Ease and affordability. Two of the best reasons to visit Budapest. It's one of the cheapest places to minibreak in Europe, with masses of direct flights by the budget airlines - and it's far less crowded than Prague. Its 2 parts - Buda and Pest - are set on either side of the Danube river; separate cities until 1873. Nowadays both are gorgeous, the former more historic, housing the royal palaces and Unesco sites; the latter more cosmopolitan, including the Jewish quarter.
Architecturally, it's stunning across both sides, with a mix of influences reflecting its complicated history: Baroque churches, a neo-Classical Basilica, art-nouveau bathhouses, Roman ruins and a Byzantine-Moorish Great Synagogue. And once you've cruised up the Danube, bathed in thermal waters and eaten your fill of paprika-dusted goulash, you can drink and dance in actual ruins...
There are over 1,000 thermal hot springs in Hungary, 118 of them in Budapest. Whether you prefer an authentic Roman bathhouse, an art-nouveau palace, or simply a warm aqua-park, you'll definitely need swimmers while you're here. Gellert and the Szechenyi are the most well-known; our top tip is the Veli Bej baths (pictured). An old Turkish complex, with a central octagonal pool and an ice shower, it was once used purely for medicinal purposes and the water temperature naturally changes 4x a day.
For an insight into the Communist Era (almost 40 years of the 20th Century), Memento Park has an array of oversized statues and Socialist memorials, that once stood forebodingly throughout the city. Following the collapse of the Iron Curtain, they were moved out here; they include gigantic replicas of Lenin and Stalin.
The banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle quarter and Andrássy Avenue are all Unesco-listed.
1. The banks of the Danube: both the Pest and Buda embankments are heritage sights, stretching from Liberty Bridge all the way up to the Margaret Bridge and the area surrounding the famous Chain Bridge. Best viewed via a night cruise.
2. The Buda Castle quarter was built over 800 years ago, and has withstood earthquakes, fires, sieges and world wars. Don't miss the magnificent Gothic Castle itself, and Trinity Square dominated by Mathias Church ( the Fishermen's Bastion in the background, a castle wall with city views).
3. Named after the former Prime Minister, Gyula Andrássy, Andrássy Avenue is lined with magnificent mansions, fountained courtyards and expensive shops. At the far end, Heroes' Square marks the 1000th anniversary of the arrival of the Magyar tribes.
1. Menza (pictured). A clever replica of the Soviet-Era restaurants, with retro furnishings including wallpaper from Kesztölc, and brown and orange textiles, this is a great lunch spot. Play it safe but interesting with duck burger, gorgonzola cheese and blackberry mayonnaise, or go native with Cholent, smoked goose breast, goose-neck and egg.
2. Zeller Bistro (Izabella u. 38). This candelit basement bistro in the Jewish Quarter dishes up excellent Hungarian home cooking. Try the goose liver parfait, followed by beef cheeks. Reservations essential.
3. Of Budapest's 4 Michelin-starred restaurants, Borkonyha is the most interesting. There are 200_ wines (many of them Hungarian), and although the atmosphere is casual, the food is first-class and imaginative: rabbit ragout soup with scallops; rainbow trout with garlic purée in sausage sauce.
Ruin bars are all the rage in Pest; neglected buildings and courtyards converted into ramshackle bars and clubs: think graffitied walls, glitter balls and old bicycles suspended in the air. Szimpla Kert (Kazinczy utca 14) is the most famous, with diverse live music and dance areas - Friday is Open Stage night. Fogashaz offers a more cultural experience. Hidden away in District 7, it's less touristy and has regular film clubs, alternative theatre performances and features local art (51. Akacfa utca).
Central Kavehaz is a lovely old coffee house in the Jewish Quarter that was once the focal point of intellectual life in Budapest, and has retained much of its charisma. (Károlyi Mihály u.9.) Afterwards, wander around the magnificent Dohany utca Synagogue, with its Byzantine-Moorish design.