Budapest is known to be the 'Paris of Eastern Europe' and it isn't hard to see why. The city, originally composed of two independent parts (Buda and Pest), exhibits sophisticated architecture, a distinct culture and language as well as an interesting geographical location being close to Prague and Vienna. Honestly, I didn't expect to fall in love with Budapest but it happened so quickly. The city embodies some familiar qualities of other Western European cities that I have visited but with a very strong character of its own. Also, who doesn't love to take advantage of low prices? In terms of value for money, I would say Budapest is definitely a cultural traveller's best bet for a quick European getaway.
- Tuck into a traditional Hungarian dinner at Café Kör. I had a three course meal here for the equivalent of £25! Try the specialty dish, Hortobágyi palacsinta, which is composed of savoury pancakes stuffed with chicken and covered in a rich paprika sauce.
- Admire nighttime views of St Stephen's basilica - one of Budapest's most relevant religious landmarks.
- Enjoy some drinks al fresco on Lizst Ferrenc square. This square, which intersects the much visited Andràssy Avenue, comes to life at night with the plethora of cocktail spots and sports bars that line the square. The experience is most enjoyable in warm weather when one can comfortably sit outside and converse with the locals for hours.
- Start the day off with a morning visit to the Hungarian Parliament. A tour of the magnificent Gothic interior is an absolute must for first-timers (all touristy prejudices aside). The building exemplifies grandiose and opulent qualities and is truly a jewel of Hungarian heritage. It's simply an experience not to be missed.
- Walk along Chain Bridge, where you cross over from the Pest side to the Buda side. While doing this, take in views of the stunning Gresham Palace, an art deco building now managed by Four Seasons Hotels.
- Once you arrive in Buda, take a funicular up Castle Hill. Visit the Hungarian National Gallery where you can view the largest collection of modern and contemporary Hungarian artworks in Budapest. The art museum also hosts exquisite temporary exhibitions on the world's most revered artists from Picasso to Modigliani so make sure not to miss them!
- Take a stroll to Fisherman's Bastion where you take in the architectural beauty of this towered terrace and admire the impressive view of the Pest side.
- Splurge on lunch at Halászbástya, a fine-dining restaurant serving modern European cuisine with Hungarian influences. The restaurant is actually situated within Fisherman's Bastion which gives it a grand and historic ambience. I definitely had my best meal in Budapest here. The dishes all exhibited a 'clean' quality as they each presented clarity of flavour and good balance. The restaurant also had great views and a noteworthy wine list.
- Get lost in the quaint Old Town by wandering through its its quiet narrow roads and its small pastel buildings.
- Head back to the Pest side and visit the historic Heroes' Square
- Don't miss the opportunity to experience a leisurely cruise on the Danube. I would recommend going around sunset so that you enjoy both nighttime and daytime views of Budapest's incredible cityscape.
- Continue the evening's Danube theme with dinner at the glossy Spoon restaurant. The two-floor moored boat boasts a restaurant and lounge serving gourmet fusion cuisine.
- Delight in some fresh culinary treats at the Central Market Hall. This large indoor market reminded a lot of the Boqueria market in Barcelona due to its bustling ambience and the abundance of Hungarian food vendors on display.
- Grab a casual and traditional Hungarian lunch at Bagolyvár. This spot is a more affordable alternative to the popular Gundel restaurant next door. Both restaurants are by the City Park so you can take a digestive stroll here after lunch.
- Spend the rest of the afternoon on Margaret Island. The majestic island is situated on the Danube in between Buda and Pest. In my opinion, a visit to Margaret Island is the best way laze away an afternoon in Budapest. The island is basically a massive park with vibrant floral gardens, expansive green spaces and historic ruin sites. Best to explore the island on a bicycle!
- Recoup with a fancy dinner at Rézkakas. The restaurant offers gourmet Hungarian delicacies with a traditional live music band.
- Celebrate your last night at Szimpla Kert - the most known 'ruin bar' in the city. A night out at this bar will probably provide you with the most unique nightlife experience. Ruin bars are usually formerly abandoned buildings that are characterised by grunge, clutter and an unapologetically cool crowd. Get a drink in the room with no roof, play ping pong in another room and leave your mark on one of the intact walls.
- Sleep in and head to the Gellert Baths: bath houses are known to be an essential part of the Budapest experience so even though I admit that it wasn't for me (for sanitary reasons), I would still advise first timers to try it out for themselves. Just make sure to bring rubber slippers and a towel with you.
*All photographs taken by me *