- Travel and Places
Budapest's Top 10 Weirdest Must-See Attractions
Hungary's Weirdest, Coolest, and Most Eccentric Places You Just Have to See!
Hungary is a country that few people associate with amazing sights and places. If you tell someone you're traveling to Europe, they assume you'll be going to Italy, France, Britain, or Germany, usually. But if you're looking for a real treat when it comes to unique sights, delicious food, and a country full of character and spunk, why not give Hungary a try?
I say this because I lived in Hungary for a while so that I could study linguistics and Hungarian language at Budapest's KÃ¡roli GÃ¡spÃ¡r ReformÃ¡tus Egyetem (KÃ¡roli GÃ¡spÃ¡r University of the Hungarian Reformed Church). But, as with all of my journeys around the world, the joy of travel for me is not in seeing all the fancy places -- it's in finding the little niches that only the locals know about. That's why I'm going to give you 10 of the absolute weirdest (and most worthwhile!) places that you just can't miss if you visit Budapest and the surrounding area.
I could give you a list of all the amazing tourist attractions that I saw within my first two weeks living in Hungary, but we'll get to that some other time. For now, enjoy the eccentricities of this ancient Hungarian city!
[Attractions are not listed in any sort of order. You should see them all! All pictures were taken by yours truly unless otherwise noted, such as the "Budapest welcomes you" photo, which was taken by Robin Hood Primary School (http://www.robinhood.leeds.sch.uk/page.php?id=1319... My picture of the entry sign was kind of blurry.]
The "Love Lock" Block - Where lovers pledge eternal commitment to each other. Mostly.
This cute little testament to true love can be found on the Pest side of the Danube. It's a small, cage-like thing that stands probably a bit less than 6 feet high. Clipped to it, from top to bottom and everywhere in between, are HUNDREDS of locks.
When two Hungarians fall in love, they may choose to bring a lock to this cage, carve their names into the lock, and then fasten it around a bar. Then, hand-in-hand, they walk a block or so to the Danube a throw the key into the water. This serves as a commitment of their eternal love for each other.
As you can see in the picture, commitment is a little frightening to some people! ;)
Where Can I Find This?: Hop off of tram 47 or 49 at DeÃ¡k Ferenc tÃ©r, the final stop for both of them. You'll see a Starbucks near you as well as the very tip top of a giant basilica and a park nearby. Head into the park going in the direction of the basilica. The Love Lock Block is in an open area near a water fountain in the winding paths of the park shortly before you pass under a small skybridge.
The Ice Bar - Furniture, sculptures, and even your beverage glasses -- all made of ice!
As soon as you walk in to this igloo-ish place, you'll be hit in the face with a wave of cold air -- after all, the inside temperature is always between -1 and -7 Celsius. Dress accordingly, or snag one of the bar's floor-length ponchos with gloves and insulation.
You might want the gloves. You'll be drinking your beverage out of a block of ice as well.
The entire place -- the walls, furniture, everything -- is made out of ice, and it's all illuminated in beautiful, sparkling colors. There are a variety of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available, and as long as you are over 18 (the legal drinking age in Hungary), you can treat yourself to any type of alcohol you'd like. Feel free to ask for PÃ¡linka, Hungary's traditional fruit brandy.
Be advised, however, that this place is smallish and there might not be enough room. In fact, you need tickets to get in, so I'd advise buying them ahead of time. For hours of operation, ticket purchase instructions, and general info about the Ice Bar, check out their homepage (now in English!) here: https://www.icebar.hu/index.php?waction=home2
Where Can I Find This?: The Ice Bar is easy to locate. Get off of tram 47, 49, 2, or 2A at FovÃ¡m tÃ©r, which is straight across from Nagycsarnok (Budapest's Great Market Hall) and Corvinus University of Budapest (where I also spent some time). When you get off the tram, you'll be standing on a small spit of land in between two roads. Turn your back to the Danube (which you are close enough to you could probably spit into it).
