The Hungarian capital is sometimes called the "Paris of the East". Gorgeous panoramic night scenes and the picturesque Danube river to walk up and down. Make sure you stroll across the Chain Bridge, and take the bus up to Buda Castle. Wander around up there and walk along Fishermen's Bastion (Halaszbastya) from which you will have a beautiful view of Pest. Stop in the Matthias Church, which was begun in 1255. We advise a walk around the Royal Palace. If you took the cable car up, you should descend to the Chain Bridge by taking the road down from the Castle, as it offers a spectacular view of the city and is an impressive entry if you can imagine yourself approaching in a horse-drawn coach.
Be sure to look up as you travel down the streets. Some of the buildings are dramatic architectural edifices above the street level storefronts.
Hotels and lodging
- OctopusTravel.com Hotels in Budapest and all over the World
Five star hotels:
- Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest (011) 36-1-268-6000 [$375+] - it is stunning, and is located at one end of the Chain Bridge that is the focus of Budapest’s skyline at night.
- The Meridien is not on the river, but it is well situated.
- You can also consider the Kempinski (011) 36 1 266-1000. The Kempinski is newer and cleaner and is next to the main square in town.
- The Marriott (011) 36 1 235-4847 is several blocks away, but has a lovely view of the Danube and Buda Castle on the Castle Hill. It also has a gym where one can run on the treadmill and look out at the castle and boats going by on the Danube.
- Take a tour of the Hungarian Parliament, which looks uncannily like the Houses of Parliament in London. It was, of course, designed that way by the architect, who was selected in a competition at the end of the 19th century. The design includes elements of neo-gothic, neo-roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Baroque architecture. The runner-up design was built across the street as another government building. The Parliament building itself is beautiful inside, and now houses the Hungarian crown, scepter, and orb (you need to book tickets ahead of time rather than at the gates to Parliament). To get there it is worth taking the subway M2 to Kossuth ter station.
- Baths: One of the things that the Romans took advantage of when they arrived on the banks of the Danube were the Budapest thermal baths, and you should too. Whatever you do be sure to pack a bathing suit in your luggage on a trip to Hungary. There are several interesting Turkish baths around town (but that is for the adventuresome!), and the somewhat more refined baths at the Gellert Hotel (Open 6am – 7pm Mon – Sun; 466-61-66). They are co-ed and an experience everyone should try once.
- Religious Tours: Besides the Matthias Church in the Castle Hill district, we also recommend a visit to St. Stephen’s Basilica on the Pest side of the river, and a tour of the Jewish Quarter. The Basilica shows the influence of several architects who participated in its construction over 50 years. You can even climb the dome, which tops out at over 300 feet. Budapest is also the home of the Great Synagogue, the world’s second largest synagogue (the largest is in New York). It is the focal point of an excellent walking tour you can book through the hotel that retraces the intersection of Jewish history and modern day Budapest.
- Trips around Budapest: If you want a good day trip try the Danube Bend where the Castle of Visegrad is on a hill overlooking the river (good climb). On the way back visit Szentendre a small quaint town on the Danube.
- The main walking street of Budapest is called the Vaci Utca (pronounced vatsi ootsa). It is steps away from the Kempinski and the Meridien hotels mentioned above, and begins at Vorosmarty ter. At the very end of it is the Central Market Hall, a wonderful emporium of local food specialties and traditional crafts, which is close to the green Freedom Bridge. It is closed on Sundays, but you should ask your concierge to check the times it is open.
- An adventurous marketplace is somewhat outside of the city and may require a guide: Ecseri Market. We recommend you go there by taxi, as it can take an hour on the #54 bus route to get there, and that you go in the morning. It is filled with odds and ends (some authentic, some not) with salespeople who can see a tourist approaching from a mile away (so have your guide bargain the prices down.) There, you have to try a typical Hungarian snack called langos, like a puffy pizza bread pita with sour cream.
- Shops are generally open 9am – 6pm on weekdays, and half days on Saturday.
- Another shopping area where the goods are not worth buying, but from a cultural perspective it could be interesting to see, is on the Buda side of Budapest, on the west side of the river (the residential area) where all the young, affluent Hungarians shop. The Mammut mall has a bunch of food halls and 3 floors of shops. Only visit this if you've got an extra half-hour, as it is not of any cultural value whatsoever, but it is a great example of westernization. Part of the building has been reserved as a green market, and farmers still come in from the country with their homegrown fruits and vegetables, as well as traditional meats and preservatives.
Maps and transportation
Getting to Budapest
- The city has an excellent public transport system. You can buy tickets at the subway stations. They don’t sell tickets on board. One single ticket costs 320 HUF (~1.5 USD) in 2010.
- Budapest is a great walking city. Take the vertical tram up to the castle and then wind your way back down the river. If you like goup tours, you can take part in some of the guided walking tours.
Practical information and resources
- Cosmo (upstairs, and ask for a window table)
- Tom George, located at “8 Oktober 6 utca” (36-1-266-3525)
- Gundel (owned by George Lang of Cafe des Artistes on the West Side in NYC) has delicious Hungarian food and strolling violinists at NY or London prices (but worth seeing).
- Gerbeaud Café, in Vorosmarty ter (pronounced ver-ush-marti-ter), which has the best pastries in town
- Anna, a coffee house on Vaci utca, which is touristy but is still a center of action
- Gresham Café located in the eponymous hotel - if you don’t mind paying $25 for a cappuccino.
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- Budapest Review
- Budapest Travel Guide - Sights, hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment in Budapest
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- Free Budapest Walking Tours Daily infotainment all year long. Tours range from General to Communist to Jewish Quarter walk with engaging and professional Hungarian tour guides.
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