Hungary's capital city is one of Eastern Europe's most attractive destinations. It has a beautiful setting on the Danube River, stately palaces, castles and museums to visit, and a youthful population who love to hit the town's bars and clubs.
Budapest's golden age came under the Habsburgs in the 18th and 19th centuries, and when you visit, you'll be astonished by the beauty that remains. You can see ballet in the Drechsler Palace, climb to the citadel on Gellért Hill, or see how the Imperial royal family lived at Buda Castle.
After the sightseeing's all done, relax in thermal baths like Széchenyi, wind through the city's nightlife districts, or spend the evening sampling the gourmet cuisine at restaurants like Borbiróság. At the end of it all, you'll have fallen in love with this friendly, gorgeous European capital.
Above all else, you'll fall in love with the architecture of Budapest. Buda Castle is the gem, but Matthias Church and the Hungarian State Opera House come a close second. You can tour all of their interiors, so don't miss out.
Hungarians love to shop, particularly at indoor and outdoor markets. You can do the same at Nagycsarnok (the central market), which has an impressive iron structure and is crammed with stalls selling sweets, fresh food, cheese, and meats. But there are also boutiques, antique stores, vintage outlets - everything you could want.
For 50 years, Budapest was behind the Iron Curtain, and you can explore what life was like in the city at historical museums like the House of Terror (which deals with the secret police). Memento Park is home to a fascinating collection of Soviet-era statues and vehicles.
Another legacy of the Warsaw Pact era are the many "ruin bars" that occupy old buildings. Budapest has a freewheeling nightlife scene, and these bars are the place to go to drink cocktails, meet the locals, and dance all night long.
The elegant architecture and the Danube River combine to offer gorgeous views across Budapest. The best way to see it all is either to take a river boat tour (which costs as little as Ft3,000), or to climb to the castle, which overlooks the entire city.
The best time to visit Budapest is late spring and early summer. If you arrive from March to late May, you'll enjoy warm weather and hardly any crowds. Summer offers the chance to bathe in the many thermal baths, but the crowds can become restrictive. Fall and winter are colder, but when the snow falls, Budapest offers stunning photo opportunities.
Budapest's Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) is 10 miles southeast of the center of town and has direct flights to Canadian destinations, so you can reach Budapest from the USA by plane with a connecting flight. Most people take the 200E bus to Kőbánya-Kispest Metro station, then use the subway to get into town. However, it's much more convenient to take a taxi. Expect to pay around Ft5,000 to 10,000 depending on the time of day and where you need to travel.
Arriving by train is a real pleasure, as Budapest Keleti is a stunning station, and the city has good rail connections with Germany, the Czech Republic, and Italy. Keleti is on the subway network, so finding your way into town is simple.
If you are driving into Budapest, the most common route is from Vienna. In that case, you'll need to take the Austrian A4 to the border, then the M15 and the M1. From Prague, take the E50, then the E65 to Bratislava, and the E60 to Budapest. The E75 runs all the way from Belgrade to Budapest, another popular road route.
Bus companies serving Budapest include Orangeways, Eurolines, and Eurobusways and the vast majority of buses arrive at Népliget bus station. From there, take Metro Line 3 into the city center.
If you are looking for an upscale hotel in Budapest, there's plenty of choice. From the artistically decorated rooms of Brody House and the sheer luxury of the Corinthia Hotel to the immaculate Four Seasons Gresham Palace, high-end hotels abound. Excellent cheaper options include the rough-and-ready Buda Guesthouse and the Grand Hostel Budapest.
Buda - Buda is really one half of the city and you'll find it on the west bank of the Danube. It's dominated by Castle Hill, and is also home to some of the city's richest neighborhoods. Other attractions include the Fisherman's Bastion (which offers superb views across the river) and the fascinating "Hospital in the Rock" Museum, featuring a preserved WWII-era bunker.
Pest - unsurprisingly, the other half of the city, this time on the eastern banks of the Danube. Pest is the political center of modern Hungary, hosting the nation's Parliament. It's long been the artistic center, thanks to cafes like Gerbeaud, and attractions like the Opera House are a must for all visitors.
Városliget - literally Budapest's "city park", Városliget is an enchanting place. It's where you can relax in the thermal baths at Széchenyi, visit Budapest Zoo, tour the Museum of Fine Arts, or just relax in the surroundings of one of Europe's greatest inner-city green spaces.
Budapest's public transportation network includes buses, boats, trams, and the excellent Metro subway system, and it's generally all tourists need to get around. Single tickets can be bought from vending machines for Ft350 (Ft750 on boats), a day pass costs Ft1,650, and a weekly ticket is Ft4,950.
In the center of Budapest, taxis have a fixed rate, so make sure you aren't overcharged. The cost should be Ft450 for the meter drop, then Ft400 or so for every additional mile or Ft70 per minute. Trips to the airport are more expensive, as are night journeys.
Having your own car is not essential for seeing the sights in central Budapest. In fact, with so much traffic on main roads, driving in the city can be inconvenient. However, it can be handy to see day-trip destinations like Pécs. Rental outlets in the city include Sixt and Europcar, and rates can be as low as Ft3,700 per day.
Budapest is a fantastic place to shop. The major shopping street is Váci utca in Pest, where you'll find international chains like H&M, Calzedonia, and Desigual. For designer labels like Prada, make a trip to Andrássy Út, but for the most fun of all, dive into Nagyvásárcsarnok (the Great Market Hall), where you will have no trouble finding souvenirs for those back home.
The Great Market is also an excellent place to buy food and drink, and it can be very cheap as well, so self-catering vacationers should definitely swing by. Other than that, try supermarkets like Aldi and Spar, which are all over town. Groceries are cheap by North American standards: expect to pay Ft800 for a gallon of milk and around Ft180 for a pound of bananas.
Budapest is becoming one of Eastern Europe's premier gourmet destinations. At Borkonyha, you can savor Michelin-starred main courses for around Ft2,800 and Borbiróság near the Great Market is almost as good, and just as affordable. Menza is another local favorite, serving up hearty specialties like cheesy gnocchi at bargain prices. Even the best restaurants won't charge more than Ft5,000 for a three-course meal, so Budapest represents fantastic value for gastronomes.