Budapest has always languished in the shadow of its more famous neighbours, Prague and Vienna. Yet its glorious architecture rivals if not betters the competition –reflecting an embattled history which ranges from the grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the constraints imposed by Nazi Germany and, later, Communism. These days it’s buzzing, and you need at least three days to appreciate the twin delights of old Buda and newer Pest – separate cities till 1873 - which are divided by the River Danube. Walking is a delight, but there’s also a good metro and bus service to help you get about.
The essential itinerary
There’s no need to hire an English-speaking guide just take your own walking tour. Cross the famous Chain Bridge – designed by British engineer William Tierney Clark in 1839 – and visit historic Castle Hill and Fisherman’s Bastion. Head back to Pest to the historic Parliament Building and take a stroll along the elegant tree-lined Andrassy Avenue, featuring the most upmarket shops (you’ll see why Budapest has been called the Paris of the east.)
Behind The Iron Curtain
Take a Danube river cruise for fabulous views of the city’s finest building. For a glimpse into Hungary’s darker past, visit the House of Terror, which tells the story of how the population suffered under Communism and the Nazis. Or check out the Life Under Communism Exhibition at Miniversum, also located along Andrassy Avenue, which takes a more lighthearted look into the past with its animated 1:100 scale miniature model of Budapest – encompassing Communist-era residential tower blocks, Soviet army barracks and the Iron Curtain.
I want to chill out
There are 118 natural thermal springs, the most famous are the Gellert baths, opened in 1918, with their stained glass windows, sculptures and imposing art nouveau architecture. For a truer taste of city life, however, head to the local’s favourite – Szechenyi, which is also the largest medicinal bath in Europe.
Where do I relax?
There are glorious rooftop bars you should visit to admire the city’s dramatic skyline. Check out the glitzy Aria Hotel whose rooftop bar has 360 degree panorama views of the city. Or visit one of the many famous ‘Ruin pubs’ – bohemian bars set in old buildings dotted across the city. Most famous is the Szimpla Kert, a multi-layered two storey set-up which is a quirky compilation of junk and vintage. For a real party hotspot head to Durer Kert, which regularly hosts renowned international and local bands. Or go upmarket at Boutiq’Bar, which is listed on the World’s Best Bars guide.
Where to stay
There are both cheaper and pricier options than Brody House the former home of a Hungarian Prime Minister - but none so seamlessly blends the romance of earlier eras, with the creativity and quirkiness of Budapest today. There is further accommodation at the Brody Writer’s Villa. Another perk: guests have free entry to Brody Studios events – which include musical evenings, lectures and a fine bar and dining room.
Qantas has flights to Budapest via London