Unbeknownst to many inexperienced travelers, Budapest Hungary is simply another ex-communist city in Europe; but ever since the fall of communism, the city, and the rest of the country has seen a steady revitalization. Foreign investments started pouring in that led to the establishment of banking and research centers as well as building restoration projects. The economy of the city improved and as a result, tourists are slowly coming back and rediscovering the city’s grandeur.
Despite increasing publicity however, many people remain immune to the charms of Budapest. Its intriguing history and rich culture is often overlooked for other European capitals. Names like Liszt and Bartok take second fiddle to Mozart and Beethoven. The Corinthia Budapest Hotel probably remained under the radar despite its five star rating, and some people will be surprised to know that Budapest was one of the first cities outside of Italy to embrace The Renaissance. And though its affordability as a holiday destination is no longer a secret (mostly due to lower wages), Budapest is more than just a bargain destination. Here are four of the city’s well-kept secrets…
Great empires thrived here—just look around you when you visit. Some of its most recognizable structures and featured attractions are the results of their talent and ingenuity. The Romans, just like everywhere else, built townships and settlements like Aquincum, so brilliantly that it stood the test of time. The imposing Buda Castle is a product of the Byzantine era; and though much of it has been reconstructed, fragments of the original design remain.
Then came the Ottoman Turks. Their contribution came in the form of some of the most beautiful thermal bathhouses we still enjoy today: Rudas, Király, Császár. The city flourished for almost 200 years as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and much of the city’s façade nowadays are products of that era’s construction. The buildings lining the city’s thoroughfare, Andrassy Utca world heritage site, The Chain Bridge, and the Hungarian Parliament are just a few the establishments built during this period of prosperity.
Kings and emperors need entertainment and they will only settle for the best of the best, which is why Hungarian music, particularly classical music, is well revered. Its relatively new festival orchestra (established only in 1983) is already making a name for itself within the circuit, and its music school and conservatory produces some of the most illustrious artists in their respective trades. The Hungarian State Opera is a marvel of engineering and architecture and seeing a performance inside its ornate hall remains one of the best bargains in all of Europe. When I went in December of 2013, a box seat for a Friday night performance of The Nutcracker cost me less than $20.
Have you been to the movies lately? You have probably seen the previews and adverts for the latest Wes Anderson film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The featured hotel itself was a mere model creation but its designs were highly influenced by some of Eastern Europe’s grandest, including those from Budapest. Book a room with sweeping views of the Danube and the Buda Embankment at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace or indulge yourself and experience old world luxury at The Corinthia Hotel Budapest Hungary.
Looking for something a bit more contemporary but with remnants of Hungarian history; reserve a room at the Hotel Palazzo Zichy. The building used to be a residence of a Hungarian Count. A night in one of these hotels will definitely set you back a few hundred bucks; but I guarantee you that your bill will still be a fraction of what you will pay in other major European capital cities. After all, the term “grand” corresponds to luxury and Hungarians know the term well.
Budapest Hungary Architecture
Budapest is often coined “Paris of the East” and it is easy to see why. The Danube splits the city in half and each side cannot be more aesthetically different from the other. The older Buda side has hills and contains relics of the older realms. Naturally, you will see Roman, Gothic, and Ottoman styles of architecture in this area; while the flatter, more cosmopolitan area of Pest, contains the designs of the latter millennia. When the Hapsburgs annexed Budapest Hungary and gave it equal billing during their empire years, a flurry of construction was commissioned in preparation for the 1,000th birthday of the city, and Emperor Franz Joseph spared no expense. Structures that were built (mostly in Pest) were a blend of various architectural styles: Baroque, Neo-Gothic, and Art Nouveau.