What should I see?
For conventional sightseeing, take the Siklo (funicular) up to the Vár, or Castle District, where you can easily spend a day poring over fabulous Baroque architecture. Over in Pest, the revitalized Jewish quarter is jam-packed with sights, most obviously in the shape of the magnificent Great Synagogue, the second largest in the world.
A little-known gem is the Southeast Asian Gold Museum, featuring a sumptuous collection of secular and religious artwork, ninety percent of which is gold. Beyond here, in leafy City Park, lies Budapest Zoo, as renowned for its Art Nouveau enclosures as it is for its inhabitants.
For some respite from the often brutal summer heat, take to the Buda Hills, home to the Railway Circuit, comprising the 3km-long Cogwheel Railway, and the Children’s Railway, an 11km-long narrow gauge built by Communist youth brigades after World War II.
There’s more Communist-era nostalgia at the Memento Park, a remarkable assemblage of oversized statues of former Communist dictators like Stalin and Lenin. Lastly, take a ride on Tram #2, which runs the length of the Pest Embankment, affording superlative views of the Castle District opposite.
Why should I go to the spa?
Budapest lies on more than a hundred thermal springs, so it’d be remiss not to indulge in one of the city’s many fabulous spas (furdo). Take a dip in Art Nouveau splendour at the Gellért Baths, the evocative, Ottoman-era Rudas Baths, or the enormous sixteen-pool Széchenyi Baths, where the sight of old fellas playing chess on the water is a wonderfully surreal spectacle.
For an alternative bathing experience, make for one of the night-time pool parties, which variously put on music, film and laser discos.
What is there for foodies?
Budapest is hardly renowned for its culinary prowess, but this is changing, and fast. Of the city’s four Michelin-starred restaurants, Borkonyha is the most appealing, with dishes like quail breast with lavender and buttered green peas, complemented by one of the finest wine lists in the city.
Child-friendly Zeller Bistro is no less snazzy, with beef cheek and goose liver among those dishes rated highly. But for something more old-fashioned, try Café Bouchon, a charming little French outfit with gorgeous Art Deco furnishings and fine food to match. For picnic supplies, make for one of the city’s many indoor markets, the biggest and brashest of which is the Great Market Hall.
Which is the best coffee house?
Like Vienna, Budapest has long been synonymous with great coffee houses: your first stop should be Centrál Kávéház, erstwhile retreat of writers and intellectuals around the turn of the nineteenth century, and still a thoroughly grand place to sip an espresso. Though the diminutive Ruszwurm patisserie, up in the Castle District, arguably does better pastries.
Leading the charge of the new, so-called “third-wave” coffee bars is Tamp & Pull, closely followed by Espresso Embassy – both these boast award-winning baristas.