Budapest Travel Guide

Budapest Travel Guide

Curation by Jamie McGhee, words by Ian Packham

The elegant streets and the nineteenth century, fin de siècle architecture of the Hungarian capital epitomize the grand and optimistic style in which Budapest both saw – and sees – itself. An eastern European city that looked westward even when behind the Iron Curtain, the city has a long history of culture and liberalism. This UNESCO World Heritage Site boasts more than 100 museums and galleries, as well as a nightlife scene regarded as one of the continent’s finest, whether you’re straight or gay. The city’s LGBTQ community is open and socially accepted, with a form of civil union legalised in 2007, and an annual Pride celebration which has run since 1993. Wondering what to do in Budapest? Look no further than the Mr Hudson Budapest gay guide!

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The best hotels in Budapest

A stroll away from the stunning parliament building on the River Danube, the five-star Iberostar Grand Budapest is a modern stay with its heart firmly set in the spirit of the city’s golden age. Rooms are spacious and stylish, with many incorporating contemporary takes on traditional features, such as four-poster beds, while sumptuous sofas adorn the hotel’s public spaces. Guests also have complimentary access to a spa with hot tub, sauna, and a Turkish steam bath. A similar distance from the parliament building is Hotel Parlament, a boutique hotel with 65 rooms and a distinct old-world charm despite the mid-twentieth century aesthetic furnishings, which means that beside rolltop bathtubs and traditional wood veneers, you’ll find mirrored walls and perfectly-placed couture armchairs. Situated within a nineteenth-century mansion on the northern edge of the downtown area, Mystery Hotel Budapest has a panache that matches its historic surroundings without taking itself too seriously. So while there are luxurious fabrics and chandeliers throughout, there are also takes on historic artworks given a quirky Banksy-esque twist.

Most of the bedrooms at Hotel Collect have views into a tranquil central courtyard, decorated with Moroccan tiles and accented by furniture reminiscent of an eastern coffee house. Each of the rooms is uniquely decorated, for a glamourous Budapest stay offering a modern look alongside classic French style. Alternatively, Casati Budapest Hotel Superior is an adult-only getaway located in the historic Terézváros District, within walking distance of many of top things to do in Budapest. There is a choice of room styles (classic, cool, natural, and heavenly) depending on your personal preference for a good nights’ sleep, and you can rest assured each is as spacious as the next.

Mystery Hotel Budapest

Mystery Hotel Budapest

Mystery Hotel Budapest

Mystery Hotel Budapest

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Recommended hotels in Budapest
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With the epithet ‘City of Baths’ and more thermal springs than anywhere else in the world, Budapest is the perfect destination for indulging in a spa day

Things to do in Budapest

With the epithet ‘City of Baths’ and more thermal springs than anywhere else in the world, Budapest is the perfect destination for indulging in a spa day. With a history dating back at least four and a half centuries, Rudas Turkish Bath retains many of its sixteenth-century features, including the central octagonal pool and the ten-metre-wide Ottoman dome that rises above it. Later additions include a sauna and swimming pool, in addition to the drinking hall in which you can take the waters for yourself. Guided tasting sessions at Faust Wine Cellar offer tipples a little stronger. Hosted by the cellar’s owner in medieval surrounds beneath Castle Hill, you’ll come away with a much greater understanding of and appreciation for the region’s wines, described by Louis XIV of France as ‘the wine of kings and king of wines’. Above ground, you’ll find Buda Castle. Once home to the Habsburg monarchy, this impressive baroque palace overlooking the Danube is now the site of the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest sightseeing destination perfect for exploring the country’s artistic traditions. As well as a great many local artists, the collection also includes household names including Cezanne, Monet, and Pissarro.

The Hungarian State Opera House is, if anything, even more, impressive an arts space. Its painted ceilings, gilt woodwork, and marble staircases are considered one of the best places in the world to experience live opera. A tour of the 1,200-seat auditorium and surrounding spaces gives some sense of the opulence evident on performance nights. Delving even deeper into Budapest’s history is Aquincum Museum and Ruin Garden. Its Latin name indicates its dedication to the city’s Roman period, with the gardens incorporating the ruins of a gladiatorial amphitheatre and ancient bathhouse.

