Elegant but edgy, historic but vibrant, Budapest is a mainstay on lists of the Most Beautiful Cities in Europe. The Grande Dame city is separated into two unique sections — Buda and Pest — by the Danube River, with islands floating in between the two sides. Spread throughout are UNESCO World Heritage sites, notable museums, authentic food, and over 80 geothermal hot springs, making there plenty to experience in this jewel of a city.
Photo Credit: About Hungary
Pedestrian-friendly Budapest is a great place for walking tours, which can be tailored to your interests and will help reveal some hidden gems. Tour operator Unique Budapest features some outings covering topics like architecture, design, music, castles (Buda is the castle quarter), the famous Jewish neighborhood and one that showcases the city nightlife.
On your own, explore the banks of the Danube and walk across Chain Bridge, the first to link Buda with Pest. Stroll along mansion-lined Andrassy Avenue and to Hero’s Square Memento Park (filled with statues from the communist era). Then take a tour or catch a performance at one of the city’s top attractions, the stunning opera house. There are also numerous museums worth a visit (despite the name, the Terror Museum is a must).
In the evening, walk Vaci Street — considered one of the best pedestrian-only streets in the world — to explore the cafés, trendy restaurants and designer shops. The Budapest Card gets you unlimited use of public transport (the tram system is a snap to navigate) and discounts at museums, restaurants, river cruises and more.
Where to eat:
Hungary’s cuisine is known for flavorful specialties like salami, goulash, dumplings and paprika—the latter used to spice up a wide array of dishes. You can get a home-cooked taste of many of them, accompanied by live gypsy music, at Fakanál Restaurant, on the second floor of the Central Market Hall. Enjoy views of Buda Castle and gourmet dishes at Spoon Café & Lounge, set on a docked boat on the Danube, then sample palinka (traditional fruit liqueurs) and chocolate bonbons at BARbar Café on Vaci Street. Start or end the day lingering at one of Budapest’s historic coffeehouses, like Central, which opened in 1887.
Where to stay:
A 19th-century former nobleman’s house is now the Hotel Palazzo Zichy, a centrally located spot with 80 rooms, a lobby bar and breakfast buffet served in a glass-roofed restaurant (room rates start at about $100 a night and include breakfast and WiFi; hotel-palazzo-zichy.hu).
In the more residential embassy neighborhood, the Bauhaus-style Mamaison Hotel Andrassy has 68 comfortable rooms, free WiFi, and an art deco restaurant with a terrace overlooking famous Andrassy Avenue (room rates start at about $119 a night and include WiFi; mamaison.com).
With more than 80 hot springs in the area, Budapest has a long history of wellness, with locals and visitors alike still making regular use of the mineral-rich waters. It was officially dubbed “Spa City” in 1934. You can fill up on mineral water at taps around town, or soak the day away at one of the classic spa complexes.
On the Buda side of the city, the Gellert Bath and Hotel, opened in 1918, has several indoor mineral pools and beautiful domed facilities, while on the Pest side, the sprawling Szechenyi complex, built in 1881 and later expanded, has areas for medical and therapeutic treatments, indoor water circuits and several outdoor pools where where you will spot all ages enjoying the healing waters, steam rooms of varying temperatures, jetted pools — or even playing chess on one of the built-in boards.