Image by Budapest-based illustrator Aliz Buzás

The Insider Guide to Budapest

Budapest, a city of two halves divided by the Danube, is a treasure trove of architecture, history and culture – from opulent palaces to statues of communist leaders and healing thermal baths – with a vibrant social scene.

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The Main Attractions

One of the most fascinating cities in Europe, Budapest has a story visible everywhere you look – from the architectural decadence of the Golden Age to the bullet holes that scar them. Successfully blending old and new with a deep and edgy sophistication, it is one of those places you’ll always stumble upon something new; think hidden bars, secret lookout spots and little museums. The two halves that make up the Hungarian capital – Buda and Pest – are great on their own, but to understand what makes Budapest shine you have to explore them together – which makes Chain Bridge the perfect place to start your explorations of the city. Built in 1849, this was the first bridge to physically unite the two sides of the city, paving the way for them to be formally integrated in 1873. Across the bridge in Buda, the Castle District is where it’s at, with the ride up the 19th-century funicular an attraction in itself. Home to the Buda Palace, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Buda Castle Museum, other sights here include the House of Houdini, the labyrinth in which Count Dracula was imprisoned, the 14th-century Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion, a turreted fortress that offers amazing views over the city. Over in Pest, the Hungarian Parliament Building, St Stephen’s Basilica and the Opera House are worth visiting, as is the former Jewish Quarter – now one of the trendiest spots in Budapest, with lots of great places to eat, drink and party the night away, including ruin bar Szimpla. Yet, while the city centre is a homage to the glory days of Hungary, Budapest has also suffered, from historic invasions by the Mongols and the Ottomans to the 20th-century tyrannies of fascism and communism. To really understand how Budapest has survived, visit the Hungarian National Museum and the House of Terror. Memento Park in Buda is another place to bear witness to communist history, while the Liberty Statue by Budapest Citadella is a wonderful place to honour fallen Hungarian soldiers. After that, follow in the footsteps of the Romans and the Ottomans with a restorative soak in a hot spring bath. Széchenyi, by Vajdahunyad Castle in Pest, is the most famous, though Király and Rudas offer authentic 16th-century vibes. Imagination captivated? Keep reading to discover more.

Neighborhoods in Budapest