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Relaxing in Budapest

The culturally rich city of Budapest in Hungary has become one of the most sought-after cities by the luxury traveller. Any number of splendid spas and thermal springs in downtown centre, the gloriously extravagent architecture, endless patisseries, the panoramic Danube and fabulous nightlife... all create a real "big city" atmosphere. This is a great time of year, with the weather still being kind, to pop over the border for a relaxing treat in Budapest. The city was created by the joining of the separate towns of Buda, Pest and Obuda in 1873 and it was from this moment that the city expanded into a world capital. The city is divided by the Danube and covers a 200 sq.m area divided into various districts, with around two million inhabitants.

Buda and Obuda are situated in the hills to the west of the Danube and Pest, the more commercial part, on the east. The city is full of rich and intriguing history and maintains a strong cultural heritage. Full of charm, the city can rightly lay claim to the title of "Queen of the Danube".

Top tips
The New York Cafe
An excellent cafe in a wonderful Art Nouveau building, the meeting place of local writers and intellectuals. Wonderfully renovated, it is part of a recently renovated opulent, luxury hotel. The opulent splendour of the interior is a real eye-opener.

The Libego
Take an ascent of over 1,000 metres in this chair lift. A good way to look down on the gardens and houses in the Buda Hills. It takes less than 15 minutes and the best way to enjoy the whole thing to the full is to take the lift up and then walk back down.

For a great day's relaxation take time out in Europe's largest thermal baths complex in the city park. The Szechinyi Baths, situated in the Pest side of the city. Three outdoor pools and twelve indoors with varying temperatures and water from their own springs, open all year even winter. This is a popular place with expats and families. If this is too busy for your taste, then opt for the Kiraly Baths, built in 1565. A fine cupola-topped pool is just the ticket for idling away a few hours. Water temperatures vary from 26 to 40 degrees C. If you are a woman travelling on her own you can take advantage of women only days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

For romantic couples, then a visit to the Vajdahunyad Castle in the city park is a musst. It's a perfect place surrounded by a lake and huge trees to appreciate a unique atmosphere.

For those who enjoy exploring a city on foot, then try the "cultural avenue" walk. This is not along one road but uses several roads and crosses the river. A large amount of Budapest's rich culture is to be found here, most of it along the Andrassy Road, which was originally a fashionable riding and carriage driving route from the city centre and the city park. In essence, this walk takes you from Andrassy Road through the main sites to the city park. Along the way, you can stop and visit: the Fashion Hall, Mai Mano House with applied and fine art, House of Terror (warning: you won't be left unmoved by this, covering the practices and tactics of dictatorships in Hungary), Post Museum with an interesting collection displayed in the mansion of the Saxlehner family, soda-water giants.

Budapest is famous for excellent patisseries and food. Traditional Hungarian cuisine is adored and one of the best in Europe. Don't believe that Hungarian food is only about goulash, it is not. It does, however, have an unmistakable character, although vegetarians will be disappointed as there is a lack of choice for veggies because traditional hospitality was always shown to guests by providing meat. You'll also find all international cuisine in the city, even Mongolian! Hungarians are extremely hospitable and you'll find a warm welcome in any of the restaurants and cafes. The most famous and celebrated restaurant in town is Gundel Restaurant (near the zoo in the city park, behind Heroes Square). Sunday brunch is enormous and worth it for such a famous location. Don't miss the absolutely fantastic desserts. This is aristocratic majesty at its best.

If you are on the lookout for just a cup of coffee, then our favourite would be Cafe Gerbeaud one of the most elegant cafes in town in Viennese style. Amazing interior with marble tables, chandeliers and beautiful wood panelling. One of the very best people watching places!

Hungary is a wine nation and you'll find plenty of places for wine-tastings throughout the city. During communism, 50% of all wine production had to be exported to Warsaw pact countries. Massive improvements in production and growing techniques have been undertaken since independence and the country now produces some excellent winees. Local varieties of Tokaji - a sweet wine - and Egri Bikaver, a full bodied red, are the most famous and the most popular.

Where to stay
The city is divided into numbered districts, with 2, 5, 6 and 7 being the most central and most popular for accommodation and tourists. There is excellent public transport servicing these areas, a stack of night life, with bars, cafes and restaurants. Plus of course, someĀ  of the best architecture.

District 2 - this is located on the Buda side with plenty of medieval buildings. It looks down on the Danube and you can see Pest situated on the opposite bank. This is a preferred area as there are traffic restrictions, so it is quieter yet close to all attractions

District 5 - on the opposite side to district 2, on the Pest side. Most of the top level five star hotels are located here

Districts 6 and 7 - Andrassy Street with its trees lining the pavements make these areas particularly popular.