castle Buda (source: Reuters)
There were three adjacent towns in the area, united by bureaucrats in 1873. Residents of the triptych city still proudly identify with noble Buda, working class Pest or ancient Obuda, where the Romans pitched their tents. Budapest offers a wealth of choices for lovers of music, art and architecture in a beautiful setting on the Danube River, which bisects the city on the midpoint of its journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea.
2. Music, Art and Culture:
If you want to see what public space looked like before the collapse of communism in 1989, take a taxi to Momento Park on Balatoni Way in the 22nd district for a collection of colossal Cold War statues.
With the greyness of communism fading into history, Budapest shelved high-rise plans and retained its quaint architecture, opting to renovate and preserve the turn-of-the-century Austro-Hungarian feel with some spectacular results.
A recent example is the Franz Liszt Academy of Music on Franz Liszt Square, a world-renowned institution that reopened for concerts after a painstaking renovation brought out its Art Deco beauty in full.
Budapest also has a cutting edge. One of the newest additions to the Danube is the Balna (Whale), a fish-shaped glass building that connects two wings of a former shipping office on the river bank. Its contemporary exhibition hall, cafes and shops are open year round.
The city's vibrant markets are famous for a reason. Go on a Thursday to sample the freshest produce from the countryside but any day will give you a taste of how ordinary Hungarians never lost touch with the farmer's market.
great market hall (source: vnexpress)
Just around the corner from the Whale is the aptly named Great Market Hall, designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame. The steel structure exudes a whiff of Paris, with more than a soupcon of Hungarian paprika.
Also listed on maps as Central Market Hall, its stalls brim with spicy red Hungarian sausage, pale pink goose and duck livers and hundreds of other items in vibrant hues.
The inner 6th and 7th districts east of the Danube are home to so many bars, restaurants and clubs - with new ones opening so frequently - that even locals find it hard to keep up. Those who live in the area often complain about the noise, always the sign of a good party.
Across the Danube and to the northwest, the original Obuda town was mostly destroyed and the narrow old streets replaced by Communist-style apartment blocks.
An exception is the Main Square area, where the Uj Sipos restaurant occupies a centuries-old building and serves the kind of paprika-laden fish soup that Hungarians like so much. Eat it spicy.
The once fairly forlorn Raday Street in the 9th district has transformed into "restaurant row" with one eatery after another offering everything from pizza and hamburgers to sautéed goose liver and chicken paprika.
4. Other Options
Volcanic activity in low-lying Hungary means an abundance of hot springs. The Romans knew this and the Ottomans built bath houses that stand to this day, renovated in a splendid way and open to the public.
Rudas Baths is probably the most breathtaking. On the west side of the Danube near Elizabeth (Erzsebet) Bridge, it offers massages, scrubs and drink diets in an elegant environment of octagonal pools with limestone domes.
In winter, soak in the hot waters of the Szechenyi Baths in City Park, where you can mingle with old folks playing chess on floating boards - especially on a weekday morning - while steam rises into the icy air. The outdoor pool is popular in warmer months.