Eastern Europe might have been overlooked in the past as a typical destination for those planning to jump on yet another 12-hour long-haul flight from Asia, but let me reassure you, with a combination of affordable stays, free cultural activities and ever-buzzing bar scene, Budapest is worth a visit. Even as we braved the near-frostbite situation in early January, Budapest was as magical as ever. The capital of Hungary has all the things one might ask for: nightlife, culture, sightseeing and a great dining scene. Here are our top picks for what to do, where to stay and what to see in Budapest.
Where to Stay
There are many options to choose from in Budapest, but one of the most famous must be the Four Season Gresham Palace which is perched on the banks of the Danube. This romantic hotel is an institution in and of itself, and with Four Seasons management to boot, it undoubtedly offers world-class, 5 star-service to its guests.
On the other hand, if you are a fan of a smaller and more boutiquey-feel hotel, we check out the Aria Hotel, a fresh addition to the heart of the protected cultural heritage area, which just opened its doors last December. Inspired entirely by music, the hotel’s designer, Zoltan Varro, had a vision to recreate an a luxury environment and transport the guests back through time with different musical genres ranging from classical and jazz to pop/rock and opera. What better way to immerse yourself in the spirit of Hungarian culture than kicking back and enjoying the history of their music?
What to See
Of course, there are the usual must-dos such as the Parliament House, Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Stephen’s Basilica for a 360-degree panoramic view of the city, ice skating in the park, the historic public baths and the Jewish Quarter. Of course the highlight is the Hungarian State Opera House if you’re a music lover. We suggest booking a seat in the box to enjoy two hours’ worth of La Bohème if you can fit it into your schedule.
Where to Eat
New York City Café
The famous New York City Café for an afternoon tea session is a must. It’s situated inside the Boscolo Budapest Hotel, which used to be the epicentre of the Hungarian literature and poetry. This coffee house boasts grand, old-world Renaissance interiors and dêcor, with expensive chandeliers hanging from the ceiling — it’s dubbed the most beautiful café in the world. If you’re looking for traditional Austro-Hungarian cuisine, this place is a must-try.
We also had a chance to sample a Michelin-star restaurant, Costes. There are two: be sure to select the correct one, whether you want to try the more rustic-style café or the posh set menu. This modern Hungarian spot has an amazing menu, and the meal overall was super hearty with absolute meticulous presentation. The meal explodes with so much flavour and art – it was a top culinary experience.
Where to Shop
The Champs-Elysées equivalent where you can find all the luxury and high-end brands like Gucci, Burberry, Moncler and the like is Andrassy Avenue, and it’s worth a stroll.
Printa Design Shop
Our personal favourite is this little shop slash café we came across in the Jewish Quarter. Printa is a design store that stocks a range of cool products including prints, garments, decorations and stationary. What caught our eye were their signature silk-screen prints that were worth a couple of purchases. And their baristas do a mean flat whites as well!
Where to Play
Of course, the first thing that comes up on your page results when you Google nightlife in Budapest are the ruin pubs. It’s absolutely a must-see to tick it off your list. But the ruin bar pub crawls are not the only way you can relish in the nightlife in Budapest.
This boho-vibe private members’ club may not be very under the radar but it offers public gigs, DJ nights, art exhibitions, and events you can enjoy if you’ve already touristed until your heart is content and looking for something a little bit more local and different. Plus they also offer accommodation in apartments, which are perfect for longer stays to explore more of Budapest.