Updated: Nov 6, 2020
I contemplated several names for this post such as, “Hungary for More”, “The Best of 'Pest'”, and other typical name twists. While exploring the city my focus was drawn to the large leaves on the ground and an ah-ha moment occurred. Falling for Hungary!
While living in the South the seasons are what I missed most about the Midwest. Growing up in Ohio I vividly remember having four distinct seasons, now “SummerTimeChi” quickly fades into a scene from Game of Thrones, complete with polar vortexes and icy rivers. Being in Budapest in early November makes me crave Fall. The rich colors, the hardy foods, the crisp air. Like Spring, there is a freshness. Change is coming. Not just for the seasons but for me as well.
I have to shamefully admit Hungary had not risen to the top of my destination wish list. While in Austria eight years ago others ventured there by train for a long weekend and I decided to continue my explorations of Vienna. Everyone raved about the experience. Fate decided my time to visit was now.
Where to Stay
The day after Halloween I arrive at the new five-star Mystery Hotel in Budapest so the irony of the name is not lost on me. It was a late, rainy evening after a flight from London. I was tired and cranky, yet my spirits were instantly lifted when I stepped into the hotel. It is my favorite hotel of 2019! #RNWApproved!
The entrance is manned by an intricately carved, massive, wooden door that is original to the building. The Mystery Hotel is a former Masonic lodge built in the 1800’s Hungarian Freemasons in the (hence the name). The lobby is flooded with light from chandeliers and a grand staircase welcomes you. The newness of everything can be attributed to the hotel opening in March 2019.
At check-in I was provided a list of sites and restaurant recommendations. Next I was escorted to an elevator where I get my first glimpse of the quirkiness of this modern, luxurious hotel. Historical images of famous painting and aristocrats adorn the elevators, halls, and rooms. Some of the art is actually animated. Another grand dame displayed outside my room forth floor room glances inquisitively at me as I entered. She knew I would adore my new quarters.
Two Leonardo Da Vinci’s inspired headboards dominate the room. (Side Note: Ironically, a week later, I would be staring at the originals, displayed side by side, at a temporary exhibition at the Louvre.) Lush velvet drapes cover the windows and the closets, which anchors a daybed. A personalized letter, a plate of fresh fruit, and a mini-fridge encased in an elegant glassed cabinet with complimentary sparkling and still water welcomed me.
The large white bathroom is modern and pristine. I’m exhausted so I quickly prepared to tuck myself into one of the beds. To ensure I dozed off peacefully the Mystery Hotel offers "Tranquility Services Dream" services which includes a pillow menu, sleep masks, nightlight, and earplugs. I ordered the memory foam pillow, which is the piece I needed to have a perfect nights sleep.
In the morning I decided a workout was needed. The gym, located in the spa, included a treadmill, bike, elliptical, free weights, and weight machines. The spa is a tropical oasis in the middle of Budapest. Unlike some luxury hotels a spa service is not required in order to enjoy the sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi. I requested a "very" deep tissue massage. Afterwards the therapist mentioned she enjoyed using all of her "powers" because other people usually cannot take that much pressure.
The Grand Hall restaurant is steps away from my fourth floor room and lives up to its name. One afternoon I set up shop on the comfortable sofas with my laptop and ordered cocktails and appetizers. Each day I had to resist the temptation of lounging in the restaurant all day with my laptop and a few drinks.
The literal cherry on the top is the rooftop bar. Though the bar was closed for the season, guests could still take in the unobstructed views or go out for fresh air.
I absolutely loved everything about this boutique hotel. The service was excellent and attentive. It is located in a more quiet, residential area which I appreciated. Due to the national holiday the hotel was not full and at times I felt as if I had the place to myself.
What To Do
I arrived in Budapest during the national holiday commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. Traveling solo afforded me the opportunity to explore the museums and monuments to learn more about the country’s rich history.
One cannot help but witness the glorious Parliament building dominating the skyline and overshadowing the Danube River. Tours of the inside are offered and the grounds contain statues and underground museums detailing the long history.
A stone’s throw from the Parliament is the “Shoes on the Danube”. Dozens of shoes line the promenade and mournfully gaze out onto the river, serving as a memorial to the atrocities that occurred during the 1940's.
The 13th century Buda Castle is the other dominating presence along the opposite bank of the Danube. You can get there by way of the famous The Széchenyi Chain Bridge that separates the Buda and Pest sides of the city. (History Lesson: Budapest is the union of three former medieval cities: Buda, Óbuda, and Pest.) My leisurely path to the top was by foot and allowed me to quietly soak in the beautiful views. Others may choose the vernacular to the top. It is just not a castle… It is a district of museums, government buildings, restaurants, and shops. The Fisherman’s Bastion is part of the Buda Castle District and should not be missed. It looks ancient, yet it just over 100 years old.
Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 to mark millennia of Hungary history. The building is a melding of several architectural styles from famous landmarks throughout Hungary, surrounded by a lake (ice rink depending on the season). Definitely visit for the photo ops.
Hero’s Square is a short walk from the castle and is another excellent photo op. The complex features statues and memorials of Hungary’s greatest leaders.
Where to Eat & Drink
Budapest has no shortage of good food and drinking spots.
Ruin Bars is more an experience than a place. What was once dilapidated buildings in the abandoned Jewish ghettos, are now bohemian “ruin bars” that would fit into Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen. The first was Szimpla so add that one to your list. Throughout the Land of Misfit Toys and junkyard-grunge-retro decor, are several bars serving reasonably priced drinks and playing contemporary music. *** Yes the third image is actually bread shaped like a man's privates.
Costes Downtown is a stylish Michelin starred restaurant in the heart of the city. The late lunch tasting menu hit the spot prior to an evening filled with site seeing. Note: The restaurant is located in a hotel with a sleek lobby.
Mazel Tov is located in the Jewish Quarter and is considered a “ruin bar”, yet felt more like a traditional restaurant with tasty food and rustic interiors. I heard lines could get long so visit during an off-hour like I did.
Halászbástya Étterem Restaurant (not the outdoor café and terrace) is fine dining located in Fisherman’s Bastion. It literally feels like you are dining in a medieval castle. The service, food, venue were wonderful, yet the panoramic city views from my table is what stole the show.
Ruszwurm Confectionery in the Castle District near the Fisherman’s Bastion and is Budapest’s oldest café. The location is quaint, yet the desserts are phenomenal. I ordered two and gobbled them down in the privacy of my hotel room.
The New York Cafe at the New York Hotel is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. Book reservations and enjoy a spiked hot chocolate and a dessert.
Café Kör is where I had my last meal in Budapest. A local I met recommended I try a Hungarian restaurant. I am glad I listened because it was absolutely delicious (thanks Tosh! Not the comedian). He suggested I get the soup of the day, which I did and gobbled up! Next I let the server guide my decision on my main course and she did not steer me wrong. Note: Only AMEX or Hungarian currency accepted.
Is Hungary on your bucket list? If you have been what should I add to my itinerary for my next visit?
* The two gowns were rented from MyCloset Budapest, which is owned and operated by Melanie, an American of Hungarian heritage, currently residing in Budapest.