Budapest is one of the best cities you can visit in the world, and even though the city has had a trying past – there’s something so incredible about how the people have carried it to the present day, making it one of the most liveable cities in the world. CLICK HERE to get flights roundtrip from Los Angeles to Budapest in March for just $435 Budapest can be challenging and complicated — but it’s a cosmopolitan place of unexpected elegance, fascinating and rewarding. Sprawling across the banks of the Danube River, the city is really two towns in one. The west side is stately Buda, with its Castle Hill and remnants of Hungary’s glory days. On the flats across the river is Pest, with prickly-spired buildings and the commercial town center. Although modern-day Budapest is fully European, there’s something exotic about the place. This area has absorbed wave after wave of migrating ethnic groups. First came the Magyars, who stampeded in from Central Asia about a thousand years ago to settle the region. They were followed by Turks, Germans, Slavs, Jews and Roma, creating a cultural goulash that’s still simmering today. CLICK HERE for this roundtrip deal to Budapest in early April for just $435 RT!
Not second fiddle
Budapest boomed in the late 19th century, after the Habsburg rulers made it co-capital — with Vienna — of their vast Austro-Hungarian empire. That boom peaked with a flurry of construction in anticipation of a citywide party in 1896 — the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival of the Magyars. Not wanting to play second fiddle to Vienna, Budapest remade the capital with grand squares, heroic monuments and even a subway (the Continent’s oldest).
Many of the city’s finest landmarks date from this era, including the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament, the opulent State Opera House and the voluminous Central Market Hall. It’s worth touring these buildings to ogle their magnificent interiors. By the end of World War I, though, the Habsburgs and their golden-age elegance were gone. Very soon after Hitler came to power in Germany, Hungary ignobly allied itself with the Nazis. Their reward was to be “liberated” by the Soviets, who installed a communist government after World War II. Today, that time feels like ancient history, and younger Hungarians have no living memory of communism. Nowadays twentysomethings shop in trendy, one-of-a-kind boutiques and flock to nightclubs featuring everything from Romany rap to cool jazz.
Red old days
But Budapest still has one of Eastern Europe’s best sights remembering the Red old days. Instead of disposing of its statues of Stalin, Lenin and their local counterparts, an entrepreneur collected them into an open-air museum. The result is Memento Park, located at the city’s edge, boasting an entertaining jumble of communist all-stars.
Even with the tumultuous detours of the 20th century, Budapest has retained a keen knack for good living. The city’s once-vibrant cafe culture has made a strong comeback (the communists closed down the cafes, fearing a dissident breeding ground). But now the old coffee shops are being restored, with red-velvet chairs and doodad-decorated columns dripping with Habsburgian nostalgia.
You can also relax with a splish-splash in one of the city’s famous thermal baths. Of two dozen or so traditional baths, Szechenyi is the most accessible and fun place to take the plunge. Magyars of all shapes and sizes squeeze themselves into tiny swimsuits and strut their stuff. You can paddle in the aristocratic outdoor pool, soak in indoor thermal baths or steam in the sauna all day for less than $20.
The city boasts marvelous vistas as well. Ride the cute Buda funicular up to Castle Hill for panoramic views from the remaining castle ramparts. Or cap a day of sightseeing with an evening cruise on the blue Danube. As the sun goes down, an ensemble of icons grabs your attention: the mighty bridges linking Buda and Pest, the stubborn citadel standing tall on Buda’s hill, and monuments honoring a hard-earned freedom. Budapest, a city of nuance and paradox, has survived its turbulent history beautifully.
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TOP 12 REASONS TO VISIT BUDAPEST
0 Thermal baths
A good proportion of Hungary is occupied by portly Germans wallowing in thermal waters, and Budapest is riddled with such baths. If you can make it to just one, pick the Szechenyi complex in the large City Park. It’s an aquatic wonderland, combining lap pools, spa tubs, whirlpools and waters of different temperatures – and the setting is palatial. There’s something of a holiday camp vibe, with sunbathers making a day of it and hairy, middle-aged men standing in the pools, playing chess on the side. spasbudapest.com.
Budapest is a top pick for more reasons than one:
- 1. It’s one of the most historic cities on the planet. – Budapest is right on the Danube, which has been home to humans since the Stone Age. The river and its Buda Castle are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Book a nighttime cruise to see them in top form.
- 2. And the greatest sights to see are free. – Roman, Gothic and Turkish styles make this charm-filled city an architectural dream. Check out Fisherman’s Bastion, a castle wall with the best views of the city.
- 3. It’s a food capital, and for good reason. – Budapest’s food history spans literal centuries. Check out amazing farmers markets of fruits, veggies and pastries.
- 4. Hot springs make the city into a spa playground. – Hungary is said to have more than 1,000 hot springs thanks to super-thin earth crust. Take a break at one of Budapest’s hot-spring spas like Széchenyi thermal baths, where outdoor pool temps reach about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 5. Budapest is one of the cheapest spots in Europe right now. – Yes, much of Europe is cost-friendly right now, but Budapest is an especially cheap spot. Hotel rates in Hungary are down 25 percent from 2014, according to booking data from travel site Orbitz. Their research also shows a 17 percent decrease in airfare to Budapest over the last year.
- 6. The Great Synagogue is mind-blowingly beautiful. – The largest synagogue in Europe includes the Hungarian Jewish Museum and a Holocaust memorial. The arches are breathtaking.
- 7. There’s essentially a mall of food. – The Great Market Hall is the biggest market in Budapest, and it’s more than 100 years old. You’ll find pretty much anything you want on its three impressive levels.
- 8. Budapest is totally road trip-able. – Budapest is a convenient stop on the most efficient European road trip ever. There are easy rail transfers to Istanbul, too, if you’re looking to hit numerous spots in one trip.
- 9. And you’ll stay in the REAL Grand Budapest Hotel. – The Corinthia Hotel Budapest is said to have inspired the Oscar-winning film.
- 10. But if you want to be an expert in terror, you can do that too. – The House of Terror museum details Hungary’s relations with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in a series of haunting exhibits.
- 11. And here, wine is an art form. – Hungary is famous for its vineyards. Weave deep into a cave labyrinth under Budapest’s castle district for a wine tasting you’ll never forget.
- 12. A magical island oasis is just a bridge walk away. – Margaret or Margit Island floats in the Danube, just a bridge walk away from city streets. Take a bike ride or jog, visit a petting zoo, or see a concert in the outdoor theater.