Faust Wine Cellar

Faust Wine Cellar

St. Stephen's Basilica | Photo: Daniel Olah

St. Stephen's Basilica | Photo: Daniel Olah

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Recommended experiences in Budapest
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What to see in Budapest

One of the most bohemian of Budapest’s districts, Józsefváros (also called Eighth) District has developed a reputation as being simply unmissable. Its youthful vibe is strongest around Krúdy Gyula Street and Mikszáth Kálmán Square, where it hosts a cluster of artsy cafes by day, and cooler-than-cool bars come nightfall. The rather wealthier Gellért Hill area of the city is also worth adding to any list of Budapest points of interest. Part of the Banks of the Danube World Heritage Site, its main attractions are the epic panoramas its height offers along the river. A little further north on Buda Hill is Fisherman’s Bastion, a lookout constructed in 1902 which offers a romantic setting from which to gaze at the parliament building on the opposite bank of the Danube, in the Pest area of the Hungarian capital.

Immediately in front of the parliament building, 60 pairs of iron shoes line up along the east bank of the river. This thought-provoking piece of public art acts as a memorial to the 3,500 people shot and dumped into the Danube by the proto-fascist Arrow Cross regime in just five months during the Second World War. Memento Park holds a similar role, displaying monuments removed from the city streets at the end of the Cold War and the communist regime. Besides statues of Marx and Engels, a small museum helps bring the period to life. Dating from the 1850s, St Stephen’s Basilica is one of the most important Budapest things to do or see. The stunning neoclassical interior will impress even the most hardened atheist, while the reliquary is said to house the ‘incorruptible’ right hand of Stephen, the canonised first king of Hungary, after whom the Catholic co-cathedral is named.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge | Photo: Daniel Olah

Széchenyi Chain Bridge | Photo: Daniel Olah

St. Stephen’s Basilica | Photo: Marco Meyer

St. Stephen’s Basilica | Photo: Marco Meyer

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The first restaurant in Hungarian history to achieve Michelin star status, Costes remains the place to head for contemporary French cuisine

Where to eat in Budapest

The first restaurant in Hungarian history to achieve Michelin star status, Costes remains the place to head for contemporary French cuisine. Crafted as much as possible with locally-sourced ingredients, dishes leave the kitchen with Hungarian-inspired amuse-bouche, such as goulash soup or lángos fried bread. The Michelin stylings of the Babel kitchen can be enjoyed by just a dozen tables per night, and specialise in the flavours of Transylvania, the Romanian region once within Hungarian borders (and famously home to Dracula). Bringing its traditional fayre to new heights, any visit to this tasting menu only restaurant is sure to include simple, natural ingredients such as lichen and hay. Gundel is the second restaurant in our Budapest travel guide with a focus on traditional Hungarian cuisine, served in a relaxed ambience reminiscent of a Viennese café, and accompanied by the sounds of the in-house band. Meanwhile, the casual setting of Százéves Étterem detracts nothing from its long list of local favourites, including goose liver, and ox tongue, among others.

Babel

Babel

Borkonyha certainly pulls no punches with its first-rate five-course degustation and à la carte, menus. Rich in flavoursome roast meats and delicate fish, the star of the show for many patrons is the impressive wine list of more than 200 different bottles. For something a little different, Mazel Tov’s expansive glass roof floods its dining space with sunlight, creating a bright, welcoming environment in which to enjoy its menu of Israeli-Mediterranean foods, from salads and falafel burgers to chicken shawarma sandwiches. A distinctly Jewish flavour profile, including tasty classics such as roasted chicken and dumplings, and fillets of catfish with homemade noodles, is also the sphere of the popular family-run Rosenstein.

