For the most part, vacations are wonderful. You get to take a break from work, be carefree for a little while, relax, and ideally have fun. Unfortunately, vacations aren’t always so picture perfect. Whether you are worried about your kids causing a scene or gaining 10 pounds after a week of eating delicious food and not exercising, vacations are often not as peaceful as they should be. If you want to combine the best of both worlds and relax while still staying healthy and fit, there are plenty of vacation destinations all over the world that should satisfy all of your vacation needs.
When most people think about planning a European vacation, places like Paris, London and Barcelona are usually the first choices. Plenty of European cities that happen to be located in Central and Eastern Europe are often overlooked, partially because they are seemingly less luxurious, or because us Westerners still think they are un-modernized Communist countries. After having spent a semester in Prague and traveling throughout Central Europe, I now think everyone should make their way over to that part of the world at least once.
One of my favorite Central European cities, and one of the best for relaxation is Budapest, Hungary. One of the coolest things about Budapest is that it is actually like two cities. On one side of the Danube River is “Buda,” which is home to many of the older landmarks and can really transport you back to the past. Across the river is “Pest,” which represents everything modern and has as much of an urban feel as you can get in Budapest.
Hungary’s capital city has so much to offer, and these are just a few suggestions that will make your trip to Central Europe unforgettable:
Where to Stay:
If you want to stay in an impressively elegant and grand resort, then you should check out the Corinthia, a 5-Star hotel. Not only is it located in a gorgeous building, it is equipped with great dining and bars, as well as an impressive spa. It is also in a great location in the city, and you can easily access many of the main attractions, like Andrassy Avenue, which features great shopping and a scenic route for strolling through the city.
Yes, you are reading that correctly, I said hostel. Americans have put a pretty awful stigma on hostels, but if you choose the right one, they are actually quite pleasant places to stay, and extremely affordable. This is the hostel I stayed in while in Budapest, and I would return in a heartbeat. You can stay in the dormitory style rooms, or pay slightly more (we are still talking in the $20/night range here) and stay in a private apartment a few blocks away from the main dorm. If you plan on traveling to a few cities, traveling in a group, or just want to save your money for souvenirs, don’t scoff at hostels.
What to Do:
There are so many amazing things to experience in Budapest, my biggest recommendation is to grab a map and take some long walks around the city. There are so many parks and interesting things to see that you won’t feel like you are aimlessly wandering. But, if you are the type of person who likes to plan, here are some must-sees:
In Budapest, you do not need to be at a resort spa to enjoy a spa day, as Budapest is famous for being home to many amazing thermal baths. The water which comes from over 100 hot springs is known for its healing properties, and visits to the baths are actually prescribed to some people by actual medical doctors and no spa can boast that. It is almost guaranteed you will fill relaxed and refreshed after a day at the baths. The Szechenyi complex is the largest in Budapest, and open throughout the year, so you can rough out even the roughest of winters by relaxing in a thermal bath. The locals hang out here too, so you know it isn’t a tourist trap.
A great way to spend a day in Budapest is exploring Castle Hill. It houses the palace complex, a few churches and Fisherman’s Bastion, the National Gallery, and more. The best way to reach the hill is to walk, and if you are coming from across the Danube, make sure you walk over the chain bridge, which is a beautiful bridge and allows you to enjoy great views of the city all the way across.
Budapest also has a pretty cool nightlife scene, especially a bunch of “ruin bars” that are exactly what they sound like – dingy dive bars full of old junk. One of these bars, Instant, features a bunch of different rooms of all different sizes and decor schemes. If you want to be cool and urban, this is the place to be.
What to Eat:
You can’t go to Budapest without eating a traditional Hungarian meal in a classic Budapest establishment, and live gypsy music is a must. Karpatia is one of the city’s oldest restaurants, and features both classic Hungarian dishes and more modern Hungarian cuisine. You will get attentive and classic service, the food is delicious, and the music takes it to the next level. I recommend the paprika chicken.