Budapest is a destination of two halves, literally – Buda to the west and Pest to the east, with the mighty Danube River separating the two distinctly different sides of this beautiful city. Where Buda offers sweeping panoramic views from its wooded hills, with fairytale architecture and leafy cobbled promenades, Pest delivers a lively convivial alternative with many buzzy bars and restaurants in its historic centre.
With its intriguing mix of baroque, Roman, Medieval and Austro-Hungarian architecture, historic neighbourhoods, natural open air thermal spas, beautiful green spaces and of course the second longest river in Europe, the Danube so iconic that Johann Strauss composed arguably the most recognised waltz – Blue Danube – about it in 1866.
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Where and what to eat
There is one ingredient which undeniably characterises much of Hungarian cuisine – paprika. This brick-red hued spice is made by drying then grinding a special variety of red pepper (capsicum annuum) into a powder which is then used in so many of Hungary’s traditional dishes.
The national dish goulash is a paprika spiced stew of beef, onions and vegetables and gets its name from the Magyar Gulyas, the herdsmen who tended to the cattle on the Hungarian Great Plain who would cook their goulash in a large cauldron over fire, accompanied by glasses of Bull’s Blood, Hungary’s most iconic red wine. One of the best places to try this comforting staple is at Getto Gulyas in the heart of the old Jewish Quarter.
Somewhat controversially, Getto refers to the area’s troubled past as a Jewish Ghetto during the winter of 1944, arguably the darkest time of WWII in Budapest, and the name was criticised by many who thought it disrespectful to the thousands of Jews who perished, but owner David Kaustesky believes that on the contrary, he has successfully brought back to life a place associated with the very opposite and made it a vital part of the once stricken neighbourhood.
This popular eatery serving a short menu of Hungarian classics such as chicken paprikash alongside the dish from which it takes its name, is a cosy and inviting establishment beloved by tourists and locals alike, making it advisable to book a table in advance to ensure a spot at this gem.
Located next to the Danube at the base of the beautiful Erzsebet (Elisabeth) Bridge, Kiosk is a modern, buzzy restaurant with unrivalled views of the river from its spacious outside terrace while you dine.
The warehouse style interior of the spectacular former Piarist building lends a vibrant atmospheric backdrop to the menu of Hungarian classics and modern bistro dishes, with an emphasis on fresh, sustainable and organic ingredients sourced from trusted suppliers, all accompanied by an inventive cocktail list making Kiosk the perfect place for a summer sundowner with friends whilst drinking in the incredible view.
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With its location overlooking a lake in the middle of Budapest’s City Park, Robinson Restaurant has long been a favourite with Budapestians, tourists and visiting celebrities alike such as Arnold Shwarzenegger, who was recently seen enjoying the signature charcoal grilled steaks, cooked expertly by celebrated grill master Dario Cecchini.
This expansive eatery is spread over three floors with large outdoor terraces, making the most of its beautiful setting on the water surrounded by ancient trees in the city’s most iconic park. For a tasty, sweet treat on the go while taking in the spectacular architectural sights of the city, follow your nose to one of the many street vendors with invariably long queues, selling the rather dramatic looking specialty chimney cake.
This traditional Hungarian street snack is a sweet yeasted baked dough given its distinctive chimney shape by wrapping it around a cylindrical spit before rolling the dough in sugar, chopped nuts and sometimes spices, and baking it over charcoal resulting in a crispy exterior and pillowy soft inside. Best eaten fresh while still warm to fully appreciate the delicious contrasts that make this humble cake so moreish.
Where to stay
Budapest is divided into 23 numbered districts, and for those wishing to stay in the beating heart of the city on the Pest side, district 5 is the area with many large hotels and self-catering apartments to rent.
For something a little quirkier, the Bohem Art Hotel is perfectly located a stone’s throw from the popular and bustling pedestrianised shop and restaurant filled Vaci street and is close to the Danube. A cross between a hotel and a contemporary art gallery, the small but stylish rooms feature artworks by young, modern Hungarian artists.
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Where to watch the race
As the Hungaroring track is built into a natural bowl, you can get more visibility of the track for your money by selecting any of the grandstands along the main straight, as you can see many other parts of the circuit from your seat without having to move a muscle.
As you gaze across the sparkling water of the majestic Danube, you can’t help but notice the equally majestic buildings high up on the Buda side of the river, dominating the landscape. The UNESCO world heritage site of Buda Castle is one of the most popular attractions in the city, and it’s not hard to see why.
