Romantic Budapest

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Romantic Budapest
Budapest is a city with plenty of opportunities for romantic experiences, including moonlit walks along the sparkling Danube, live music in opulent surroundings, and wining and dining at cozy restaurants.
Photo courtesy of Budapest Spas
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    Thermal Water for Two
    There’s a reason Budapest is called City of Spas. The city has 123 natural hot springs bubbling underground, and utterly beautiful bath houses where you can soak in style in healing hot water. The largest is the Széchenyi in City Park. There are outdoor pools, and indoors a series of more than a dozen pools awaits, along with steam rooms and saunas. The Gellért is an important art nouveau building, and the Lukács is favored by locals. The oldest bath houses—the Rudas, Király, and Veli Bej—date from the Ottoman period (16th and 17th centuries) and have octagon-shaped pools topped by domes.
    Photo courtesy of Budapest Spas
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    Head to the Hills
    In Budapest there’s no need to go far to get a dose of the outdoors. The Buda hills are essentially the playground of Budapest, with extensive walking trails, lots of fresh air, and scenic spots for picnics. Get there the scenic way by taking the chairlift up from János Hill, or take the cog railway up to Széchényi Hill. To see the most, hop on the Children’s Railway, which runs from Széchenyi Hill to Hűvösvölgy. Partially operated by children, the railway offers expansive views along the 11-kilometer route. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Náncsi Néni, a traditional restaurant in Hűvösvölgy serving generous portions and with views of a lovely garden.
    Photo by Martin Dimitrov/age fotostock
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    Short Getaways
    There are plenty of options for a respite from city life since you can get practically anywhere in Hungary in under three hours. The charming art-filled town of Szentendre is just a short train ride from Budapest and makes for a perfect half-day or day trip. Spend a day visiting wineries and exploring old cellar rows in Etyek, just a 45-minute drive from Budapest. To dig even deeper into Hungary’s wine culture, spend a few days in Villány, Tokaj, or Eger. Farther afield, Pécs, close to the Croatian border, offers enough museums and culture to fill several days. During the summer, practically all of Hungary heads to Lake Balaton to swim in the shallow water of one of Europe’s largest lakes.
    Photo by Herbert Lehmann/age fotostock
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    Picturesque Parks
    Budapest offers plenty of green places to escape the city bustle for a picnic in a quiet urban garden or for a vigorous hike in the hills. Margaret Island is a favorite local retreat for fresh air and exercise. A jogging path encircles the island, which also has a small zoo, pools, playgrounds, tennis courts, and plenty of secluded spots. City Park (Városliget) is the city's largest, and contains enough attractions to keep you busy for an entire day, including the Széchenyi bath house and Budapest Zoo. Károlyi Kert—a meticulously-kept gated park with playgrounds and fountains—is another perfect escape for a picnic. In Buda, Kopaszi Gat is a serene park on a peninsula, with secluded spots for picnics or for dipping your toes in the Danube.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Linger over Coffee and Cake
    Budapest has long been a “café society.” From elegant old coffeehouses where writers once held court to neighborhood places where you can nurse a cappuccino for hours, there’s no better way to experience Budapest like the locals than by savoring time in its cafés. Have a leisurely breakfast at Centrál Kávéház, a grand café where important literary journals were once edited. On Szabadseag tér, Farger is a friendly neighborhood place where patrons camp out with their laptops. Be sure to check out the famous Café Gerbeaud. Below Buda Castle, Coyote serves great coffee and light food. For a glimpse of the past, have a beer or fröccs (wine spritzer) at Bambi Eszpresszo, where little has changed since 1960.
    Photo courtesy of Gerbeaud Café
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    Cozy Dining for Two
    Dining in Budapest is relatively good value, making it a great place to splurge on a nice dinner and a bottle of wine. To really impress, book a table at Costes or Onyx, Budapest’s Michelin-starred restaurants. To add an element of surprise, try Olimpia Vendéglő, where the menu changes nightly and is unannounced. Bistro Déryné, a local favorite, has a menu combining French and Hungarian, served in one of several cozy dining rooms. Kispiac, which has a meat-heavy menu, has just a few tables next to an open kitchen. For top-quality dry-aged steaks, try ÉS Bisztró at Kempinski Hotel, which specializes in Viennese and Hungarian dishes.
    Photo courtesy of Onyx Restaurant
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    Sweet Tokaji Wine
    What’s more romantic than sipping one of the world’s finest dessert wines in its homeland? Tokaj aszú, sweet wine made from hand-selected botrytis-infected grapes and aged in special underground cellars, is a treat. Legend has it that the original harvest was delayed due to invading Ottomans in the 17th century, and by the time workers were able to harvest, the grapes had developed the noble rot. The winemakers used them anyway, and Tokaj aszú was born. The region’s dry wines (mostly made from furmint and hárslevelű, local varietals) can be pleasingly acidic, with hints of citrus, pear, and green apple. And the dulcet wines come in a range of sweetness. Visit the Bortársaság wine shops in Budapest to pick up a few bottles.
    Photo by Carolyn Banfalvi
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    Budapest’s Fairytale Views
    The Buda side of town is characterized by its many hills, from which you can get different views of the city. The most obvious is the Buda Castle. Climb the staircases, or take the funicular, and admire the view from the Fisherman’s Bastion. From the Gellért Bath House, it is a lovely hike up the hill to the Citadel, which offers a breathtaking view of the city below. The Elizabeth lookout tower in the woods on János Hill gives you another perspective, as does the view from the dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica in the heart of Pest. A lesser-visited vantage point is the protected natural area on Sas Hill. Don’t have time (or energy) to head uphill? Just take a stroll along the Danube's banks to enjoy the panorama from up close.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Live Music in Striking Surroundings
    There are many places to listen to live music in Budapest, and the venue often competes with the music for your attention. If you want to impress with a formal performance in a significant venue, then go to an organ concert at St. Stephen’s Basilica or at the 13th-century Matthias Church in the Castle. Book tickets for a concert at the restored Liszt Academy of Music, an art nouveau building worth poking around. Béla Bartók fans should check for performances at the Bartók Memorial House, a residence in Buda where the great composer lived before leaving Hungary. For an underground experience, try your luck at booking a seat at composer Iván Fischer’s Apartment Theater, which occasionally hosts foreign-language events.
    Photo by Martin Zwick/age fotostock
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    Underground Budapest
    From museums to caves, there’s almost as much to see below Budapest as above it. A cave complex has been formed below Budapest by gushing thermal water. Pálvölgyi Cave is one of the country’s largest, and Szemlőhegyi Cave has especially pretty crystals. The Castle District’s miles of belowground cellars were used as shelters during World War II. Visiting Hospital in the Rock, a former secret hospital and nuclear bunker that is now a museum, is a way to get a glimpse of the extent of the cellars. But the easiest way to explore subterranean Budapest is by hopping on the metro. Metro line 1 is the oldest in continental Europe, and line 4 (the newest addition to the metro system) has been praised for its fantastic futuristic architecture.
    Photo by Martin Zwick/age fotostock