With your back to the river and the Liberty bridge, you'll see on your right the two large buildings I just mentioned. On your left is a small playland for kids and then, just above that (to the right of the big green plus sign of the pharmacy), what looks to be a tourist explosion full of postcard booths and generally just a sea of people. There is a reason for that -- it's VÃ¡ci Ãºtca! It's one of the biggest shopping areas in all of Budapest, a mile-long street full of amazing shops. I'd encourage you to check all of it out at some point (maybe not the overpriced food though...), but for now, just head down it until you find #82. That's the Ice Bar! Look for the penguins outside.
The Marzipan Museum
The only place where you can find a life-size Michael Jackson statue made out of stretchy sugar deliciousness.
Marzipan is made of sugar, honey, and ground almond. It is usually made into sweets such as small marzipan sculptures of fruits. So why would you want to go see a museum filled with sweet things shaped like bananas?
Because bananas are the least amazing things you'll see there.
Imagine making a true-to-life replica of a car, an animal, or even a person out of Play-Doh, all details intact. Sounds almost impossible, right? Yet every day the people at the marzipan museum craft beautiful (and edible!) artwork out of sugar. Take, for example, the life-sized Michael Jackson figure made entirely out of marzipan, which was sculpted by hand.
You can take a tour of this museum and see dozens of incredible marzipan creations, or you can just pop in for a look around the candy shop and to sample a small piece of the marzipan made there. Don't worry -- the sample's free, and the prices in the store cater both to stingy people and splurgers. You can spend as little or as much time in this museum of sweets as you'd like.
Where Can I Find This?: The marzipan museum is not in Budapest -- it's actually in a nearby settlement called Szentendre. That whole cute little town is worth visiting, and you can get to it via ferry boat (tickets available at riverside booths along tram line 2A) or by taking the HÃV, a special longer-distance green train, from BatthyÃ¡ny tÃ©r. If you have a transportation pass, it will cover some of the distance, but you'll still have to pay for the extra few miles. Or you can buy a ticket for the whole way. It's pretty simple. Just say "Szentendre," show a travel pass if you have one, and the ticket person will know what to do. Buying a round trip ticket is cheaper, but the ferry boat is cute (though takes a while and is more expensive). Check out the museum's website here: http://www.szamosmarcipan.hu/en/shops/view/13/Muse...
Things to Buy Before You Travel - Before we start, get prepared!
I have collected a short list of exactly the items that I had with me when I lived in Hungary. I would encourage you to have all of them, as you have no idea how helpful they'll be until you're there, thinking, "You know, I really wish I had ____."
This is the camera that I have brought with me all over the world (except mine is green...pink's really not my thing). This camera takes a little bit of getting used to, but the picture quality is phenomenal.
This is a plug adapter for all your electronics, and you don't have to worry because it has plugs for anywhere in the whole world! It's about the size of a tic-tac container, and it comes apart and goes back together in a snap. That way you never have to worry about being able to plug your electronics in in a foreign country. So glad I had this! It also comes with a little book to tell you which countries need which plug and when you'll need a power converter (which is actually almost never).
I used this memory card with my Sony camera, and I was able to take close to 4,000 super high-quality pictures! This way, you never have to worry about running out of room!
Use this camera bag instead of a backpack. It's small, and it's got a nearly invisible strap on the back that lets you thread it through a belt as well as a shoulder strap. You will be pickpocket-proof with this, and despite its smaller size, I regularly used it to carry -- at the same time -- my Sony camera, another video camera, a Nintendo DS, a DS charger, the Sony charger, some chopsticks, money (in the zippable pouch inside), my passport, three maps, tickets, travel passes, and extra camera batteries. It's super lightweight, even when full, and if you strap it to your belt you can run with it and it won't bounce! Super highly recommended. This thing is a bottomless pit.
The world's largest hourglass. Watch them flip it over!
