Cheap flights to Budapest

Budapest, known as the 'Queen of the Danube', is a magnificent city exuding a cultural sophistication that entices and enchants. Gracing both sides of the legendary river with grand historic buildings, regal bridges and graceful tree-lined boulevards, it is the city's elegant beauty and romantic atmosphere that has given Budapest Parisian status among the Eastern European countries.

Budapest offers the visitor the familiarity of European culture with a distinct Hungarian flavour. It is evident in the neo-Gothic Parliament buildings, sidewalk cafes and Magyar cuisine; classical concerts and Hungarian folk music; the cobbled streets of medieval neighbourhoods and shady parks; and everywhere the sounds of an unfamiliar language. Highlights for visitors include a river cruise on the Danube and a thermal bath in one of the Turkish-era bathhouses.

Budapest was originally two cities built on either side of the Danube, namely Buda and Pest. The two districts are still distinct in their contrasting makeup, with the older and more charming Buda comprised of atmospheric cobbled streets, little picturesque coloured houses and a medieval, neo-Classical mixture of architecture set among the gentle hills of the west bank. It is famous for its historic Castle Hill featuring the Royal Palace, museums and galleries, St Matthias Church and the ramparts of Fisherman's Bastion.

Pest lies on a flat plain and is the commercial core of the city. It bustles with fashionable shopping areas and has characteristically wide, leafy boulevards. Andrássy Boulevard is the Champs-Elysées of Budapest, lined with a typical mosaic of architectural styles and buildings with the enormous Heroes' Square at the end.

A history of numerous wars and invasions, with repeated destruction and rebuilding, has created the Budapest of today, with an amalgamation of styles, created over time during periods ofloving restoration by a proud and resilient nation of people; it is a ciy of charm and character, both European and singularly Hungarian.

Getting around

Budapest has an extensive, inexpensive and efficient public transport system that includes the metro, trams, buses, trolley buses and trains. Most transport runs until about 11.30pm after which there is a limited night bus and tram service until about 5am. The metro is clean, safe and frequent, and although there are only three lines it reaches most areas of interest to tourists.Trams are good for travelling around the Great Boulevard or along the embankment; trolleybuses (electric buses) operate in Pest; and although more difficult to use, buses are useful for journeys that can't be made by metro, especially around Buda. There are regular incidents of pick pocketing on buses and metro lines though, particularly when they are crowded. An over ground HÉV train network services the outer suburbs. All forms of public transport require the self-validation of pre-purchased tickets, which can get complicated; it is best to get a travel pass for convenience and to save money. Day or multi-day passes are inexpensive and hassle-free. Budapest's taxis have a reputation for cheating foreigners and visitors are warned not to do business with private, unmarked vehicles that hang around stations. Legal taxis should have a yellow number plate, clearly display their rates and have a meter that is switched on. It is cheaper to order one by phone from reputable companies such as Citytaxi, Fo Taxi or Tele-5-Taxi.

Nightlife

Nightlife options in Budapest abound, from music lounges and jazz venues to trendy bars and nightclubs. New clubs open up throughout the city all the time, particularly in the areas around IX Raday utca and VII Liszt Ferenc tér. There are a number of drink and party venues in the city with the busiest areas being districts 5, 6 and 9. There is not usually an entry fee at the door but some places will charge between €2 and €4 if there is an international DJ or live performance scheduled.

Popular Budapest bars include Becketts, an authentic Irish pub, and Crazy Café, which claims to have the longest drinks menu in Hungary. Other good venues include the Trocadero Café, for Latin music, and the Vera Jazz Café. Fat Mo's Music Club is also a great party place, often hosting live music performances and reminiscent of a 1930s American speakeasy.

For the high rollers in Budapest, there are a number of casinos to enjoy in the luxury hotels between the Elizabeth and Chain bridges on Dunakorzó. Late night partying can also be done at a number of trendy Budapest clubs such as the Barokko Club & Lounge, Livingroom, Wigwam Rock Club and Inside. To find out more about events happening while you are in Budapest check the nightlife listings in the city's English-language paper The Budapest Sun.

Shopping

Shopping in Budapest is a fun and varied experience. Must-buys in Budapest include Hungarian folk-art souvenirs such as embroidered goods, Herend porcelain, Tokaji wine and túró cheese. The main Budapest shopping areas are in the city centre and the lanes surrounding Pest's Váci utca. There are many trendy designer outlets to be found on Andrássy Avenue in Pest, while the Castle District and Gellért Hill are home to some great speciality,souvenir and craft shops.

Herend porcelain can be found in Zsolany, V Kigó utca 4 and Herend, I Szentháromság utca 5, while bargain hunters should head to the three-storey Nagy Vásárcsarnok (Great Market Hall) in IX Fovám tér, which is more than 100 years old. Budapest also has a chain of stores called the BAV stores. These shops are pawn shops, run by the state. The largest BAV store can be found on V Bécsi utca 1 and stocks some great gems and souveniers amoungst all the junk.

