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City Focus 

Budapest City Break

Budapest at night, Fisherman's Bastion Image used under Creative Commons from Moyan Brenn

Hungary’s capital Budapest combines leafy Buda with lively Pest. Between them, they leave first-time visitors with plenty of reasons to return, says David Whitley

 

Sights

Gellert Hill: The Citadella fortress and its typically unsubtle Soviet-era Statue of Liberty top this wooded behemoth on the Buda side. Walking up can be a sweaty, albeit thoroughly enjoyable, hike and the views from the top out over the Danube, Castle District and Pest are well worth the shoe leather. www.citadella.hu

Castle District: Laid out on Buda’s hills, it includes the tourist honeytrap of the Matthias Church, as well as the former Royal Palace. The latter now doubles as the Budapest History Museum. www.btm.hu

Danube Cruise: While Budapest is the starting point for many a European river cruise, you can take an hour’s trip on the Danube, admiring the likes of the Parliament building and the Basilica of St Stephen en route.www.budapestdanubecruise.com

Szechenyi Baths: The city has numerous thermal bathing complexes, but on a hot summer’s day you can’t beat Szechenyi’s complex of pools. In the sprawling City Park and surrounded by a bright yellow palace-like building, the baths are a social hub. Swimmers are accompanied by old men playing chess at the edge of the tubs. www.spasbudapest.com

 

Culture

Memento Park: When the Iron Curtain fell, most of Budapest’s communist era statues were pulled down. Some were saved and moved to the surreal Memento Park, where they stand together in all their pomposity.www.szoborpark.hu

House of Terror: It’s visceral and striking, but the House of Terror perhaps tries a bit too hard to impress. The exhibitions in this former secret police HQ feel like a series of giant, loosely themed art installations, overshadowing the stories of the thousands killed by the Nazi and communist regimes. www.terrorhaza.hu

Hospital in the Rock: When a network of man-made caves was discovered in the early 20th century, it was decided to utilise them and a hospital was built into the rock at the back of the Castle District. Hour-long tours walk visitors through this bizarre facility, a nuclear bunker during the Cold War.www.sziklakorhaz.hu

Vasarely Museum: Budapest has a few good art museums, but this is the most distinctive. Featuring hundreds of works by Op Art maestro Victor Vasarely, it’s all about perception, patterns and visual trickery.www.vasarely.hu

 

Entertainment

Magyar Borok Haza: Hungary is proud of its wines, with the Tokaji dessert wine seen as the country’s masterpiece. You can sample drops from all 22 Hungarian wine regions in the House of Hungarian Wines, with its giant cellar bar, shop and series of wall displays. www.en.magyarborokhaza.com

Szimpla Kert: Kerts — loosely translated as garden bars — spring up all over Budapest in summer. Often sprawling through abandoned courtyards, they tend to feature DJs, thoroughly mismatched furnishings and a gleeful party spirit. Szimpla Kert is a stalwart of the scene that operates year-round, the star of a street with plenty of other kert options. www.szimpla.hu

A38: This former Ukrainian ship, moored on the riverbank, has morphed into a cultural venue where you’re just as likely to see a photographic exhibition, jazz concert, punk gig or DJ set. www.a38.hu

Opera House: The Hungarian State Opera House is famed for its acoustics, and tickets for the packed programme of opera, ballet and classical music performances are a bargain compared with those in other European cultural hotbeds. www.opera.hu

 

Shopping

Vaci utca: Budapest’s take on the classic high street is split into two sections. The stretch north of the Szabasajto utca underpass is full of chains selling their wares for prices a wee bit cheaper than you’ll find at home, while the southern section has more traditional handicraft and giftware stores for souvenir hunters.

Great Market Hall: The souvenirs tend to be slightly cheaper on the third floor of this huge, visually astonishing building. The main level is a foodie’s dream and it’s the spot to pick up dried paprika, cheeses and other local goodies.

Andrassy utca: Modelled on the Champs Elysees in Paris, Andrassy utca is where the high-end designer labels congregate. Bargain-conscious credit card bashers can splash out on Zegna and Armani for relatively little damage.

Design District: Indie fashion designers, textile co-operatives, perfumeries and quirky homeware stores have got together under the Design District banner. Retrock and Eventuell Galeria are particularly good fun.www.designdistrict.hu

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