One of the world's largest hourglasses, the Timewheel (IdokerÃ©k) was installed in Hungary to celebrate its entrance into the European Union. The sand runs out each year on New Year's Eve, when 4 burly men use steel cables to flip it over and start the sands again. This process takes around 45 minutes, but it's worthwhile if you happen to be there to see it!
If you won't be there when it's flipped over, stop by anyway to get your picture with it. I guarantee it's about 14 or 15 times bigger than you. Clocking in at 60 tons, you really have to get close to appreciate it -- it doesn't look that menacing from a distance.
Where Can I Find This?: This one took me a little while to find by myself. It's to the right of Heroes' Square (if you're looking into the square at the statues). So that means you'll want to go to HosÃ¶k tere via yellow metro. Once you get there, you'll see a big tall monument that looks like the Washington Monument in D.C. but with an angel on top. Face that, then go to your right down the street. As you're walking down the street, you'll pass the side of a museum. Keep your eyes to your left -- the Timewheel is down a short path near a small intersection. You won't have to walk far from Heroes' Square.
The Microscopic Museum - Works of art that are smaller than a grain of sugar
Do you know how big a sugar grain is?
If we're talking about regular table sugar, you're looking at about .5 milimeters in size. Now I'm going to give you a .5 milimeter piece of gold, and you're going to sculpt the pyramids in Egypt with a camel in the foreground. Oh, and throw a palm tree in there too. Sound impossible?
At this incredible museum in Hungary, you can view these tiny works of art through microscopes and read about how they were created (and why). You'll find everything from portrait paintings to golden Coca-Cola bottles crafted on these microscopic canvases. Want to play a game of microscopic chess? You can find a fully 3D chess board that would fit on the tip of a needle here too.
The cost is negligible (around $3.50), and if you're a student, it's only $2. So if you happen to be in Szentendre, this Micro Art Museum (Mikro CsodÃ¡k MÃºzeuma) is something you just can't miss!
Where Can I Find This?: Use the directions for Szentendre from the marzipan museum. Once you're in Szentendre, there is a tourist office that will give you a nice labeled map where you can look for this. The street address is Fo tÃ©r 18-19, but don't be fooled! It's a microscopic museum, and the "street" it's on is nearly microscopic too! It's only wide enough to walk in single file. You should have the feeling that you're walking in the narrow space between two people's houses, and last time I was there, there were some vines you'll walk under as well. Be brave! You'll find it.
What's the Point of Travel?
When you visit a foreign country, should you try to see the main sights?
The Hospital in the Rock
A medical center made from a nuclear bunker in the caves under the city
If there's one thing you can know for sure, it's that Hungarians will probably survive the apocalypse.
Seriously though, this bunker -- which is constructed out of more than 6 miles of caves under Buda hill -- survived World War II air raids, bombings during the Hungarian revolution of 1956, and was fortified to withstand chemical attacks and nuclear explosions that were anticipated from the Cold War. Wounded civilians and soldiers were also brought into this bunker, so it served more often as a hospital than as a shelter. It's from this bunker's outfitting not only as a medical refuge but as a full-fledged surgical hospital that it derives its name, "the hospital in the rock."
Tours are available in English and Hungarian, but they depart every hour on the hour so you'll have some waiting time if you're late. Be advised that this tour does cost a bit of dough -- adults are looking at around $18, and children, students, and seniors will stay have to pay $9. However, inside you can find recreations of all of the activities that went on during the wars as well as some old vehicles (like ambulances). For those interested in medicine or obscure history, this is a fantastic place to visit! It's a bit niche, though, so your average 9 year old is going to get bored. Probably pretty fast.
Note: photos are not allowed inside the museum. Which is why I say that this place is very geared toward certain people and not toward others.
Where Can I Find This?: It took me a bit to find this place, as you feel like you're right on top of it but still can't find it. It's on Buda Hill (near Fisherman's Bastion and the Palace); head to Lovas utca, and you'll find it right around the TÃ³th ÃrpÃ¡d sÃ©tÃ¡ny at SzenthÃ¡romsÃ¡g utca. You'll have to go down some steps in what seems like a tunnel in order to get to that street. There is a bus stop nearby. [Photo courtesy of the Budapest tourist's association, as pictures are not allowed inside.]
