It’s in a fantastic central European position on the Danube, surrounded by seven other countries in the Carpathian Basin. Here hilly Buda on the west bank meets flat Pest on the east. There is a fascinating collision of cultures: Austrians, Magyars, Soviets and Nazis all jostling for position in a grizzly political soup. And the cars stop for you at zebra crossings.
What do you miss most when you are away?
My daughters and partner, unless I have brought them with me.
What’s the first thing you do when you return?
Hang large prints of the best photos on the wall (they raise a smile daily), and type up my travel journal so I never forget the experience.
Where is the best place to stay?
The Mamaison Andrassy Hotel (Andrassy Ut. 111, H-1063, 00 36 1 462 2100; andrassyhotel.com; doubles from £65). It is set in a quiet side street just off the emblematic Heroes’ Square.
Where would you meet friends for a drink?
Abszint (Andrassy Ut. 34; 00 36 1 332 4993; abszint.hu). It’s a groovy little bar and brasserie near to Oktogon.
Where is your favourite place for lunch?
Lanchid Palota (Fo Ut. 1, H-1011; 00 36 1 505 0150; lanchidpolata.hu) has a brilliant aspect on the west bank right in front of the charming Chain Bridge, so you can watch the river traffic come and go, preferably in the sun. Alternatively, go to Robinson (Varosligeti to, 1146; 00 36 1 422 0222; robinsonrestaurant.hu), situated right on the duck pond in the Varosliget park.
And for dinner?
Callas (Andrassy Ut. 20, 1061; 00 36 1 354 0954; callasetterem.hu). Directly opposite the State Opera House, it has huge Art Deco ceilings reminiscent of the Wolseley on London’s Piccadilly.
Where would you send a first-time visitor?
To the top of St. Stephen’s Basilica for a panoramic view of the whole city – the so-called Panorama Korkilato. You can take the lift or walk the (precisely) 400 steps. Or go up the hill to the Royal Palace to view the full splendour of the Danube and the magnificent Houses of Parliament on the other bank.
What would you tell them to avoid?
Vaci Utca, unless you like travelling overseas just to find yourself in the equivalent of Oxford Street.
Public transport or taxi?
Public transport. The Metro is clean and cheap, and the trams work fine too.
Handbag or moneybelt?
Handbag. Budapest feels totally safe and the people are very friendly wherever you go.
What should I take home with me?
A theatrical mask from the State Opera House, or a gruesome memento from the House of Terror, the former headquarters of the dreaded Arrowcross secret police, where they tortured thousands in the basement cells.
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