Budapest, known as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, stands guard over the lovely Danube River and boasts a past that reaches back to before the time of the Roman Empire. To help you make the most of your next Hungarian holiday, we asked Péter Buday, Chef Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest, to gather the savviest sight-seeing suggestions he could find – from where to find the best antique markets to the city’s finest performing arts venues.
Where to eat in Budapest
You’ll find a wide variety of restaurants within a five- to 10-minutes’ walk from the Hotel. The ever-popular bistro Café Kör serves Hungarian dishes with an international twist. Rézkakas Bistro, Onyx, The Wine Kitchen, Bock Bisztró and Pomo D’oro are beautiful bistro/cafés offering a smart ambience and savoury cuisine for any occasion. Tucked away in a bookshop and decorated with early 20th-century ceiling frescos, the Book Café in the Parisian Department Store’s Alexandra bookstore is a unique treasure.
Fine Hungarian wines
There’s more to Hungarian wine than Tokaji. For a sense of the range of varieties grown here, it’s worth visiting the Haraszthy Vallejo Winery in Etyek, founded in 1998. After a tasting session, have lunch at the winery’s Cinnamon restaurant. In Villány, a region famous for its reds, the Gere Attila Winery or Wunderlich Wine Cellars are good places to taste. Sweet dessert Tokaji wines remain Hungary’s greatest vinous export, however, so the Oremus Winery and Disznókő Winery are well worth checking out.
Souvenir shopping in Budapest
For antiques, the place to go is Falk Miksa utca, a street full of antique and curio shops located just a 15-minute walk from the Hotel in Pest. Here you’ll find Art Nouveau, Art Deco and other antiques, as well as a great source of Hungary’s famous Herend porcelain.
Local paprika makes for a great Hungarian souvenir, and the best place to buy it is at the always bustling Great Market Hall on Fővam Tér. It’s the largest covered market in Central Europe, and the building itself is worth the visit.
Budapest and the arts
Visit the Hungarian National Gallery, located in the former Royal Palace of Buda, to explore the development of Hungarian art throughout history. For something more modern, it’s worth a detour to the Vasarely Múzeuma in off-the-beaten-track Óbuda, the area immediately north of Buda, which ought to be on every art aficionado’s agenda. Born in 1906, Victor Vasarely is credited as the inventor of Op Art and was painting geometrically complex monochrome abstracts that play havoc with your vision long before Bridget Riley even went to Goldsmiths. Nearby, the Imre Varga Collection showcases work by Hungary’s best-known modern sculptor.
Budapest’s performing arts scene
As well as impressive art, Budapest has superb opera and ballet at the Hungarian State Opera, a 19th-century theatre that’s a riot of gilding and plush. Its companies perform not just classics (and a lot of Bartók), but late 20th-century British and American ballets, such as Kenneth Macmillan’s Mayerling and John Cranko’s Onegin, guarded by notoriously protective estates—proof of the quality of performance.
The Liszt Academy, founded by pianist and composer Franz Liszt in 1875, is the place to hear exquisite concerts from the school that has trained some of the world’s finest musicians. And the Palace of Arts is home to the Bartók Béla National Concert Hall.
During the summer, be sure to catch the Budapest Summer Festival, which brings open-air entertainment to Margaret Island each June, July and August.
Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth a trip to Vidám Park to skirt the edge of the Budapest Zoo and admire the architecture. The Elephant House, in particular, is an Art Nouveau take on a central Asian mosque, with a minaret and decorative domes, purportedly to remind its inhabitants of home. Their Zsolnay tiles glitter, thanks to an iridescent coating of eosin: a brightly coloured, metallic glaze that makes Budapest’s distinctive skyline—and indeed the façade of the Four Seasons Gresham Palace—glitter.
If your children’s tastes are more mechanical than animal, take a trip on the Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway), a narrow-gauge railway line operated by 10- to 14-year-olds, under the supervision of adult railway workers and teachers.
Hungarian treatments at the Spa
The Spa offers a variety of massages, body treatments and facials. Some treatments draw on the unique culture and products of Hungary, including the signature Omorovicza treatments that combine cosmetology and the area’s mineral-rich thermal waters to revitalize and refresh the body.
A perfect day in Budapest
Have breakfast at Kollázs Brasserie & Bar amid its beautifully restored Secessionist interior: The coffee and blintzes in particular are superb. Then stroll over the Chain Bridge to explore Buda and the Castle District, the oldest, most atmospheric part of the city with its winding streets of medieval and Baroque architecture. Cross back into Pest on the opposite side of the Danube, and after a leisurely lunch at Gerlóczy—a classic Central European grand café with a faintly French menu (though the goulash is great too)—stroll through the Jewish Quarter and visit the extensively renovated and architecturally fascinating Gozsdu Courtyard.
Trek this city on foot, bike, Segway or Trikke. Ask the Concierge to arrange private or group biking tours with professional guides, which offers a more intimate visit. If all this exploring puts you in the mood for a refreshing dip, visit the Széchenyi Bath and Spa, where you can play chess on floating chequerboards.
Finally, round off the day with a night at the opera, followed by a late supper at Onyx, indulging in one of the restaurant’s superb tasting menus or the extensive wine list.