Budapest


WHAT TO DO

Budapest is one of my favorite cities in Europe. It is renowned for its dramatic history, flamboyant architecture, thermal baths and fascinating culture. The Hungarian capital is bisected by the Danube River (hilly Buda and flat Pest) and was the co capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire - a great power that dissolved in 1918, following World War I. With excellent museums, historic landmarks and delicious cuisine, this beautiful city is sure to please.

Budapest is best explored on foot and the first spot to start your adventure is on the Pest side of the Danube River at the neoclassical Szent Istvan bazilika (St Stephen's Basilica). Consecrated in 1905, it is the most sacred Catholic church in Hungary and contains its most revered relic - the mummified right hand of the church's patron and first King of Hungary, Stephen. The basilica is dark and gloomy inside, although the view from its dome is phenomenal. To the right as you enter the church is an elevator to the treasury of ecclesiastical objects, which contains chalices, ciboria and vestments. Behind the main altar and to the left is the basilica's main attraction: the Holy Right Chapel, containing what is also called the Holy Dexter - the mummified right hand of St Stephen and an object of great devotion. It was restored to Hungary by Habsburg empress Maria Theresa in 1771 after being discovered in a Bosnian monastery. In the past century the basilica has been home to choral music, classical music as well as contemporary musical performances. From the church, make your way along the Danube until you reach the city's most prominent landmark. The eclectic style Parliament, designed by Imre Steindl and completed in 1902, has 691 lavishly decorated rooms. The building is a blend of architectural styles - neo Gothic, neo Romanesque and neo Baroque. Guided tours in eight languages (the English language ones begin at 10a) last 45 minutes and take in: the North Wing, the Golden Staircase, the Dome Hall - where the Crown of St Stephen is on display, the Grand Staircase and its wonderful landing, Loge Hall and Congress Hall - where the House of Lords of the one time bicameral assembly sat until 1944. Note: tours of the Parliament building are in demand so be sure to book tickets ahead of time.

Next, stroll along Budapest's most famous boulevard - Andrassy utca. Begin at Deak Ferenc ter (square) and walk the 1.5 miles, taking in a few points of interest along the way, until you reach Hosok tere (Heroes' Square) and the sprawling Varosliget (City Park). Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2002, this grand avenue is a tree lined parade of wonderful architecture. Your first stop will be the Hungarian State Opera House at Andrassy utca 22. Designed by Miklos Ybl in 1884, this beautiful neo Renaissance building is worth a visit as much to admire the incredibly rich decoration inside as to view a performance and hear the perfect acoustics. Its facade is adorned with statues of muses and opera greats such as Puccini, Liszt and Verdi - its interior dazzles with marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings and chandeliers. If you cannot attend a performance, join one of the three 45 minute daily tours. Note: although the opera house is undergoing extensive renovations until 2020, tours continue to depart daily. Located at Andrassy utca 60 is the House of Terror. The former headquarters of the dreaded AVH secret police (State Protection Authority) houses this fascinating museum that focuses on the crimes and atrocities of Hungary's fascist and Stalinist regimes in a permanent exhibition called Double Occupation. Spread over three levels, the years after World War II leading up to the 1956 Uprising (a nationwide revolution against the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet imposed policies) get the lion's share of the exhibition space. The reconstructed prison cells in the basement and the Perpetrators' Gallery on the staircase, featuring photographs of the spies and torturers, are chilling. It was here that activists of every political persuasion were taken for interrogation and torture. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. Across the street at Vorosmarty utca 35 is the Franz Liszt Memorial Museum. This small museum is housed in the Old Music Academy, where the great Hungarian composer lived for five years until his death in 1886. The three rooms are filled with his pianos, portraits and personal effects. Continue on Andrassy utca until you arrive at Heroes' Square - the largest and most symbolic square in Budapest. It was designed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin. It is dominated by the Ezereves emlekmu (Millenary Monument), a 120 foot tall pillar topped by the golden Archangel Gabriel, holding the Hungarian crown and a cross. At the column's base are Prince Arpad and six other Magyar chieftains who occupied the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century. The 14 statues in the colonnades behind are of rulers and statesmen - from King Stephen (far left) to Lajos Kossuth (far right). Heroes' Square is flanked by two excellent art museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art. Housed in a grand Renaissance style building, the Museum of Fine Arts is home to the city's most outstanding collection of foreign works of art - ranging from articles from ancient Egypt to stellar collections of Spanish, Flemish, Italian and German art. The Old Masters collection on the first floor is the most complete, with 3000 works dating from between the 13th and 17th centuries, including seven paintings by El Greco. Among the most famous of all the works on display is the Madonna, painted by Raphael. The European sculpture collection on the second floor holds some magnificent pieces, including the captivating work of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. The collection of Egyptian artifacts contains decorated sarcophagi and mummy portraits in the basement. Also here is the classical section displaying Greek, Etruscan and Roman works. The collection of Greek vases and urns ranks among the finest in all of Europe. The Palace of Art, reminiscent of a Greek temple, is among the city's largest exhibition spaces. It focuses on contemporary visual arts - past exhibitions have comprised cutting edge photography, sculpture and installations by home grown and international artists. Be sure to check out the great museum shop.

