Why Budapest? A Local Guide Explains his City's Allure

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Budapest now is among the top destinations for Central European city breaks. I hear from more and more tourists that this is the city most first-time travelers to Central Europe want to see.

However, Budapest and Hungary are not among the must-do European destinations yet. As a post-Communist country, Hungary needed a long time to convince the global tourist market to think about the country as an attractive destination with quality services. But now we, people from Hungary, hope our time has come! This hope is just confirmed by the stronger dollar or euro vs Hungarian Forint. The current exchange rates make your stay in Budapest extremely affordable. According to Forbes' list Fifteen Cheap Countries to see in the Recession, Hungary is ranked number one!

Budapest looks its most beautiful at dawn (see photos at top right). As the sun slowly rises over the eastern plains, bathing Pest in soft pastel hues, it radiates back from the buildings of Buda as if they were a giant mirror; the windows on Castle Hill positively glisten in golden jubilation.

But Budapest is also spectacularly appealing at night (see more photos). The Chain Bridge is festooned with white lights, and the main public buildings like the Parliament, the Opera and the Royal Palace, as well as the entire panorama of the Castle District, are imaginatively and sensitively floodlit.

There are plenty of other capital cities built on the banks of a river, and in many cases the river runs through the historic centre. But such a wide and majestic river, such as the Danube in Budapest, is more of a rarity. Even more exceptional is the perfect contrast between the right and left banks. Buda is built upon hills, and the feet of two of them - Castle Hill and Gellért Hill - almost stand in the water. Facing it is Pest, as flat as a pancake (or, as a Hungarian might say, as flat as a "lángos", a pita-type bread popular for many centuries).

It's no exaggeration to say that Budapest is one of the finest capital cities in Europe, and also one of the best situated.

Budapest, now home to two million inhabitants, would appear countless times on any list of superlatives. The Continent's first underground railway was built here. From here originated more pioneering Hollywood film makers than from any other European city.

Budapest is built above a labyrinth of caves filled with warm thermal water and many have only partially been explored. You will find in Budapest the biggest active, water-filled underground thermal water cave and hall in the world. There are no other cities of comparable size anywhere where visitors can explore drip-stone (stalactite) caves in the middle of the residential districts. Budapest is known around the world as The City of Spas. It is the only capital city in the world where there are more than 118 hot thermal springs. The richness of the city in thermal water is absolutely unrivaled.

Budapest is home to the third largest Parliament building in the world, once the largest in the world (see photo above). It is also home to Europe's largest synagogue. The success of modern Budapest was significantly due to the diligence and organizational skills of Jewish industrialists. The city has the most populous active Jewish community in Central Europe, who cherish their religious, artistic and historical heritage.

Whoever comes to Hungary today arrives to the one of the smallest countries in the world. But the world that opens up for you here in this small country is something you have most probably not counted on. Hungary awaits everybody with a vibrant intellectual and cultural life, a capital with one of the finest panoramas, awesome architectural heritage, great bath houses, beautiful people, dishes full of character, quality wines, emotional musical heritage and fascinating gypsy music. Hungary awaits everybody who is open-minded about surprises, novelty and exploration.

As a guide it is a real privilege to provide travelers with quality insight into this world.

Thank you András, for such a heartfelt and beautiful depiction of your city. I'm planning a European trip this summer, and in all seriousness, you've inspired me to add Budapest to the itinerary. If other travelers have been similarly inspired, you can learn more about Andras and his tours here: Andras' guide profile page.
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