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Jaunted's Nitty Gritty City Guide to Budapest in the Winter

March 14, 2013 at 12:18 PM | by | Comments (0)

Sometimes you've only got a few days in a city, and you want to make it worth the while. Our new series of Nitty Gritty City Guides gives you the basics, and what we most loved, fast and quick and so you're ready to get a move on.

It may be better known today as Budapest (with a "sh" sound instead of a regular "s"), but the Romans originally called it Aquincum. And to be honest, the name fits. Aqua means water in Latin. And no other city in Europe is as rich in thermal waters as Budapest.

Though Budapest's attractions are numerous (sipping espresso on Franz Liszt Square, riding the funicular to the top of Castle Hill, frolicking around on Margit Island), the baths were undoubtedly a big part of why we showed up last month en route to visit a friend in Poland. We weren't looking for drunken nights out (though Budapest specializes in those as well) or lavish boat dinners on the Danube (certainly not on our budget!); we were looking for a quiet, relaxing few days exploring the Hungarian capital during one of the coldest months of the year.

And lucky us, because that's exactly what we found.

WHERE TO TAKE THE DIP:
The best soak we had by far was at Rudas Thermal Baths, a five-hundred-year-old Turkish bathhouse frequented by young people, old people, and families alike—pretty much everyone loves this place. But it's got a more intimate feel than other hotspots like Kiraly and Gellert. Also, the domed ceiling built over the main octagonal pool—with natural light filtering through the multi-colored stained glass—is really fun to stare up at while you float. Entrance fee starts at 1800 HUF (about $8.25 USD).

WHERE TO STAY:
The 402-room InterContinental Budapest is one of the classiest InterContinentals we've stayed at yet—and not just because it sits right smack on the Danube with killer views of the Royal Palace (though that helped). The hotel is just central enough that you can easily walk to Deák Ferenc tér metro station, but it sits on a quiet street away from all the shops and outdoor cafes. Plus, the fourth floor Club Lounge is like a mini palace, with floor to ceiling windows, free WiFi, and super friendly staff.
Rates start at $150/night.

WHERE TO EAT:
You'll probably want to go strolling around Franz Liszt Square, and may even be tempted to brave the crowds at popular Menza Cafe, which is where important-looking, fashionable types all meet for lunch. But instead, head north two blocks to a cozier, more laid-back spot called Cafe Eklektika, where you can try traditional Hungarian goulash ($11), home-cooked split pea soup ($7), or a hearty plate of gnocchi with duck breast ($14) while Billie Holiday plays in the background.

 

WHAT ELSE TO DO:
As the saying goes, "music warms the heart," and we were in absolute heaven during an evening spent at the Palace of the Arts (or MUPA, as it's also known), a giant performing arts center offering classical, world, jazz, theater and dance performances inside its three main concert halls. The day we stopped by, a "mini festival" was happening, so we paid for a ticket, traipsed down the red carpeted stairs and settled in for an hour of experimental Hungarian tunes on piano, clarinet, violin, and cello. At the end of each piece, the composers themselves would rise and take a bow. "Bravo! Bravo!" we cried.

JAUNTED ESSENTIALS
· Must-Bring Gear: Make sure to pack a bathing suit—you can rent them at the baths, but who wants to wear a rented bathing suit? Ew. Plus, bring all your winter essentials (scarf, hat, gloves, ear muffs), because you're going to want to be able to enjoy your stroll along the Danube without worrying about catching pneumonia.
· App to Download: Metro Budapest ($0.99) has a complete offline map of the city's subway system, which is actually one of the better Metros we've encountered, and was mostly how we got around Budapest during our trip.
· Theme Song: "To Finally Forget It All" by bvdub was the perfect ambient track to accompany our long walks through the solemn but gorgeous streets of Budapest.

GETTING THERE:
The city's main airport is Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport (BUD), about a 30 minute drive from the city center. It's possible to take the 200E bus to Kőbánya-Kispest metro terminal (metro line M3), but a taxi is far easier, and will generally cost around 5800 HUF (21 EUR).

We flew Wizzair from Tel Aviv, which cost us 46 EUR, plus a 9 EUR passenger service charge and an 8 EUR booking fee. WizzAir recently announced a new twice-weekly Budapest-Malta route, launching in May.

[Photo: Jaunted]

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