If one thing can be said of Budapest, it's that it's very easy on the eye. That is, after all, how it earned its moniker, ‘Paris of the East.’ And just like Paris, the Hungarian capital is getting a reputation for being a hedonistic paradise. Where better to have astag do?
While the blend of baroque and neoclassical architecture secured Budapest’s place as one of the continent’s most beautiful cities, its thriving social scene has ensured the Hungarian capital is unrivalled in Central and Eastern Europe as a destination to let loose and have fun. After strolling through its historic centre, appreciating the monolithic Hungarian Parliament building en route, sink a leisurely beer or two at a terrace bar on the banks of the Danube. The night is only just beginning in the city’s Jewish Quarter, where you can drift from one of the city’s uniqueruin barsto another until the morning commuters start stirring.
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While you may not have any ailments to treat, “taking the waters” at one of the city’s renownedthermal bathsis part of the essence of Budapest. Sitting on top of hot springs metres deep until the city’s foundations, an array of bathhouses offer a sure-fire way to cure what the local’s call a macskajaj (or a ‘cat’s wail’) – the mother of all hangovers.
When to Visit Budapest
Hungary’s capital city sears in hot summers and shimmers in cold winters, with the months in between staying dry and warm. In other words, it’s a city at its best in all seasons.
From March to May, the city is at ease with itself, not least because tourists are at a minimum so ideal for a stag party. Obviously this mean flights and accommodation are stable and much more affordable. The weather is typically dry with temperatures eeking up to 21c as locals prepare to party at the Budapest Beer Festival in May.
By far the busiest period - and conversely the hottest and wettest months of the year - in Budapest. With the mercury hitting 30c at times, visitors embrace the sticky heat in the summer months to rock out at Sziget music festival in August. Expect high prices but perhaps it’s a small price to pay for the buzzing atmosphere in the streets and bars.
With the tourist flood receding and the weather still temperate, September to November is an ideal time to bring your stag party as festival season grips the city. Highlights in a stacked events calendar include Budapest’s take on Oktoberfest and theBudapest Wine Festivalin September.
You’ll need to pack a lot of layers for a stay weekend in December to February, with temperatures regularly plummeting into the minus figures. Snow is commonplace in the city at this time of year, which only adds to the charm of its picture-perfect Christmas markets. If your stags are willing to tough it out in the icy chill, you can take full advantage of flights and rooms at their cheapest.
Bubbling underneath Budapest and popular with stag goers are hundreds of natural hot springs, built intothermal bathsthat relax muscles and cure hangovers. Locals love these so much, it’s nicknamed the ‘city of spas’. The most famous isSzechenyi: a gorgeous complex with outdoor pools that, even in winter, steam at a toasty 77C. Dividing the city in two is theDanube, which from ariver cruise or boat partyyou can spot the regalBuda CastleandFisherman’s Bastionin Buda, and the Death Eater-esqueHungarian Parliament Buildingin Pest. For something different, play rare pinball machines at theFlipper Museum, or drink Hungary’s favourite liquor straight from the barrel at theZwack Unicum Museum.
In a city where closing times are still a novel concept, the mantra “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” has never been so readily adopted as an unofficial city motto as in Budapest.
Thanks to a strong entrepreneurial drive, it is fast overstripping cities like Berlin in the late night clubbing stakes, having transformed abandoned and crumbling Soviet-era buildings into quirky, often retro, bars and nightclubs. No two are ever the same; you can be in a dreamlike state at an early evening rave at Instant (which is open till 6am seven nights a week) or be drinking pints in an East German Trabant car at Budapest’s most famous ‘ruin bar,’ Szimpla Kert.
While two lines of the metro close slightly later on Fridays and Saturdays, night buses take up the rest of the slack, making sure you and your stags get home safely regardless of when you decide to turn in, grabbing a gyros to ravenously devour on the way.
Getting Around Budapest
The most reliable mode of transport to get around town during a stag weekend are your feet. Budapest has a compact city centre with all the main cultural sites and bars within walking distance of each other. Pest, on the eastern bank of the river Danube, is where the city comes alive after dark. The bars and clubs of the inner city districts, particularly in the Jewish Quarter, are clustered close together, making walking (read staggering) from bar to bar the easiest option.
Boasting the second oldest underground railway network in the world (after London), the Budapest metro has been in service since 1896. With 52 stations along four lines spreading across the city centre, it is also one of the most comprehensive ways of getting around. A single fare will set you back92p (350 HUF)or a24-hour pass costs £4.30 (1650 HUF). Alternatively, up to five people can travel on the24-hour group travel card which is £8.60 (3300 HUF). The metro opens at4.30am and ends after 11.50pm, dovetailing your night out on the tiles perfectly. TheM2 and M4 lines close an hour later on Fridays and Saturdays.
Here is a handy guide to Budapest’s public transport network.
Much slower than the Metro, Budapest’s 30 tramlines often feel more like open-top bus tours, especially the number two line which skirts the Danube and gives you views of the river, Castle Hill, the Hungarian Parliament and more. The bright yellow trams run to a similar timetable as the Metro with the same ticket prices applicable.The busiest line, number 6, which travels along Pest’s Grand Boulevard, operates around the clock. Don’t forget to validate your ticket or travel pass on each journey.
Much like the rest of Budapest’s integrated transport network, the city’s bus routes are extensive and offer a more scenic way of appreciating Budapest’s beautiful architecture. Buses stop operating around midnight, when night bus services kick in to replace metros and trams every 10-15 minutes in inner districts. Tickets can be bought from vending machines or from the driver but that can hold up traffic.
Like an increasing number of cities, Budapest has banned Uber but there are a few Uber alternatives available, such as Bolt. After downloading the app, Bolt works like Uber but uses local licenced taxis. Fares are reasonable, costing around£8 (3100 HUF) for a five-mile journey.
When searching for a taxi in Budapest, it's very important to avoid cars without a company logo of any kind: these usually just have a sign on the roof that simply reads 'taxi'. These are well-known for being fake and will likely result in a hefty scam.
How to Stay Safe in Budapest
When it comes to crime, Budapest is by far one of the safest cities in Europe to visit on any stag weekend. That said, petty offences are still as rife as you would expect in a big city popular with tourists. Pickpocketing and bag snatching are the norm, especially on public transport, in metro stations and around tourist hotspots. Even if you’re going to get stick from the other stags, you might want to consider wearing a less-than-chic travel belt or bumbag for your valuables.
While increasingly less common since the introduction of bylaws in 2013 to prevent drivers charging different rates, taxi rip-off scams still do happen here. Unless taking a cab is the simplest or quickest means of getting somewhere, it’s best to avoid using them altogether in favour of public transport.If you do need a taxi, only travel in licensed cabs, which are yellow with taxi signs on the roof and fares displayed on the taxi.