Hungary August 2012
In august last year I travelled to Hungary for a two week holiday of festival madness and relaxing on the beach. It was my second trip to Hungary, having gone in 2011 with my Hungarian boyfriend for a trip around the country to visit his friends and family that live out there. This time we were there primarily for Sziget Festival, a week long music festival that takes place in the middle of Budapest. We took a load of friends out with us and after a mad week of partying in Budapest, went off to Balaton for a week of recovery by the lake.
We arrived a couple of days before the start of the festival and so spent a little time sight seeing in Budapest. Budapest is a truly stunning city, consisting of beautiful historic architecture, vibrant outdoor social areas and bustling night life. Unlike the centre of London which is very much a place designed for suited city workers and money spending tourists, Budapest’s centre is full of young, colourful, carefree Hungarians catching up with friends, lounging with a cool beer in the park, enjoying free live music and getting together for skate boarding and roller blading competitions. There is plenty to see in Budapest in terms of tourist attractions, museums and galleries, but it’s very easy to get lost in a shady spot under a tree for a day, or in one of the many lively outdoor bars, whiling away the day with a spot of people watching.
Equally, if you prefer a more productive tourist day, head up to Buda Castle or the liberty statue on Gellert Hill for stunning views across the whole of Pest side of the city. Budapest is a relatively small capital city and from up there you can see right to the edge of the city and the across the stunning rolling hills that surround it. Hero Square, City Park and the Hungarian Parliament building are also must see sights and all within easy walking distance of each other. We didn’t get a chance to go but Budapest is also famous for its hot spas which I will definitely be visiting when I go to Hungary again this summer.
The main reason we were in Budapest last year was not for the sight seeing but for Sziget. Sziget is a week long music festival that last year celebrated its 20th year as well as winning the Best Major European Festival award. I’m not much of a festival goer but friends of mine that came too said it is probably most comparable to Glastonbury by the fact it is such a large festival with so much going on other than just music, such as circus acts, street performers and craft tents, (in fact many of my friends said they thought it was in fact better than Glastonbury). It is located right in Budapest, taking over the whole of Obudai Island, making it a great location if you’d like to do some sight seeing around Budapest in the day times.
One of the main things that Sziget has going for it that make it better than any UK festival is the price. For a 7 day pass including camping it is only 199 euros! We went for a 5 day non-camping ticket which cost 169 euros, (the two extra days you get with the camping ticket are not official festival days and although there is music going on it’s apparently not really worth the extra money unless you happen to want to camp anyway. Hostels are dirt cheap in Budapest and so it’s not worth the camping ticket just to save money on accommodation). You can also get day passes which cost about 45 euros each. Once you get in the festival the cheap prices continue and you can get a pint of beer for about £1.50 or a glass of wine for about 50 pence! The other main factor that puts Sziget ahead of UK festivals is of course the weather. Obviously good weather cannot be relied upon but temperatures last year were about 30 degrees, so no wellies and rain macs taking up your luggage allowance!
The festival itself was amazing. I won’t spend time going through the week step by step, or review any bands as I would just be repeating over and over how seriously incredible everything was! What I will say is that it is a festival to cater for almost all tastes. The music line-up was varied, covering everything from gypsy folk bands to metal and everything in between, with a line-up last year including The Stone Roses, Korn, Snoop Dog, LMFAO and Paolo Nutini, just to name a few! We watched a fair few of the headliners but spent most of our time browsing the many other tents and stages including the blues, gypsy and rock stages. If, at any stage you want a break from the music, there is plenty more to keep you entertained. Take your pick from bungee jumping, craft tents, watching one of the many circus acts or street performers, or simply lazing in the sunshine with a beer.
Food and drink is cheap and delicious and widely diverse. Everything from traditional Hungarian dishes, Indian curries, burgers, pizza, noodles, kebabs, vegan, waffles, pasta etc, etc is readily available and what’s more, with so many bars and food stalls to choose from, you’ll very rarely find yourself in a queue for more than a couple of minutes.
As I mentioned, we decided not to camp, and as soon as we got to the festival, felt instantly grateful for our decision. With temperatures reaching 35%, I don’t think I would have been able to stand the heat in a tent, but also, the high temperatures mixed with the lack of rain meant that, where mud is the problem at UK festivals, dust is the problem at Sziget. Literally everything was coated in dust, including all the tents, and so it was well worth queuing for a taxi at the end of the night in order to get back to our hostel for a shower and a clean bed! Saying that, some of my friends were camping there and had no complaints about it but they must obviously be more hardcore festival goers than the rest of us!
We stayed in a hostel called Mandarin, pretty much in the centre of Budapest. It was a great location for exploring Budapest from, being within walking distance from all the main attractions. To get to the festival took about 30 minutes on public transport, but getting home we got taxis which cost about £8 for all of us and took about 20 minutes so we’d probably do that all the time in the future.
The hostel itself was great. The owner caused a few problems, mainly due to language barriers and a complete lack of organisation, but once I’d finally managed to get him to check us in and we had no more to do with him, the hostel was our haven. We had a four bed private dorm with ensuit bathroom which cost us only about £8 each per night, and despite the building work going on outside our window was very comfortable. The hostel had a nice big fully equipped kitchen and dinning area where we made breakfast every morning, comfy modern seating area with television, and an outdoor courtyard. Despite the rather frustrating owner, I would recommend this hostel, (although some of the larger, shared dorms did look a little cramped and didn’t have windows so must have got pretty hot), and in fact we are staying in the same place this summer (if the owner finds our booking that is)!
Nick, my boyfriend, is half Hungarian and his mother owns a house out by lake Balaton that she rents out to holiday makers and so after the festival we all head out there for a week of relaxing on the beach and supposed detoxing. Although the partying was obviously not as full on as at the festival, there is an annual wine festival that takes up a mile long stretch by the lake, selling excellent wine at about 30pence a glass and just so happened to be on for the whole time we were there! I’m not a fan of wine but enjoyed the festival anyway just for the vibe and atmosphere. A mile of cheap wine tents in Britain would probably have to be patrolled by an entire squadron of police, but the drinking culture in Hungary is much more relaxed with everyone simply getting merry together and in fact we didn’t see one hint of trouble whilst we were there.
The lake itself is beautiful. It’s one of the biggest lakes in Europe, stretching 77 kilometres wide. The section we were at is in an area called Fured which is a popular holiday destination for Hungarians as well as having a large German tourist scene. You have to pay to get onto the decent parts of the beach, but only about a couple of pounds and it’s well worth it. The lakeside is dotted with food and drink stalls and so with perfect weather for sunbathing, gorgeous warm water for swimming and kayaks and pedalos for the slightly more energetic, there’s no need to move whilst you’re there.
Last year we mainly stuck to the beach but there is plenty more to do in the area if you aren’t recovering from a week of festivalling. There is a great short walk up to a view point that looks over the town, or for a longer walk, a short train ride away and you come to an area of volcanoes that makes a great day trip if you’re up for the walk in the heat.
We had planned to save a bit of money by buying and cooking our own food at the house but there are so many amazing restaurants serving huge platefuls of delicious Hungarian food, for about £5 per person including drinks, that we ended up eating out every single meal without having to worry about breaking the bank.
Overall everyone that came had an amazing time in hungary, at both the festival and the house, so much so that we are all going again this year, along with a load more friends that became jealous after our continuous rants about how great a time we had last year. I would highly recommend Hungary as a place to visit as it truely has something for everyone, whether you are looking for culture, beautiful architecture, stunning country side views, sunning yourself on the beach, a boozy holiday with your mates, a romantic break away, or a family holiday.