City Park is the largest green space in Budapest, measuring almost half a square mile. It hosted most of the events during Hungary's 1000th anniversary celebrations in 1896. The park is home to a zoo, a castle and most notably the Szechenyi Baths. These thermal baths are probably the most popular in town. There are 15 indoor thermal pools (water temps up to 100 degrees F) and three outdoor pools, including an activity pool with whirlpool and floating chess boards. The baths are open year round to both men and women, therefore bathing suits must be worn (bring your own). The water in the thermal pools - high in calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate - is deemed to be good for pains in the joints, arthritis, blood circulation and disorders of the nervous system. Note: this pleasure paradise is open every day from 6a-10p. Relaxed and refreshed, take the metro just outside the baths (Szechenyi furdo M1 yellow line) to the Vorosmarty ter (square) stop back in the city center. Vorosmarty ter is a large square surrounded by shops, galleries and cafes. In the center is a statue of Mihaly Vorosmarty, the 19th century poet for whom the square is named. The square lies at the northern end of Vaci utca, the city's premier pedestrian shopping street. Wander down the road and seek out some of the glorious art nouveau buildings: the Philanthia flower shop (number 9), Thonet House (number 11) and the sumptuous Bank Palace, built in 1915 - now converted into a fancy shopping arcade called Vaci 1. Continue along Vaci utca until you reach Nagycsarnok (Central Market Hall) at Vamhaz korut 1. Built in 1897, it is the biggest and most beautiful of all Budapest market halls. Locals and tourists alike come here for fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. The food stalls dish out traditional Hungarian grub and the upstairs level has local folk costumes, dolls, painted eggs, embroidered tablecloths and other souvenirs. Gourmets will appreciate the Hungarian treats available here for much less than they'd pay in the shops on nearby Vaci utca: foie gras, garlands of dried paprika, tins of paprika powder and many kinds of yummy honey. Just up the street from the 'Great Market Hall' at Muzeum korut 14 is the Hungarian National Museum. Built in 1847, it houses the nation's most important collection of historical relics in an impressive neoclassical building. Exhibits on the first floor trace the history of the Carpathian Basin from earliest times to the arrival of the Magyars in the 9th century; the ongoing story of the Magyar people resumes on the second floor from the conquest of the basin to the end of communism. The museum was founded when Count Ferenc Szechenyi donated his personal collection of more than 20000 prints, maps, manuscripts, coins and archaeological finds to the state. Highlights include: Celtic gold and silver jewelry, a huge 2nd century Roman mosaic, King St Stephen's crimson silk coronation mantle, a Broadwood piano used by both Beethoven and Liszt and memorabilia from socialist times. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. One of the most beautiful buildings in all of Budapest is now part of the National Bank of Hungary. Found at Hold utca 4, east of Szabadsag ter - the former Royal Postal Savings Bank is a Secessionist extravaganza of colorful tiles and folk motifs, built by Odon Lechner in 1901.

