Popular Travel Cities: Beautiful Budapest


Why go to Budapest?
Budapest_Parliament_enBudapest has been called so many endearing names that it would be hard not so see a trend here: "Pearl on the Danube", the "Paris of Eastern Europe", and few others.

Budapest is astonishingly beautiful. Its unique geography - hilly Buda is located in the Carpathian Basin while Pest stretches over flat plain - creates the illusion that all attractions have been purposely built for best exposure:

- From Pest you see the Fisher Bastion, Castle and a selection of various statues on hilltops and plateaus set into Buda's hillside.

- From Buda you see Pest with its eye-catching Parliament building, riverfront hotels, and historic quarters that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Both sides are separated by the River Danube and connected by several impressive bridges - among those the famous Chain Bridge*STORY. Now picture all this beauty lit up at night, and you know where the compliments come from!

Photo: View of the Parliament from the Danube


Budapest is also a good choice for "Vacations with a purpose":

- Budapest has numerous thermal baths where you can combine a medical spa vacation with recreation and sightseeing. The best-known medical spa hotel is the Danubius Thermal hotel on Margaret Island. It is quite affordable in off-season.

- Health tourism: Patients from Western Europe have dental work or plastic surgery done in Hungary to save money. Several of these modern, private clinics are located in Budapest.


The Vibe
Budapest_violinist_enIn the context of Europe, Hungary is exotic. Its history is dotted with such colorful contemporaries as King Mathias and Attila the Hun*STORY. The Hungarian language is unique with no similarity to anything else spoken in Europe except Finnish. Hungarian culture boasts Asian influences alongside Austrian charm and melancholic Gypsy tunes. Budapest always stood out from its East-European neighbors; it is a colorful, bright, energetic, and irrepressible city. After the Iron Curtain was lifted, Hungarians were the first to embrace Western life: building modern glass structures alongside lovingly restored pearls of the past - without either looking out of place. Hungarians - Magyars in their native language - are beautiful and temperamental people, mirroring their colorful history: an exotic mix of charcoal-eyed, enigmatic wanderers of Asian origin and highly cultured Western-Europeans. Hungarians have always known how to live well, and not just by playing chess in thermal baths: Their music is distinct and distinguished, their dances are lively, their celebrations are over the top and their food is to die for! And the best? You are invited to join - Hungarian hospitality is legendary.

Photo: One of the many artists to be admired in Budapest


The Night Vibe
Budapest_night1_enNights in Budapest are made for enjoyment. Only Sunday night sees the city on a slightly calmer note, but all other nights offer many attractions to keep visitors amused:
  • An incredible selection of unique restaurants - on ships, on an island in a park, on a hill top - with cuisine from every corner of the continent
  • Outdoor cafés and bistros for excellent people watching in warm seasons
  • Musical accompaniment by real, live artists in many Hungarian restaurants, with personal interaction
  • Rich selection of operas, musicals and classical concerts
  • Dancing in energetic discotheques, outdoor venues or in clubs, with live music for ALL ages
  • Casinos in a variety of settings including on a ship anchored in front of downtown

Gentlemen's clubs (but be very careful with your selection!), some of which are quite classy. Avoid these:

Only in Budapest
: Get free Salsa lessons in one of the Latin bars run by Cuban ex-pats, experience 1920's atmosphere in the Cotton Club jazz club, or party retro-style in the open-air Everös Club on the Danube at Romai.

During warm summer nights, Budapest's squares and main streets downtown are filled with pedestrians and tourists who are looking to meet people and have a good time.


Where to hang out and/or book Accommodation
Budapest_sunrise_enMost historical sights are located in the city center between Elisabeth bridge (Erzsébet Hid) and the Chain bridge (Lanchid) *STORY. Several hotels are located in this district right by the Danube on the Pest side, offering breathtaking views of attractions in the Buda hills. If you have a generous budget, consider staying in the Castle district right beside the Fisher bastion. This is the oldest part of the city with historical sights at your fingertips (not to mention the fantastic view). Another typical Hungarian district with traditional restaurants and historical streets is Old Buda (Obuda) to the north of the city center. Accommodations in traditional and inexpensive guest houses (Panzio) or Bed and Breakfasts offer great value. In the summer months, consider a stay in Budapest's 3rd district (Romai - Csillaghegy). You will find many recreational facilities in this exclusive stretch along the Danube, with beaches, boating, and bars/restaurants. Szendendre is an artist's village just north of Budapest and a very popular attraction. Although Szendendre is a bit far from downtown, the commute to the inner city is fast and easy via the light rail train.

