Originally two cities on the east and west bank of the Danube, Budapest is still split between the medieval streets of Buda and urban Pest, with its strong commercial heart. Discover its many sides on holidays to Budapest.
A grand, architectural wonderland by day, Budapest turns into a glittering, cosmopolitan warren of ruin bars by night. It’s crowned by historic buildings but cowed by its turbulent 20th century history. It invites adventurers and explorers to its museums and marvels, but welcomes languid loungers who just want to spend the day in the Gellert baths, too. Christmas markets and warming food keep the city welcoming even when the temperature plunges and its proximity to the rest of Eastern Europe make Budapest a natural stop on a multi-centre trip. After all, the Romans and the Ottomans themselves saw fit to build their marvellous baths here, the least you can do is stay and enjoy them. Book flights to Budapest and make a splash in the coolest city in Europe.
Budapest’s ‘Inner City’ is full of historic buildings, superb cafés and great shopping. Belvaros, or District V, lies along the east bank of the Danube in Pest and follows the old city walls. Shopping is great on Váci Utca, where you will find the famous Viennese-style cafés. The glorious St. Stephen’s Basilica – a wonder of neo-classical architecture – starts the walk up to Heroes Square through the Oktagon. At the weekend, it is worth visiting Erzsébet tér (Elizabeth’s Square) to people watch, or drink and chat with the locals who show up in force.
Erzsebetvaros or Elizabeth Town, is famous for the Jewish Quarter. The Great Synagogue here is the largest functioning temple in Europe, and sits amid narrow streets full of cafés and bars. The area has emerged from its dark past as a hip place to be, with design shops, restored buildings and cool ruin bars. The district’s rich, cultural history can be seen on every corner, from Belvaros to the Opera House. Don’t miss the huge ruin bar Szimpla Kert – and although it is now a haven for tourists, it is well worth a look.
Leopold Town sits in the northern part of District V, and is an attractive area where historic and modern Budapest meet. Remarkable 18th and 19th century buildings exist alongside contemporary structures. Seen as the power centre of Budapest, government buildings, banks and embassies dominate the skyline. The gothic revival Hungarian Parliament is a spectacular facsimile of Britain’s parliament at Westminster and sits on the beautiful Kossuth Square. The striking Four Seasons Gresham Palace is a luxury hotel right in the centre of Leopold Town with great access to all of Budapest.
Theresa Town, or Terezvaros, is known internationally as the home to the beautiful Andrassy Avenue. Named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this wonderfully elegant boulevard has a classic fin de siècle style. Think neo-renaissance mansions, sophisticated cafés and luxury boutiques. The Avenue rolls down through the theatre district toward Heroes’ Square and the City Park. A cultural centre, it is considered the ‘nice part of town’. Also, in City Park you will find a brilliant spa – the first in Budapest, dating back to 1881.
The Castle District is the historic area of Buda, housing the magnificent Royal Palace and many other beautiful grand buildings. The Castle District may be small but it makes up for it with the amount of places to see. Alongside the Royal Palace, there is the Matthias Church, the gothic Fisherman’s Bastion and Castle Hill – another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The steep, meandering streets of Castle Hill give a medieval atmosphere, offering spectacular views of the Danube, Margaret Island (a great place for kids) and Pest.
Don’t be afraid to take the bus or train to attractions outside of the city centre. Memento Park houses the old Communist-era statues of Lenin, Marx and Béla Kun, leader of the Hungarian revolution, amongst many other socialist statues destined for the scrapheap. Alternatively, and a perfect trip for children, the amazing Zugliget Chairlift takes riders up the mountain toward the Children’s Railway. The conductors, ticket office staff and porters are all kids between 10-14 years old. This is one of quaintest attractions in Budapest, and well worth the hike.