- Cityscape Pearl of the Danube
- City life Spas and spices
If Paris had met Berlin and had a love child, Budapest would be its name. With the grandeur of Rome and the art scene of London – and enough thermal baths to warrant the title City of Spas – Budapest’s brilliant for romance, rock ‘n’ roll and relaxation.
Far from Prague’s madding crowds – but with an equally winsome mix of chocolate-box hilltop vistas, burgeoning culture and wry post-Communist humour – Budapest’s more than ready to take its place as one of Europe’s most inviting, and intriguing, cities. On the Pest side of the river, a party’s never hard to find; the Buda side is ideal for stylish sophisticates.
Do go/Don’t go
The outdoor garden bars (kertek) are open in summer, but that’s also when most tourists arrive – late July and August are the most crowded months, but spring and early summer are quieter, and the trees are in full bloom. Winters are chilly, but you’ll soon warm up in the thermal baths.
- Planes Touch down at Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (still known locally by its former name, Ferihegy), which is 16km from downtown Budapest and is served by a flock of budget airlines as well as British Airways and Lufthansa. The 93 bus takes passengers between the airport and the Köbánya-Kispest M3 metro station; a taxi from the terminal to the city centre will cost between 3,500 and 8,000 HUF; and frequent trains from the airport to the central Budapest-Nyugati Railway Station for about 365 HUF (www.bud.hu/english).
- Trains Budapest’s three international train stations (Keleti, Nyugati and Déli) are connected to 25 other European cities, as well as other Hungarian destinations. The journey from Berlin takes just under 12 hours, Prague’s seven hours away and Vienna can be reached in less than three. The three main railway stations are also connected to Budapest’s underground system, the Metró (www.elvira.hu/english).
- Automobiles To drive on five of Hungary’s motorways and main roads (almost of all which start in Budapest), you’ll need to buy a sticker that serves as your pass; buy your stickers for the M1, M3, M5, M6 and M7 at the border or a petrol station. The Magyar Autóklub has a 24-hour helpline for drivers in distress (+36 (1) 345 1755); check road works and diversions online before you travel (www.motorway.hu).
- Taxis Don’t flag down a taxi in the street: it’s liable to cost you far more than the going rate, and it’s far more economical to call a local cab companies. City Cabs can generally pick you up within five minutes in central Budapest, and they speak English (+36 (1) 222 2 222).