One of the most interesting neighborhoods in Budapest is the Jewish Quarter. You can easily spend an entire day roaming its streets - or perhaps join a guided tour to gain an insight into the culture and history of the city's Jewish community. Start at the largest Synagogue in Europe, the Great Synagogue. Located at Dohany utca 2, this stunning house of worship was built in 1859 and has both Romantic and Moorish architectural elements. Inside, the Hungarian Jewish Museum contains objects relating to both religious and everyday life. It includes items such as a 3rd century Jewish headstone from Roman Pannonia and a handwritten book of the local Burial Society from the late 18th century. On the synagogue's north side, the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial presides over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis. The leaves of the weeping willow tree memorial, designed in 1991 by Imre Varga, are inscribed with the names of some of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust. Nearby in Goldmark Hall you'll find the Jewish Quarter Exhibition with interactive displays and artifacts, documenting what life was like in this area from the 18th century onward. Continue your walk along Wesselenyi utca and turn left on Rumbach utca - the Carl Lutz Memorial will be on your right. This dramatic sculpture depicts Swiss diplomat Carl Lutz, who saved many Jews during the Holocaust. Half a block further along Rumbach utca is the exquisitely beautiful Rumbach Street Synagogue. Built in 1872 by Otto Wagner, it is more like a museum today as it is not a functioning synagogue. Continue on Rumbach utca and take a right onto Kiraly utca - it forms the northern border of the historic Jewish District. At Kiraly utca 11 you will see the entrance to Gozsdu Udvar, a long series of connected courtyards with restaurants, pubs and outdoor cafes. The place comes alive every Sunday from March to October during the Gozsdu Bazaar (GOUBA), a popular weekly Sunday market. Continue your walk on the Dob utca end of Gozsdu Udvar and take a right onto Kazinczy utca until you arrive at the Orthodox Synagogue. It was built in 1913 in the Hungarian art nouveau style. Finally, head back to Kiraly utca until you reach Klauzal ter, the district's largest square. Take a stroll through Klauzal teri piac (Klauzal Square Market Hall), one of the five large market halls in the city. If you're rumbly in your tumbly, it's a great spot for some homemade food - enjoyed at communal tables. Note: the Jewish Quarter is where the romkocsma (ruin pub) phenomenon began and I will talk more about these popular bars later.

It is now time to cross the Danube for the Buda side of the river. There are a number of lovely bridges that span the Danube River, but none are as beautiful and iconic as the Chain Bridge. The twin towered Szechenyi Chain Bridge, which is named in honor of its initiator, Istvan Szechenyi, is particularly pretty when lit up at night. Opened in 1849 and built by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, it was the first permanent link between Buda and Pest. Take your time and enjoy the view as you walk across the bridge. Once you arrive on the other side in Buda, look for the Siklo - a classic funicular railway built in 1870 that ascends to Castle Hill and the Royal Palace. Castle Hill (Varhegy) is a half mile long limestone plateau that rises 550 feet above the Danube. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains some of Budapest's most important medieval monuments and museums. The former Royal Palace has been razed and rebuilt many times over the past seven centuries. Bela IV established a royal residence here in the mid 13th century, and subsequent kings added to the complex. The palace was leveled in the battle to drive out the Turks in 1686; the Habsburgs rebuilt it but spent very little time here. Today, the Royal Palace contains the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum and the National Szechenyi Library. Of the three, the Hungarian National Gallery is not to be missed. It is an enormous collection spread across four floors and four wings of the palace that traces Hungarian art from the 11th century to the present day. The largest collections include medieval and Renaissance stonework, Gothic wooden sculptures and panel paintings. The museum also has an important collection of Hungarian paintings and sculpture from the 19th and 20th centuries. Note: the museum is open from 10a-6p and is closed on Monday. In addition, be advised that the gallery is in a state of flux at the moment - the late Renaissance and baroque art collection moved to the Museum of Fine Arts in Heroes' Square in preparation for the gallery's future relocation to a new purpose built museum building in City Park. Down the road from the palace is the elegant Matthias Church. Parts of it date back 500 years, notably the carvings above the southern entrance. The church (named after King Matthias Corvinus who married Queen Beatrix here in 1474) is a neo Gothic reconstruction designed by architect Frigyes Schulek in 1896. The exterior has a gorgeous tiled roof and the interior houses remarkable stained glass windows, frescoes and glistening wall decorations by the Romantic painters Karoly Lotz and Bertalan Szekely. Climb the steps of the steeple to the top of the Torony Panorama (Panoramic Tower) for stunning views of the city. Note: organ concerts take place in the church on certain evenings, continuing a tradition dating from 1867 when Franz Liszt's Hungarian Coronation Mass was first played here for the coronation of Franz Joseph and Elizabeth, the beloved queen affectionately known as 'Sisi'. Adjacent to the church is Fishermen's Bastion, a neo Gothic masquerade that looks medieval and offers commanding views of the Danube, Parliament and beyond. It was built as a viewing platform in 1905 by Frigyes Schulek, the architect behind Matthias Church. Its name was taken from the medieval guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of the castle wall. The seven gleaming white turrets represent the Magyar tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the late 9th century. Before leaving Castle Hill, stop in at Ruszwurm for coffee and cake. This tiny cafe dates from 1827 and is located at Szentharomsag utca 7. Nearby at Balta koz 4 is Budavari Retesvar, home of the best strudel in town - do try the cherry and the apple.

