3 Days in Budapest

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Day 1

MORNING Spend your first day in Pest and enjoy the flat terrain as you wander it most impressive sites. Start with a hearty breakfast of apple strudel and strong coffee at Első Pesti Rétesház just steps from the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace and St. Stephen’s Basilica— two destinations at the top of your itinerary today.

MID-MORNING Wander towards the Gothic Revival style Hungarian Parliament Building near the edge of the Danuble. The red star of communism was removed from the central steeple in 1990 and today the building is a symbol of Hungary’s solidarity. It’s worth a short side trip to cross over to the edge of the Danube from the Parliament Building and locate the Shoes on the Danube Promenade.

NOON A tour of the Dohány Street Great Synagogue is a moving and sobering experience. Professional guides provide historic context and point out the area’s most moving monuments.

AFTERNOON Next, hop a street car and exit at the Great Market Hall. Surely, you’re hungry by now? Order a cold beer and sausage with sauerkraut before taking in the souvenirs on display.

EVENING Stroll along picturesque Andrássy útca en route to dinner and an opera. Café Callas neighbours the Hungarian State Opera House so you’ll have time to eat and make the 7:00 pm curtain.

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Day 2

MORNING Have an early breakfast at your hotel before heading to the Ecseri Flea Market. Hunt for vintage Herend porcelain and fine art oil paintings among rustic outdoor stands.

Dabble Savvy: Bring cash and expect to bargain.

LUNCH Ask the cab to drop you at Buda Castle and you’re steps from Alabárdos Étterem and a truly memorable meal. Authentic home cooking tastes even better served on fine Herend china.

AFTERNOON Buda Castle’s majestic Hungarian National Gallery is the premier place to appreciate Hungary’s artistic achievements. The paintings rival Europe’s finest and a knowledgeable guide brings the experience to life.

MID-AFTERNOON For culture of a different varietal, the cellars of Királyi Borok are steps from Buda Castle.

EVENING Dinner at Café Kör is simply a must.

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Day 3

MORNING Spend the morning shopping in the folksy village of Szentendre, a mere 30 minutes from the city centre. Stay for lunch and then grab a cab back into town.

AFTERNOON What trip to Budapest would be complete without a visit to the Gellért Baths? Don’t forget your bathing suit and bring a towel from your hotel.

EVENING It’s hard to resist the romantic pull of a Danube River cruise. There are dozens of boats leaving at various times, so ask your concierge for a recommendation. For those who prefer dry land, a meal at Gundel is memorable.

Budapest Shopping: Buda

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ABOVE: Kimberley negotiates with an eager vendor at Ecseri Flea Market.

Ready to give that credit card a workout? The good news is there are fewer temptations than you’d find in larger cities like Paris and New York.

“The bad news is, there is none,” says Dabble’s Editor in Chief Kimberley Seldon. “Arrive early and bring cash. The selection can keep you busy for hours.”

1. “Vintage Herend Porcelain, turn of the century objets d’art and fine oil paintings,” says Kimberley, “are just some of the goods I look for at Ecseri Flea Market.” Visit during offseason when prices are very favourable. However, do be prepared to find busts and portraits of Mussolini and Hitler in multiple stands (though these infamous items are tucked away during warm weather months when tourists are more plentiful). History buffs may appreciate communist memorabilia. The market is open on Saturday. Cash is king, though many vendors take credit cards.

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ABOVE: Herend porcelain.

2. Make sure to bring a good pair of walking shoes and wear sunscreen when you visit Szentendre, just outside of the city centre. It’s easy to lose track of time in this popular destination for visitors and local weekend pilgrimages. Nestled among the hills of Buda, the folksy village-turned-artistrefuge has shopping opportunities galore. Not to mention several museums, colourful restored buildings and restaurants decent enough to make spending four to five hours here a pleasant outing. Look for handmade pottery, jewelry, embroidered linen and hand blown glass to tempt your spending resolve.

3. Although the styles are diverse, Hungary has more than one famous ceramics house. In addition to Zsolnay’s Art Nouveau pieces (which are admittedly an acquired taste) there is the perennially pleasing Herend Porcelain. Founded in 1826, Herend specializes in hand-painted and gilded porcelain for a discerning worldwide clientele. Many of its classic patterns are still in production.

Budapest Architecture: Pest

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ABOVE: A distinctive onion dome atop the Moorish revival style Dohány Street Synagogue.

1. Admirers say Art Nouveau is stunningly beautiful, with its fanciful forms, shimmering colours and stylistic freedom. Detractors have a different opinion, suggesting the 19th century style is simply dreadful. Regardless of your position, Budapest offers some fine examples of the style which is frequently referred to as Secessionist. The Budapest Zoo is one such example, though some sections veer heavily towards kitsch.

Dabble Savvy: It’s worth a stroll to see the front gates if you’re in the neighbourhood anyway. Budapest Zoo is near the Széchenyi Baths, Gundel Restaurant and Heroes’ Square.

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2. Hungary’s most important church is St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika). The 10th century neoclassic style church is named for Hungary’s first king, Stephen I. Avoid crowds and visit in the evening when the artfully lit exterior shames even a full moon. If you plan to do a daytime tour, there is a small fee.