The words ‘book café’ don’t do justice to the establishment in Lotzterem (Lotz Hall). Here, a house pianist tinkles the ivories in a stunning, chandelier-clad dining hall whose art nouveau style sets the scene for a literary café. However, there are also plenty of places in Budapest to sample local flavours even if you’re not after a sit-down meal. The 10,000-square-metre of Central Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok) has been a popular destination since the grandiose structure was first constructed in the late nineteenth century, and offers guided tours complete with food and wine tastings, as well as stalls to buy the weekly groceries. Meanwhile, Gelarto Rosa, next to St Stephen’s Basilica, creates organic and homemade Italian-style ice cream that has city residents queueing whatever the weather.

Mazel Tov

Mazel Tov

Shopping in Budapest

The shopfront of Vass Shoes on Haris köz Street may be deliberately understated, but there’s no hiding the phenomenal reputation of this high-end men’s footwear store. Made using techniques that have gone unchanged for hundreds of years, its handcrafted collection of high-end leather and suede shoes simply scream quality and elegance, attracting clients from right around the globe. Made-to-measure shoes in hand, make your way to Zsigmondo Dora, a designer menswear store whose creative force has developed a fashion brand that is underpinned by traditional tailoring techniques yet demonstrates a much cleaner and youthful edge. Hand-sewn in the village where Dora grew up, using only the finest of fabrics, this is a marriage of tradition and innovation at its very best.

Locally-sourced, hand-made goods are also key to the ethos of Csendes Concept Store. A hippy-in-all-the-right-places boutique, it seeks to share Hungarian talent with the wider world in its selection of designer ceramics, furniture, home décor, jewellery, and foodstuffs. Not your usual souvenir store, Printa Design Shop stocks Budapest-inspired gifts by Hungarian artists and designers, in addition to one-of-a-kind T-shirts and interior pieces largely made from natural materials. Finally, for the wine aficionado, there’s Bortársaság Wine Store. More than just a place to stock up on bottles of sweet Tokaj, the whole gambit of Hungarian wine regions can be found on the shelves here, whether you’re after a Szekszárd or a Villány. But if you’re struggling with the expansive list of options, the well-informed staff are on standby to help you out.

Printa Design Shop

Printa Design Shop

Printa Design Shop

Printa Design Shop

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As the original and best-loved of the city’s ‘ruin bars’ – an eclectic band of drinking spots set up in derelict buildings – Szimpla Kert maintains much of its former factory feel

Budapest nightlife

It would be remiss of a Budapest gay city guide to ignoring Why Not Bar, whose cosy, down-to-earth atmosphere spills out onto the terrace on the banks of the Danube and is a great introduction to the local scene. Open throughout the day and long into the night, the bar offers cocktails and craft beers, while regular events include karaoke and bingo nights. A short distance away you’ll also find Habrolo. A café and bar with a homely look of comfy sofas and patterned wallpapers, Habrolo is a popular venue with Budapest’s gay residents looking for a low-key place to hang out. As the original and best-loved of the city’s ‘ruin bars’ – an eclectic band of drinking spots set up in derelict buildings – Szimpla Kert maintains much of its former factory feel. It’s large bare brick interior and open-air courtyard of art projects and vintage furniture create the feel of a close friend’s house party, rather than a profit-making venture.

However, one of the most exclusive Budapest nightspots is Black Swan, styled after a prohibition-era speakeasy. The shining chrome and heavy velvet curtains set the scene for Black Swan’s curated cocktail list, while, as the go-to nightspot for the city’s elite, its refined air is more sophisticated than elsewhere in the city. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Vibe, a club which is almost the exclusive realm of Budapest’s young LGBTQ crowd, making it a fun place with a busy dance floor any day of the week. But the unofficial award for the city’s largest gay club goes to Alterego, which boasts two dance floors and four bars, although it’s only open on Friday and Saturday nights. Just as popular as the dance floors are the midnight drag act starring the indomitable Lady Dömper, one of Hungary’s most famous drag queens.

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert

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