From Castle Hill, head towards Gellert Hill and the Liberty Monument. This lovely lady with a palm frond in her outstretched arms was raised in 1947 in tribute to the Soviet soldiers who died liberating Budapest from the Nazis in 1945. After the fall of communism, the Soviet statues around the monument were removed and sent to Memento Park - more on this shortly. Nearby is the St Gellert Monument. Gazing down on Elizabeth Bridge from Gellert Hill, this large memorial is dedicated to St Gellert - an Italian missionary invited to Hungary by King Stephen to convert the natives. The monument marks the spot where, according to legend, the pagan Magyars, resisting the new faith, hurled the bishop to his death in a spiked barrel in 1046. Below Gellert Hill is the Cave Church. This chapel was built into a cave in 1926 and was the seat of Hungary's Pauline order until 1951, when the priests were imprisoned by the communists and the cave sealed off. It was reopened and reconsecrated in 1992. Behind the chapel is a monastery with neo Gothic turrets that are visible from Liberty Bridge. Buda has two excellent thermal baths, Gellert and Rudas. Located at Kelenhegyi utca 4 and part of the famous Hotel Gellert, the Gellert Baths are open to both men and women (bring a bathing suit). Soaking in these art nouveau baths, you feel like you're taking a warm bath in a cathedral. Found at Dobrentei ter 9 on the Danube, the Rudas Baths were built in 1550 - during the time of Ottoman rule. These renovated thermal baths are the most Turkish in Budapest, with an octagonal main pool and domed cupola with colored glass and massive columns. There is also a wellness center with massage and medicinal treatments, along with a wonderful restaurant above it. Conclude your tour of Budapest with a visit to Memento Park. Located at Balatoni utca - Szabadkai utca outside the city center (hire a car to take you there and bring you back), this open air museum transports you back in time to Hungary's communist era. It is home to more than 50 statues, busts and plaques of Lenin, Marx, Bela Kun and others whose likenesses have ended up on trash heaps elsewhere. Here you'll find the remains of Stalin's boots (all that was left after a crowd pulled the enormous statue down from its base during the 1956 Uprising). An exhibition center in an old barracks has displays on the events of 1956 and the changes since 1989, and a documentary film with rare footage of secret agents collecting information on 'subversives'. Ogle the socialist realism and try to imagine that some of these relics were erected throughout Budapest as recently as 1989. Check out the awesome Trabant (Trabi) car as you leave the park.

