Morning: I’ve turned off the History Channel, hopped a plane and landed in Central Europe. Budapest is rich in history and I couldn’t have been more excited to explore. The Danube River splits this remarkable city into two sides, Buda and Pest. I recommend starting your day on the affluent western side of the Danube, Buda. The morning is the best time to get your history lessons in, as the venues and guided tours at that time are less busy than in the afternoon hours. First pay a visit to the castle district by taking the funicular up the hillside from the base of the Chain Bridge. This area was my favourite and features several attractions including Buda Castle. After a tour of the castle, I suggest you wander the cobblestone streets and take in the architecture of Matthias church in its crumbling state. Before the busses of foreign tour groups spill into the streets, make your way to the Fishermans Bastion (bottom photo). In the summer the Ramparts are filled with cafe tables and chairs, and it is the perfect spot to sip a morning cappuccino and over look the city. It is the ideal finale to a morning of knowledge and the ultimate location to snap an impressive panoramic photo of the view.
Afternoon: After a morning of touring I had yet to see one stylish pedestrian, and a hunch I had about Hungarians being less than fashionable was starting to look accurate. I did not let that deter me and I decided to take the time in the afternoon to do a little shopping. I was very pleased to find out that while a fashion-forward personal style may have been lacking in this city, the shopping was not. Major name brands and local shops line the streets in Vörösmarty Square, Vaci Utca and on Fashion Street. Those hunting for a little more luxury should head to the prominent Andrassy Avenue. Running from the Danube up to Heroes Square, this street was made famous for its museums, architecture, beautiful cafes and high-end boutiques. While Louis Vuitton and Burberry might spark interest in some, I headed straight for the Alexandra Books flagship store, which is an absolute must for any booklover. Not only do they sell wine and books in the same location (how perfect), but in the back of the store is one of the most beautiful cafes I have seen in my life. Grab a latte and admire the stunning interior.
Less into fashion and more into mementos? Do not miss an opportunity to stop into the Great Market Hall. The large indoor market is the perfect place to get a taste of tradition with a small lunch and pick up a souvenir to bring home.
Night: Exhausted from an afternoon of hunting down great deals, I was ready to get a bite to eat. I had a feeling that the local cuisine might be bland and boring so I was hoping dinner could put to flight my premonitions about Hungarian gastronomy. As it turned out I was completely wrong about the food, and my palate was rocked. The city has a few shining stars when it comes to culinary excellence; in fact, Budapest is home to two recipients of the European Michelin 2012 one-star rank, Costes and Onyx. Moreover, world famous Japanese chef Matsuhisa selected Budapest as the only Central European city to host his (made famous by celebrity) restaurant Nobu. Although I would have loved to drop some hard earned dollars in one of the city's many high-end and world-renowned restaurants, I chose to stop into a hip Italian eatery. Tom George is just a stone's throw from the Saint Istvan Basilica and was one of many well-designed bistros full of good-looking people dotting the walking street. It took one bite of perfect thin crust pizza to confidently say that my hunch about Budapest's lack of culinary aptitude was blown to pieces. I suggest you finish your night with a glass of some of Hungary's world famous wine at the uber-cool DiVino (pictured above) wine bar just around the corner, an excellent cap to an awesome 24 hours.
Over the winter months stop into the festive Christmas markets at Vorosmarty Square and try some of the traditional Hungarian fare. Meat and Potatoes never looked (or tasted) so good. Not to mention the “Forralt Bor” (hot mulled wine) will keep the winter chill away.
Where to stay: The boutique Hotel Zara ranks four stars and is very well priced in the heart of the city; Taste for luxury? The Gresham Palace Four Seasons (second photo from top) is just that and more but it comes at a high price.
Getting there: Flights leaving Canada daily on Lufthansa
Top photo courtesy Typographyserved.com