TIME OUT: City Guides; CITIES AT A GLANCE

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BUDAPEST

Hungary's capital city offers continual surprises, with every twist and turn revealing an architectural curiosity or a spectacular riverscape.

The following information is from the Time Out Budapest Guide. The second edition (Penguin, pounds 9.99) is on sale from the end of February.

ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

Money

The Hungarian unit of currency is the forint (Ft); the exchange rate at the time of going to press was Ft308 to pounds 1.

Arriving in Budapest

Ferihegy airport is 20km south east of Budapest. The best way into town is to use an Aiport Minibus Shuttle. Buy a ticket, Ft1,200, at the counter in the arrival hall and wait for a driver who will take you to any Budapest address. Avoid taxis as they are controlled by a mafia who fix the (very high) prices.

Getting Around

Budapest is easy to explore on foot. Most of the places you'll visit fall within a small central area. If you get tired, use the comprehensive metro, tram, bus and trolleybus network.

HOTELS

Hotels publish prices in Deutsch-marks, but you can pay in forints. VAT at 15 per cent will often by added.

City Hotel

XIII. Szent Istvn kort 22 (111 4450/fax 111 0884). M2 Nyugati. Rates single DM54-DM123; double DM75-DM156; suite DM103-DM223.

Opened in May 1996, the hotel is immaculate and tastefully decorated in blue and cream. The prices are some of the best in town.

Hilton Hotel

I. Hess Andrs ter 1-3 (214 3000/fax 156 0285). M2 Moszkva ter, then Vrbusz. Rates single DM280-DM330; double DM365-DM415; suite DM530-DM820; extra bed DM85; breakfast DM29.

Spectacular views over the Danube are the trade-off for a location away from central Pest. It's designed around a 17th-century facade and the remains of a 13th-century Gothic church, with a small, open-air concert hall between the two main wings. The Hilton is among the few Budapest hotels to create a sense of luxury and service is among the best in town.

Hostel Marco Polo

VII. Nyr utca 6. (342 9586/342 9587/342 9588/fax 342 9589). M2 Blaha Lujza ter. Rates dormitory Ft2,900; double Ft9,200; quad Ft14,800; breakfast Ft300.

Opened in July 1997, and equipped with both a cyber cafe and in-house Guinness pub, the Marco Polo is the youth hostel of the 21st century.

Hotel Gellert

XI. Szt. Gellert ter 1 (166 6867/fax 166 6631). Tram 18, 19, 47, 49 Gellert ter. Rates single DM180-DM220; double DM280-DM320; suite DM430-DM500; extra bed DM100.

Once one of Budapest's most spectacular spa hotels, the Art Nouveau Gellert earned its reputation in the interwar period - Budapest's "silver age". Built on the site of an old Turkish bath house, the beautiful spa facilities also date from the interwar period and radiate period charm.

Pannonia Hotel Nemzeti

VIII. Jzsef kort 4 (269 9310/fax 314 0019). M2 Blaha Lujza. Rates single DM100-DM150; double DM110-DM190; extra bed DM40-DM45.

Sitting on the velvet chairs in the time-worn lobby that looks out over busy Blaha Lujza ter is one of the best ways to see the city and people watch. This plus the grand stairway and dining room and the friendly staff are this 100-year-old hotel's best features.

SIGHTSEEING

Church of St Anne

Szent Anna templom

I. Batthyny ter 8 (201 6364). M2 Batthyny ter. Open for services at following times: 6.45am-9am, 4pm-7pm Mon-Sat; 7am-1pm Sun and public holidays. Admission free.

Visited at dusk, as shoppers pop in to say their prayers, St Anne's captivates the senses. The whispering of catechisms echoes around its emptiness and there's a faint smell of incense.

Citadella

XI. Gellerthegy. Bus 27.

After the failed Hungarian revolution of 1848, the Habsburgs built the Citadella in 1851 as an artillery redoubt. The site now houses a youth hostel, restaurant and disco as well as an exhibition of the area's history.

Gozsdu udvar

VII. Dob utca 16/Kirly utca 15. M2 Astoria, M1, M2, M3 Dek ter/tram 47, 49.

Built at the turn of the century, Gozsdu udvar was once the heart of Budapest's working-class Jewish quarter, and crammed with shops and tradesmen. The seven courtyards, which stretch for 200 metres between Kirly utca and Dob utca, echoed to the sounds of German and Yiddish, Hungarian and Romanian. Many of those families vanished in the Holocaust, but the courtyards remain.

Heroes' Square

Hsok tere

VI. Hsok tere. M3 Hsok tere.

As a symbol of confident 19th-century nationalism, Heroes' Square is unbeatable. Completed for the 1896 Magyar Millennium, a celebration of the anniversary of Hungarian tribes arriving in the Carpathian basin, the grandiose use of space encapsulates the conviction that Hungary was going places.

