Budapest traces its beginnings to 1873, but this European city along the Danube keeps luring you back with its old-world charm. Whether it’s the coffeehouses that date back more than a century, top-notch restaurants or new attractions, there is always a reason to return.
To find out what to do in the Hungarian capital, we turned to Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest’s concierge, András Csákvári, for some advice. Csákvári not only is a 13-year veteran of the hotel, but has lived in Budapest for 48 years, which makes him a go-to expert.
What is new in your city?
The Budapest Eye
We have a new Ferris wheel, the Budapest Eye, and it’s just outside the hotel.
Budapest is full of hidden sights — the Zsolnay-tiled rooftops alone, which you wouldn’t have anywhere else in the world, are best explored from above in the Eye. Also, the layout of the city with the Danube cutting through and the Buda Hills adding a third dimension — you must go up, even if you’re scared of heights!
We also sell VIP fast-track Budapest Eye tickets at the concierge desk.
The Várkert Bazár
You know luxury when you have space to waste! Várkert Bazár has recently been restored to its former late-19th-century glory. From what I understand, it didn’t really have a purpose then, and it doesn’t really have one now except that it’s absolutely delightful to have and behold and stroll through.
It’s built in a neo-renaissance style, and it leads up to the Royal Palace, winding through flower gardens, fountains, grottoes, guard houses, exhibition space and a restaurant.
What is the best way to spend a day in Budapest?
I need a kick-start! My favorite caffeine bars are Espresso Embassy and My Little Melbourne. They also serve scrumptiously delicious pastries, and it’s the mornings when I like to treat myself to something sweet.
Also, I enjoy the energy of the city center and always take a moment to admire its architectural gems on Andrássy út, Szabadság tér, by Parliament and Chain Bridge. I get energized as well as inspired.
I always slow down on the Duna-Korzó — the promenade between Széchenyi Bridge and the beautifully modern Elisabeth Bridge — and take a pause just looking over to Buda Castle.
My special lunch spot is at the downtown market, and then I continue the day riding my bike along the Danube to Kopaszi Gát to get some fresh air and enjoy the greenery.
Later in the day, back in the city, I have dinner at Rézkakas Bistro, which serves original Hungarian dishes with a contemporary twist. It also has live music by Kuti Band, whom I adore.
Give us your favorite insider tips for the city.
Take trams 2 and 19
Public transport in Budapest is fabulously comprehensive. On the Pest, or east side of the city, take the No. 2 tram, which follows the curve of the Danube River.
On the Buda, or west side, take No. 19. This is the best way to see the Parliament building up close and the panorama of Buda Castle across the river.
Avoid rush hour so you have a choice of the best seats with a view.
Enjoy a perfect lunch at the Downtown Market (aka Hold Street Market)
The Downtown Market is the Grand Market Hall’s lesser-known offshoot. It’s near the spectacular Zsolnay-tiled National Bank Building just off Szabadság tér, and it’s specifically dedicated to local specialties on the ground floor. Cheeses from Etyek, a bewildering array of pickles, meat from Hungary’s indigenous black pig, mangalica — you name it.
On the second floor, there are several street food bistros and restaurants, local as well as international specialists. Some serve Hungarian comfort food like lángos, a deep-fried flatbread; főzelék, a thick stew; and wiener schnitzel, while noted upscale restaurants like Arany Kaviár or 2016 Bocuse d’Or winner Tamás Széll also set up shop here, offering less pricey menus.