Exploring Budapest, Hungary

Since I’m done blathering on about the holidays, it’s time to start talking travel on Fridays again.  I’ve missed revisiting my travels, and I realized yesterday I still haven’t blogged about most of our trip to Europe.  There’s a lot to share, so here we go!

train travel

After a few weeks in Poland {which I’ll get to eventually, there’s SO much interesting stuff to tell you about there} we headed off to explore a few countries to the south: Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Austria.  We only had a week to travel so we didn’t want to waste time in airports, even though flying between European countries is about the price of Chinese take out.  We wanted to really see the countries we were traveling through, and it’s been on my life list to take a sleeper train across Europe since I was a little girl, so rail it was.

budapest, hungary

We stayed  in a cheap little hotel in the middle of Budapest, which was about four times the size of our digs in Warsaw.  We spent the entire first day sleeping and relaxing in our own individual beds {luxury!} before heading out to explore the city.  {I want to add a side-note that American continental breakfasts are a sham.  We ate like kings in everywhere we stayed: a full spread of pastries, cold cuts, different types of coffees, teas, and juices, fruit and eggs.}

I don’t know what it was about Budapest, but the entire city felt so sad to me.  It’s such a gorgeous place, just breathtaking, but there’s a melancholy that lingers in the air all over Hungary.  It was so hard hit during World War II and the aftermath, and Budapest doesn’t feel like it has come out from under it entirely.

danube river

I begged Viktor to go see the Shoes on the Danube, we walked right past it, but he absolutely refused.  I can’t really blame him; there are memories of such horror around every corner in eastern Europe.  We were within shouting distance of all kinds of concentration camps, and even though I genuinely wanted to visit them it wasn’t something Viktor wanted to revisit.  He and his family have been so personally affected by the atrocities of World War II that he wasn’t interested in seeing any of it, and in the end that was a good choice.  There were a couple of monuments that had Precocious sick to her stomach, in tears.

Budapest isn’t all sad though.  There was an entire street of vintage clothing shops down the way from our hotel, the food was amazing, and the city is absolutely stunning.  There’s so much to do and see, and in the end it was entirely worth it if for no other reason than to enjoy the baths.

In fact, that’s pretty much the main reason we went to Hungary: to experience the ancient Turkish baths of Budapest.

Europe pastry

We filled up on pastries first like any good tourist should before heading to bathe for the day, and loaded up like we did every morning on Coke/Pepsi Light and bubbly water.  The spas have food but I’d recommend eating ahead of time because they’re a little expensive.  We smuggled in our bubbly water, which I recommend if you’re going to spend the whole day sweating in hot baths.  Dehydration is the pits, especially when traveling.

4 things before I forget:

  • 1} no wonder I GAINED 10 lbs in Europe!  Pastries around every corner.  Jerks.
  • 2} decide which of the two main baths you want to go to: the old school style where bathing is segregated by gender {oh noes!} or the other one.  We chose the other one.
  • 3} if there’s any possible way to arrange buying tickets to the baths ahead of time, do it.  The girl at the front desk of our hotel did all the bargaining on the phone for us, bought and printed out our passes on the spot, and gave us direction to the baths so we wouldn’t get lost.  It was a lifesaver.  Even though Hungarian and Polish are somewhat interchangeable {read: sort of/not much/not really}, we needed all the help we could get.
  • 4} the HUF, or Hungarian Forint is a pretty volatile currency which changes by the day, so avoid buying tickets for things way in advance.  If we were in Budapest right now our tickets to the baths would be a fraction of what they were in May.  We spent about $100 for our family of 4 to bathe, which included an entire day of bathing, 4 towels, a 25 minute massage each for me and Viktor, and a private cabin for changing.
budapest hot baths

The Széchenyi Bath, the non-segregated one we chose is simply breathtaking.  It’s the largest medicinal bath in Europe and we spent the entire day soaking in every one of its 18 baths.

I take that back, not every one of its baths.  The one below is swim-caps-only-speedo-wearing-old-people-no-splashing-bathing.

Szechenyi baths

Other than the main lap pool for old people in speedos, everything else is fair game for everyone young and old.  Even the Finnish saunas with temperatures up to 120-135F.  Charming lasted in one of those for precisely 25 seconds, and even I the queen of saunas, hot tubs, and steam rooms could only handle the boiling hot temperatures for a few minutes at a time.  There was an old dude in a speedo in the hottest sauna for over 15 minutes straight and he emerged energized and not-dead, so I suppose one has to work up to these things.

mineral baths

The circular bath in the center of one of the main outdoor pools has a version of a “lazy river” where water propels you in a circle for a few minutes at a time every 15 minutes or so.  I’m going to go ahead and tell you right now, the “lifeguard” rules in Budapest are a little, how you say, LAX?  We dubbed this pool the “not-so-lazy-river” because of the jet propulsion like water that shot Charming like a cannon around the circle.  If he’d been a fraction less of a competent swimmer he’d have drowned in a heartbeat.