WHERE TO EAT

Budapest has plenty of great places to eat, drink and take in a show. Spurred by booming tourism and a growing local economy, new restaurants are popping up across the city - offering everything from updated takes on local peasant fare like goulash soup to Michelin starred modernist meals. But there’s still plenty of reason to celebrate the neighborhood stalwarts that have been churning out tasty porkolt (beef stew) and toltott kaposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls) to locals for decades. With so many tasty options, the alluring Hungarian capital is sure to please. Begin at the famed Gerbeaud Cafe, located at number 7 on Vorosmarty ter, Pest's busiest square. Established in 1858, it is one of the most legendary coffee houses in town - and perhaps in all of Europe. It has a Rococo interior and serves breakfast, along with exquisitely prepared cakes and pastries. Be sure to try the heavenly Gerbeaud Slice (ground walnut and homemade apricot jam between layers of short crust pastry with chocolate covering on top). This cukraszda (confectionery or cake shop) is a must visit. Another well known spot is New York Cafe, found at Erzsebet korut 9 on the ground floor of the New York Palace Hotel. Considered the most beautiful cafe in the world when it opened in 1894, this neo Renaissance style coffee house is full of opulence and history. Central Kavehaz is at Karolyi utca 9 and dates back to 1887. This grande dame of a traditional cafe with leather and dark wood inside is a great spot for people watching. It serves breakfast until 12p and of course, cakes and pastries. For top notch coffee, head to Dorado Cafe at Klauzal utca 35 in the Jewish Quarter. The cold brews (made from Ethiopian beans) are the best in town, or if you fancy tea - try the aromatic chai latte at this unpretentious and tastefully designed cafe.

For lunch, make your way to Kadar Etkezde at Klauzal ter 9. Etkezdes are affordable, quick, lunch only canteens in Hungary - patronized mostly by locals. Located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, it is one of the most popular and authentic etkezdek you'll find in town. Go with the daily soup special followed by matrai borzas (a crunchy, fried, potato battered pork loin topped with sour cream and cheese and paired with a side of rice). Nearby at Akacfa utca 47 is the very popular Mazel Tov. This Israeli restaurant with an enormous courtyard serves lots of grilled meats like merguez sausages and chicken shawarma. There's also several vegetarian options and the drinks are dynamite. Mak Bisztro is a sleek space at Vigyazo Ferenc utca 4 in Belvaros (Inner City). This bistro offers inventive dishes that lean in the direction of Hungary from a chalkboard menu that features fish, vegetables and foraged ingredients - like mushrooms gathered from local forests. The three course lunch menu is a nice option. Another solid choice is Cafe Kor, not far away at Sas utca 17. This downtown restaurant is a neighborhood institution famed for its prewar Budapest ambience. Menu highlights include cold fruit soups, veal stew, oversized schnitzel and vegetable stews studded with meatballs. Monk's Bistrot is located at Piarista koz 1 and specializes in bold pairings of ingredients that seem to work, alongside contemporary reworkings of Hungarian dishes. The goat cheese with peaches shines, as does the pike perch with dill. The weekday three course lunch menu is a bargain. The traditional Hungarian eatery Kiskakukk has been serving up classic gulyasleves (goulash soup), veal stew with spaetzle (noodles) and Jewish style solet (stew) with smoked goose for over a century. It can be found at Pozsonyi utca 12. There are plenty of places in Budapest to find a decent goulash or chicken paprikash, but the city’s undisputed king of traditional Hungarian food is Rosenstein, a family run restaurant that has been around for years. Other favorites include the stuffed pepper and the pan seared foie gras with potato croquettes in a Tokaji wine sauce. Do not leave without trying the homemade plum palinka (fruit brandy). Note: the restaurant is a bit outside the city center at Mosonyi utca 3, but it’s well worth the trip. For some outstanding Hungarian street food, visit the previously mentioned Nagycsarnok (Central Market Hall) at Vamhaz korut 1 or Belvarosi Disznotoros at Karolyi utca 17. This standing only downtown eatery specializes in traditional meat heavy dishes. The main event here is the sausage, which includes paprika laced blood and pork liver varieties. Do as the locals do and pair a sausage with a generous portion of mustard, pickled vegetables and a few slices of bread. Another cool spot is the Street Food Karavan at Kazinczy utca 18 in the Jewish Quarter. The goulash in a bread bowl helps to soak up all the booze consumed in the nearby ruin pubs. If you have strong feelings for ice cream, be sure to visit Gelarto Rosa at Szent Istvan ter 3 in front of St Stephen's Basilica. I destroyed the lovely lavender white chocolate - they use a special spatula to form an ice cream rose onto the cone in order to preserve the creamy texture.