Originally completed in 1265, most of the beautiful baroque palace occupying the large site was built in the 1700s. Escape the city heat by exploring the extensive labyrinthine cave system underneath the castle, then emerge above ground at one of the best vantage points of Budapest to take in the breathtaking views for those instagrammable panoramic vista shots.
Within the castle district also lies the no less impressive Fisherman’s Bastion. This highly decorative building with its fairytale turrets was built in the late 18th century as a communal panoramic viewing terrace for the city folk below.
Nobody is quite sure how it got its name, with one theory being that the fishermen who lived below its walls in what was then known as Watertown protected the building during war time. With its wide grand staircases, ornate balconies and intriguing glimpses across the river to Pest through the myriad intricately carved stone archways, the Fisherman’s Bastion is free to visit, although booking a combined walking tour of the area is advised in order to fully appreciate the majesty of the castle district.
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After a day on your feet exploring the sights, why not soak those weary limbs in one of Budapest’s many natural thermal spas? People have been bathing in the mineral rich, healing waters of the city’s thermal springs (over 100 of them) for centuries in both indoor and outdoor spas.
For a soothing indoor spa experience, try the Gellert Baths which are located underneath the iconic Gellert Hotel. With a series of beautifully blue tiled pools of increasing temperatures, you can soak away the day and emerge refreshed for the evening ahead.
Or simply combine the two things by visiting Szechenyi Baths, the largest outdoor spa in Europe for one of their ‘sparty’ nights, where DJs spin dance tunes as mind blowing visuals dance on the steaming water while you relax and reap the medicinal properties of the springs.
At 2.5km long and 500m wide, Margaret Island is a small but perfectly formed respite from the noise and bustle of Budapest. Lying in the middle of the Danube between Margaret Bridge and Arpad Bridge, this largely car-free island is mostly covered with parkland but also houses a small zoo, formal Japanese Garden and large open air swimming pool making it the perfect spot to relax when the heat of the city gets too much.
Budapest can be hot, hot, hot in July so what better way to cool down than with a boat trip on the Danube? As well as a cooling river breeze, you’ll get a different perspective of the beautiful and varied architecture of the city as you sail past the stunning 100-year-old Parliament building, and pass under the magnificent Chain Bridge.
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For all things paprika, make sure you pay a visit to Budapest’s Central Market Hall, an architecturally impressive building where you will find hundreds of stalls selling all manner of traditional Hungarian foods and handmade wares.
With takeaway food stalls on the upper level of this cavernous market, you can refuel on the go while perusing the many varieties of paprika for sale in the distinctive prettily decorated tins which make them extremely packable, meaning you can enjoy this ubiquitous spice at home and perfect that goulash recipe.
No visit to Budapest is complete without visiting Szimpla Kert, the best and most popular example of the city’s ‘ruin bars’. The ruin bar concept is central to the city’s cultural landscape and are a unique feature of Budapest’s nightlife whereby abandoned buildings and parking lots are turned into eclectic, vibrant bars often with live music and art installations.
Located in the 7th district of the old Jewish Quarter, Szimpla Kert is an outwardly dilapidated building based around an open-air central courtyard, filled with vintage furniture, peeling walls daubed in graffiti and twinkling with fairylights.
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Originally opened by a group of like-minded college students as a space for anyone and everyone to enjoy, the venue regularly gives a platform to local emerging bands and transforms into a farmer’s market every Sunday morning with local produce, baked goods and seasonal flowers for sale.
With so much to see and do in Budapest and its proximity to the circuit, it’s easy to see why F1 fans flock to the Hungaroring for the Grand Prix. With almost guaranteed hot weather, stunning architecture, cool green spaces high above the city and a vibrant nightlife, Budapest has something for everyone to enjoy at the end of a day at the track, and indeed for an extended stay to make the most of this beautiful city.
With a line that stretches 11km along the Buda hills to the highest point of Budapest, the Children’s Railway is one of the city’s most unique attractions due to the fact that apart from the role of train driver, every other task from selling tickets to managing the train’s handbrake is carried out by children aged 10-14 (with adult supervision of course).
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Built in 1948 during the Soviet era as a way of inspiring children to take up positions within the transport industry after finishing their education, the scenic railway was recognised in 2015 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest children’s railway in the world.
Budapest Destination Guide
- Language: Hungarian
- Currency: Forint
- Population: Approx. 1.7 million
- F1 race first held: 1986