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Down The Rabbit Hole In Budapest

"Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!"

Racing into Budapest one eye on the brutalist architecture that was whizzing by, one eye on Google maps, and constant updates on the phone to the hotel, we had arrived in Budapest in a blur. The flight had arrived late which meant we were going to be late for our dinner reservations at Caviar and Bull one of Budapest’s leading restaurants located adjacent to the Corinthia Hotel. Entering any city in the night, especially a city in Eastern Europe, is almost like entering through the looking glass. There is a certain otherworldliness that perpetuates itself within cities that used to be in Eastern Block, a feeling of familiarity as well as a feeling of extreme discomfort. The thirty-one-minute trip seemed to last an eternity and as the landscape began to change from realist grey to fantastical baroque the feeling of entering wonderland was complete. And so, began our trip to Budapest.

Image Courtesy: Aria Hotel
Image Courtesy: Aria Hotel

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”

Before you start any adventure it’s important to have a place to return to and rest your weary head after a day of shopping or sightseeing. We choose two places The Corinthia and Hotel Aria. Dramatically different in feeling, position, and personality. 

Image Courtesy: Corinthia Hotel
Image Courtesy: Corinthia Hotel

The Corinthia is a grand dame of a hotel dating back over 100 years and its scale deceptive. Spread over three buildings and connected via glass walkways and glass pavilions it appears to impossibly grow to expand the space you travel in. Entering its grand portico, which lies in the central part of the building, you are embraced by a dramatic staircase that sweeps you along to the reception. The rooms leave you feeling as though you are entering a film noir set—stylish and monochromatic with a library containing titles that referenced fashion and film. The dark colourway emits a feeling of mystery and familiarity clawing you back to urgently remain in the comfort of your room and unwind.

The Aria Hotel, on the other hand, takes its inspiration from Budapest’s rich musical history. The Aria is located footsteps from the Basilica and the river Danube. Entering this property is an enchanting experience as you walk in through an unassuming doorway that blends into the Budapest street scene into an inner courtyard that doubles as a ‘music garden’, complete with a stunning glass roof and piano key pathway leading through. The hotel is divided into four wings (accessed from the corners of the building), all of which represent different musical genres: classical, opera, jazz, and contemporary. All of the rooms have balconies that overlook the glass roof of the music garden. 

Image Courtesy: Bibi on Instagram
Image Courtesy: Bibi on Instagram

“Six impossible things before breakfast”

The impossibility of getting around Budapest is the key. Unlike its neighbouring countries, Budapest is a vast sprawling city. Like the kingdoms of the red queen and the white queen, the two parts of Buda and Pest are inextricably linked and differ in personality. Thus getting two for the price one means its potentially quite impossible to get around to seeing everything in one day let alone before breakfast without the help of a white knight—so like all good fairy tales one needs a guide—ideally one with a stead or at least a luxury sedan to speed you through the various undiscovered streets of the city as well as the key sites.

Interestingly the idiosyncrasy of the language means that a guide is even more compulsory in Budapest than in other cities. Whilst other Eastern European cities have names that can be phonetically pronounced or in the case of Austria where they sound like a dairy farm— Melk, Krems, Grein—Hungary has names that cluster consonants together making them impractically difficult to pronounce and end up sounding like Harry Potteter-esque monsters or relations to the Jabberwocky. Thus, Hungarian names like Ersekvadkert, Gyongyossolymos, Szantodpuszta spring straight from the pages of Lewis Carroll and you automatically end up worrying that while "whiffling through the tulgey wood", you might be confronted by a Bandersnatch. The names are so bewildering that when you ask for directions from the locals your mispronunciations are greeted with bewildered expressions. Thus, a knight is imperative and ours was in the form of Balázs and Veronika from Sweet Travel.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."

With the help of a guide and, honestly, only with the help of a guide, here are six key places in Budapest you can visit in a day. If you are in Budapest longer, then you can visit these places at a more leisurely rate, but either way, these are a must include in your visit.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

The Parliament Building and the Antique Stores

Sitting on the banks of the Danube, the stunning gothic Renaissance revival building is full of hidden meaning and is also the tallest building in the capital matched only by the Basilica. And, the streets that surround the Parliament building house small antique sand curio shops that are always a pleasure to while away time in.


Buda Castle, National Gallery, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion

These all lie on the Buda side of the city and overlook Pest in a convivial manner. The Buda side of the city has a romantic medieval charm to it with narrow, winding cobbled streets.


Metropolitan Ervin Szabó Library and the Jewish Quarters 

This 19th-century Neo-Baroque Wenckheim Palace is situated next to the famous Jewish quarters and the holocaust tree of life that is depicted as a metal weeping willow. This 19th-century aristocrat mansion hides in a modern library and is an absolute must-visit because you're able to see the past merging with the present.


The Baths 

Often referred to as the 'City of Baths', Budapest sits on over 100 hot springs that feed all the bathhouses in the city. There is such a wide variety, from the extremely public to the very private since the city is home to a few of the remaining traditional Turkish baths dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Even if you don’t indulge in a bath the architecture is worth popping in to see.


Liberty Statue

The statue harkens back to the communist period of the city when it was liberated from the Nazis in World War II. The dramatic statue is stunning and is quite an experience to reach as it stands at one end of the city, however, it's worth the trek because it allows you to gain a dramatic vista of the Danube and both Buda and Pest.


Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle

The Heroes' square is a dramatic entry to the city park and flanked by two of the city’s national museums. Once you are in the park you are accosted by an incredibly charming pastoral site of a faux-medieval castle that is as romantic as it is fantastical. Created for the 1896 millennial exhibition, it has blended into the city and become part of its park culture.

 

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

“……round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words 'DRINK ME' beautifully printed on it in large letters.”

Budapest is the master of taking the ordinary and mundane and turning it into a Wonderland. Where else could you party in such diverse spaces? From a converted 19th-century townhouse and ruins to car parks and baths, the sheer number of choices one can sample for a leisurely drink is ridiculous, and each space is even more surreal than the last. Tim Burton would be given a run for his money to come up with so many unique watering holes

Image Courtesy: Youtube
Image Courtesy: Youtube

The Ubiquitous Ruin Bars

One cannot go to Budapest and not experience something truly unique. The Hungarians have turned something of tragedy into something of joy⁠—a must-visit.


Ötkert Club 

For a more polished clubbing experience head to this restored 18th-century building with a large outdoor terrace, perfect in those balmy summer evenings.

For more information visit here


Gozsdu Passage

A tunnel of buzzing bars and restaurants draped in fairy lights, with open-air spaces that spill out into airy courtyards and gardens, this one is right in the centre of the trendy 7th District.


Sparty

Szechenyi Spa Baths are home to one of the city’s most raucous night-time events, the Sparty⁠—Spa day meets rave party. Where else in the world could you party in the 20th-century Turkish bath? 

For more information visit here


Racskert

A uniquely Budapest experience, it's a fully functional relaxed bar created inside a car park with graffiti-covered walls and a festival vibe.

For more information visit here


High Note Sky Bar at the Aria Hotel

The High Note Sky Bar, an ultra-sophisticated rooftop bar with close up views of the Basilica and stunning 360 panoramic views of the city also serves up mean cocktails, especially the Sunset over Budapest. 

For more information visit here


Her Majesty The Rabbit

“She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen” – like the white rabbit in Alice In Wonderland, Her Majesty The Rabbit is one of the most elusive and secret clubs in Budapest⁠—you either need to be a member or need to know a member. The location is a seriously hidden secret and is so exclusive that few people even know about it.

For more information visit here

Image Courtesy: Trip Advisor
Image Courtesy: Trip Advisor

“Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words `EAT ME' were beautifully marked in currants”

Dining in Budapest is as eclectic as the city itself, a mix of unique melting pots of different cultures with a strong sense of self-identity that has shaped the dining scene. It is unlike any other city and truly a dip into the other side of the mirror as everything is so familiar yet uniquely different.

Image Courtesy: Shutterstock
Image Courtesy: Shutterstock

Caviar And Bull

An amazing experience curated by one of Budapest’s most talked-about chefs, Maltese-born Chef Marvin Gauci. There is a choice between two degustation menus, a contemporary one and a cosmopolitan one. You know you are in for an amazing treat when right from the beginning of the meal you are served the most delicious caramelised butter that is both sweet, salty, nutty, and creamy and leaves the memory of toffee on your tongue. The techniques chef applies are so varied from Japanese to Scandinavian to molecular with inspiration coming from all over the world and from all styles of cuisine, your palate never knows what to expect as all preconceptions are thrown out the window. He artistically recreates dishes such as the popcorn lobster, elevating a very regular fast food dish to something subtle and refined. A true genius. 

For more information visit here

KOLLÁZS Brasserie & Bar

This restaurant has an incredible old-world charm and conjures up visions of sitting in 19th-century Paris. The restaurant is located opposite the Danube in the Four Seasons hotel. It exudes an incredibly bohemian vibe that gels well with the city. The food is fine and very meat-focused, a real treat to spend a gastronomic evening.

For more information visit here


Central Market Hall

There’s something really special about dining in a market. The food is extremely fresh, the architecture is industrial turn-of-the-century at its best, and the buzz is incredible. The best way to know a city is to go where the locals shop and the produce here is as local as they come. It's also a great place to pick up paprika, a Hungarian staple.

For more information visit here


New York Café

Speaking of old-world charm, the ridiculous opulence of the New York Café is backed up by its pedigree. To get a glimpse of how the place gained its reputation as the chic place to be seen at you simply need to stop by for afternoon tea and allow yourself to be swept up by the romanticism of it all. 

For more information visit here


Street Food Karavan

From the most amazing chimney cakes and vegan fairs to a chickpea bar and the most amazing burgers, you can satisfy everyone's palate at this unique gated pocket in the Jewish quarter.

For more information visit here


Mazel Tov

Situated in a narrow corridor between two buildings, that anywhere else in the world would be a side passage but in Budapest transforms into a spacious unique restaurant the minute you put a glass ceiling on top, this one serves delectable Israeli-Mediterranean food and turns into a happening bar in the evenings. Anything with beetroot here is amazing. 

For more information visit here


Rosenstein

An award-winning, this is a family-run hole-in-the-wall of sorts. The menu is a hybrid of Jewish and Hungarian cuisines and it's also quite extensive. It's casual yet classy and serves food for the soul.

For more information visit here

“Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.”

Like Alice’s adventures in wonderland, nothing is as it seems in Budapest. What is on the outside is often not what is on the inside—gentrified houses maybe a nightclub or a library, clubs can appear as easily as they disappear—you never truly know what to expect and that’s what makes it exciting and unique. A destination that is constantly changing and adapting ensures you can never get bored of it.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

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