City break: Five good reasons to spend a weekend in Budapest
Why go now? It’s fantastic value. Direct flights from Dublin with Aer Lingus in November, December and January start at €20.99 each way. It’s a manageable journey of less than three hours for a short break, and taxis to the city centre cost under €25.
The Budapest Christmas Fair, at Vorosmarty Square, running from November 18 to December 30, is one of the most popular in Europe.
Where to stay? For luxury, glamour and a great central location the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus is hard to beat. Named after the Renaissance ruler King Matthias Corvinus the objective is to provide 5-star relaxation in downtown Budapest. It’s walking distance from most of the main attractions and city tour buses go from just across the street.
Restaurant Giardino serves contemporary Mediterranean and Hungarian food while the in house Japanese restaurant Nobu caters for more exotic tastes. Voted Hungary’s Leading Hotel for the fourth time this year it’s not hard to see why. Doubles start from €111 per room per night, but for specials, including Spa treatments, check out www.kempinski.com
What to see? A variety of hop-on-hop-off bus tours cover the main attractions. Don’t miss the Opera House , Heroes Square, the Parliament Buildings, Margaret Island and the Royal Palace. The beauty of Budapest is that most tourist must-sees are centrally located and you can traverse the city with ease in two days.
Particular highlights include the Dohany Street Synagogue which dates back to the 18th century and a time when it played a central role in the life of the Jewish community of Budapest. It seats 3,000 people and is the fifth largest synagogue in the world.
Between 1944 and 1945 it formed one boundary of the Jewish ghetto and more than 20,000 people took shelter there during World War II. Over 7,000 people perished in the freezing winter that year and they are buried in the Synagogue courtyard. It is closed on Saturdays and Mondays, but historical tours run on the other days.
Another unique Budapest experience is a visit to the Spa or Baths. Back as far as the 13th century Budapest was renowned for thermal waters with medicinal properties and in 1934 Budapest was awarded the supreme title ‘Spa City’. The best known baths today are Szechenyi and Gellert.
Where to eat? Gundel, established as a restaurant in 1910 is one of Budapest’s most famous restaurants and the prices reflect its exclusivity. Credited with introducing Hungarian cuisine to the world at the 1938 World Fair in New York, its Sunday brunch at €21 a head is a great place to sample the food eaten by world leaders and celebrities – many of whom are pictured there.
The traditional Hungarian restaurant Karpatia, a city landmark since 1877, boasts an exquisite interior and a gypsy band, but the city is well served by lots of good quality mid market restaurants where you are guaranteed to meet the locals.
Big night out? Liszet Ferenc ter, a pedestrian square in downtown Budapest is the place to head to for a wide variety of indoor and outdoor restaurants.
It’s cheesy, but well worth taking a dinner cruise on the Danube. The food is surprisingly good although do expect to confuse Buda and Pest after up to a dozen trips up and down. Live music is included and prices start from €40 a head.
A slightly more trendy venue is the A38, a former Ukraine ship converted into a four storey cultural and concert centre, it also includes a restaurant and two bars, runs live concerts year round and stays open until 4am.