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Budapest city guide

How to get the best out of Hungary's beautiful capital

Bisected by the Danube and straddled by elegant bridges, Budapest is stunningly attractive. Crowned with historic sights, hilly Buda differs from dynamic Pest, with its grand avenues, Michelin-starred restaurants and lively nightlife. Luxury hotels are located on either side of the river, many with top-notch spas (Budapest has long been known for its healing waters). Habsburg finery adds a grandiose architectural touch, offset by recent contemporary makeovers of main squares and focal streets. No matter which corner of the city you head for, you will find something to draw you in.

Words by Peterjon Cresswell


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City Center

Bordered by the Danube, downtown Budapest is a compact vortex of sights, shops and eateries, with showcase Vörösmarty Square—stage for the city’s month-long Christmas market—at its heart. The nearby Basilica overlooks a plaza of terrace restaurants, gateway to a culinary hub where five establishments claimed Michelin stars in 2019.

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Jewish Quarter

Close to the city center, the Jewish Quarter has been transformed over the last decade into the busiest bar zone in Central Europe. Ruin bars, drinking dens filled with unconventional decor and furniture, abound. Towering over one corner is the Great Synagogue, one of the world’s largest, and a major tourist attraction.

District VI and City Park

Grand showcase Andrássy Avenue runs from the city center to City Park. At the lower end, expensive boutiques, terrace cafés and the Hungarian State Opera House give way to the busy junction of Oktogon. From there, you can make out the iconic statue of the Archangel Gabriel on gallery-flanked Heroes’ Square. Behind, the Széchenyi Baths and Budapest Zoo beckon.

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Buda

Offering gorgeous panoramas, the twin heights of Castle Hill and Gellért Hill are topped by the Royal Palace and the Liberty Statue respectively. Beyond, leafy Buda is best viewed from the Children’s Railway, the Cogwheel Railway and the Chairlift, popular weekend attractions come summer or winter.


Fine dining restaurants

Courtesy of Borkonyha

Borkonyha

(1) 266 0835, Budapest, Sas u. 3, 1051 Hungary

‘Wine Kitchen’ is the brainchild of sommelier Zoltán Kalocsai and restaurateur Tamás Horváth, who hired little-known chef Ákos Sárközi and gave him free rein to create high-end bistro cuisine from top-quality Hungarian produce. The result? A Michelin star in 2014, retained ever since. Domestic wine options run to 200 varieties, each available by the glass.

borkonyha.hu

Costes

(1) 219 0696, Budapest, Ráday u. 4, 1092 Hungary

The first Hungarian restaurant to gain a Michelin star, back in 2010, Costes is a stunningly inventive contemporary eatery originally conceived by Portuguese chef Miguel Rocha Vieira, whose wild pigeon cooked rare offset by a beetroot reduction remains the signature dish. Sous-chef Eszter Palágyi has since taken over and maintains meticulously high standards.

costes.hu

Courtesy Gundel

Gundel

(1) 889 8111, Budapest, Gundel Károly út 4, 1146 Hungary

The most prestigious dining destination in Budapest, standing on the street that later took its name, Gundel was a Hungarian culinary pioneer back in 1894. Royalty and film stars have all dined here. In 2018, a change of management and a new chef, Zsolt Litauszki, added contemporary verve without losing that Gundel sparkle.

gundel.hu

Onyx

(30) 508 0622, Budapest, Vörösmarty tér 7, 1051 Hungary

Occupying the same building as the venerable Gerbeaud café on the city’s main square, Onyx offers three- to six-course lunch menus conceived by chef Ádám Mészáros, with wine pairings. Dinner requires a couple of hours at least, diners choosing between Hungarian and international tasting menus. Two Michelin stars underline the quality on offer.

onyxrestaurant.hu

Best Hungarian restaurants

Courtesy Lanchíd Söröző

Lanchíd Söröző

(1) 214 3144, Budapest, Fő u. 4, 1011 Hungary

An evergreen bar integrated with a busy Hungarian restaurant, ‘the Chain Bridge Pub’ stands near its namesake landmark. It’s overseen by a friendly brother-and-sister team, full of character and decorated with classic rock memorabilia. Close to several hotels, it attracts a regular turnover of tourists with goulash, goose leg and beef stew.

