This is spa-town
No other city quite embraces its downtime in the same way as Budapest. People have been taking bathing to the next level here since the Romans lay aside their togas two millennia ago. Not only are the baths inexpensive, they are an integral part of the culture. Feel no shame in ducking out of a sightseeing tour to spend an afternoon wrapped in a robe. Whilst the Gellért is the most historical, climb up to the rooftop bath of the Rudas for views over the city. Visit the Szechenyi on a week end night at your peril – it’s a party spot.
Where to stay: The luxurious Ritz-Carlton Budapest opened its spa in 2017. Head up to the 8th floor for a 24-hour gym, treatments and a swimming pool under the glass roof.
Those who are worried about running into stag dos (or who want to escape their own) in the Jewish Quarter’s ruin bars should check out the craft beers at Neked csak Dezső!
Hungary’s recent history looms large. Rather than letting this cast a shadow over the city, a series of brilliant museums strive to shine light upon the past. Grab an audio guide when you walk around the House of Terror. The former headquarters of the secret police is now home to an excellent, if terrifying, permanent exhibit on communist policing in Budapest. If you want to travel further back in time, cross into the Castle District of Buda. The impressive Castle Museum is actually comprised of three massive museums. Outside, the streets themselves, winding up to the spindly architecture of Matthias Church, have their own hidden histories. Take in the romantic terraces of Fisherman’s Bastion – you might walk in on someone else’s marriage proposal. Cure lovesickness in the vaulted chambers of the pharmacy museum.
Where to stay: Hotel Moments is a boutique historic hotel. Though it’s on the same street as the House of Terror, it’s a far more welcoming prospect. All the rooms are uniquely designed and the whole place oozes character.
Night on the tiles
The beautiful blue Danube has nothing on the Gellert Spa. It’s decorated in the Art Noveau style but the changing rooms and lockers are surprisingly high tech.Book the Gellert Spa
Budapest is beautiful by night and an evening riverside walk will reward you with a transformed city. The Danube ripples with reflections of the illuminated waterfront: the glorious symmetry of the parliament building, the Chain Bridge and the street lamps. For a grand night out, the Hungarian State Opera is far less expensive than its Parisian and Viennese counterparts, though the standards inside are no less impressive. Those who are worried about running into stag dos (or who want to escape their own) in the Jewish Quarter’s ruin bars should check out the craft beers at Neked csak Dezső!. Named after a Communist film, all the beers here are equally good.
Where to stay: Bo33 near the Jewish quarter is just down the road after a night in the ruin bars. Best of all, it has its own rooftop sauna.
Oh my goulash
You’ll want to save Hungary’s traditional dishes for another day when you see the modern fusion cuisine served up in restaurants like the Buddah-Bar.Book the Buddah-Bar Hotel
Good enough to eat
Block the view of St Stephen’s Basilica with a glorious ice cream. The church was bombed in World War II but now stands proud on the square.Visit Budapest
Built in 1897, the massive, historic building of the Great Market Hall is always bustling. Pick up some goose liver pate and sausages from the butcher, or just follow your nose.Book flights to Budapest
Ice cream in the snow
Even in the freezing pit of January, there will be people queueing for Gelarto Rosa next to St. Stephen's Basilica. The ice cream is served sculpted into a perfect rose shape that has to be seen to be believed. Elsewhere in the city, winter markets serve warmer fare and all year around you can buy specialities from the Great Market Hall. Hungarian food can be hearty and paprika-spiced, as found served on the white tablecloths of the wonderful Gundel restaurant. But the gastronomic scene is growing and with it comes a new generation of modern restaurants. Visit Macesz Bistro, which riffs imaginatively on the city’s Jewish heritage.
Where to stay: The romantic Buddah-Bar Hotel has its own plush restaurant serving up Pacific Rim and Asian fusion cuisine under the watchful eye of a seated golden Buddah. Arrive in time for Sunday brunch.
Children – and adults, too – can’t fail to be impressed by the castles of Budapest and the stories they tell. Whilst the rickety trams make for fun rides around town, go further afield to the Zugliget Chairlift, which whisks you up to János Hill, the highest point in the area. Visit Miniversum for a scale model of Hungary’s greatest landmarks in adorable, doll's house sized form or take The Children’s Railway, another scaled-down attraction. Children with good grades from the local school run the whole experience. Be prepared for your kids to be very jealous.
Where to stay: Book a Deluxe Suite at the New York Residence in Budapest. It has an adjoining living room and kitchen and a separate bath and shower, too, so it’s ideal for the family.