This beautiful city with its grand 19th century buildings offers the perfect ingredients for a summer city break: stunning architecture, delicious food, fun people, beautiful weather, museums full of fabulous art, public parks, swimming pools and spas to loaf in, and most importantly, prices that won’t break the bank.
where to stay
easyHotel Oktogon — This budget hotel opened in the centre of town last October. Book ahead to get the best deals. You won’t get a mini bar, room service or turndown, but the hotel is still perfect for travellers low on cash. 1067 Eötvös utca 25/a, easyhotel.com.
Ibis Hotel Váci út — This is a chain hotel with clean, basic, cheap rooms, and it’s just three underground stops away from the city centre. From $121. 1134 Dózsa György út 65,www.
Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest — Regarded as one of the world’s finest Art Nouveau buildings, this majestic landmark overlooks the Danube. Even if you can’t afford the five-star room rates, you can still visit the lobby to see the original stained glass windows, elegant ironwork, intricate mosaics and grand staircases. 1051 Roosevelt tér 5-6. www.fourseasons.
what to see
Even a stroll down the streets of Budapest can be a cultural experience. Andrássy út —?the avenue leading from Hosök tere (Heroes Square) to Erzsébet tér — is where you’ll find the major theatres and museums, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, as is the underground that you can hop on to get around town.
Alternatively, cross the Danube to the Buda side and check out the Castle Area, where you’ll find more museums and have splendid view of Pest, also a World Heritage site.
In the summer, cool down by taking a trip across Margaret Bridge to Margaret Island, which has beaches that are thronged with locals in warm weather. There’s a huge spa and swimming pool, as well as an open-air theatre and fields to roam through.
Back in the centre of Budapest, take a pit stop at one of the cafés at Liszt Ferenc tér before paying a visit to the Palace Of Arts and the National Theatre at the new Millennial City Centre.
where to shop
Pick salamis are the finest in Hungary: find the whole selection at their store near to the Parliament at Kossuth Lajos. tér 9.
For Budapest’s best contemporary designer clothes, visit Vass Éva’s shop at Paulay Ede utca 67 www.vasseva.com. Éva also designs costumes for movies and theatre.
Hungarian music may not be well known in the rest of the world, but you can learn about the local sounds at music stores throughout the city. For curiosities, visit the smaller second-hand music shops alongside Nagykörút.
If you’re looking for souvenirs, avoid the usual folk-costume-wearing dolls and check out Repülo tehén instead, where they stock cool gifts; Veres Pálné utca 40, www.repulotehen.hu.
The city’s nicest market is Központi Vásárcsarnok (Central Marketplace) at Fovám tér 1-3, where producers sell fresh meat, fruit and specialities, and where you can observe a bit of local life.
where to take the waters
Budapest has been a popular spa destination since Roman times, with steam rooms that utilize the healing properties of the area’s natural springs. The most famous Budapest spas are those built at the turn of the 19th century, when bathing culture was booming in Europe.
Even if you don’t have a skin or joint condition that needs treating, visit the baths for a relaxing day out, or even just to admire the architecture.
Gellért Thermal Bath — The history of taking the water here dates back to the 15th century. In 1918, a beautiful hotel was built on the spring, with a splendid spa that’s now open for both hotel guests and day visitors. Inside, a variety of steam rooms and pools offer different health benefits, and outside are several pools and sunbathing areas.
The massages here may be no-frill, but they’re still thorough and excellent. Entrance from $17 for swimming pool with locker. Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, www.gellertbath.
Széchenyi Bath — One of the largest spa complexes in Europe, the Neo-Baroque Széchenyi was built in 1913 and offers 15 different pools and baths. Many people come here for a course of therapeutic treatments, but it’s also a great place to come for the day. Soak in the thermal pools, or sunbathe and book a massage on the terrace. Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 11.
Omorovicza — If you prefer your beauty treatments more upscale than what’s on offer at the local spas, try the flagship salon of luxury beauty brand Omorovicza.
This beauty company, run by a glamorous young Budapest couple, uses minerals from Hungarian healing waters to produce high-quality face products that are sold in prestigious stories including Harrods in London and Neiman Marcus in the US.
In their exquisite salon on the historic Andrassy Avenue, their highly-skilled therapists provide facials that will transform your complexion. 2 Andrassy Ut, 1061 Budapest, Hungary, www.omorovicza.com.
where to eat
Mátyás pince — This is the place to go to if you want to find out what Hungarian food really tastes like.
The listed interiors feature frescos and stained glass windows recounting scenes from the life of King Matthias (15th century) and the waiters wear traditional costume.
There’s live gypsy music at lunchtime and in the evening. Main courses around $15. Budapest Március 15. tér 7.
Spoon Cafe & Lounge — Trendy café and restaurant on a 75-metre, three-decked docked boat on the river Danube with a beautiful view over the Buda part of the city. Good for a business meeting or a celebration.
Main courses from $25. Spoon is on the River Danube in front of the Hotel InterContinental on the Pest side, www.spooncafe.hu
Gundel — Voted best restaurant in Budapest a number of times since it was established in the city park in 1910, Gundel is the city’s most esteemed traditional restaurant. Dine on goose liver, caviar, venison and pheasant in their ornate interior salons, or book a table for your group outside on the terrace if it’s summer. Main courses from $27.Budapest Állatkerti út 2, www.gundel.hu.
where to dance
Aloe Café — A popular place with a younger crowd, thanks to its cheap prices. Budaoest Zichy Jeno utca 37, www.aloecafe.hu.
Callas — A newly-opened bar designed by David Collins, a friend and designer of Madonna’s. Budapest, VI.ker. Andrássy út 20, www.callascafe.hu.
Morrison’s Music Club — For 14 years this bar has hosted those who want to have a drink and a dance as well, with free beers on Monday until 11 p.m. Budapest Révasy utca 25, www.morrisons.hu.
where to drink
Rocktogon — An underground venue where you can discover Hungarian rock. Entrance: $3.80. Beers from $2. Concerts start at 8 p.m. Budapest Mozsár u. 9, rock
Cafe Rio — A really trendy open-air bar on the Buda side of the city. Not the place for teenagers, with its grown up prices: beers from $3, cocktails at $9. Located at the Buda end of Petofi bridge, www.rio.hu.
Moulin Rouge — An all in one destination with a cafe, disco, restaurant and bar. This glamorous spot boasts original turn of the century features.
The cuisine is Mediterranean, and on the musical menu is a line up of hip local and foreign DJs. Budapest Nagymezo u. 17, www.moulinrouge.hu.