It was my goal in 2018 to finally take a solo trip. Now, I can finally say that I’ve done it!
I started researching places to visit, and Budapest appeared in a lot of my searches for solo travel destinations. From pictures, it reminded me a lot of Prague – my absolute favorite city in Europe. So, I decided to go for it and treat myself to a long Valentine’s Day weekend getaway!
I left late on Valentine’s Day and took a red-eye flight over to Europe. Usually I’m pretty good about getting sleep on red-eye flights, but I had such a tough time sleeping for whatever reason.
Early on Thursday morning, I landed in Zurich for a quick layover. I snoozed a little while I waited, then completely passed out for the entire flight to Budapest.
The hostel I stayed in offered directions from the airport to the hostel, and it looked like quite a few bus transfers, so I decided to arrange a car service to drop me off. With only a few hours of sleep, this was a good move for me rather than navigating a foreign system.
I’m really glad I went this route, even though it was more expensive than public transportation, because my driver gave me some great insights into the city. She warned me about the high taxi costs and even gave me a brochure of her top destinations and restaurants in Budapest.
I arrived to my hostel around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and oddly enough I met a girl from New York as well while I was checking in. The staff member toured me around the building and gave me the lowdown on the hostel rules.
Then, I was on my own.
At this point, all the adrenaline had kicked in and I was ready to start exploring. I put my things away in the room and ventured out to the streets of Budapest. I took a nice stroll along the river for a while and popped into a few stores.
After wandering for a while, I thought that it would be better if I actually made a plan for where I was going. Plus, I was starting to feel pretty tired. So, I went back to the hostel and took a glorious nap until dinner.
I really enjoyed the dinners at Hostel One Basilica because it really was my first way to meet new people. My first dinner, I sat down and started mingling with a girl who was studying abroad in Austria, and we were joined by my New York check-in companion. After dinner, we walked to the store with a few other people from the hostel to get some wine and beer for the drinking games that evening.
The hostel organizes drinking games and bar crawls in the evenings, which was another great way to meet people. We stayed in the hostel for about two hours then walked to some local bars. After hopping around a few bars, we ended up at Fogasház, one of Budapest’s famous ruins bars. Now, I wasn’t even totally sure what a ruin bar was before this trip, and they are now easily my favorite types of bars and clubs.
Fogasház has endless themed rooms with live entertainment, DJs, bars, dance floors, an outdoor area and even a pizza shop. It felt like an adult Disneyland running around the different rooms and dancing to all the different music. We sampled lots of pálinka, a traditional fruit brandy in Hungary, and danced the night away! It was an absolute blast, and we stayed out until around 4 in the morning so I’m so glad I took that nap earlier!
The next day, I slept in a bit, but headed out of the hostel mid-morning to do some exploring. I started my day by walking over to the Great Market Hall. This is a giant restored building with tons of food vendors who sell produce, fresh meat, souvenirs, paprika and freshly prepared food. It’s a very impressive building and I loved seeing all the locals doing their grocery shopping at each stand. I headed upstairs to the prepared food area and had a sausage and potato mixture that was very yummy!
After browsing around the food hall for a while, I crossed the Danube river on the Liberty Bridge. This landed me on the Buda side of the city very close to Gellért Hill and the Gellért thermal bath house.
I walked along the river to the Buda Castle, whose grounds are a lot bigger than I anticipated. The initial building of this castle dates back to the 1200s, but it has seen a lot of change and rebuilding throughout history. What stands today is entirely impressive.
I took the funicular up the hill to the castle grounds and walked over to the Hungarian National Gallery. At this point, I was so incredibly exhausted from the lack of sleep I got the night before, so I decided to sit in a coffee shop near the gallery and get some caffeine. I ended up staying for a good one or two hours just taking a break. That made me miss my reservation at Faust Wine Cellar, but I absolutely needed this time to reenergize and relax.
After I felt replenished and rested, I walked around the grounds a bit more and headed over to Fisherman’s Bastion. This area is home to Matthias Church and some sweeping views of the city. The columns and buildings in Fisherman’s Bastion look like fairytale castles preserved for modern time, and the views of the city were great.
At this point, I was feeling tired again, so I thought it would be a good idea to head back for a rest. This time, I crossed the Széchenyi Chain Bridge over to the Pest side of the river, and I found that I was so close to the Parliament building so I figured I’d stop there quickly on my way back.
Well, on the way to the building was the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial monument, so I decided to stop there as well. All the shoes were adorned with flowers, candles, coins and small mementos in honor of those who were victims of the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. It was quite humbling to see the line of shoes with the lavish, strong castle as a backdrop.
I headed over to the Hungarian Parliament building, which was massive! The surrounding grounds were nice and filled with other monuments, but the true star was this building.
At this point, I realized I was pretty far from my hostel, so on my way back I figured I might as well stop for some food and see some other attractions. I started winding down the streets and stumbled upon the cutest restaurant called Cafe Vian that reminded me a lot of a small cafe I visited in Iceland.
I ordered some cozy mulled wine and goulash soup, and it was the perfect meal for the moment. After staying for a while, I left the restaurant and headed over to St. Stephen’s Basilica. What an incredible place! The interior tops the exterior, if you can even imagine that. It’s filled with gold and statues and art and dome ceilings that are breathtaking.
Since the Hungarian Opera House was nearby, I popped over there just to find it blocked off for renovations, so I thought this was a good time to head back to the hostel.
Again, I took a nap (I suddenly became a toddler on this trip) and had dinner with my hostel mates. That evening, we were heading to a boat cruise along the Danube river with another hostel group. It turned out to be quite corny, but this was one of my favorite nights because of the gorgeous views from the boat. We saw the castle and parliament buildings lit up in all their glory.