For dinner, head to Muzeum at Muzeum korut 12 next to the Hungarian National Museum. This suave restaurant is the place to come if you like to dine in old world style with a piano softly tinkling in the background. Still going strong after 135 years, its house favorites include the goose liver parfait and the goose leg with cabbage. There is a fine selection of Hungarian wines. Located at Klauzal utca 13 in the Jewish Quarter is the tremendous Barack & Szilva. Run by a friendly husband and wife team, it serves high quality and well prepared Hungarian provincial food in a bistro setting. Try the duck pate with dried plums and the red wine beef goulash. They offer a four course set menu with or without wine pairing. The first restaurant in Hungary to gain a Michelin star, Costes is the carefully orchestrated high end dining experience you might expect with chef Eszter Palagyi at the helm. Found at Raday utca 4 - its service is special, its setting is sleek and its beautifully presented food is expertly created using top quality ingredients. The four to seven course set meals menu changes regularly to reflect what's in season. Note: the restaurant opens at 6p, is closed Monday and Tuesday and reservations are recommended. The group that brought you Costes recently opened a second restaurant. Costes Downtown is at Vigyazo Ferenc utca 5 inside the Prestige Hotel Budapest. This fine dining bistro was also awarded a Michelin star. With an open kitchen, a brick vaulted ceiling and wine on display in glass fronted cabinets - the feeling here is one of a fancy cellar. Tasting menus of four to six courses can be paired with Hungarian wines and feature cured salmon with edamame beans and pork cheek with capers. Be sure to book ahead. Rezkakas Bistro, located at Sas utca 3 in the heart of Budapest, has become one of the most distinctive and elegant restaurants in the Hungarian capital. The menu is characterized by traditional Hungarian cuisine (local veal and beef dishes) and the ambience is pleasant with authentic gypsy music. One of my favorite spots is Borkonyha Winekitchen Restaurant, found next door on Sas utca. Executive chef Akos Sarkozi and a talented team of young chefs serve up inventive dishes in this downtown, Michelin starred restaurant. Expect dishes such as lamb saddle and pork tenderloin made from the famed Hungarian Mangalica pig. The signature starter here is the duck liver, which has been a mainstay on the menu since the opening in 2010. Among the city's Michelin starred restaurants, Borkonyha is the most casual, with a bistro like vibe and over two hundred Hungarian wines. Onyx sits at the top of Budapest’s fine dining scene and it’s also the town's only restaurant with two Michelin stars. Chef Adam Meszaros marries local ingredients with French technique and the results are unfailingly delicious. Expect a classic fine dining experience complete with glass chandeliers, white linen tablecloths and superb service. The six course tasting menu with wine pairing is out of this world. Note: Onyx is located at Vorosmarty ter 7 next to Gerbeaud Cafe (same owners). Chefs and partners Szullo Szabina and Tamas Szell left Onyx in 2016 to launch a casual restaurant specializing in unadulterated, traditional Hungarian food inside a market hall turned food court. Within a year of opening, Stand25 Bisztro received a Michelin star and today the space is almost always filled to capacity. Found at Hold utca 13, its menu standouts include the goulash soup, the layered potatoes and the somloi galuska - a rum soaked local dessert.

