Budapest has emerged from a communist-era time warp to become one of Europe’s most vibrant new cities. Combining hot springs with history, the visitor gets two cities all at once.
Malev Hungarian Airlines (website: www.malev.hu) flies to Budapest from London Gatwick. The airline operates services from the US that connect in Zurich.
As the cold weather relents, the city opens up for its annual spring festival, a music event that attracts 60,000 visitors. Budapest has made 2008 its Renaissance year, marking the 550th anniversary of the coronation of King Matthias.
View the eight bridges that link Buda to Pest. The Chain Bridge, with solid arches and lion statues, is the first and most famous – built at the request of Count István Széchenyi after his father’s funeral was delayed because his son couldn’t cross the Danube.
Recognise the similarities between Országház (Parliament) and the Houses of Parliament in London. The building, with its neo-Renaissance dome and neo-gothic spire, stretches for over 250m (820ft) along the river.
Look out over the Danube and Pest from the Fishermen’s Bastion, behind Matthias Church. A system of stairs runs from the river to the hilltop, embellished with turrets, scrolls, arcades and statues.
Experience a vigorous massage before soaking in the thermal pools at the Gellért Baths (website: www.gellertbath.com). Men will be given a strip of cloth and women a tiny apron, but bathing suits are worn in the main pool – an art nouveau structure surrounded by columns.
Gain an insight into the nation’s troubled past at the House of Terror Museum (website: www.terrorhaza.hu). Located in the former headquarters of the secret police of both the Nazi and Communist governments, the grim decades of repression are recounted.
Explore the Budavári Palota (Buda Royal Palace), a site that was first inhabited in 1241. A museum complex lies within, including the Magyar Nemzeti Galéria (Hungarian National Gallery) (website: www.mng.hu) and the National Széchenyi Library (website: www.oszk.hu).
Hungarian cuisine is famous for its extensive use of paprika. Local specialities include túró rudi (a chocolate-coated cottage cheese snack), lángos (fried dough) and pálinka (an alcoholic drink made of fruits).
Did you know?
The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest is the second-largest synagogue in the world and the largest in Europe.