Escapes: Budapest

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STRADDLING the picturesque Danube River, the eclectic city of Budapest was once divided in two – Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east.

After combining in 1873, the Hungarian capital became one of the largest cities in the European Union and attracts 4.3 million tourists a year, making it the sixth most popular city in Europe.

Brimming with fascinating history, heritage architecture, natural beauty and lively culture, Budapest has a unique flavour with something for everyone.

 

History and culture

St Stephen’s Bascilla is one of Budapest’s tourist hot spots, ranked in the city’s top 10 attractions on Trip Advisor for 2014.

The imposing Roman Catholic Church is the third largest religious building in Hungary at a height of 87.4m, providing tourists with a spectacular city view from the top. Visitors are impressed by the neo-classical architecture, detailed artwork, and stained glass windows that illustrate Hungary’s religious history. The guided tour is highly recommended.

 

Budapest’s Holocaust Memorial Centre is a must-see for history buffs. Established in a former synagogue, the centre was created to commemorate the more than 500,000 members of the Hungarian Jewish community who died in the Holocaust. It is just one of six state-backed institutions in the world focused on research and education of the Holocaust, with a range of permanent, interactive, and periodic exhibitions. Guided tours are available in five languages.

 

Budapest is known as the City of Spas, with 118 of these natural occurring hot spots scattered throughout the city. There are 15 public thermal baths available to revive and indulge, but the palatial Szechenyi Baths and Pool should be at the top of the list. With 15 pools indoors and three outside, this facility draws thousands of locals and tourists each year. It also runs regular pools parties, which are popular with younger crowds. It’s not unusual to see people play floating chess while basking in the warm waters.

 

Perched on the southern tip of the appropriately named Castle Hill is Budapest’s former Royal Palace.  The mid-thirteenth century residence has been razed and rebuilt a number of times across the past seven centuries. Today, it houses two museums and the national library, which trace back through Budapest’s 2000-year history, via sculptures, paintings and artefacts. Each level of the Royal Palace depicts a different period in the city’s history, and the view from the top is breathtaking.

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Nightlife and food

Budapest is well-known for its nightlife, particularly during the summer months, and the locals know how to party. Most establishments take advantage of their historic surroundings, including built-in garden clubs and bars nestled among historic ruins. Dance clubs can be found throughout the vibrant city.

 

DiVino Borbar in central Budapest is particularly popular with wine lovers, with more than 120 Hungarian wines to choose from. It is also known for its great views and friendly and knowledgeable staff.

 

Most bars are located in obscure alley ways and often you’ll find a place exists where you’d least expect it. The best way to discover the city’s hidden gems is to wander and get lost in the atmosphere.

 

Hungary is the home of goulash (meat stew with dumplings) and plenty of restaurants serve up this national dish at a reasonable price. Other traditional favourites include stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls and hearty casseroles. For a truly authentic meal, visitors should check out the Hungarikum Bistro, a homely establishment located on Steindl Imre Street 13.

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Things to know

The Budapest Ferenc Liszt International airport is one of the busiest in central and eastern Europe. All major airlines fly from Australia to Budapest with at least one stop and an average flight time of 20 hours.

Once there, the Metro is the easiest way to get around and is relatively easy to understand. It runs regularly to the city’s most popular destinations. English is widely spoken across the city.

Budapest has its own currency, the Hungarian Forint, so be prepared with some cash at hand.

The free Budapest Walking Tours make a good introduction to the city, with four daily tours to choose from: the Jewish District, Communism, Original or Afternoon.

Each tour begins at Vorosmarty Square and, while they technically are free, the operate on tips. It is recommended to reward tour guides with a performance-based contribution.

Visit budapest.com for more information.