Budapest has been put on the map as a highly popular tourist destination over the last few years, but until 2013 it was very much an underground destination. Between having been part of the old Eastern Block, then being shunned to the side until Hungary finally joined the European Union in May 2004. Whether or not this was a good thing for the country is beside the point. The bottom line is that this inclusion turned Budapest into an accessible city when it was in the no-go zone for so long was a shock to both visitors and citizens.
Today, the Hungarian capital is flooded with tourists from all over the world, mainly from Europe, though people from the Americas are starting to show their faces. The city is divided into what used to be two cities, Buda and Pest. Buda is a much more residential and doesn’t offer nearly as much in terms of activities than Pest, though it is the home of the famed Buda Castle. Pest, on the other hand, is the home of nearly all of the museums, architectural marvels, and top gastronomical experiences that can be wished for.
But what draws such tourists to Budapest of all places? First of all, the city has been called by many as “the Paris of the East,” a nickname that is well-deserved. The architecture in the city center is something out of a fairy tale in that it is beautiful and colorful, with details right out of a fantasy book. Some notable gems include the Great Synagogue, the Opera House, and the Budapest Castle.
But that’s not all. The water that runs under Budapest is known to be filled with minerals that are highly beneficial for the body and skin. As a result, a multitude of bathhouses are open to the public all over Budapest. They range from the ultra-popular and luxurious Gellert baths to the local and cost-effective Lukas baths that provide much less in the realm of services but are a haven for locals to enjoy the fruits of their beautiful city. An economical yet decadent experience, the Budapest bathhouses are something special that should be enjoyed while on site.
Food and wine in Hungary are quite a bit different than in other countries in Eastern Europe. Though similarities are found in the cuisines of the Czech Republic, Hungarian food has a sweeter, smokier note, curtesy of its world-famous paprika. In fact, going into any random supermarket means seeing entire aisles of this versatile spice alongside a wealth of peppers that are impossible to find in other parts of the world. Interestingly, the wine in Hungary is incredibly varied. Try Cultivini, in the center of Pest, for a taste of how skilled Hungarian winemakers are at their skill.
If you’re more of an outdoors person, Budapest has plenty to offer. A bike-friendly city, you can either rent a bike and go exploring on your own or join a bike tour for a more structured adventure. Caving under the Buda hills is also quite a desirable activity in that the rock formations are some of the most unique in Europe, except perhaps the Moravian Karst in the neighboring Czech Republic. Tours are also offered for paragliding around the Buda Castle.
Budapest is nothing like the somber and depressing place it once was during Soviet rule. Just a word for the wise. Stay in the city center during your stay in Budapest as the outskirts of the city are far less picturesque than the historic buildings of the first quarter.