Details are in the next section.

How to Ask for Airbnb Discounts

Even Squirrels love a good deal on an Airbnb.

Even Squirrels love a good deal on an Airbnb.

At first, I was nervous to ask for discounts on Airbnb listings. But then I realized how much Hosts are willing to lower their prices if you just ask! Discounts tend to be easier to get on month-long rentals, but I also got our host to come down by about $80 on our 13-night stay in Florence, Italy.

Discounts are especially easy to come by in low season. Our Host for our January Airbnb rental in Spain gave us a discount of $165 off of the list price for our month-long rental. All I had to do was ask!

Here’s how to ask for a discount:

  1. Go into each of those 12-15 browser tabs that you now have open with all your Airbnb options. Double check your dates and guest count. Then click on the “Contact Host” link:

    Don't use the "Request to Book" button! Use the "Contact Host" link!

    Don’t use the “Request to Book” button! Use the “Contact Host” link.

  2. I use a template like this and send it to each host:

    Hello <Host Name>!

    My husband and I are planning a month-long visit to Budapest. We’re both software developers, currently based in Split, Croatia, but we’re looking forward to heading to Budapest in early June.

    We’ll be in town from June 1st thru 30th, and we’re hoping you might be willing to negotiate on price a little bit since we’re planning to stay for a month. What’s your best price?

    Thanks so much!

    Melanie

     

  3. Sit back and wait for the responses to roll in. Almost all hosts will respond within 48 hours. Some apartments won’t be available for your dates (hosts don’t always keep the calendar updated). Some people will refuse your request for a discount outright. Most hosts will send you a “Special Offer”, with a special price.

    This is what a Special Offer looks like.

    This is what a Special Offer looks like. (Obviously this one is expired, because it’s for a stay that occurred in the past.)

  4. If internet speed is important to you, we recommend asking the host to run a speed test before booking. Most hosts will happily go out of their way to run an internet speed test for you if that will clinch a month-long rental.
  5. Pick your best apartment option, book it via the “Special Offer” the host sent you, and enjoy your cheap stay in Europe!
Woo hoo vacation!

This is usually how I feel once I get my Airbnb all lined up and booked.

Tips for NOT Using Airbnb

Sometimes using Airbnb just doesn’t make sense. The options are crap, the prices are too high, or you’re booking last-minute. Or maybe you’re only booking a 3-night stay, and the Airbnb fees mean it’s cheaper to look at hotels/hostels/guesthouses. Here are a few money-saving tips:

  • Whenever possible, use Hotels.com. They have the best rewards program. (Though they don’t always offer the lowest prices.)
  • Always compare prices between Agoda, Hotels, Booking, and Expedia. More often than not, one site has a much lower price than the others.
  • Pay close attention to taxes and fees on all of the travel booking websites, or you’ll end up comparing apples to sweet potatoes. Some sites don’t include taxes/fees in the booking price until you navigate into the hotel listing. Others show them up front. Also, many European hotels/guesthouses (especially in Italy) require you to pay a per person occupancy tax on arrival. So be sure you read the fine print before booking!

We Want to Hear From You!

I assume you’re planning a month in Europe now. Where do you want to go? Leave us a comment and let us know!