Budapest, often referred to as the Pearl of the Danube, is quite possibly the finest city in Central Europe. Hipper than Vienna, less crowded than Prague, more elegant than Berlin, it combines all the best elements of those cities and packs a mighty punch. Here are some of the main highlights of a city with so much to see and do that you'll end up coming back anyway. The 2018 Hungarian Grand Prix is on 26-29 July.
Get Your Culture On
Budapest, as most people know, is split by the Danube into two parts – Buda and Pest – and the thinking goes that all the interesting architecture is in the quiet neighbourhoods of Buda. Not so. The Parliament Building by the river in Pest is one of the most stunning buildings in Europe. The massive, Gothic-style construction dominates this part of the city and impresses from virtually every angle. Cross the Danube on the impressive, ornate Szechenyi Chain Bridge into Buda, and climb the hill via the impressive Gellert Baths (see below) to get up to Buda, and specifically the Fisherman's Bastion and Buda Castle. This pleasant, quiet area is a contrast to the noise and traffic of Pest, and the elegant Habsburg-era buildings won't fail to impress. Dusk is a great time to visit, especially in the summer – not only when the heat will be less fierce, but to get some spectacular photographic opportunities back over Pest and the River Danube.
Take a Cruise
If you haven't already had enough of cruising in the baths, what better way is there of getting to know Budapest than by taking a river cruise, enabling you to see some of its less accessible sights. The Castle district, the Citadella and the House of Parliament are just a few of the great views you'll get by sailing serenely down the Danube. A perfect way to round off a day of hectic sightseeing, perhaps with a glass of wine and a meal, it's also a romantic experience for couples.
Have a Dip
Probably the most iconic thing to do while you are in Budapest is to go to one (or several) of the famous bath houses and have a dip in the warm, therapeutic thermal waters. These are the best ones:
- Szechenyi: Located on the east side of Pest near the zoo, Szechenyi has it all as far as baths are concerned. From its dignified pastel Habsburg buildings to its array of pools, indoor and outdoor, ranging in temperature from lukewarm to scalding, you should visit here whether you like bathing or not. Watching old men play chess in the water is the quintessential Budapest experience.
- Gellert: Probably the second most well-known baths, Gellert is a different type of bathing experience – a bit more exclusive, the baths are in a stately old building by the river on the Buda side. Ornately-decorated with blue mosaic tiles, Gellert definitely offers the most aesthetic bathing experience in the city.
One of the great experiences you really shouldn't miss is this city are its 'kert' (literally, 'rubble' or 'ruin' bars), most of which have been converted from empty or run-down buildings into brilliantly creative art spaces for serious drinking, partying and cultural happenings, often decorated with household junk like old bikes, bathtubs and chairs. Here are two of the best:
- Szimpla: The grandaddy of kerts, Szimpla has been going for about twenty years, and is one of the originals and still one of the best. Set on several floors, its mix and match furniture, grungy vibe, cool low lighting and artistic/cinematic events were a huge and instant hit in Budapest and became a blueprint for all kert bars. Best feature? There's a Trabant in the garden...
- Instant: Probably the most imaginatively-designed of all the ruin bars, Instant is a shambling, Alice in Wonderland sort of place, spread over 23 rooms through two tenement buildings. It's the biggest bar in Budapest, unsurprisingly. With several bars and dance floors, art installations and countless nooks and crannies, Instant is a maze you'll be happy to get lost in.