Photo: Serene sunrise above the Danube in recreational Romai district


Absolute Must-see Attractions
Budapest_Fisherbastion_enInner city:
  • Fisher bastion (unique fortress-style installation built into the Buda hills, offering fantastic views
  • St. Matthew's church at the Fisher Bastion, and St. Stephen's Cathedral
  • Budapest Castle and Parliament on the Danube
  • The Pest shopping district
  • Budapest at night with beautifully lit bridges and attractions
  • Famous thermal baths with medicinal qualities, and authentic Turkish baths
  • Caves in the Buda hills in the middle of the city

City's north:

Artists' village Szendendre, with cobble stone streets, unique art galleries and real-life artists.

Only in Budapest:
Sziget Festival (Island Festival) - one of the largest rock and pop festivals in Europe every August. It has become so popular that it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Photo: Fisher Bastion and King Matthew's statue


Must-try Food and Drinks in Budapest
Budapest_cafe_enHungary has one of the best cuisines in Europe. Hungarian food is so good that many items are famous and exported worldwide:
  • Hungarian paprika - a powdered spice with a unique taste available in sweet or really hot
  • Hungarian salami - a delicious salami variety that is extremely rich
  • Hungarian goose liver - available fried or canned as paté
  • Hungarian fish soup (Halazslé) - cooked in a unique way that gives this delicacy special texture and flavour
  • Hungarian Paprikash - a meat dish ranging from mild to hot and spicy

And absolutely not to miss:

  • World famous Hungarian Goulash - a hearty meat soup whose recipe was invented in the Hungarian Puszta and treasured for centuries!
  • World famous Hungarian Palacsinta (Palatschinten) - thin crepes with a variety of fillings

Photo: Café Gerbaud on Vörösmarti Square in downtown

Drinks… where to start?

Hungary is one of Europe's best-known grower of high quality wines. Famous Hungarian wines to try and/or to bring home:
  • Egri Bikaver (Bull's Blood) - a rich, dry red wine
  • Impressive collection of white wines ranging from dry Riesling to Chardonnay
  • Hungarian specialty: white wines with nutmeg flavor ("Muskotal")
  • Sweet, rich dessert wine from the Tokai region (Tokai Aszu)
  • Famous Hungarian fruit liquors made from plums, peaches, or pears (Palinka)

And for an alcohol-free drink, try flavorful Hungarian espresso coffee - a brew that is said to be strong enough to wake up the dead!


What do tourists shop for in Budapest?
Budapest_Budahills_enIf you want to bring home unique souvenirs to family and friends: Hungarian paprika is available in a variety of packages and prices. The Paprika sold in Hungary is decidedly unique because it is sun ripened and fresh (and nicely gift-packaged). Canned goose liver is another popular item. Hungary offers an incredible range of unique and beautiful handicrafts: from leather accessories handmade in the Hungarian countryside, the Puszta, to household linen and clothes created with distinct techniques. Hungarians always had a superior fashion sense (remember the "Paris of Eastern Europe" reference?). You can find stylish - and often one-of-a-kind - garments in one of those courtyard boutiques or small private shops.

Note: Most countries do not allow importation of fresh meat, so you will not be able to bring home Hungarian salami.

Photo: Beautifully restored monuments in the Buda hills


Budapest in a day or longer
Budapest_Castle_winter_enIf you have only one day to spend in Budapest, the best way to see as much as possible is by city tour. These tours are informative and will cover everything you need to see to say you've seen Budapest. A bus tour of Budapest that covers the main sights takes from 2 to 4 hours. If you prefer discovering on your own, take the Hop-on, Hop-off bus and spend as much time as you'd like in a particular location. Try to have at least one meal in a traditional Hungarian restaurant with Gypsy music (located around all the major sights) and order Hungarian food.

For museum/exhibition buffs:

- Budapest has some of the best collections of paintings in Europe, including Spanish and Italian masterpieces (Titian, Giogioni, Leonardo) in the Museum of Applied Arts on Hero's Square. Check which traveling exhibition the museum is featuring during - you may be lucky to catch exclusive shows with rare objects. - Another collection of treasures can be found in Budapest's National Gallery.

If you have more than one day, consider these attractions:

  • Budapest at night, either with an organized tour or on your own
  • Visit a thermal bath with medicinal waters. The most famous ones are Gellert at the Gellert Hill or Széchenyi, a magnificently appointed year-round thermal bath
  • If you are interested in art/architecture, tour the Parliament and/or the Budapest Castle
  • Take a river-cruise on the Danube (dinner cruise for Budapest at night)
  • Tour one of the Caves beneath the city
  • Visit Szendendre, the artists' village with its cobble stone streets and unique galleries. Plan to have a meal in one of the outdoor restaurants (if weather permits)
  • Visit Margaret island, a park-like island in the middle of the city (if weather permits)
  • Visit the ancient city of Visegrad and its fortress at the Danube bent one hour north of the city center

Photo: 14th century fortress towering high above the Danube in Visegrad


Recommended Travel Guides
Every hotel has plenty of excellent tourist information including guides with all events currently happening in Budapest. Information offices are located throughout the city center. Hop-on, Hop-off bus tours are self-guided with information in several languages via headphones. For personalized tours, check hotel brochures for tour operators who can tailor sightseeing to small groups or individual travelers. These tours are very affordable for what they offer and are an excellent choice if you are pressed for time.