Budapest has a number of cool spots to enjoy a drink and see a show. The popular romkocsmak (ruin pubs) are threatening to overtake thermal baths as the town's best known attraction. Ruin pubs are low priced bars housed inside the vast, dilapidated prewar buildings of the city’s old Jewish Quarter. Of the many ruin pubs to visit, do not miss Szimpla Kert nor Fogas Haz. Located at Kazinczy utca 14, Szimpla Kert is firmly on the tourist trail but remains a landmark place for a drink or two. It's a huge complex with nooks filled with trinkets, graffiti, art and all manner of unexpected items. Sit in an old Trabant car, watch a film in the open air back courtyard, down shots or join in an acoustic jam session. Note: on weekends the place transforms into a farmers market featuring a range of local items - like salami, cheese and honey. Fogas Haz can be found at Akacfa utca 49, next door to Mazel Tov. This huge tree filled complex, with courtyard and eight bars and four dance floors in two buildings, hides a warren of good times - including live music and nightly DJs, plus art, film clubs and workshops. There's also the giant club Instant within the complex. It has a couple dozen rooms to get lost in, seven bars, seven stages and two gardens with underground DJs. If the ruin pubs are too much for you, head to Kisuzem at Kis Diofa utca 2. Budapest’s grand but gritty architecture and lively alternative art scene come together at this bohemian bar located in the Jewish Quarter - currently the center of the city’s nightlife scene. The joint draws a melting pot of local painters, musicians and intellectuals. Drinks are dirt cheap, but an extensive selection of top shelf rums are also available. Most nights it hosts live music such as jazz, folk and experimental. If you're in the mood for wine, DiVino Borbar is the city's most popular wine bar. Centrally located at Szent Istvan ter 3 in front of St Stephen's Basilica and next door to the yummy ice cream shop Gelarto Rosa, it has more than 120 wines to choose from. Note: a wine glass deposit of 500 forints (less than 2 usd) is required. For a more intimate setting, make your way to Doblo at Dob utca 20. Brick lined and candlelit, it's where you go to taste excellent Hungarian wines. There's food such as meat and cheese platters and live music nightly at 9p. My favorite place in town is Boutiq' Bar, located at Paulay Ede utca 5. This low lit speakeasy does expertly mixed cocktails using fresh juices and has an educated selection of craft spirits. The two drinks I especially enjoyed were the Ace of Spades and the Jalisco Sazerac. Note: the bar opens at 6p, is closed on Sunday and Monday and reservations are advised. Conclude your evening in Budapest by attending a musical performance. The Liszt Music Academy is the city's top classical music concert hall. The art nouveau building was built in 1907 and is located at Liszt Ferenc ter 8. Another magnificent site is the Palace of Arts, found at Komor Marcell utca 1. The two concert halls at this palatial arts center by the Danube are the 1700 seat Bela Bartok National Concert Hall and the smaller Festival Theatre, accommodating up to 450 people. Both venues are purported to have near perfect acoustics.

WHERE TO STAY

Budapest has several places to call home during your stay and there are 2 that I especially enjoyed. Both are in prime locations that provide exceptional service, modern amenities and comfort. The first is the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, located at Szechenyi Istvan ter 5. Overlooking a park on the banks of the Danube River, this one of a kind luxury hotel was created out of the long derelict art nouveau Gresham Palace in 1907. The iconic Szechenyi Chain Bridge is just steps from the wrought iron gates of the enormous lobby and the beautiful St Stephen's Basilica is around the corner. Plush rooms feature free WiFi, flat screen TVs and iPod/iPhone docks, plus minibars and Nespresso machines. All have marble bathrooms and some add balconies or river views. Other amenities include a lobby bar and a brasserie with live jazz, plus a spa and an indoor pool.

A second option is Aria Hotel, also located in Lipotvaros (Leopold Town) at Hercegprimas utca 5. This swanky, music themed boutique hotel is housed in an old townhouse and features Jazz, Opera, Classical and Pop music floors. It is very close to St Stephen's Basilica and a short walk from Parliament. Sophisticated rooms present art nouveau, baroque or pop art styling. All come with complimentary WiFi, flat screen TVs and Blu ray players, as well as iPhone docks and Nespresso machines. A breakfast buffet is on the house, as are afternoon wine and cheese. Additional perks include an indoor pool, a hot tub and a spa, plus a totally awesome rooftop bar.

Budapest is full of history, culture, beauty and fantastic food. It treated me very well and I look forward to returning.