hot pools

My kids were thrilled with the lack of rules.  They’re so used to the pool Nazis with whistles and a bit of power at our local pool {poor choice of wording- forgive me}, so they really lived it up while they had the chance.

budapest baths

If we ever moved to Budapest for some inexplicable reason, I’d get a season pass to Széchenyi Bath in a heartbeat.  I could. not. get. enough.  There were hot and cold tubs to jump in and out of to “revive” the heart, several properly hot saunas {there’s a dearth of these in the states}, food poolside, jet propulsion pools, baths with temperatures of 125 degrees, massages by scary yelling slapping men who make you get naked in front of them, and enough spectacular people watching to last a year.

Just how I like it.

Minus the getting naked in front of the scary Hungarian massage therapist.  That’s not how I like it.  Not at all.

speedo on old man

This was the best of the people watching from our entire trip; we called this fellow Rasputin, in our heads and only to each other of course, we didn’t want to be murdered in our sleep.  He seemed to be everywhere at the baths and freaked me out every time he walked past.

I think he’s a regular.

turkish baths

We stayed all day long and didn’t leave a moment before the kids were thoroughly exhausted and pruny.

wrinkled hands

To this day when we talk about Europe, the children list the baths in Budapest as one of their top 5 best experiences, Rasputin included.

budapest, hugary

It didn’t hurt that the restaurant across the street was something-something-something-Elefant cafe.

Touché Budapest, you win.

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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. girlsmama :

    Hubby served his LDS mission in Hungary. We love it there! Budapest is a little sad though…that feeling slides away more as you venture out of the capital into the countryside and other smaller cities.

    The Szechenyi baths are wonderful! We always make sure to plan some time there. So glad you got to visit! Hungary is so often overlooked.

  2. Liz@thisfullhouse :

    My parents were both born in Hungary. We visited when I was 2 (don’t remember) and 6 (have a scar from a nasty fall) traveled on my own in my twenties and introduced my husband to the relatives (and those awesome Hungarian pastries) in 1990. Thanks for sharing. Now, I want to go back. It’s been way too long.

  3. Kelleyn :

    What fun for your family! My husband is determined to build one of those super hot saunas in our house. He is tired of the luke warm temps at the YMCA sauna. My husband is from Germany and he often calls people Nazi’s like our bus driver who seems not to children and only wants them to look forward and sit with their book bags on their laps. My poor son is always in trouble. Can’t wait to see the rest of your travels.

  4. Anias :

    Deets on this cheap hotel in Budapest? I’m heading there in the spring.

  5. Dani :

    My husband’s great grandparents were from Hungary and I have always wanted to go there. In the next few years I’m going to make it happen. Can’t wait to hear about the rest of your trip.

    • Allison :

      Dani, it’s an amazing trip, one you won’t forget. Do whatever you can to make it happen.

  6. Katrin :

    That café is called (if I can read it correctly, the print’s rather small) “Fehér Elefant” – that’s just white elefant in Hungarian ;-)
    And the Hungarians have a penchant for suffering, their default setting is melancholy – much like us Austrians :-)

    • Allison :

      Ha! Love it. Not sure White Elephant means the same thing in Hungary as it does in America. Funny.

      Polish people are the same as the Hungarians, melancholy indeed.

  7. Silvia :

    Great post! Have been waiting for this one ever since you started blogging about your trip in Europe. I am happy you enjoyed your time in here.

    • Allison :

      Silvia, it was so wonderful!

  8. Kerry :

    I love reading posts about your trip because you just ooze with enthusiasm and true appreciation for every bit of it. You are one of those people that *should* be living overseas for a while. If you ever come to the EU again, please stop by the Netherlands! I would be happy to take you around Utrecht :)

    • Allison :

      Kerry, I would absolutely kill to come to the Netherlands and I promise if I do I’ll look you up! You’d better believe I loved this trip, it was absolutely magnificent, everywhere we visited was magnificent actually. I can’t wait to come back!

  9. RachelSD :

    Great recap– what a fun day for all of you! One of my biggest regrets of my time in Istanbul in 2010 was that my husband and I didn’t do a Turkish bath (in fairness, we were both VERY sick and running to the pharmacy every couple of days so I wouldn’t cough up a lung). Your children must have just been out of their minds with excitement to have had that day in the midst of all the other travelling you did. :)

    • Allison :

      Rachel, I can’t imagine being abroad and being so sick, how sad! My children completely loved every single part of it, every last ounce. I hope you get back to Istanbul {I’d LOVE to travel there} and try out the Turkish baths.