A double dose of history and indulgence in Budapest

The Danube divides Hungary's capital into two fascinating parts. Charles Hebbert is your guide

The stones of Budapest have an indisputable magnificence; the setting, straddling the Danube, isn't bad either. The river divides the city into Buda on the west bank, and Pest on the east. Yet Hungary's capital isn't just about history or beauty: there is a buzz about the place that turns even the old buildings earmarked for demolition into trendy bars.

Dominating the southern end of Buda's Castle District is the vast Royal Palace, home to Hungary's rulers for hundreds of years. The 1944 siege of Budapest brought that to an end when the Soviet army blitzed the whole district. From the ashes rose the present, rather bland version of the palace, but the outlook improves inside.

The Budapest History Museum (00 36 1 250 1650; btm.hu; closed Tues) has good new displays on how the city developed, and you can explore the depths of the old medieval palace. The Hungarian National Gallery (00 36 1 356 0049; mng.hu; closed Mon) has the largest collection of works by Hungarian painters in the country. Look out for Tivadar Kosztka Csontvary, the 19th-century visionary whom Picasso admired, the brooding canvasses of Mihaly Munkacsy and the delightful Art Nouveau works by Jozsef Rippl-Ronai.

Next door stands the upper station of the funicular – the Siklo – that whisks you down in its replica wooden carriages to Clark Adam ter (square) at the Buda end of the Chain Bridge (Buda and Pest were united in 1873). Adam Clark was a Scottish engineer brought to Hungary to work on the bridge. When it was completed in 1849 it was the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest. At Lanchid utca 5, 100m south, the Bortarsasag shop offers a good introduction to the range of Hungarian wine (see Fresh Cuts below).

Crossing the bridge to Szechenyi Istvan ter, at the Pest end, you come to one of the best preserved Art Nouveau buildings in the city: built in 1911, the Gresham Palace today houses the Four Seasons hotel (00 36 1 268 6000; fourseasons.com). Step through the wrought iron peacock gates to enjoy a coffee as you admire the glass roof and the tiles of the foyer.

Turn right out of the hotel and right again. As you walk along Zrinyi utca the impressive bulk of St Stephen's basilica (00 36 1 311 0839; basilica.hu) looms ahead of you. Walk through the grand interior to the chapel at the far left corner that houses Hungary's holiest relic, the Szent Jobb. This is the mummified right hand of St Stephen, the country's founder and patron saint.

At the office by the entrance of the basilica you can buy tickets for the Panorama Tower (500 forint/£1.40): a lift takes you most of the way up and you get fine views over the city.

One hundred metres to your right from the Basilica at Sas utca 17 is one of Budapest's best-loved restaurants, Café Kor (00 36 1 311 0053; cafekor.com; closed Sun). It's a small, buzzy place popular with locals and visitors alike.

Five minutes' walk down Sas utca and left at the end brings you to the beginning of Andrassy ut, one of the grand boulevards laid out during Pest's golden age. Upstairs at No3, the Postal Museum (00 36 1 268 1997; posta muzeum.hu) has a fine display of postal memorabilia and postal vehicles set in a fabulous pre-war apartment.

You pass another imposing 19th-century edifice 400m up Andrassy: the Opera House at No22, where Gustav Mahler was director for a short while. Daily tours at 3pm and 4pm take you round the gilded interior (00 36 1 332 8197; operavisit.hu; 2,900f/£7.90).

Crossing over the road, you'll find the faded grandeur of the Muvesz café at No29 (00 36 1 343 3544; muveszkavehaz.hu), which transports you back to that venerable Central European institution, the coffee house (open daily till 10pm).

Around the corner in the magnificent green-tiled building at Nagymezo utca 20 you come to the Hungarian House of Photography. The first-floor shop displays the depth of Hungary's photographic tradition (think of Kertesz, Brassai and Moholy-Nagy) and the temporary exhibitions are usually worth a look. Before the Second World War, the building housed the Arizona Club, which wowed Patrick Leigh Fermor when he visited. But in 1944 The Arizona's owners were killed in the Holocaust – a reminder that the wartime ghetto was not far away on the other side of Andrassy ut.

There are more architectural treats back on Andrassy ut at No 39. The Art Nouveau facade of the Alexandra bookshop (00 36 1 461 5830) soars up five floors, while the café on the first floor has a sumptuous fin de siècle interior decorated with frescos (open daily to 10pm).

Finish your walk with a modern counterpoint to Budapest's rich history in one of the city's popular "ruin pubs" – bohemian bars occupying buildings that are often slated for demolition. Turn right off Andrassy ut onto Nagymezo ut to find The Instant (00 36 1 311 0704; instant.co.hu), where six bars are dotted around the building's 20 rooms.

Charles Hebbert is the author of the 'Rough Guide to Budapest'

Fresh cuts

Hungarians are finally getting better at shouting about their wine.

One of the best distributors is the Bortarsasag (00 36 1 225 1702; bortarsasag.hu) and its new wine shop at Lanchid utca 5 is staffed by a helpful and informed team.

A recent arrival on the restaurant scene is the slick Borkonyha Wine Kitchen (00 36 1 266 0835; borkonyha.hu, closed Sunday) at Sas utca 3. The menu is a clear indication of how Hungarian cuisine has moved up a gear in the past year or two.

Several new smart wine bars are now vying to show off the local produce, but the pick of the bunch is Doblo, at Dob utca 20 (00 36 20 398 8863; budapestwine.com; closed Sun): a classy but far-from-pretentious bar that also does wine-tasting sessions.

Travel essentials

Getting there

Budapest is served by British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) from Heathrow; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com) from Gatwick and Luton; Wizz Air (0906 959 0002; wizzair.com) flies from Luton; Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Manchester, Edinburgh and Leeds/Bradford; and Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.

Staying there

Lanchid 19 (00 36 1 419 1900; lanchid19hotel.hu) is a boutique hotel with a local flourish of design. Doubles start at €70 (£55), room only. Home-Made Hostel (00 36 1 302 2103; homemadehostel.com) is a homely place in Pest with dorm beds starting at3,300f (£9).

Go guided

Absolute tours (absolutetours.com) offers a variety of walks through the city.

More information

budapestinfo.hu

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering