Interesting how things happen…I never had a strong interest in visiting Budapest, but was sent there on business a few years ago and immediately liked the look and feel of the city. Been back many times since that first trip and always feel at home. Many people compare Budapest and Prague, but there is no comparison – I prefer Budapest to Prague any day.
Budapest is bisected by the River Danube and the 19th-century Chain Bridge. Buda on the West side of the river is hilly with winding, narrow streets wending their way up into the hills. Pest is the urban center of the city on the East side. Budapest is an interesting city. It’s a mix of beautiful architecture (especially Art Nouveau) with a lively and vibrant small downtown, but you know you are in a former Soviet Bloc county. Venture outside the main part of the city and the gray, block buildings of the Soviet era are a stark reminder of that part of their history.
It is a reasonable place to visit as the currency has been deflated for a long time. You won’t believe the difference until you arrive home and get your AMEX bill and that great dinner that cost 27,400 Forint was only $100!
My favorite place to stay is the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. For a great view also check out Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge, and the Hilton Budapest Castle District. Other top choices are the Ritz Carlton, and a luxury boutique hotel, Aria Hotel Budapest.
Below is my list of attractions. The Castle District, the Danube Bridges, and the embankment is a World heritage site so spend a day strolling this area.
- Vaci utca – the main pedestrian thoroughfare in Budapest. Stroll the street, shop, sit in the cafes, and watch the lovely people walk by. Don’t forget to explore the little alleyways that branch off the street as they are where hidden shops lie.
- Thermal Baths – Budapest has been called the “city of baths” due to the thermal springs that are supposed to have healing qualities. You can experience traditional Turkish baths (from the 16th & 17th C) and a whole host of spa experiences. Check out Rudas, Kiraly, and Veli Bej.
- Buda Castle Hill – this site is visible from everywhere in Budapest. Explore the beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets, Matthias Church (700 years old), Fishermen’s Bastion (was built in the 1890’s and is purely decorative, a wonderful lookout over the Danube), the Royal Castle, and the Hungarian National Gallery. The castle was the residence of the Hungarian Kings of Budapest (completed in 1265).
- The Danube & It’s Bridges – the Chain Bridge, spanning the Danube between Buda and Pest, is a picturesque stone bridge. Walk across it, looking down to the stunning view of the Danube flowing underneath you.
- Parliament – Neo-Gothic architecture and over 100 years old, it is the third largest Parliament building in the world.
- Andrassy UT and Heroes’ Square – Andrassy Avenue is known as Budapest’s Champs-Elysees, with shops, cafes, theaters, and museums lining the street. Heroes’ Square is located at the end of Andrassy Avenue. This impressive squares was erected to commemorate the 1000-year old history of the Magyars. Surrounding it is the Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art).
- Great Synagogue – is one of the world’s largest and beautiful synagogues. Budapest once had a large Jewish community, with monuments scattered in the former Jewish Quarter.
- Gellert Hill – At the top of the hill is the Citadel and Budapest’s Statue of Liberty – you can see this female statue holding a palm leaf from all parts of the city.
- Central Market Hall – quite large, this market is a great place to sample the local specialties and a source for Hungarian products. Sausages hanging from the ceilings next to meat, cheese, fruits, vegetable and pastry booths. Of course, paprika of every variety is available.
The food is really good in this city, though I don’t recommend the local touristy restaurants that offer Hungarian food combined with music, and/or dance nor the boat restaurants.
- Costes Restaurant – this stylish and elegant restaurant was the first in Budapest to receive a Michelin star. Serving international cuisine with Hungarian touches. (Raday u. 4; +36 1 219 0696)
- Costes Downtown – newer, less stuffy, second restaurant of Costes, that also won its own Michelin star. Focused on Hungry’s best known cuisine with a modern flair. And an excellent wine list with many Hungarian regions you can’t find anywhere else.(Vigyazo Ferenc utca 5, costesdowntown.hu)
- Onyx – another Michelin star restaurant, with emphasis on excellent local ingredients and wines. The food takes a modern twist on Hungarian cuisine. (Vorosmarty ter 7; +36 30 508 0622)
- Corso Restaurant – in the InterContinental Hotel, serving authentic Hungarian cuisine in a relaxed and elegant setting with views of the Royal Castle and Chain Bridge. (Vaci u. 54; +36 30 428 8376)
- Rezkakas Restaurant – traditional Hungarian cuisine with a modern flare. (Sas u. 3; +36 1 318 0038)
- Halaszbasta Restaurant – the Fisherman’s Bastion restaurant on the hill in the castle area has amazing views, but you won’t be disappointed by the food either. Newly renovated with a lovely roof terrace. (Budai Var; +36 1 201 6935)
- Fausto’s – one of my personal favorites and I eat here every trip. Yes I know it isn’t Hungarian food, and I am from NYC so know good Italian food…but this Italian food is some of the best I have eaten. Get the tasting menu so you can sample the delicious food, pastas and desserts. Great wine list also. (Dohany u.3; +36 30 589 1813)
- Tigris Restaurant – another favorite, serving high-end Hungarian food with a specialty in fois gras. Happened on this restaurant when I found a wine cellar off Vaci utca. Spent a wonderful couple of hours discussing and buying wines and found out they also owned this restaurant. Unfortunately they closed the wine cellar, but the restaurant and wine bar are open. Don’t miss the fois gras appetizer of four different tastes (one a crème brulee). They have one of the best wine lists in town (and also have a wine bar a block away). If Tomas is still working as the Sommelier, have him recommend your wine choice. (Merleg u. 10, +36 1 317 3715)
- Café Kor – small café in a vaulted space with wooden floors. Interesting menu, but check out the specials written on brown paper and hung on the wall. Good mix of local specialties and international fare. (Sas u. 17; +36 1 311 0053)
- Tasting Table – cool, casual wine shop and bar. Owned by an American food writer, it stocks over 200 wines, which you can order in flights of three glasses. And to accompany this delicious wine you can sample local cheeses, charcuterie and other small plates. (Sandor utca 9, tastingtablebudapest.com)
- Good Spirit Bar – stocked with more than 350 kinds of whiskey and 700 spirits, including local varieties. Sit at the spacious L-shaped bar to sip your cocktails! (Veres Palne utca 7)
- Beer Bars – craft beers are hot in Budapest so try one of these…Eleszto, a pub in a former glass works that has more than 20 taps of craft beers; Kandallo, intimate beer and tapas bar; Hopaholic, ten tap bar.
A wonderful city (and country) to visit. Hungary was always the culinary capital of the Eastern region…the food when I was in Budapest was delicious and somewhat creative…and Ilene obviously knows the latest spots to try. Want to return!