Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, has many things to excite a traveller. Its sweeping vistas, architectural delights and dynamic culture make a heady cocktail.
Budapest is on a rather large scale. Life beyond the charming old town, cobbled streets and bijoux boutique hotels, pulsates with its own rhythms. The city sits on more than a hundred and twenty natural springs. Bathing and steaming in their salubrious waters is a way of life. The enormous Market Hall rings with the buying and selling sounds of fresh produce, the tree lined Andrassy Avenue buzzes with trade, while Vienna-style cafes spill out on to the pavement. Filmmakers, photographers, artists, architects hobnob here, they talk about their city and its current dynamism.
Buda and Pest
The hill of Buda became a place of refuge for the Magyars (Hungarians) when the marauding Mongols attacked in 1241, and the settlement eventually developed into the royal city of Buda. In 1872 Pest, the flat plains across the Danube were united with Buda to form an international city and Hungary gained autonomy under the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.
Even today the two places have a very distinct look and feel. Hilly Buda with its leafy surroundings is where the most desirable homes and neighbourhoods are. On Castle Hill, the stretch from the Royal Palace, with its museums and galleries to Matthias church and Fisherman’s bastion is magnificent. The quiet mansions and squares in the backstreets are truly worthy of exploration.
Pest is flat as a griddle. Apartment living is the norm here. It is modern, dynamic and alive, the place of work and fun. We chose to stay on the Pest side, to enjoy views of Buda and to be able to walk to all the heritage buildings, wander through the Market Hall, see the Opera House, Liszt Ferenc Square bustling with cafes, to explore the lively shops at Vaci Utca and Kiraly streets and potter further afield, in the eighth and ninth district, home to gypsies and their performing arts.
Along with its twin-capital Vienna, Budapest was a jewel in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its grand boulevards, historic squares and public spaces form a framework befitting a major city. Film crews jostle to work in Budapest not just for its friendly pricing, but also because its eclectic building styles-art nouveau, baroque, neo classical and modern- can portray many cities around the world.
Traditional Zsolnay tiles decorate the roof of Mathias church in Buda, Polychromatic bricks make the facade of the Market
Hall. The Szecheni baths are an interesting blend of the eastern and western styles. Even at the zoo, the elephant house in particular is a great favourite of architecture students. We enjoyed Budapest’s immense visual charms mostly on foot, and when we were driven, it was in a glass-topped car. I remember thinking that lying flat on a stretcher while being shown around would be even better!
Stay at: The Four Seasons Gresham Palace, overlooking the Chain bridge and Buda Hill is a good option, besides Hilton and Kempinski.
Eat at: Deryne and Twentyone in Buda, Café Kor, Menza, Tom and George and Gundel in Pest.
Drink at: Otkert, Negro, or the ruin pubs of Budapest (Szimpla, Impulse, Mumus)
Buy: Herend chinaware, local crafts at Folkart Craftsman's House, Regiposta utca 12.
Explore: The Market Hall, The Dohany St Synagogue, the baths Gellert, Szechenyi and Rudas.
Cultural Scene: Folklore theatre at Zrinyi utca 5; Tanchaz for authentic Hungarian music.
Breath of fresh air: City Park, Margaret Island.
Population and currency: The population of Budapest is 1.8 million and the currency is Florint.