lanchidsorozo.hu

Múzeum Kávéház és Étterem

(1) 267 0375, Budapest, Múzeum krt. 12, 1088 Hungary

Operating alongside the National Museum—hence the name—since 1885, this wood-paneled gem provides the quintessential Hungarian dining experience. As a pianist tinkles out age-old Magyar tunes, chef Ferenc Kövér prepares steak with goose liver and catfish fried in paprika-flavored butter.

muzeumkavehaz.hu

Babel

(70) 600 0800, Budapest, Piarista köz 2, 1052 Hungary

Under the guidance of ambitious manager Hubert Hlatky-Schlichter, this upscale Hungarian eatery has been knocking on Michelin’s door for a couple of years. Enter Transylvanian chef István Veres, who brought in his own rustic nuances to the five-course tasting menu. The result? A Michelin star in the spring of 2019.

babel-budapest.hu

Global restaurants

Arany Kaviár

(1) 201 6737, Budapest, Ostrom u. 19, 1015 Hungary

Opened soon after the change of regime in 1989, the ‘Golden Caviar’ still concentrates on Russian specialties, with owner/executive chef Sasha Nyírí sourcing Siberian meat for the pel’menni and, naturally, caviar. Dishes can be paired with authentic Russia vodkas.

aranykaviar.hu

Courtesy Faustos

Fausto’s

(30) 589 1813, Budapest, Dohány u. 5, 1072 Hungary

The first restaurant to offer top-quality Italian cuisine in Budapest, Fausto’s has maintained its standards thanks to founder Fausto Di Vora, who greets guests during the meal. Antipasti here are a work of art—scallops, squash and seaweed or marinated shrimp carpaccio with iced strawberries.

fausto.hu

Macesz Bisztró

(1) 787 6164, Budapest, Dob u. 26, 1072 Hungary

In the heart of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter, chef Ákos Tasnádi creates upscale versions of traditional dishes such as cholent with smoked goose breast, matzo ball soup and lamb goulash. There’s plenty of choice for vegetarians—eggplant rolls, cream of spinach soup—and a classic flódni pastry to round things off.

maceszbistro.hu

Best cafés and coffee shops

Courtesy New York Cafe

New York Café

(1) 886 6167, Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11, 1073 Hungary

The most elegant of Budapest’s classic coffeehouses, the gilded New York Café opened in 1894. It straddled the cultural shift from literature to film – in the 1920s, movie directors would meet Hungarian starlets here before whisking them off to Hollywood. Now part of the New York Palace hotel, this legendary establishment has regained its Habsburg glory.

newyorkcafe.hu

Central

(1) 266 2110, Budapest, Károlyi utca 9, 1053 Hungary

Dating back to 1887, Centrál was one of Budapest’s classic literary coffeehouses where the great Magyar wordsmiths of the day would convene. While retaining its fin-de-siècle atmosphere, this landmark café today offers breakfast platters, a lazy weekend menu until 3pm, and mains such as Uruguayan rib-eye steak and breaded veal cutlet for lunch or dinner.

centralkavehaz.hu


Best wine bars

Courtesy Doblo Wine Bar

Doblo

(20) 398 8863, Budapest, Dob u. 20, 1072 Hungary

Specializing in Hungarian wine and pálinkabrandy, Doblo is a late-night hangout in the city’s main bar quarter. Whilst enjoying live jazz, guests can sip crisp whites from Balaton or deep reds from Eger, perhaps nibbling on a selection of Hungarian artisanal cheeses or duck liver with Balkan bread.

budapestwine.com

Kadarka

(1) 266 5094, Budapest, Király u. 42, 1061 Hungary

Occupying a spacious corner building flooded with natural light from the picture windows, and an expansive terrace from spring to fall, Kadarka offers more than 100 Hungarian wines by the glass, along with homemade pâtés and burgers. Tastings and live music are regularly scheduled.

kadarkawinebar.com

Where to drink craft beer

Courtesy FIRST Craft Beer

FIRST Craft Beer & BBQ

(20) 517 2693, Budapest, Dob u. 3, 1072 Hungary

Founded by the Kurucz brothers, who traveled the world gaining expertise from other new-wave artisanal brewers, FIRST Craft Beer & BBQ opened in 2019 at the gateway to Budapest’s bar zone. Its counter lined with 19 taps, its fridges and shelves filled with 200 bottles and cans, FIRST Craft offers sought-after domestic and international brews.

