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Hidden Gem or Overrated Tourist Trap: I Put TikTok’s Travel Recommendations to the Test
Travel related TikTok's are more popular than ever, but how reliable is the app as a tool for holiday planning?
For many of us, TikTok has become an essential tool for holiday planning. Travel related feeds offer a never-ending stream of footage featuring travel gurus warning us off the overrated tourist traps, recommending airline hacks and sharing the secrets behind the hidden gems. No matter the destination, I know TikTok will have me covered with a plethora of content showcasing the must do’s and the must don’ts. But how reliable is it?
Once upon a time, us travel enthusiasts relied on the likes of review dedicated websites, like TripAdvisor, for honest opinions on the hottest tourist spots, as well as travel brochures and leaflets which, nowadays, are appearing to become a thing on the past.
In the last seven days alone, 21K TikToks were uploaded using #travel. In fact, the hashtags consistently remains among the highest performing on the platform, racking up more than 185 billion views overall, along with #holiday which has achieved 76 million views in the last week and 32 billion overall. With viewing figures consistently through the roof, it’s safe to say that travel TikTok does not seem to be slowing down.
So, in order to see what all the fuss was about, I decided to put its recommendations to the test and see if they really do live up to the hype or whether I should go back to the dusty but reliable review websites.
First things first, I needed to decide on a destination. A quick TikTok search of “best affordable places to travel in Europe” quickly made it clear that Budapest, Hungary was the place I needed to be. The related videos concluded that Budapest would be a budget friendly, fun and picturesque getaway break which is ideal for this time of year. I followed TikTok advice on how to bag the best flights and I was off.
1. Travelling around in Budapest- Bolt
When researching the best way to get about the city, TikTok suggested I downloaded the taxi service app “Bolt” before arriving. I was told by various travel influencers that it was the “go to” taxi service in Hungary, and much more popular than competitors such as Uber. As soon as I stepped foot out of the airport, I was met by what could only be described as a sea of bright yellow Bolt taxis. I quickly booked one via the app, selected the location of my Airbnb, pre-paid using Apple Pay, and within minutes I was in the back of a taxi. As a female traveller, hopping in the back of taxis can often feel quite daunting but, throughout the whole trip, Bolt taxis felt extremely safe and reliable with plenty of signage proving their licence and confirming the rate they charge. The drivers were friendly and polite, yet not overbearing, and I felt comfortable knowing that I wasn’t going to be charged a fortune as the app had told me exactly what to expect.
Overall, I can’t fault Bolt taxi and therefore would give this recommendation a 10/10. However, just a few minutes in Budapest made it clear that Bolt was the go-to method of travel along with the tram. So, realistically I could’ve worked that one out for myself rather than TikTok letting me know. Nevertheless, it was nice to be prepared and have the app ready to go once I landed.
Prosecco boat tour
When researching the things that I absolutely must do, a prosecco boat tour along the river Dunube appeared in almost every single TikTok video, so naturally, I headed straight there after checking in. The ticket price was around £16 which included the boat tour itself along with an unlimited amount of prosecco. TikTok recommended to go at sunset to get the most out of the experience and that’s exactly what I did.
The views from the tour itself were breathtakingly beautiful, it lasted for 90 minutes and a recording of a tour guide played through speakers when passing key monuments. Ultimately, the views would have been worth the ticket price of around £16 even without the copious amounts of prosecco. There were other boat tour providers offering slightly differing services, but this one offered a few alcohol-free drinks at the front of the boat, and waiters walking from table to table, for the whole 90 minutes, always topping up the prosecco in your glass, even if just a few sips had been taken since the last top up. As a result, it’s safe to say I stumbled off the boat but overall, it was a great experience.
Fortunately, due to being near the front of the queue to board the boat I managed to secure a table on the top deck with a lovely view. However, it’s safe to say that, potentially due to TikTok, this “hidden gem” of an excursion isn’t so “hidden” anymore. Due to its popularity, more tickets than tables available were sold meaning that both floors of the boat were incredibly busy with people sat in between the rows of tables, all desperate to get the perfect pictures.
Ultimately, the tour itself was an amazing experience and I am glad that I was able to see the sunset views for myself. But, I would like to go again at a quieter time slot, or albeit a more sober one, to be able to hear the tour guide recording and learn a little more about the city. I would give this TikTok recommendation a 9/10 and definitely suggest it as a must do
Food- Circusz, Pizza Dellarosso, Chimney Cake
Circusz was a food spot on the recommendation lists of almost every video I had seen. The café itself had a casual feel to it and was mainly made up of tables that seated six or more people. Those waiting to be seated that were of a smaller party were all asked if they would be willing to share tables, which everybody was. This wasn’t an issue as each group still had plenty of space to eat and chat, although I can see how sharing a table with strangers would be off putting to some.
