A few months back, I got engaged to Nicola. While this is obviously great, the even better news is that this meant a stag do. I gave my best man, Dave, a list of my friends and the brief of ‘a weekend break with some beers’, so that’s exactly what we did.
It turns out my friends are terrible at keeping secrets, so seventeen of us arrived at London Gatwick, and I pretended to be shocked that we were going to Budapest.
I’d never been to Hungary, so wasn’t really sure what to expect. And it turns out it’s a beautiful place. For some reason, I had expected Eastern European, communist-style stark concrete architecture. But the long tree-lined streets, gilded opera houses and high ceilings suggested Vienna rather than Belgrade. Instead of feeling polished and preserved, Budapest feels lived in. One of the lads said ‘it looks like Paris if they’d not maintained it for 15 years’. And it’s all the better for it.
We did some obligatory sightseeing, having a look across the Danube at the Parliament from Castle Hill, and wandered around the Fisherman’s Bastion. I’m not entirely sure what the fishermen were doing halfway up a hill or why they needed a bastion, but it had nice turreted buildings and a good view over the city. We also climbed the 364 steps of the tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica, to get an ever-so-slightly different vantage point of the city.
Although Hungary isn’t particularly renowned for its cuisine, the food in Budapest was great, and we certainly didn’t go hungry. We had an excellent Mexican dinner at a restaurant called Tereza, and a slightly hungover breakfast at the extremely photogenic Mazel Tov. On the final night, I decided we couldn’t spend a weekend in Budapest without sampling the local cuisine, so we headed to a little place called VakVarjú, where the goulash was thick, paprika-ry and delicious, and the Hungarian pizzas were so tough they bent Andy’s knife.
Food and culture ticked off, we’d finished the ‘weekend break’ side of the weekend; it was now time for the beers. That’s where the ruin bars and craft breweries came in.
Dave had put together a list of bars where they served local pilsners, craft beers, and all sorts of suspiciously-strong local brews. Every evening we moved from bar to bar, drinking all of the beer they had on offer, before heading to a ruin bar to end the night with whoever had made it to that point.
Budapest’s Ruin bars are old warehouses and factories around the city, taken over by locals who have turned them into various creative spaces. In the daytime, they’re used for farmers markets, art exhibitions and performance spaces. By evening, they have transformed into bars and night clubs.
The largest, Szimpla Kert, is a maze of derelict rooms, all playing different music, in a ramshackle, chaotic mess of old cars, graffitied walls, wrought iron staircases, greenhouse roofs and bars with gurgling pipes and tubes lit in all manner of neon. It was grimy and thumping and perfect for a night out.
The only minor downside of being the stag on a stag do is that people get very generous with drinks. Many of my friends thought it would be a lovely gesture to buy me shots of ‘Unicum’, a potent local liquor. A mix of herbal flavours and spices and tasting a little like Jägermeister that’s been left in a shed, it’s truly nasty stuff, but I felt obliged to make my way through far too many of them. It tasted medicinal, so I can’t imagine it’s too bad for you. And it certainly improve my dancing.
In need of some rejuvenation, we headed to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Because nothing says ‘manly weekend away’ like a load of men having a bath together. In Budapest, you’re spoilt for choice thanks to the city’s location over 120 hot springs, but Széchenyi is the biggest, and meant to be one of the best with its 15 indoor baths and 3 outdoor pools. Despite the entire place smelling faintly of eggs, due to the sulphur in the water, it was very relaxing, and sorted out any fuzzy heads from the nights before.
After an exhausting weekend, having consumed a little culture and a lot of beer, and with my cheeks were hurting from laughing so much, I decided that Budapest makes the perfect destination for a group of blokes to wander around eating, drinking and generally cluttering up the place. The beers are delicious and cheap, and the city is beautiful but with an edge that doesn’t make it feel like a carefully preserved art gallery.
But the best thing by a mile was having so many of my friends with me. There’s something lovely about being part of a group where you’ve asked each and every person to come on holiday with you, and they couldn’t find a good enough excuse to say no. Great bunch of chaps, and a great city. Cheers, Dave.
We stayed at: No idea. Dave booked it. I’d recommend the Jewish Quarter though.
We ate at: Mazel Tov (mazeltov.hu)
We drank at: Again, no idea. Best ask Dave.
We danced at: Szimpla Kert (szimpla.hu/szimpla-garden)