With East meets West cultural influences on display in both the majestic Austrian-Hungarian Empire architecture and crumbling statues of one-time Soviet heroes, Budapest offers a hedonistic hybrid of elegance and gritty grunge. We’re not just talking metaphorically either. The Hungarian capital literally is two cities with Buda and Pest separated by the iconic Danube River. Hilly Buda is full of graceful architecture such as the Castle and Fisherman’s Bastion, and looks down onto bustling Pest, the city’s commercial hub. Together it makes Budapest an enticing and evolving destination with breathtaking old world grandeur and a thriving contemporary cultural life.
Budapest is home to an abundance of attractions and a walk along the Danube will allow you to catch a glimpse of many of them. The Danube Promenade is crossed by the iconic Chain Bridge, which, depending on which side of the city you are on, will take you to the historic Castle Hill. Back in Pest, take in Hungary’s Parliament Building, Budapest Opera House, The Great Synagogue and Matthias Church before taking a dip with the locals at one of Budapest’s famous thermal baths. There are plenty to choose from, Gellert Spa with its beautiful Art Nouveau architecture dating back to 1918 may be the nicest but Szechenyi is definitely the most photo worthy.
Hungarian food has lost none of its spice despite many years of communist rule and meats, rich sauces, and creamy desserts dominate the menu here. The smell of paprika, meats, rich sauces, creamy desserts and goulash is nowhere more present than at the magnificent Market Hall. Hungarian eateries are often decidedly no fuss and local cafeterias, diners and even train station takeaways can offer some seriously tasty selections. A walk along Raday will give you many options to choose from. More up-market restaurants are housed in heritage buildings around town and are where Budapest’s rich and famous come to dine and wine. Speaking of which, vineyards are having a renaissance in Hungary. Keep an eye out for local winemakers Villany, Somlo and Tokaj.
Where to Stay
As a city divided into districts, staying in districts 2, 5, 6 or 7 will keep you central and close to most of the major attractions. Keeping to your budget in Budapest definitely won’t be a problem with many excellent lodgings for all types of visitors. The only catch is an increase in tourism means advance reservations are recommended. Luxury and business-class travelers are in for a particular treat and have numerous historic Habsburg-era hotels to choose from, many of which have their own thermal spas. Budget travelers can enjoy a bit of Magyar regality too since the lower end of the market is very competitive and thus very good.
Shopping options in Budapest are never limited and a growing Hungarian middle-class has seen many international luxury stores open in Budapest, mostly in the city centre and on Andrassy Avenue. The appeal though for most shoppers in Budapest is to seek out the unique finds in the city's myriad of vintage and antique shops. Esceri Market is one place to spend a day trawling Soviet-era relics and you can find many shops in Falk Miksa Street selling world-famous Hungarian porcelain. Market Hall has numerous individual vendors and is great for souvenirs and food items while Dohany Street is where you’ll find trendy locals shopping for that night's outfit.
Budapest Like a Local
If you’ve heard anything about Budapest in recent years it’s probably been about ‘rubble’ or ‘ruin bars’. The basic concept is of transforming derelict buildings into wonderfully atmospheric bars. They don’t have signs directing the entrance, you won’t hear any loud noise from the street and there’s unlikely to be a line of people waiting to get in. In fact from the outside, these bars look just like normal homes so you’re going to have to befriend a local to find one. Once you do though you’ll no doubt find yourself in the middle of a bustling crowd talking, dancing, and enjoying a quintessential Budapest experience.