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Courtesy: Jonas Beer

Jónás Kézmüvés Sörház

(70) 930 1392, Budapest, Fővám tér 11, 1093 Hungary

Overlooking the Danube, Liberty Statue atop Gellért Hill in the background, Jónás is the main bar in the glass-fronted Bálna (‘Whale’) complex. Of the numerous artisanal beers, Reketye brewed at nearby Nagytarcsa is a regular option, Jónás being its main outlet in the city.

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Cocktails

Courtesy: Boutiq' Bar

Boutiq’ Bar

(30) 554 2323, Budapest, Paulay Ede u. 5, 1061 Hungary

Regularly acknowledged as the best cocktail bar in Hungary, this cozy spot tucked down a narrow downtown thoroughfare specializes in inventive concoctions. The signature drink is the Budapest Barbecue: gin, peach purée, maple syrup and cranberry, brought to you in a tin can topped by a marshmallow then set aflame.

boutiqbar.hu

Courtesy High Note Sky Bar

High Note Sky Bar

(20) 438 8648, Budapest, Hercegprímás u. 5, 1051 Hungary

Atop the music-themed Aria Hotel, at eye level with the clock of St. Stephen’s Basilica, the High Note Sky Bar is best enjoyed at sundown when the panorama is unbeatable. An Aperol-based Catch a Sunset in Budapest would be an apt choice, although the gin, lassi and banana combination, Float in the Ganges, also suits the mood.

highnoteskybar.hu

Budapest ruin bars

Courtesy Ankert Ruin Bar

Anker’t

(30) 360 3389, Budapest, 1061, Paulay Ede u. 33, 1061 Hungary

Occupying an abandoned building one block from the Opera House, Anker’t is the most family-friendly of Budapest’s famed ruin bars, with an atmospheric beer garden, extensive burger menu and all kinds of craft beers. Most evenings, DJs man the decks to keep the party going until the early hours.

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Credit: Alamy

Szimpla Kert

(20) 261 8669, Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary

The daddy of all ruin bars, pioneering Szimpla Kert started the trend for the transformation of empty courtyards and buildings into bohemian nightspots. Now pretty much mainstream, and certainly foreigner-friendly, this rambling establishment still thrills first-time visitors with its bizarre décor and offbeat furniture. 

szimpla.hu


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When Hapsburg Emperor Franz Josef unveiled what is now called Liberty Bridge in 1896, Budapest was an imperial capital in its pomp. The bridge stood as a testament to Hungarian achievement. Today, it is the venue for an annual city-wide picnic. Upriver, the Sziget Festival attracts...

Luxury Budapest hotels

Courtesy Four Seasons Budapest

Four Seasons Gresham Palace

(1) 268 6000, Budapest, Széchenyi István tér 5, 1051 Hungary

Created in stunning Art Nouveau style in the early 1900s for the UK’s Gresham Life Assurance Company, this Danube-facing landmark was painstakingly reconstructed by the Canadian Four Seasons hotel group a century later. A-listers and visiting dignitaries take advantage of its panoramic spa, top-notch restaurant and high-end cocktail bar.

fourseasons.com

Courtesy Kempinksi Hotel

Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest

(1) 429 3777, Budapest, Erzsébet tér 7, 1051 Hungary

Right on Budapest’s luxury shopping strip, the Kempinski houses no fewer than six restaurants and bars, including a branch of Robert De Niro’s Nobu. The spa complex is extensive and offers manifold massages and treatments, including one with mineral-rich Hungarian mud.

kempinski.com

Courtesy Parisi Udvar

Párisi Udvar

(1) 576 1600, Budapest, Petőfi Sándor u. 2-4, 1052 Hungary

Opened in the late spring of 2019, this long-awaited hotel conversion has transformed an ornate, fin-de-siècle shopping arcade into a five-star member of the Hyatt’s Unbound Collection. A spa, gym, brasserie, bar and pâtisserie all feature, along with 110 rooms and suites in Gothic/Moorish style.

hyatt.com

Best boutique hotels

art’otel Budapest

(1) 487 9487, Budapest, Bem rkp. 16-19, 1011 Hungary

An enticing mix of historic and contemporary right on the river – rooms either have views of Buda Castle or the Danube – this pioneering lodging features the design work of New York artist Donald Sultan. Guests can take one of the free art tours available, while a sauna and gym are also on hand.

