Hungary's capital city of Budapest is described as a 'Gem of a City' by Lonely Planet due to its unique and charming atmosphere. Budapest straddles both banks of the Danube, Europe's second longest river, with its seven bridges which connect the two very distinct regions of Buda and Pest. On the west side lies the tranquil and historic old town of Buda. With hilly, winding streets which showcase its ancient castles, monuments and churches, this area is rich with heritage and perfect for exploring by foot. In contrast to this, the east side of the river offers the lively and vibrant area of Pest, where you can discover plenty of contemporary restaurants, bars, shops and spas.
Parliament Building in Budapest. Photo by Alex Harbour.
The beautiful cobbled and crooked streets of the Castle district, situated in the old town, is the home of many great Medieval monuments to be explored, such as the Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion. With this historic area being packed full of attractions and things to do whilst also offering stunning panoramic views of the Danube and the eastern area of Pest, it's no wonder the region boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The Buda Castle and its surrounding picturesque courtyards host a wide variety of events and festivals all year round including international wine and beer festivals as well as offering plenty of culture through traditional music and art shows and events.
If you fancy something a bit more quirky, then you should check out the buzz surrounding the growing trend of 'Escape Games'. These are ideal for thrill seeking groups of friends, offering a modern twist to an action-filled maze, where you will have to solve numerous brain-boggling challenges to obtain clues which will eventually lead you to your escape.
Once you've experienced the vibrant flavour of Budapest's attractions, why not put your feet up and relax in one of the city's thermal or medicinal spas. Budapest is "the city of spas" offering over 100 different springs and baths, some of which have been recognised for over 500 years! With plenty of choice available, make sure you leave time to check one or two out.
Széchenyi Baths in Budapest. Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Whilst many areas of Budapest can be explored on foot, there's a whole host of great transport links available, including the city buses and trams. If you want to try something a bit more unique, then one of the local TukTuk Taxis will be able to drive you to the small, hidden gems of the city which you might otherwise miss. You will also see that there are plenty of opportunities to see the sights from a cruise on the river Danube, allowing you to appreciate the contrasting East and West sides of Budapest and the different sights they have to offer.
Hungarians pride themselves in their local tasty and traditional cuisines and perhaps their best known dish is goulash (gulyás). This is a hearty soup/stew made up of beef and vegetables, cooked up with lots of local paprika, and often also including potatoes or noodles. Recipes of this dish vary all over the country, but it is always prided for being authentic, so it's worth trying it out from a few different restaurants to get the full flavoursome experience.
Hungarian Gulyásleves, Goulash soup
By Ralf Roletschek [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
You will come to find that paprika or 'red gold' is a very typical ingredient and condiment in Hungarian cuisine, but this doesn't always mean that you will be left with a fiery mouth! Typically, the spice does provide a hot and wholesome taste but this can be cooled by adding in another Hungarian essential - sour cream. Sweet paprika is also often added to local dishes to give a home-cooked flavour without the fire.
There are plenty of places to mingle with the locals to enjoy a few drinks and soak up some of the Budapest atmosphere, including the traditional coffeehouses and borozós (wine pubs). Don't forget to try out some of the local spirit Palinka. Dating back to the 14th century, the palinka recipe is a concoction of fruit, distilled to a minimum of 37.5%. With flavours of plum, cherry, pear and apple, this is sure to get your tastebuds tingling!
Budapest offers such a wide variety of unique culture and history, entwined with a modern and cosmopolitan city vibe. There is so much to see and do, you'll soon find that you may be hard pushed to fit it all in to one trip.
This post was written by Alex Harbour, on behalf of Avalon Waterways, specialist in first class river cruising experiences in Europe and Worldwide.
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