Look, I’ll be the first person to admit that when I found out I’d be traveling to Budapest my only point of reference was George Ezra. Hell, as I sat in the Boston airport at t-minus 18 hours, Ezra was still my only reference point. Budapest just doesn’t occupy a very central role in the American tourist’s consciousness. But, for some reason or another, it’s the Australian’s and western European tourist’s Mecca. During my nine days in Budapest, for every one American tourist I met I’d meet four or five complementary Aussies and Brits.
Even more disappointing than my discovery of my country’s poor representation is that when I did meet a fellow American tourist, they minced no words getting to the point of their trip: “Oh yeah, man. Just graduated, all my friends have heard Budapest is the new party capital of Europe.” Then they’d continue: “So we’re dropping in, two or three days max. Just enough to hit all the big ruin bars.” And then the clincher, the line that would make my insides twist and turn: “Budapest’s great because, like, it’s cultured. You know? So you can feel like you didn’t totally just waste the trip.”
I stayed in a well-known party hostel for eight nights. The second longest stay I observed during my tenure was four. Every single night on a rotating schedule the hostel would organize outings with the hostel “family” to the Booze Boat Tour, to Instant/Fogashaz, to Szimpla, to Otkert. Rooted in my room of six as I was, I watched as four different cycles of travelers visited our room — only to leave two days later. And not to give the Americans a poor rep, but as a general rule, we partied harder and longer, and consequently had harder and longer hangovers. Meaning that when 9:30 a.m. rolled around and the Aussies and Brits were out and about taking in the city and its culture for their two-day-stay, we Americans were just too busy sleeping in. And sleeping in. And sleeping in. Nursing off our hangovers until we could wake up and start drinking some of that Budapesti beer once more, taking in some of that culture, man.
With the advent of the ruin bar in 2002, Budapest took its first step toward becoming the internationally-renowned party city it is today. And this isn’t a bad thing — the ruin bars are undeniably remarkable and worthy of as much attention as they can get. But what I would like to examine, and perhaps, to scrutinize, is this seeming tendency to come to Budapest only to party — and that drawn from my 9 days’ observation of a party hostel, this tendency seems to have uncanny geographic associations.
It appears to me that while Budapest has not yet earned a reputation with American tourists en masse, it most certainly has earned a reputation with American partiers. And hey, maybe they’re just the first wave that signals the flood — Budapest definitely deserves the American attention I know it could get. Because, in the end, American frat bros have the right idea: Budapest is a city with immense cultural wealth and incredible, seemingly endless options for less than wholesome nocturnal entertainment. Few cities achieve this balance as well as Budapest, which manages to contain the delightful debauchery of Las Vegas and the preppy pretentiousness of Boston at once. But Budapest is also 2000 years old, whereas America’s historic cities like Boston and Washington D.C. are just over 300 or even 200 years old. Budapest’s cultural wealth and history demands time, patience, and the willingness to explore beyond the city’s gimme tourist destinations. Trust me, you won’t find another city so full of surprises as Budapest. It’s an absolute charm to just walk around in.
This city is rich with sights beyond Google’s top recommended, but this kind of involved tourism also demands work.
So, I come to you today with a two-pronged plea. My first petition is for tourists of all banners and backgrounds to give Budapest more than just two days. This city is rich with sights beyond Google’s top recommended, but this kind of involved tourism also demands work. Get to walking north, south, or east of Erzsébet Square, or even to exploring the hills of Buda, and I promise you won’t be disappointed. In my opinion, Budapest is best experienced in the six to eight day range. However, I met one British woman who decided to spend 28 days exploring the city and was still finding something new every day.
I would also like to appeal to American tourists: Please catch up. If it’s your choice to do your best blackout drinking every night you’re in Budapest, power to you. But I’d implore you to save the blackout for just one or two nights, to let the other nights go a little slower, to soak in the ruin bar setting that’s built Budapest’s modern revival, rather than obliterate it from memory. Then, we’ll be a little bit better prepared to wake up and actually explore the city, to give the Aussies and Brits the tourism competition they deserve. I have no moralizing agenda and even less of a desire to tell you what to do with your time and money — I ask this of you out of my respect for a city I have come to love. Trust me, Budapest is worth your time and your money no matter where you spend it, but it’s also worth your attention. It’s not just another two-day party city to be arbitrarily checked off of your list.
Any reasonable person would say bringing six books on a seven week backpacking trip through Hungary, Poland, and Czechia is just asking for a heavier backpack. Fortunately, Luke is a not-very-reasonable person. *clears throat pretentiously* He’d like you to know that six books on hand are the minimum necessary for literary inspiration — He plans on starting the Next Great American novel during his time overseas. (Send apologies to his lower back around week four). When not actively being overambitious about his future career as a *mumbles incoherently*, Luke overcommitts himself to theater, journalism, and debate. Readers should expect Luke’s journey to feature constant references to Shakespeare and David Foster Wallace, an obsession with the cardinal directions, existential angst due to the lack of Thai food in central Europe, and a perfectly European (non)-platonic love for biking. Luke will return to Harvard in the fall as a much more tan (read: sunburnt) sophomore concentrating in Social Studies and Philosophy.