So the thing about Budapest is that it just kinda takes you by surprise. Everyone raves about Vienna and Prague and all those neighboring cities (and rightly so), but Budapest is kinda lonely. Its streets aren't cluttered with hordes of tourists jockeying for the best camera space or picking their noses in public. It's not the most English-friendly spot in Europe, and its people can come off as a tad rude. They're extremely no-nonsense people, and if they can't help you, then they're not gonna go out of their way to do so. Seems to be the Budapest way.
Why was I so surprised by Budapest?
Its history is amazing
Buda and Pest were actually two different cities separated by the Danube. In 1872, Pest, Buda, and Obuda ("Old Buda") were united into one city to officially become the capital of Hungary.
And like most other European countries, it had its share of political turmoil. As our lovely Contiki guide said, "The city was liberated by the Russians after the Second World War, and then they forgot to leave." The result was the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, where a student demonstration against the government and Soviet policies caused a nationwide revolt.
Unfortunately, thousands of Hungarians were killed in the revolution, mostly around Heroes' Square. This happened less than 60 years ago. It took more than 30 years to get rid of that dictatorship. No wonder Hungarians are so gruff and determined... they're still getting used to this new world.
I totally geeked out on history this whole trip.
The city is prettier than that chick you keep eyeing at the gym
And grittier. You get the best views from across the river in Pest, looking back at the parliament in all its glory. Do a river cruise at night... the parliament and its surrounding buildings all glow like a Christmas tree.
There's a whole lot of art nouveau stuff going on too. When you're walking through the Old Town, keep your gaze shifted upward for some sweet roof patterns that will cause seizures if you look too hard.
The nightlife is on steroids
Ever been to a "ruin pub"? They're basically abandoned buildings turned into creative art spaces/pubs where you get unreasonably liquored and hang out with ridiculous people. The pubs contain all sorts of odds and ends, like bathtubs-turned-sofas.
Plus the bars just never close. Ever. Hungarians love to party, and beer is CHEAP. Get to it!