Straddling the mythic Danube River, the capital of Hungary is truly something special. The photogenic city is home to opulent architecture, an endless maze of thermal baths, and some of Europe's most superlative sites. Exotic and enchanting, the topographically diverse Budapest is a swirl of spirited cultural traditions, with a thriving indie music scene and an ever-growing cache of wine bars giving it a modern edge.
What We Love
A Tale of Two Cities: Buda and Pest are divided by the Danube and united by the majestic 19th-century Chain Bridge. Pest, larger and flatter, is home to wide boulevards and lively squares, while hilly Buda is laced with winding streets and awesome views.
Public Baths: Budapest is positioned atop very active geothermal springs, which feed a dizzying number of public spas. If you only have time for one soak, go to the Szechenyi Baths. Here, locals repose in a series of bright blue communal pools heated to between 98 and 100 degrees. Some even play chess as they take the waters in the expansive baths positioned against a cheery yellow neo-Baroque palace that was built between 1909 and 1913.
Best Known For
Hungarian Parliament: Inspired by Westminster in London, the dramatic red dome and neo-Gothic spires of this circa-1896 landmark are a thrilling sight, day or night. The building's facts are equally astounding: It's 879 feet wide, has 691 rooms, and is filled with 12.5 miles of corridors.
The Fisherman’s Bastion: This panoramic 19th-century viewing terrace in Buda’s Castle Hill district features a series of dramatic white-stone turrets that impart a fairy-tale quality. It sits adjacent to 700-year-old Matthias Church with its Gothic spires and mosaic-tiled roof.
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Who It's Best For
Music Heads: Hungarian harmonies and melodies reverberate throughout the city. You'll hear traditional folk songs wafting from cafés, arias echoing through the Hungarian State Opera House, classical compositions by Liszt and Bartók being performed in concert halls, and all manner of modern music playing in the city’s nightclubs.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Currency Conundrum: With one U.S. dollar equal to about 290 Hungarian forint, figuring out how much that 3,700-forint glass of wine is costing you might require a calculator.
Donna Heiderstadt is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Coastal Living and Islands.