Recommended tour guides: Personal Guides: http://www.budapest-tour.hu

One of the best websites for Budapest: http://www.budapest-tourist-guide.com


The Underbelly
Budapest_underbelly_enAfter the change to capitalism, many Hungarians lost their jobs and income. Some citizens adapted to the new order, but others did not. Homelessness and poverty - with beggars sitting in busy areas and transients living in the Buda Hills - are an unfortunate part of today's Hungary. As every other city, Budapest has its scam artists and thieves: 1. Taxis… always ask for the fare before getting into the cab, and inform yourself about rates in your hotel or tourist center or at the airport. Watch out for so-called "gypsy cabs" - private cars with an improvised taxi sign, offering rides where you are likely getting ripped off. IMPORTANT: Only take taxis that have the yellow rooftop sign and yellow license plate. Ask your hotel desk to call you a cab if you need one. 2. Bars and restaurants… here is something unique to Budapest. You may be asked by attractive young ladies or gentlemen on the street or right outside restaurants if you're looking for "really good" restaurant or bar. Be wary of such invitations, and always ask to see the menu. Some of these places have been known to charge astronomical prices, and involving the police is not always a good idea. 3. Gentlemen's clubs… although Budapest has some classy, clean and safe establishments, many are shady and best avoided. Patrons have been known to get bills of several thousand dollars after a visit - and being threatened with physical harm in the event of non-payment. 4. Pickpockets… as in any large city, watch your belongings all the time and do not carry your passport or large sums of money with you.

5. Rental cars… never leave anything of value in your car, even if you park just for a few minutes. These gangs don't bother figuring out the lock. They smash a window, open the doors and the rear bench to access the trunk and quickly empty the car. This takes only a few seconds and can happen in broad daylight: a car with very loud music pulls up to mask the sound of the smashing window and speeds away as soon as the theft is accomplished.


Insider Tips
Budapest_OldNew_enMoney exchange… no need to take large amounts of cash or pay commission for traveler's cheques: ATMs are located throughout the city where you can withdraw Hungarian Forint (Hungary has not yet introduced the Euro). To exchange your cash, do it at one of the commission-free money exchanges throughout the city, but shop around: rates can vary greatly! All major shopping centers in Budapest have money exchange offices, but their rates are not the best. Public transportation… unless you plan to do drives into the country, renting a car is usually not necessary in Budapest. Everything can be reached by public transit (an excellent metro system, street cars, buses, trolleys, and light rail trains). Purchase day passes (1 day, 3 days, 7 days) - it's cheaper per ride and saves you the trouble with tickets. Accommodation… If you are on a budget, consider booking a Bed and Breakfast or a private "Panzio" (small guest houses). Your hosts may also offer you meals at a very low price. Enjoying luxury… Budapest has many luxury and exclusive hotels with unique bars, restaurants and cafés. Even if you don't have the means to book these hotels, check out their common areas; you can always afford a beer or a coffee, even at the Four Seasons! Sundays… don't schedule your nightlife for Sunday night. Many of the city's bars and clubs close on Sundays.

Service… although the communist system has been ditched 20 years ago, remnants of the old service style are still evident in government-run establishments: with slow and bossy workers or inefficient service. Relax and consider it an attraction; it's something to talk about at home.

Photo: Yesterday's façades and today's glass fronts side by side


Unique Stories
Budapest_Lanchid_en* The Chain Bridge (Lanchid) The entrances to this bridge are adorned with life-size lions. If you look close, you will see that the lions are missing their tongues. Legend has it that the artist who sculpted these lions took the oversight of the missing tongues very much to heart: he committed suicide. Next time, tell this story to your contractor who installed your bathroom door upside down!
Photo: Fabled Chain Bridge on the Buda side
  * Attila the Hun Attila the Hun (A.D. 406–453), one of the more cantankerous and greedy emperors of his day, is said to have given many of his neighbors and his own subjects a lot of grief. He must have feared their revenge even after his demise: for his funeral, he ordered that the river Danube be parted with a temporary dam for his grave, and the dam be removed shortly after his internment - so that the fierce waters could close quickly, never to reveal his burial site.

Looks like he ticked off a lot of people to go such length!