Budapest TourismBudapest - The Grand Dame
A regal city, it’s easy to see why the world’s greatest empires have courted Budapest, the Grande Dame of Europe. Classically beautiful, Budapest will seduce you into her web of culture, beauty and gastronomy. You’ll find yourself stealing glances at the magnificent buildings throughout the city and giving in to your wandering eye. These boots are made for walking, from old-world coffeehouses and Hungarian comfort food restaurants to stunning palaces and some of the best opera in the world.
Once inhabited by the ancient Romans, the Ottomans, the Hapsburgs and most recently the Soviets, Budapest has had her fair share of suitors – each leaving an indelible mark. Budapest is a union of two formerly separate, yet complimentary cities that have managed to retain their individual personalities. Buda offers a serene glimpse into the days of yore, while Pest is a vibrant contemporary metropolis. Having dusted off her Soviet past, Budapest has undergone a modern-day renaissance and is once again the Queen of the Danube
As a whole, Budapest offers some of the best hotels in the world – there is no compromising on comfort, especially with the opening of the new Mandarin Oriental. The college experience of being swarmed by families offering their apartment to you at the train station are a distant memory. For the best of the new and old worlds stay at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, a luxurious Art Nouveau building from the turn of the century. Rising over the Chain Bridge in Pest, the Four Seasons offers sweeping views of the Danube and Buda Hills. The Four Seasons hotels are generally exceptional, but this is one of their most extraordinary properties. For slightly gentler prices, try the stylish five-star Sofitel Chain Bridge, featuring magnificent vistas of the Royal Palace and Chain Bridge. The dark-brown and pink palate adds warmth to the atrium’s modern design, while the airplane dangling from the ceiling is a unique touch
These luxurious accommodations will serve as your base for a diverse weekend of experiences. To begin, your modern-day chariot, the Funicular (Sikló), will transport you to the Royal Palace, which is now home to several museums including the Hungarian National Gallery and the Contemporary Art Museum. After taking in the local treasures, walk to Mátyás-templom, an 800-year-old church, once used as a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. Tour its ornately decorated halls and marvel in its architectural beauty.
Next to Mátyás-templom is Fisherman’s Bastion, a Neo-Gothic structure with beautiful whitewashed walls. From its terrace overlooking Buda Hills, the fishermen’s guild stood guard to defend Buda during the Middle Ages. This vantage offers the iconic view of Budapest, and is where tourists flock to snap the postcard shot of Pest with Parliament poised perfectly in the background.
For your induction into Hungarian comfort food – a must when you’re in Budapest – lunch at 21 Magyar Vendéglő or Café Pierrot. Order traditional Hungarian dishes like gulyásleves (goulash soup) or chicken paprikash. With a rich viticultural tradition, Hungary produces stellar wines. Treat yourself to a wine pairing at Faust Wine Cellar in the Dominican Cloisters, part of the labyrinth of tunnels underneath the Buda Castle area. Owned by a knowledgeable husband-and wife-team, Faust Wine Cellar offers visitors the chance to sip wine, like Tokaj, Hungary’s most famous vintage, in a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the charming streets and shops. Come armed with your credit cards and join fellow fashionistas on Andrássy Avenue, the city’s most elegant boutique street. While Budapest’s famous pedestrian thoroughfare Váci utca caters more towards tourists, it also reveals a few unique local stores. If you’re looking to introduce some sizzle to your home décor, head to Arteon, which specializes in eye-catching pieces guaranteed to spark conversation at your next cocktail party.
While a night at home may be about dinner and a movie, a night in Budapest is about dinner and the opera. Budapest offers a vast range of culinary delights, from traditional to international. Dine al fresco at Dunaparti Matróz Kocsma (“Sailor Inn”), an upscale riverside gastropub with seasonal dishes that pay homage to neighboring countries. Another top option is Tabáni Terasz, a quaint restaurant in a historic building in the picturesque Taban district of Buda. Afterwards, take in the opera at Budapest’s world-class Hungarian State Opera House, which rivals Vienna’s. For a nightcap, pop in to Boutiq’ Bar, an intimate cocktail den helmed by creative mixologists – your toughest decision will be which drinks to try.
The next day, start your sightseeing by paying a visit to the impressive Dohány Street Synagogue, which draws both religious pilgrims and tourists. St. Stephan’s Basilica is another architectural treasure not to be missed as you make your way to the Parliament, the largest in Europe. Although most of the 691 rooms are off limits, its wondrous interior, with grand staircases, a vast central hall and glass mosaics, is well worth a look. Break for lunch at the First Strudel House of Pest, a rustic neighborhood restaurant where you can cap off your meal with a deliciously addictive strudel. Budapest is a city made for walking, but should you tire, board the Budapest Metro, the second-oldest in the world, which provides easy transport between the major sights.
For dinner, add spice to your night at Ellato Kert, an outdoor Mexican taqueria, with food so authentic you may think you’ve crossed the Rio Grande. Budapest is no sleepy city: When the sun sets, the nonstop nightlife kicks in. Legendary describes the scene, which begins by quaffing cocktails at Bar Domby, a small watering hole where well-heeled beauties congregate. Despite the chi-chi crowd, the atmosphere is convivial. If you’re visiting in late spring or summer, join locals at an open-air club. Dance the night away at Café Rio, one of Budapest’s hottest clubs, hosting concerts and some of Europe’s best DJ’s.
After a wild night out, you’ll be craving caffeine in the morning. Luckily, Budapest is the country’s headquarters for superb old-world coffeehouses that were the favored haunts of the Belle Époque literary and artistic communities. With its colorful frescos and gilded marble columns, the New York Palace Café best exemplifies the refined grandeur of a bygone era. For a more intimate atmosphere, head to Café Alibi, in a lovely historic square. Part of the experience here is soaking in the atmosphere, over a leisurely breakfast.
Still recovering from your night out, head to the Great Market, where hundreds of vendors sell lángos, Hungarian cheese, smoked sausage and wine. Pick up supplies for an afternoon picnic in City Park, and then visit one of the city’s famed thermal bathhouses. Reminiscent of a summer palace, Széchenyi Baths is the most regal of them all. Melt your troubles away as you soak in a 100-degree thermal pool and watch as the steam wispily rises from the water. Fine dining awaits: Go gourmet at Onyx restaurant, which offers a lovely setting to enjoy an updated spin on classic cuisine. The Hungarian Evolution menu is one of three bold tasting menus. Another option is Menza, with reasonably priced traditional cuisine that has earned it something of a cult following among locals. Or, say a romantic goodbye to Budapest with a sunset cruise on the Danube and lift your glass of Hungarian sparkling wine to the fairytale city as you float by.