Budapest boasts a good selection of shopping malls hosting brand-name and fashion retailers; try West End City Centre and Duna Plaza in Pest for brands like Levis, Kookai and Nike. There are cheaper, high-street shops along Nagykörút (Great Boulevard) and bargains can also be found in the Budapest markets, especially the Central Market, Ecseri flea market and Hunyadi tér market.

Unless there is a national holiday, most shops are open all day during the week, and till lunch on Saturday. Large supermarkets tend to have longer opening hours and are also open on Sunday, while some outlets such as Tesco, and city centre convenience stores, are open 24 hours. VAT is included in the price of most goods; with the correct documents and receipts (reciept of purchase; seperate receipt indicating the VAT amount on the purchase; VAT reclaim form), refunds are available for purchases exceeding €200.

Sightseeing

Budapest's rich and diverse history makes for some exciting sightseeing opportunities and visitors will enjoy exploring this magnificent city and find locals very hospitable. From monuments to museums and palaces, Budapest has a wide variety of sights to keep any tourist busy. The attractions in Budapest range from the luxuries of spa treatments courtesy of the city's many thermal springs, to fascinating historical sightseeing, to foodie adventures sampling the traditional cuisine, to river cruises down the beautiful Danube. Stroll through Memento Park, one of the city's strangest attractions, which features giant statues that once lined the city's streets during the Communist era, or marvel at the Royal Palace, which dates back to the 13th Century. Visit the Parliament Buildings along the banks of the Danube River and walk along the Chain Bride, Budapest's first bridge over the Danube. Admire the stunning views from the vantage point of Fisherman's Bastion or from Gellert Hill where you can also visit the Citadella and Liberation Monument. Visitors will do well to purchase the Budapest Tourist Card, which allows them unlimited travel on public transport, free or discounted entry into 60 museums and special sights, reductions on sightseeing tours, discounts on restaurants, spas and car rentals, and is valid for either 48 or 72 hours. The card can be bought from main metro ticket offices, tourist offices, travel agencies, hotels or the airport for HUF 6,300 for 48 hours or HUF 7,500 for 72 hours.

Kids attractions

Hungary is a wonderful family destination, and Budapest is a particularly good city to explore with children. Not only does the country offer a plethora of sightseeing attractions which would appeal to people of all ages, but there are also a number of places that kids will especially enjoy. Vidam amusement park with it's 100-year old merry-go-round and myriad other entertainments is great fun for children, and if you have very young kids there is a toddler's amusement park next door. The Great Circus, complete with clowns and acrobats is internationally renowned and the Budapest Puppet Theatre should top the list of things to do in Hungary with kids even though the shows tend to be in Hungarian. The Budapest zoo is one of the oldest in Europe, it adjoins the botanical gardens and will delight the whole family. There are many lovely parks in which to enjoy games or picnics and let the little ones blow off some steam. If the weather isn't great and you need some indoor entertainment head to the Palace of Miracles for scientific games and interactive exhibitions that will excite as well as educate, or visit the Tropicarium, a spectacular aquarium in Campona shopping mall.

Dining

The cuisine in Hungary is known around the world and plays a major role in the Hungarian culture. From roadside eateries to stylish gourmet restaurants, the dining options in Budapest are endless and food from almost all nationalities can be found. It would be sinful not to sample the traditional cuisine, however, even though there are so many exciting foreign foods on offer. Budapest is a city of great views and there are many restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy the scenery while eating. If you want to try some Hungarian staples indulge in goulash, soups, Hortobágyi palacsinta(stuffed pancakes), trout, dumplings, strudels and the iconic and decadent Dobos Cake, a five-layer sponge cake layered with butter cream and topped with caramel slices. Hungarian cuisine is known for using lots of spices, such as paprika and hot chillies, and is arguably some of the spiciest cuisine in Europe. This does mean that you should be careful about ordering traditional food for children - but there are mild options as well. The inner city and Central Pest are the main areas for dining out in Budapest, while Central Buda also boasts some great eateries. It is customary to make reservations at restaurants and waiters usually expect a 10 percent to 15 percent tip for good service.

Climate

With the Alps to the west and the flat, open Great Plain to the east, Budapest's climate is accented with warm summers and bitterly cold winters, with plenty of rain all year round. Winters are fairly short, with the very cold weather arriving in mid-December; it is usually cloudy and damp with the odd bright sunny days and frequent, but light, snow. In summer, from late May to September, Budapest has a high proportion of sunny, warm days with relatively high humidity, the sun shining for about 10 hours a day. It is generally fairly dry in summer although there can be sudden showers - these tend to be welcome as the city can get uncomfortably hot. Although most tourists choose to visit in summer, many would argue that Budapest is actually best in the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn. In spring, March to early May, there is usually plenty of sunshine and the whole city is awakening after winter with blossoms and buds adorning the trees; the weather can be a bit changeable and sometimes windy in early spring but by late April and May, on the cusp of summer, the weather is usually wonderful. Early autumn is also a good time to visit as there is still sun to be enjoyed and the fall colours are lovely. Late autumn - late October to November - starts getting cold and unpleasant as winter draws nigh.