Budapest is one of the most complex tourist destination I have encountered so far in my travels. Above all it is a romantic destination. The harmonious geographic joint between the rolling hills of Buda and the flat lands of Pest is sewed together by Europe's largest river - the Danube.
Budapest seems to be a true royal necklace with its elegant bridges, palaces, castle, squares, temples, parks, baths and history. You will probably need more than a week to visit and discover it, but if you have only 24 hours, this article will help you get the most of your time, squeeze pure value and stretch an extra mile out of your buck or euro.
Once you arrive in town drop your bags at Central Hotel 21 (Maria utca 10 - 5 minute walk from Corvin metro stop). It is a budget, 3 star hotel organized on the first floor of a historic communal house. The atmosphore across the building, the yard or the rooms is cosy. The furniture and sober design is brand new but it is surely great value for money: a double bedroom costs only 27 euros/night.
From the nearby Corvin metro station get the underground to Hosok tere (Heroes Square) by changing the blue line with the yellow at Deak Square metro stop. The little yellow line train is in fact the oldest metro line on continental Europe and the trip is enjoyable.
Fine Art Nest
In Heroes Square, on the left side lies a temple of beauty, the national Museum of Fine Arts (1900-1906). The Caravaggio to Canaletto exhibition is running until February 16, 2014 and it is a must see. If you missed it, don't worry, the museum is home to the largest El Greco painting collection outside Spain. It also displays remarkable art signed by Raffael, Giorgione, Bellini, Correggio, Tiepolo, Tintoretto.
Filling your heart and mind with grace might make you crave for something to eat. Take the yellow underground to Bajcsi Zsilinsky stop. Opposite the road is a new Georgian restaurant (Kinkali) where food really tastes like in Tbilisi and large flat screens display jaw dropping travel destinations, creating a different type of appetite.
High Class Glitz
Now you are all set up to use your walking shoes. Head up the beautiful Andrassy Boulevard - the most beautiful and elegant street in Hungary, part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2002. You can easily believe you ended up in Paris, Buenos Aires, Madrid or Vienna. High brands, high eyebrows, posh and polished windows, elegant cariatides or atlants supporting noble balconies, this is the place of glitz and glam. On the left side lies the Opera House, a temple covered in heavy eclectic frescoes and golden decorations.
Clearly this is one face of Budapest stretched and nourished for the tourists and the wealthy. Do you wonder where the real life lies? the answer is not too far away. In fact if you really want to be surprised detour one block from the glitzy Andrassy. Behind the Liszt Ferenc Square with trendy places you'll find in the basement of an old house an amazing chocolate bar called Noir Choco Bar. Here you can drink a cup of dense and heavy chocolate drink with or without spices or play with exotic fruits covered in fondue chocolate.
Golden Light & Coffee
Mornings in Budapest are washed in beautiful light. Winter sun shine is almost horizontal and extremely bright. It is a beautiful gold fondue light that photographers love and thank God for. A stroll through the Inner City is a true lesson of architecture: from Baroque to Classicism, Eclecticism, Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the city has it all. Just hop in a coffee shop and wake up with a fresh orange juice and treat yourself to a cappuccino in the mild and homey smells of coffee.
Bathing as a Pasha
It is now time to have a bath, not just anywhere, but in the place where sultans and pashas did during almost 150 years years of Ottoman rule. 1541 is the year when Buda castle felt in the hands of Suleyman the Magnificent and under the name of Budin became the capital of the most western province (vijalet) of the Ottoman empire (Budin Eyalet). Today, on the hilly side of the river, at the foot of the Elisabeth Bridge you shall spot the pierced dome of Rudas Turkish Baths (1566).
These baths differ from the typical hammams from the rest of the Ottoman world. Under the dome where normally there is a marble structure heated from beneath in Budapest you will find an octagon shaped pool with hot thermal waters, surrounded by 4 smaller pools with different temperature waters. Two niches open the access to a dry sauna and a steam sauna with immersed in chamomile fragrances.
Once in, lay back, float and watch the pierced dome that filters the outside light through multicoloured glass and as the steam is rising towards the show of light you can meditate on the temporary nature of life, on what is important for you in life. It is a place wher you pamper and caress your soul, where you strip off everything: clothes, problems, issues. It's only you with yourself. The rest of the naked bodies moving, breathing or wondering around depict a passage place similar to the Purgatorium, reminding the visitor about our temporal/passing presence in this world. The drops of condensed water are the only metronom strikes and measures for the passing time.
Traditionally, between 1936 and 2005 Rudas Baths were men only, but since 2013 when the administration of the Budapest baths decided to open all the baths to the tourists and cease the gender separation, Rudas Baths remained the last bastion of the tradition with 4 days a week men only (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday), one day women only (Tuesday). Weekends are for both men and women and swim suits are compulsory.
The Central Market
A short stroll along the banks of Danube will get you to the elegant Liberty Bridge ornated with old lamp posts, imperial eagles and the emblem of the old Hungarian Kingdom. At the other end of the bridge do enter in Budapest's most beautiful market (the Central Market Hall) designed by Gustav Efffel's firm in 1896. Stock here with a snack for later including an apple strudel (yummm!).
Soup & Pasta
On the left side of the Vamhaz krt street, heading to Kalvin Square you'll find 2 great street food initiatives. Look out for the place called "Leves" (Soup) and further up in Kalvin Square 2 for "Pasta". Four options, a fix price (3.30 euro), fast and spotless service. Eating benches are organized outside in Kalvin Square where once fed you can doodle on the paper table cloth.
Turkish Baths in Budapest: http://baths.topbudapest.org/turkish-baths
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