National Museum

Nemzeti Mzeum

VIII. Mzeum kort 14-16 (138 2122). M3 Klvin ter/tram 47, 49. Open 10am-6pm, winter 10am-5pm, Tues-Sun. Admission Ft250; Ft100 concs; guided tour in English, Ft2,000 for parties up to five.

The two permanent exhibitions are the History of Hungary from the establishment of the state up to the 19th century, and the History of Hungary in the 20th century. Watch out for the posters of happy workers waving to a fat bald Rkosi (Hungary's Stalin) as he leads them forward to Socialism.

New York Kvehz

VII. Erzsebet kort 9/11 (322 3849). M2 Astoria. Tram 4, 6. Open cafe 9am- midnight; restaurant 6.30pm-11pm.

A cafe and restaurant, but most worth visiting for its architecture. Built in 1894 by Alajos Hauszmann, the spectacular neo-Baroque interior with twisting columns, cheeky cherubs, lush velvets, marble and gold leaf caused a sensation at its opening and still draws crowds of tourists to what was once the main hangout of literary and artistic Budapest.

Statue Park

Szobor Park

XXII. Balatoni t (227 7446). Yellow bus for rd from Kosztolnyi Dezs ter/ tram 49. Open May-Sept 8am-8pm, Oct-Feb 10am-dusk, daily. Admission Ft100; Ft80 concs.

A dumping ground for the politically undesirable monuments of the Communist era. The museum opened in 1993, after the 42 works were removed from prominent positions in the city.

RESTAURANTS

Belcanto

VI. Dalsznhz utca 8 (269 3101/269 2786). M1 Opera. Open 6pm-midnight daily. Average Ft3,500.

In a splendid Baroque room, with unique entertainment: stars from the Opera next door wander around delivering hits of the 1890s and the 1980s.

Cyrano

V. Kristf ter 7-8 (266 3096). M1 Vorosmarty ter. Open 11am-5pm, 6.30pm- midnight, daily. Average Ft2,500.

The menu is long - mostly French- accented Hungarian and international dishes with some vegetarian options - but inconsistent. The main room is beautiful, crowned with the chandelier used in Depardieu's movie of the same name. In summer, the terrace is great for people-watching.

Fausto's

VII. Dohny utca 5 (269 6806). M2 Astoria/tram 47, 49. Open noon-3pm, 7pm-11pm Mon-Sat. Average Ft3,000.

Possibly the best restaurant in Budapest just now, though it may be in danger of resting on its laurels. Fausto's is small, slick, elegant, unpretentious and offers inventive Italian dishes.

Gundel

XIV. llatkerti t 2 (321 3550/fax 342 2917). M1 Hsok tere/trolleybus 72, 75, 79. Open noon-3pm, 7pm-midnight daily. Average Ft6,000.

Still the city's most famous restaurant, in the interwar years this was the focal point for elegant, aristocratic Budapest. If you're only going to splash out once, this huge Art Nouveau mansion by the Zoo is the place to do it.

BARS

Calgary

II. Frankel Le utca 24 (115 9087). Tram 4, 6, 17. Open 11am-4am Mon-Fri; 3pm-4am Sat-Sun.

From the outside, the Calgary looks like any corner bar. Step inside and it's like Steptoe and Son's front room. Run by a radio star from the 1950s, the Calgary attracts faded actresses, antiques collectors and alcoholics.

Sixtus

VII. Nagy Diofa utca 26-28 (352 1479). M2 Blaha Lujza ter/tram 4, 6/bus 7. Open 5.30pm-1am Mon-Sat.

A tiny Irish-run establishment that is the haunt of Budapest's artier and more academic Anglophone expats.

Underground

VI. Terez kort 30 (111 1481). M3 Nyugati/tram 4, 6. Open 3pm-3am daily.

Popular subterranean space with curious decor. There's a good, long bar, a young and fashionable crowd, decent and reasonably priced food and DJs playing trip hop and acid jazz.

NIGHTLIFE

Bahnhof

VI. Vci utca 1 (no phone). M3 Nyugati/ tram 4, 6/night bus 6, 182. Open 6pm-4am Mon-Sat. Admission Ft300.

Music, excitement, romance and danger mingle in this spacious hall that used to be part of Nyugati Station. On any night but Sunday, the two dance floors are packed with beautiful Hungarians. The danger is provided by the notoriously neanderthal bouncers.

Piaf

VI. Nagymez utca 25 (112 3823). M1 Oktogon/tram 4, 6/night bus 6. Open 10pm-6am daily. Admission Ft350.

Don't go before 1am and expect an initial chill from the woman at the door. Use the entry ticket to get a drink at the bar. Upstairs, in a red- velvet room that resembles a bordello, the atmosphere is sophisticated, and the music jazzy. Downstairs, the postage- stamp-sized dancefloor offers great old disco hits.

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