Earning itself the title Paris of the East, Budapest is a glorious city full of culture, history and world-class restaurants. Below you’ll find our guide to this Central European gem.
Where to Sleep
Before booking your hotel, you should understand the layout of the capital. Historically, Buda was a city on the west bank of the Danube River and Pest on the East. Over time, the two merged into what is now Budapest. Buda remains the cultural highlight, more genteel in essence while Pest is lively, commercial and has an in-the-middle-of-it-all spirit.
Our top recommendation in Buda is Art’otel Budapest, a minimalist diamond among the generally more lavish hotels along the Danube. The hotel is actually a fabulously Frankensteined welding of two buildings: one Baroque, the other 21st-century modern. The interior is clean, comfortable and thoughtful. If you have the Euro, book a room overlooking the river.
In Pest we recommend Hotel Moments on UNESCO World Heritage Site, Andrássy Avenue. The hotel is a stone’s throw from the Hungarian State Opera House and St. Stephen’s Basilica (more on these sites under ‘What to Do’). It’s interior and exterior design perfectly balance classic abundance with a modern sensibility. The fact most of the city’s gay bars are a 10-minute stroll away doesn’t hurt either.
Where to Eat
Located on the Danube, Kiosk is a swank, spacious establishment offering a mix of international favourites as well as Hungarian classics. Perfect for larger groups with varied tastes.
An alternative dinner destination is the popular St. Andrea Wine & Gourmet Bar. Finally, try the high-end, Transylvania-inspired Babel where nettle and hay are as comfortable on the menu as beef and chicken.
If you want a taste of Budapest’s gastronomic history, check out famed Gundel Restaurant. The fine-dining establishment serves hoity Hungarian. Tables are draped in linens, walls are adorned with classic art and on occasion, you’ll be treated to a mid-meal folk dance. Dress code in full effect.
Looking for a low-key lunch or early dinner? Try Spíler BistroPub, trendy DiVino (sit on the patio!), Yiddishe Mamma Mia, or the extravagant New York Cafe inside Boscolo Hotel Budapest. Beer enthusiasts should take special note of Léhűtő on Holló St.
What to Do
To best appreciate Budapest’s architectural mosaic, book a private cruise up the Danube River. The city has become synonymous with its mismatched Baroque, Neoclassic and Art Nouveau structures.
After docking, sashay over to the Parliament Building, aka Hungary’s greatest source of pride. It’s the largest building in the country with a whopping 691 sumptuously decorated rooms. Of special note are Hungary’s crown jewels on display during regular visiting hours. You may remember the jewels for their tumultuous past — stolen, returned, stolen again, hidden in America from the Soviet Union only to be returned by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
From Parliament you can saunter off in any direction to discover the city’s splendid architectural wonders, from the famed chain bridge to the Royal Castle, Gellért Hill, St. Stephen’s Basilica (the largest church in Budapest) and more!
Art enthusiasts will be on cloud nine enjoying performances at the National Theatre and the Palace of Arts. You can experience an opera at Miklos Ybl’s opulent Opera House or visit the Museum of Fine Arts in Heroe’s Square, both of which will be reopening their doors this October after extensive construction.
Finally, make time for Budapest’s balmy baths. Natural thermal springs pump through Budapest like veins and have been transformed into bathhouses as far back as the Roman Empire (though sadly, none from this period still exist). There are nearly 125 baths to choose from, the most famous of which include massive and decorative Széchenyi Baths, octagonal Rudas Baths, the Art Nouveau Gellért Baths and the authentically Ottoman Király Baths.
Where to Shop
Visit Central Market Hall, aka ‘Nagycsarnok’. It’s the largest indoor market in Budapest and was designed by Gustave Eiffel of — you guessed it — Eiffel Tower fame. Most of the stalls on the market’s ground floor offer popular souvenirs and ‘Hungaricums’ such as Paprika, Tokaji Wine, and goose liver.
After breaking the bank on Magyar-merch, walk along the Duna Korso or the Danube Embankment, a lovely pedestrian street running along the Pest side of the Danube.
On Sundays, we highly recommend visiting GOUBA — short for Gozsdu Bazaar — a popular, open-air market held between March and October. And recently reopened Royal Gardens Bazaar on the Buda side of the Danube is also popular.
Finally, if you’re looking for some new threads, kicks or a say-something hat, the most famous shopping strips include Váci Street, Deák Ferenc Street and UNESCO World Heritage Andrássy Avenue (note: the same street Hotel Moments sits on).
Where to Go Out
While still in its infancy, Budapest’s gay scene has grown quickly since the fall of communism in the early ’90s. Today, around 12 true gay bars and clubs exist for the LGBT community, most of which are scattered through Inner City.
For a more, um, rambunctious evening, try Alterego Bar & Lounge. Note: it’s only open Fridays & Saturdays.
As the city of baths, this guide would be incomplete without mentioning the city’s gay-only sauna, Magnum Sauna.
That’s all we’ve got!
If you’re planning a trip to beautiful Budapest (or you’re looking to join us in Budapest) don’t hesitate to reach out. We’ve got even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your stay in this incredible capital!
Out Adventures heads to Budapest July, 2019. For full details click here.
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