artotels.com

Courtesy Brody House

Brody House

(1) 550 7363, Budapest, Bródy Sándor u. 10, 1088 Hungary

The first venture of this UK-owned network of boutique lodgings and arts spaces, Brody House comprises 11 individually designed bedrooms, each named after the artist whose works feature within. Patronised by performers flown over to appear at Brody Studios, the hotel grants guests access to the honesty bar and to events at partner venues.

brody.land

Credit: Peterjon Cresswell

Soho Boutique Hotel

(1) 872 8292, Budapest, Dohány u. 64, 1074 Hungary

Blow-up images of David Lynch, Bono and David Bowie gaze down as you check into this 68-room boutique hotel at the edge of Budapest’s bar quarter. Guest rooms feel as sleek as the lobby – look out for attractive, three-night city-break packages.

sohoboutiquehotel.com


Must-visit musuems

Courtesy House of Terror

House of Terror

(1) 374 2600, Budapest, Andrássy út 60, 1062 Hungary

It was in this very house that victims were held, tortured and even executed. First used by the Fascist authorities in the 1940s, its darkest days came in the 1950s at the height of Communist terror. In modern times, it was converted into a fascinating museum, its history illustrated by chilling exhibits and filmed interviews.

terrorhaza.hu

Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts Budapest

Museum of Fine Arts

(1) 469 7100, Budapest, Dózsa György út 41, 1146 Hungary

Reopened in December 2018 after a huge overhaul, the Museum of Fine Arts holds Hungary’s most impressive collection of Old Masters, Egyptian antiquities and sculptures from the Italian Renaissance. Guided tours in English can be arranged by appointment.

szepmuveszeti.hu

Traditional spas

Courtesy Gallert Baths

Gellért baths

(1) 466 6166, Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4, 1118 Hungary

Conceived in sumptuous Art Nouveau style and opened in 1918, the Gellért baths and hotel are a major city landmark. The wave pool, the world’s first, is the major attraction outdoors, the indoor pools owing their classic look to a 2008 rebuild. 

gellertfurdo.hu

Courtesy Szechenyi Baths

Széchenyi baths

(1) 363 3210, Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary

Budapest’s most popular spa sits at the edge of City Park. Surrounded by elegant Habsburg-era façades, the outdoor pools are where you see men playing chess in the water, either bathed in hot summer sun or swathed in steam as snowflakes fall over bathers.

szechenyifurdo.hu

Classical music and opera

Franz Liszt Music Academy

(1) 462 4600, Budapest, Liszt Ferenc tér 8, 1061 Hungary

Named after its founder, although this grandiose building wasn’t opened until 20 years after Liszt’s death, this prestigious music conservatory and concert hall has nurtured the likes of Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály and Sir Georg Solti. 

lfze.hu

Hungarian State Opera 

(1) 814 7100, Budapest, Andrássy út 22, 1061 Hungary

Although currently under major renovation, the gilded opera house still lays on afternoon tours in English and other languages. Opened in 1884 – Gustav Mahler was an early director – the revamped opera house is due to reopen in 2020.

opera.hu

Shopping in Budapest

Credit: Getty Images

Andrássy Avenue

Budapest, Andrássy út, Hungary

Budapest’s grand showcase boulevard is also its shop window, the stretch between the city center and Oktogon lined with luxury global brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna. Look out for Nubu, cutting-edge Hungarian fashion design.

Courtesy Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall

(1) 366 3300, Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary

Budapest’s main market hall opened in 1897 and was restored exactly a century later, its Neo-Gothic architecture and Zsolnay-tiled roof intact. Classic Hungarian produce – salami, paprika, Tokaji wine – lines the lower-floor, with food stands above.

piaconline.hu

Fun attractions

Courtesy Budapest Eye

Budapest Eye

(70) 636 0629, Budapest, 1051 Hungary

First set up at the Sziget music festival just outside Budapest, this big wheel is now a fixed attraction on a central square, open until midnight most nights, 1 a.m. on weekends.

oriaskerek.com

Courtesy Children's Railway Budapest

Children’s Railway

(1) 397 5394, Budapest, 1029 Hungary

A rare revered hangover from the Communist era, this narrow-gauge rail chugs through the Buda hills, providing panoramic views of the city. Children in pristine uniforms sell tickets and signal at each station.

gyermekvasut.hu


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