In terms of food, Circusz was slightly more on the expensive side in comparison to other, less well-known, cafés in the city. However, it is still very reasonably priced in comparison to what you would pay for the same food in any UK city. I opted for the “recovery breakfast”, it was delicious and I would return simply for their mouth-watering breakfast potatoes. The service was extremely friendly and it was a very positive experience. I would give the café an 8/10 as, after exploring the city a bit more, I am sure there are plenty of other breakfast spots that are just as good but haven’t received the TikTok seal of approval yet.
As dinner time approached, I opted for Pizza Dellarosso, a small restaurant on the outskirts of the city centre. I had only seen this particular pizza restaurant recommended once on TikTok, but that one clip had me sold as it looked so good. It was tucked away and quiet, extremely reasonably priced, and by far, the best pizza I have ever had (and I don’t say that lightly). I have not stopped thinking about the shredded duck pizza since arriving home and for that season Pizza Dellarosso is a 10/10 spot.
On my last day in Budapest, it was time to finally Kürtoskalács, or “Chimney Cake”, a a popular sweet delicacy in Hungary. I opted for a classic cinnamon one and enjoyed it in the sun in front of the water fountain besides the Ferris Wheel of Budapest. It was delicious and a must try.
Memorials and Viewpoints
Fisherman’s Bastion comes highly recommended through TikTok as a free picturesque viewpoint. While I agree that the architecture of the tourist spot is beautiful and the view is lovely, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly underwhelmed. In order to fully appreciate the views from Fisherman’s Bastion you would have to pay an entry fee. The free areas were extremely crowded with other tourists all trying to capture a few snaps in the iconic spots and there was a wedding taking place at the time which put a few areas off limits. I would say the Fisherman’s Bastion is fine and worth a quick look around while you’re there but it is slightly overrated in comparison to some of the other breath-taking views on offer close by. Therefore, I’d give it a 6/10.
On the other hand, Buda Castle was a pleasant surprise. I had seen a few videos recommending it so I headed up to the viewpoints on my way to Fisherman’s Bastion. The views were lovely and although there were plenty of other tourists, it didn’t feel massively overcrowded. I’d rate it an 8/10.
However, TikTok had not recommended the Gellert Statue to me. Understandably, I think the steep walk up to the monument would be slightly off-putting to many, especially on a hot day. But it was definitely my favourite of the city viewpoints and therefore receives a 9/10 from me.
Quite frankly, you can’t visit Budapest without seeing the Shoes on the Dunube Bank. The World War II memorial is hard to put into words and definitely brings a lump to the throat when you see it for yourself.
1. Iconic drinking spots
When researching Budapest (on TikTok) it quickly becomes clear that the city has a vibrant nightlife with a lot of unique establishments. The ruins bars, 360 Bar, Tiki Bar, and the For Sale Pub appears at the top of almost all of the nightlife recommendation lists.
Starting with the ruins bars, while I didn’t experience these as much as I would’ve liked I would still rate them highly. They are a unique and memorable part of a night out in Budapest, so definitely worth a visit.
Unfortunately, for me, the 360 Bar did not live up to it’s hype. After paying an entry fee, I got to experience the panoramic views of the city at sunset which was beautiful and definitely worth it. The bar had a busy and the other guests created a nice atmosphere. However, considering the price point, the service was fairly poor in my experience, with a long wait for an average drink. I’m hoping I just caught the bar on an off day and therefore will give it a 6/10.
Tiki Bar on the other hand was amazing! A high-spirited atmosphere with incredible service and unique yet delicious cocktail menu. We opted for the bar staff to surprise us, picking only “pineapple” and the strength for our sharer cocktail which was reasonable priced.
Finally, I visited the For Sale pub before heading home. The pub is all over TikTok as it is known for being, floor to ceiling, covered in notes left by customers from all over the world. The pub had an extremely relaxed atmosphere and the staff were friendly, although disappointed that I opted for an orange juice rather than alcohol. Overall, I’d give the pub a 8/10.
I had an unforgettable time in Budapest, and thanks to TikTok, explored a variety of places which I wouldn’t have even had known existed. I would recommend TikTok as a helpful tool when planning your next trip, however I’d say use it as inspiration as opposed to a step-by-step guide as its still important to find places for yourself and experience the real hidden gems as opposed to just the ones which TikTok has unveiled.