Inspiration David López

Budapest: the essence of Europe

With its historic river, relaxing thermal spas and a unique bar scene, Hungary’s capital is a fascinating destination to discover. Fly from 20,000 Avios (return)

Beautiful building of Parliament in Budapest, popular travel destination
A view of the Parliament in Budapest / Image by e_polischuk, Adobe Stock

With a fascinating history, from thermal waters once enjoyed by the Romans to vibrant, modern bars that have risen from the ashes of old, abandoned buildings, Budapest is no longer an overlooked European capital but, rather, a destination that’s become the perfect place for a getaway of three, four – or more – days.

Buda, the former Hungarian capital, is presided over by the stately, formal Buda Castle, the former royal palace, while, across the river, Pest is a vibrant and populous location where most the city’s residents live. Once historically separated by the Danube – so much so that boats were used to go cross from one side to the other, today, the two sides enjoy a much closer relationship. Of course, the river is still full of boats, but these travel up and down its length as they’re one of the best way to enjoy views of both banks of the magnificent city.  

Today, Buddha and Pest are stitched together by a series of bridges. The most famous of these, the Széchenyi (the Chain Bridge), will reopen in August 2023 after restoration works are completed. Crossing it, or observing it from a high point – especially at dusk, with Buda Castle in the background – is an unmissable experience when you visit the city. This bridge joined both banks, both worlds, in the mid-19th century. Although the bridge people cross today is not the original (all the bridges were destroyed during World War II), the euphoric feeling of crossing from one side of the city to the other remains the same. The three-way Margaret Bridge, which connects Margaret Island to Buda and Pest, offers excellent panoramic views of the castle and the Parliament building.

As well as the castle, Buda is home to the Fisherman’s Bastion, its most famous viewpoint. In Pest, you’ll find the Parliament and the Opera House, which reopens from 11-14 March with a number of events scheduled over four days. The best thing is that you don’t have to choose, as the two banks complement each other.

Szechenyi Baths / Image by Brian Kinney, Adobe Stock

Budapest is a city that lives in harmony with the water. It’s justifiably famous for its spa resorts, where you can relax and even hold family celebrations, enjoying the thermal currents flowing under the city. Buda is home to the Géllert, the most symbolic spa, located in the hotel of the same name, which has appeared in countless magazines, films and adverts. Its central pool surrounded by columns is one of the most famous in the world. There are also spas in Pest, such as the Széchenyi Baths, which boast 21 swimming pools (three of them outdoors) and Turkish baths (a legacy of the Ottoman period), including Veli Bej and Rudas.

Chain Bridge at sunrise / Image by Noppasinw, Adobe Stock

But Pest does have something that Buda does not: its ruin bars (romkocsma in Hungarian). The first –Szimpla Kert – opened two decades ago in the Jewish quarter, officially District VII, under the watchful eye of the Dohány synagogue – Europe’s largest with its 44m-tall towers and a symbol of the district. Other bars soon followed, opening in abandoned and dilapidated buildings. Offering cultural programmes that include cinema, theatre, music, workshops and even markets, many also serve traditional food. This might include the country’s national dish, goulash, a thick meat soup, csirkepaprikás, chicken with paprika, cream and vegetables, and lángos, its most famous street food, consisting of fried dough with cheese, cream or garlic sauce, which can be eaten alone or with other ingredients.

 Explored by boat, bridge or on foot, with pampering thermal waters and unique, buzzing bars to enjoy, Budapest is simply irresistible on every level.