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Budapest is a manageable city for navigating on foot, with Buda on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east. You can experience the major sights in just a few days or immerse yourself in local culture on a longer visit. Gaze up as you wander, so as not to miss the fine details on the late-19th and early-20th-century buildings downtown. Explore newer facets of the city, too, especially the contemporary art, fashion, and design scenes. Café culture has been prominent in Budapest’s history, and lively drinking establishments and steamy thermal bath houses only increase the city's allure.
The best way to experience Budapest is on foot, with plenty of espresso breaks, as you admire the city’s most notable buildings and charming neighborhoods. Start with a walk in Buda Castle and head down one of the staircases and towards the Danube. Cross the Chain Bridge to get to the heart of Pest. Walk north along the river to see the Shoes on the Danube Promenade Holocaust memorial, and the neo-Gothic Parliament, Hungary's largest building. Circle back south through Szabadság Tér Park, and then to St. Stephen’s Basilica, where you can climb to the dome for a beautiful view. Walk up tree-lined Andrássy út to see the Opera House, as well as plenty of old villas and cafés. End up at Heroes’ Square and City Park, among the city's top sights.
There's much more to Hungarian cuisine than its heavy use of paprika and its most famous soup, gulyás. In Budapest’s traditional restaurants you’ll find classic dishes: an array of soups (integral to a Hungarian meal), entrees like chicken paprikás and pörkölt (stew), and desserts such as strudel and the crepe-like palacsinta. Budapest’s dining scene has diversified in recent years, and many restaurants focus on more modern, creative, and light renditions of Hungarian cuisine. Hungarian wine is not widely available elsewhere, so oenophiles will have lots of new varietals to sample, including indigenous reds such as kadarka and the sweet Tokaj aszús.
Hungarians are proud of their musical heritage, which includes the genius of past musicians and composers such as Bartók, Kodály, and Liszt, all the way to present luminaries such as Márta Sebestyén, Iván Fischer, and András Schiff. There are lots of ways for visitors to experience these musical traditions for themselves. Catch a performance at the renovated Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music, the Opera House, or Palace of Arts. Listen to some local jazz acts at Budapest Jazz Club. Attend a táncház (dance house), where live folk bands perform and everyone dances. Or catch a concert onboard the A38 ship docked on the Buda side of the river. In August, Budapest hosts one of Europe’s most popular pop and rock music festivals, Sziget.
From cool local fashion to antiques, there are lots of things in Budapest that you can purchase to fill your suitcase. If you’re after antiques, do some treasure hunting at the sprawling Ecseri Piac, located on the outskirts of the city, where gems are mixed in with kitsch. Falk Miksa utca, located near Parliament, is Budapest’s antiques area; several blocks are lined with high-end antique shops, contemporary art galleries, and a few shops selling Hungarian folk art. WAMP, the monthly (or sometimes more regularly) design market, is worth visiting to find Budapest’s best designers all in one place. And, of course, Central Market Hall is the pantry of Budapest and is a must-visit, both for its architecture and for its edible souvenirs.
With four distinct seasons, traveling in Budapest can be a very different experience from one month to the next. Come in December to visit one of Europe’s finest Christmas markets, if you don’t mind the cold. Opt for the summer to enjoy many open-air festivals and events. Most visitors, however, prefer the mild weather of fall and spring. Visas are not required for visits up to 90 days for U.S., Canadian, Australian, and EU citizens. All flights land at Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD). The public transportation system is extensive and convenient. The language is Hungarian; the currency is the Hungarian forint. It’s standard to tip 10% in restaurants and for services. Electricity is 220 volts.