Truly a forgotten pearl of central Europe. Slightly larger than Vienna, much more lively and attractive, it nevertheless gets much less attention. The fact that Budapest has only been easily accessible for foreigners for around twenty years probably contribute to this. Formerly known to westerners only for being the centre of events during the 1956 revolution and later ‘Gulash-communism’, today the city has the potential to become a more attractive tourist location than the nearby Austrian capital. It is rougher in the edges - more hobos, bad graffiti and derelict buildings - but abounds of beautiful (primarily late 19th century) architecture and a vibrant night - and day - life.
The town has an extensive World Heritage Site which includes the parliament building on the banks of the Danube - in my opinion one of the prettiest buildings in the world - the Buda Castle Quarter, Andrássy Avenue (the equivalent of the Parisian Champs Elysées), Hősök tere (Heroes' Square, where our flat was located) and the underground (the oldest in the world after London's). Other must-see sites include the synagogue (the largest in Europe and second largest in use in the world), Halászbástya (the Fisherman's Bastion), the Opera and many more. It would be unthinkable to go to Budapest without stopping at one of its amazing, elegant historical cafés. Café Gerbeaud and the New York Café will send you back to the beginning of the 20th century in a sip! The numerous tea houses are also worth the while. And don't forget to take a swim in one of its many thermal baths. Last time I was there, I went to the Széchenyi thermal bath, which is located only 10 minutes from Hősök tere. What a wonderful experience to enjoy a warm bath under the stars!
I also suggest you to go Művész Art MoziAddress:to, a wonderful movie-theatre located at Teréz körút 30, really close to Oktogon. This alternative cinema screens independent Hungarian and international films.
For veggies, life is not as hard as one may think (much easier for example than in France). On Jókai utca, north-west of the Oktogon metro station, there are several organic food stores where you may find gluten powder for as little as €1.2! A local favourite is the Hungarian strudel - rétes. It comes filled with cheese, cabbage (my favourite), poppy-seeds or the more familiar apple and can be found - with varying quality - at most cafés and in exclusive rétes shops.
Napfényes Étterem, Rozsa utca 39
This place is my favourite restaurant in Budapest. It is rustic with a touch of elegance, located in a cellar with an arched roof. This vegan restaurants serves Hungarian specialities - which is always a bonus for vegetarians - and pizzas. By the way, the vegan pizza I ordered, Magyaros or Hungarian pizza, was one of the best I've ever had. The menu is divided into soups, main dishes, side dishes, pizzas, desserts and beverages and it's written in Hungarian, German and English. There is also a salad bar and a small corner where you can buy fauxmeat products and vegan cheeses. Try the lemonade with rose water, a delight!
Széchenyi thermal bath. Photo courtesy of Ulla Arnby
Hummus Bar, Kertesz utca
Hummus Bar, Alkotmany utca
These are probably the places where I went the most. An easy winner for most occasions - a quick lunch, a meeting with a friend or a date - are the Israeli Hummus Bars that can be found on three different locations in central Pest, two of which are purely vegetarian - and unless I misunderstood the waiter, also vegan. But ask first just to be sure. The vegetarian ones are on Kertesz utca, southeast from Oktogon and Alkotmany utca close to the Parliament (which is the nicest one). They have excellent falafels, made on spot, and a pretty wide assortment of other goodies like eggplant salad, fried mushrooms and some Israeli specialities. In middle-eastern fashion, the waiters will keep your table supplied with complementary tea. There are also baklava and some other sweets for desert. The plates are a bit too big for one (unless you are really hungry), but a bit too small for two, so adding sides dishes to a main is a good idea.
Govinda, Vigyázó Ferenc utca 4
Govinda Veggie Corner, Panövelde utca 1
Govinda was the first vegetarian restaurant I went to in Pest, about two years ago. Hare-krishna restaurants are always a good solution for vegetarians or vegans, for they don't use egg nor meat in their cooking and you can find them in almost every Western capital. The setting is quite nice, the food is spicy and flavourful as I like it (though the lack of onion and garlic can be a bit disturbing) and the price is decent (by weight). Vegans, be careful though, ghee is used in some of the dishes! Govinda Veggie Corner, which recently opened, is to my taste, a more attractive location. It also seems that there far more vegans options there.
Napos Oldad, Jókai utca 7
While this salad bar offers mostly vegan and fresh food, I suggest you to go there only for a snack, for example, to enjoy a cup of tea and a piece of cake, which, from what I remember, were quite good. The atmosphere is nice and pleasant, but the price can be a bit high since you pay by weight. There is also a small shop where you can get vegan supplies.
Teaház a Vörös Oroszlánhoz, Jókai tér 8
The "Red Lion tea house" that has a truly impressively thick tea-menu, friendly staff and some pre-made veggie sandwiches (and Wi-Fi!). You can also buy tea there, however I suggest you to go instead to one of the organic stores in the area, which are cheaper and have a more ethical choice.
All this writing about Budapest has made me want to go back very soon! It is truly a wonderful city, one of the most beautiful I have seen. On another topic, this is the place where me and my sister-in-law got the fabric for my wedding dress! I haven't yet been to those places but I will definitely have a look next time I am in Budapest:
1000 tea, Váci utca 65
A tea house hidden in a courtyard off Pest`s throbbing tourist street, where you can apparently enjoy your drink on floor cushions.
Le-bar, Múzeum Körut 19
A small buffet-style place of only 7 seats, but where the food (especially the desserts) is said to be amazing.
Bioritmus, Lovohaz utca 1-5
An organic store offering vegan food, close to Moszkva tér, in the Mammut shopping mall (1st floor).