Dabble Savvy: Fans of the macabre may want to pay an additional fee to have the lights turned on in the ‘Chapel of the Holy Right’, to view the mummified fist of King Stephen.

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ABOVE: Every detail of the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is memorable. The lobby’s graceful Peacock Gates are in the Secessionist style (Art Nouveau).

3. A stay at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace is a pampered experience. Every detail is perfection, every service exceptional—staff stand at attention as guests walk the hallway en route to rooms distinguished by carved walnut doors. Located near the foot of the Chain Bridge, the impressive Secessionist building has an illustrious history—first as headquarters to the Gresham Insurance Company, then a girls’ home for etiquette and, during World War II, as barracks for Soviet soldiers who burned the furniture for warmth. Restored in 2001, the renovated staircases, stained glass and mosaic tiles by Zsolnay create a lasting impression.

Budapest Shopping: Pest

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1. Closed to cars, Váci utca is Pest’s premier shopping street. Despite the usual suspects, like Italian department store Coin (Coincasa section has fun bedding and kitchenware) and the typical tourist spots where you’ll find Hungarian gifts no doubt produced in China, there are some lovely stores selling clothing, jewelry and porcelain. Don’t miss the chocolates at Csokoládé & Delikat.

Dabble Savvy: Chocolate shops are always air conditioned, making them a real draw on the hottest days. Bacchus is a wine shop with a good selection and attentive staff. Café Molnár’s sells kürtoskalac or rolled donuts with coconut, cinnamon, chocolate and almonds.

2. Sure it’s touristy, but there’s no way you come to Budapest without at least a cursory visit to Grand Market Hall, (Nagycsarnok). Most of the goods fall into the souvenir category, but there are some exceptions including lovely leather bags, Bavarian textiles and exceptional food. Find a lunch counter on the second floor and enjoy a spicy Hungarian sausage with red cabbage and cold beer. Then check out the selection of paprika on the main floor.

Dabble Savvy: There is a clean, coed public toilet at the back of the market,130 HUF (US$0.60).

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3. Ernst Galeria owner Eleni Koranis (ABOVE) eagerly shares her enthusiasm for Hungary’s turn of the century artistic accomplishments. Her design-savvy shop is filled with fine art paintings, ceramics (including pieces from world-renowned Zsolnay), as well as sleek furnishings from Eastern Europe.

Welcome to Budapest

Before politics compromised Hungary’s influence, its capital twin cities—Buda and Pestrivalled Paris as a centre for fine art and artistic and intellectual achievement. Though evidence of Budapest’s post-Nazi, post-Communist restoration is abundant, the process is by no means complete, leaving an opportunity for the curious traveller to witness the past while watching the future emerge.

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ABOVE: Romantically described as the Pearl of the Danube, Budapest is a city of extremes. Pest’s dramatic skyline features St. Stephen’s Basilica at its centre.

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Twin cities, Buda and Pest are divided by the Danube River.

ABOVE: The Gothic spires of the Hungarian Parliament building in Pest.

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ABOVE: Baroque sculpture on Buda’s Castle Hill.

Budapest Experiences: Buda

Known as the “City of Spas,” no trip to Budapest is complete without at least one visit to a thermal bath. Depending on which of the 15 public baths you choose, plan to spend at least several hours enjoying indoor and outdoor pools, steam baths, saunas and other amenities such as massage.

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Budapest is a city famous for its geothermal baths, vestiges of a Turkish occupation which lasted more than 140 years. Navigating a modern day visit to one of these bathing sanctuaries is not uncomplicated, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour.

Typically, a bather purchases a ticket and receives a plastic wristband, which acts as a key to enter and to a specific locker. Attendants are on site to guide the confused.

Dabble Savvy: Bring a bathing suit and towel. If you forget, there are some stodgy suits for sale and a towel rental service. The“towels” however are more like a corner of a thin bed sheet, neither luxurious nor absorbent.

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1. Built atop the city’s 70 million litres of warm thermal spring water, the Gellért Baths have been soothing souls and pruning toes since doors opened in 1918. Thermal baths, saunas, gender specific plunge pools and an open-air swimming pool with artificial waves provide hours of enjoyment. Design lovers will prefer the Gellért Baths to others, owing to the stained glass roof and Zsolnay tiles in the main hall.

Dabble Savvy: Head to the Gellért Hotel and Spa from the Great Hall Market. It’s a short walk across the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) and on approach you can admire the Art Nouveau beauty of this impressive hotel.

2. Kiscelli Múzeum consists of a collection of fine art from the 20th century to the present, housed in a mustard coloured Baroque mansion opposite Margit Island. Locals rent Kiscelli for private parties but visitors can tour the setting, complete with furniture and an eclectic art collection from the period. There are summer concerts as well, so ask your concierge for details.

Dabble Savvy: It’s a wee climb so wear comfortable shoes.

3. Fortunately, the wine cellars of Királyi Borok are steps from Buda Castle and the Funicular that can deliver a thirsty tourist back down to Pest after a visit…which is strictly for research purposes of course. Traditional Hungarian wines, known as Tokaji are pleasantly sweet and light tasting and there’s no lovelier setting to enjoy them.

Dabble Savvy: If you plan to purchase, make sure to pick up a bubble sleeve, which protects your bottle in transit.