The Pump Room at Lukacs Baths
Where you can get dirty, acidic, life-giving water
If you spend any length of time in Hungary, you'll realize pretty quickly that hot springs are a common occurrence. Because of that, Hungarians love to open all sorts of bath houses, and Lukacs Baths is one of the many. Should you take a nice bath at one of them while in Hungary? Definitely. Should you drink the "healing water" at Lukacs? Well...that's up to you.
Let me preface this by saying that no, it won't kill you. It won't even make you sick. Many Hungarians swear by its healing power. But you'd better be prepared to take some interesting, sulfuric hot water into your mouth.
Having spent some time at the Hungarian baths myself, I can tell you one thing for sure -- never suck it up your nose. It BURNS. It's acidic, after all. So anyway, the pump room at Lukacs is the only place in Budapest to get healing water "straight from the horse's mouth," as it were. It's super cheap (only 60 forints, aka about 20 cents), but bring your own water bottle.
Where Can I Find This?: Lukacs Baths is quite simple to find -- many of the most frequently used trams go right past it. Be advised -- some people refer to it as Rudas Baths, and some signs may also say that. I'd personally suggest taking tram 18 toward SzÃ©ll KÃ¡lmÃ¡n tÃ©r. You'll go right past it (on your left) -- it's a cream-colored building (or was, when I was there, but they were renovating). There will be a point where the tram is riding in between a rocky mountain wall (after the stop called Szent GellÃ©rt tÃ©r), then you'll kind of veer to the right a little. A few moments later, you'll reach a point where the tram could go straight (to BatthyÃ¡ny tÃ©r) or left, and it goes to the left passing right by the underside of a bridge. At that point, you will have just passed Lukacs Baths.
Helpful Links for Traveling in Hungary
Need help getting around? Try using the resources in these links.
- Budapest BVK (Transportation Map and Planning)
Need to figure out which trams/buses/metros to take to your destination? Use this website, now sporting a fancy English-language feature!
- Hungarian Dictionary
You don't really need to know Hungarian to get around if you're just a tourist, but I'd suggest that you try to learn a few words. There's nothing that makes Hungarians happier than you making an attempt. They'll usually switch to English as soon as
The Budapest Operetta House
Watch a show there. Seriously. They have subtitles.
Seeing a Hungarian musical was certainly something I'd never considered doing during my time in Budapest until I was virtually press-ganged into going by a Hungarian friend named Adri. After all, why would I pay money to go see a play that I wouldn't understand?
That was a foolish thought on my part, and Adri remedied my stubbornness by suggesting two things that would make me feel more at home -- that we go see a play I already knew, and that we see it in Hungarian with English subtitles.
That is exactly the appeal of the Budapest Operetta House. Not to be confused with the large "Budapest Opera" (with sphinxes in front of it), the Operetta (Budapesti OperettszÃnhÃ¡z) caters to a foreign audience by providing subtitles. Tickets are pretty cheap -- we paid $25 each and got fantastic balcony seats. There will be many plays that you'll recognize -- we went to see Romeo and Juliet (RÃ³meÃ³ Ã©s JÃºlia), but you can also see well-known musicals like Gone with the Wind, Beauty and the Beast, or MIss Saigon. In addition to musicals, there are operettas (obviously!), actual operas, and even a kid-friendly option.
You can read about my first experience watching Romeo and Juliet in this Hungarian opera house on my travel blog: http://bythepathlesstraveled.wordpress.com/2012/09... Lot's of fun!
Feel free to cruise around the Operetta's website, which has some shiny new English that makes navigation a cinch. Check it out here: http://www.operett.hu/operett.php?nyelv=2. Considering the cheap price and the bang for your buck that you'll get in these fantastic shows, not to mention that you'll get subtitles, seeing a musical in Budapest is something you just can't pass up!
