Budapest has a spectacular setting, where the Danube narrows to flow beneath the steep escarpment of the Buda Hills. Until 1840, when the first permanent bridge was constructed, the city was made up of two distinct towns: “Buda,” built atop a fortified ridge, and “Pest,” laid out on the flood plain opposite. Nowadays, the banks are intimately linked, and the metropolis is both divided and united by the great river that flows through its heart. Buda is home to the Royal Palace and the Castle District, plus a variety of well-preserved Renaissance and Gothic dwellings, many converted into distinctive restaurants and boutiques. Pest, on the other hand, impresses visitors with its neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building, ornate Opera House, palace-like National Museum and colossal St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Budapest has some of Europe’s grandest cafés, including the touristy but friendly New York Café, a neo-baroque confection of serpentine columns and crystal chandeliers. But our favorite remains Centrál Kávéház in the heart of old Pest, with its inimitable atmosphere of Mitteleuropa.
In the rarely crowded Hungarian National Gallery, we recommend heading straight to the 19th-century paintings on the second floor. In particular, the darkly luminous works of Mihály Munkácsy deserve to be much better known.
It’s difficult to take a crowd-free shot of the turrets and crenellations of the famous Fisherman’s Bastion during the day, but at dusk, most people have retreated to hotels and restaurants, and the bastion — beautifully illuminated against the navy sky — is left quiet.
To learn more about Hungary’s rich and complex cuisine, book a “Culinary Walk” tour with Taste Hungary.
Seek out the bottlings of István Szepsy, arguably Hungary’s greatest winemaker.