After the boat ride, we hopped around a few bars again and a group of us ended up at Szimpla Kert – the oldest and first ruin bar in Budapest. This bar, again, had various themed rooms and there was something going on everywhere! The only way I can describe it is eclectic. It was so fun and really cool experiencing the first ruin bar in the city.
Another long evening meant a bit of a late start the next day, but luckily I was heading to the Széchenyi thermal bath for some relaxation. I ventured down to the metro and was very confused but helped by a nice Hungarian woman working at the station. The train stops right at the bath house, so I hopped off and entered the building. The interior of the bath house looks almost like a hallway out of the steerage quarters in Titanic.
I dropped off my belongings in a locker and headed out to the deck of the pools. The water was so warm and relaxing, and I felt instantly calmer.
The day I visited was so overcast and cold. All the steam was creating a thick, foggy mist in the pool so you could barely see a few feet in front of you. It was something out of a scary swamp movie!
I spent a good amount of time at the bath, and while I was there I started to feel a little lonely and insecure. So many tourists visit this destination with friends and families, so I felt left out being the only solo visitor around. This was the first time on my solo trip that I started to feel lonely, and I think it was also a blend of uncertainty. So many of the good friends I met in my previous days had checked out of the hostel, on their way to new cities, and I was feeling a little insecure about meeting more people.
I took time in the bath, though, to lounge and reflect on why I was having these feelings. It was actually some really good downtime for personal thoughts.
I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I wanted to experience more that day, so I left the baths and headed to Hősök tere (Heroes’ Square).
Rather than take the metro back to the hostel, I walked along Andrássy út, a bustling main street in Budapest. The walk was nice to see more shops and restaurants, but my feet were so tired when I got back. I stopped in Drum Cafe on my way back for some more mulled wine and goulash to relax.
That evening before dinner, I was feeling anxious heading into a meal at the hostel without my other friends around. I knew I needed to eat so I headed out to the kitchen and all feelings of loneliness or anxiety melted away and I easily met new people.
That night we visited another ruin bar, but ultimately ended up at Fogasház again!
It was another long night, but the next day I was determined to head up to Gellért Hill and see the Liberty Statue. It was snowing all the night so the city was covered in some slushy snow. That made the trek up the hill a little slippery, but also very beautiful. The statue at the top of the hill is very pretty, but the true gem up there was the view of the city. There were food vendors and local artisans selling souvenirs, as well.
On the way down, I decided to go down the back of the hill, which was a big mistake. This path lead me down winding residential streets and after walking for a long time I decided to pull up Google Maps. I knew the hike up the hill only took me about 20 minutes, so I was curious why this was taking me so long. Well, turns out I was walking completely the wrong direction only toward homes off into the distance. Good thing I checked when I did! I rerouted and ended up passing the back of Gellért Baths, so I got a sneak a peak of their outdoor pools.
When I finally got back on track (about 40 minutes later), I headed over to the House of Terror Museum. This museum is dedicated to the history of the fascist and communist regimes in Hungary and those who were victims. I wish I had gotten an audio guide for this museum because I was pretty lost staring at all the Hungarian written on the walls. What I could gather was very powerful, though, and the basement had such an eerie feeling that was immediate.
On my way back from the museum, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal at Menza. This upscale restaurant had a modern twist on comfort food in a retro, 1970s environment. The food was all so tasty, and I enjoyed my experience there! And by “treat myself,” I mean this nice meal cost me only about $15.
I was so exhausted from my trip that I just wanted to stay in that night, but since it was my last night in Budapest, I mustered up the energy to head out to Szimpla Kert one last time.
I was so sad to leave the next morning. I had found such a nice feeling of independence and freedom traveling alone. Even though I was happy with everything I had done and saw everything I wanted to see, I feel like I could’ve stayed even longer and soaked up even more of the city.
I wanted something authentic for my last meal in the city, so I headed back to the Great Market Hall to try Langos. It’s basically a round pizza dough topped with sour cream, cheddar cheese and other toppings. To be honest, I wasn’t the most impressed with this food, but it was still fun to try!
And so ended my first solo trip. I headed to the airport with a friend I had met in the hostel who was heading home to Germany, and I continued on to Zurich then home. My Swiss Airlines flights were awesome! I think I ate more food on my flight home than I ate the entire trip!
Once I landed home I had a dreamlike feeling. I had just been on a quick trip to an ancient city and now I was back to reality. It had all come and gone so quickly; it felt surreal to be home.
For my first solo trip, I’m really proud of how I spent my days, navigated, and took time to myself for inner thoughts and doing what made me happy.
Budapest, this was a quick trip, but I’ll definitely be back!
My Tips For Visiting Budapest
- Going solo in this city is absolutely doable!
- Get the audio guide for the tour of the House of Terror Museum so you know everything that’s going on.
- If a Swiss Air flight is within your budget, book it! Great flight experiences all around!
- Bring good walking shoes. Budapest is a flat city for the most part, so walking is free and easy as long as you come prepared.
- There is no need to book a private changing room at the Széchenyi thermal bath. The locker rooms work just fine! But, do book your ticket in advance to avoid lines.
- Széchenyi is the tourist thermal bath in the city and there are plenty of local ones to try out as well. If bath houses are your thing, do some research on other local options with less tourists!
- If you’re visiting in the winter, brings lots of warm clothes, underlayers, hats, gloves and everything to keep you warm! It snowed two of my days there and was always chilly.
- Most places, especially bars, still only take cash so make sure to always have some on you.
- Taxify is an alternate option to taxis in Budapest. It works like Uber and is affordable!