Where Can I Find This?: The Operetta is in the 6th district on Nagymezo utca 17. You can't miss it -- there's a huge MOULIN ROUGE sign on the building next door with a big red fan. The easiest way to get there is on the yellow metro (M1). You'll want to head to the stop "Opera," though you'll have to walk a few blocks from there. The easiest way is to just look for the big Moulin Rouge thing in the picture -- it's all the same building. But if you're at an opera house with huge banners hanging out of the windows and you don't see the Moulin Rouge fan, you're at the wrong opera. The one you're looking for is about 10 steps to the left of the image in the picture.
Ecseri Piac -- the Great Flea Market - Where you can buy communist souvenirs
This piac ("market") is one of the largest flea markets in all of Europe, so impulse buyers beware! You can snag anything from Fred Astaire top-hats to Soviet trinkets, so there's something for everyone. Be advised that the best day to visit is Saturday, as that is when the most vendors will be open. There is A LOT of stuff, so be prepared to rummage!
Also be prepared to barter if you're willing. Because the vendors don't speak English, they'll show you the price on a calculator. Feel free to take the calculator from them and enter your own price to try to talk them down. Remember to enter the price in forints! Don't forget this easy conversion trick for forints to US dollars -- take the number of forints, move the decimal place back twice, then divide by two. So 2400 forints becomes 24.00, cut in half equals 12. So 2400 forints is about $12.
Where Can I Find This?: Ecseri Piac is a bit out of the way, but there are easy ways to get there. You can take bus 54 from BorÃ¡ros tÃ©r (also one of THE best places to grab some KÃ¼rtos KalÃ¡cs, a "chimney cake" Hungarian desert that looks like a big tube -- look for them in the underpass right by the bridge). Or, if it's easier, you can take the express buses 84E, 89E or 94E (red numbers) from HatÃ¡r utca, which is a stop on the red metro, then get off at Fiume utca. Whatever way you choose, make sure to follow the crowds over a pedestrian bridge and you're there!
Sugar! and Spice
The most amazing candy store. Ever. The toilets look like jawbreakers!
I can honestly say that, once I found this place after living a while in Budapest, I was a regular customer. Sugar! (exclamation point included!) is the best candy store I've ever been in. Not only is the place a great one to just waltz around in, you can buy delicious (and incredible-looking!) desserts and bag your own candy, so you get as much as you want and only pay for exactly what you want. It's a restaurant and a candy shop, but you just can't pass this up. My goodness, even if you only go for a visit and don't buy anything, GO! It's got some amazing candy and it's just beautiful to look at.
I wrote a little blurb about this great place in my travel blog, so check it out for some AMAZING pictures and bonus info: http://bythepathlesstraveled.wordpress.com/2012/10... Or, check out the Sugar! English homepage here: http://www.sugarshop.hu/index-en.html
Where Can I Find This?: Sugar! is, at first, kind of out of the way, but once you know where it is you can get there with your eyes closed. It's at Paulay Ede Utca 48, but it's super easy to get to by yellow metro. Get off at the Opera stop. Now, listen carefully. We can do this the easy way. Put your back to the Opera house. A little to your left, near an intersection (with a strange crosswalk across a tiny street that you could probably hop across), there is an alleyway. When I was there, there was also a bunch of scaffolding around there, but I know that won't be there forever (probably). Go down the alleyway. On your left as you go, there will be a store that sells giant, beautiful rugs. Keep heading down till you reach the T in the road, then turn left. You'll notice some cars parked way onto your sidewalk -- it's a Hungarian thing. Keep walking, but pay attention to your left. Sugar! is there, but it's hard to see until you're standing right in front of it!
Where Do You Want to Go?
If you could only visit one of these places, which would it be?
Have you been to any of these places? Do you want to go? Need advice for getting ready to travel? Shoot me a comment!