Budapest Feature

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Budapest Itineraries

Let's be honest: you can blow through Budapest's big-ticket attractions in three days and still have time to quaff down the requisite bowl of goulash. But this city has as many "must-dos" as "must-sees." So if you want to really experience Hungary's capital, plan on spending six days, setting a seventh aside for outbound travel.

Day 1: Take It from the Top

There's a good reason why Castle Hill is the undisputed first stop on everyone's itinerary. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has a genuine "wow factor," yet it is compact enough for jet-lagged—or late-arriving—visitors to cover on their first day. Begin by poking around the Royal Palace (time permitting, tour the Hungarian National Gallery in its center block). Next, stroll along the cobblestone streets between colorful baroque, Gothic, and Renaissance facades, stopping in for a look at Matthias Church; then head for Fishermen's Bastion. The view from its Disneyesque turrets isn't just achingly beautiful: it will help you get your bearings! If you need a caffeine fix to keep you going—or just want to get a fix on Budapest's coffee culture—drop into Ruszwurm, the city's oldest café.

Day 2: On the Boulevard

Today, turn your back on hilly Buda and get acquainted with blessedly flat Pest. Start with a look inside massive Szent István Bazilika. Views from the cupola are worth the climb; though you may want to save your energy for the walk along Andrássy út, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. En route, pick and choose between the attractions (the Operaház and Terror Háza are favorites), leaving time to ogle other architectural treasures. The boulevard comes to a climatic finish at Hősök tere, where the Millennial Monument is flanked by two more museums. After perusing Old Masters in the Fodor's-recommended Szépművészeti, take the Millennial Underground back to the opera house for an evening performance. Then wrap things up by toasting the good life with an alfresco nightcap (and some world-class people-watching) on nearby Liszt Ferenc tér.

Day 3: Playing in Pest

Time for a little self-indulgence! Kick off your day the Budapest way by breakfasting at Café Gerbeaud on Vörösmarty tér; then spend the morning browsing around Váci utca. Even if shopping's not your bag, you'll find the street to be a fascinating study in contrasts as it runs south past Euro-style boutiques, through the university area, to the venerable Vásárcsarnok Market. In the afternoon, treat yourself to a tour. Commercial ones cater to almost every taste—and cover almost every mode of transportation, from boats and bikes to balloons. Major sites, like Parliament, also offer tours. Prefer to be independent? Www.budapestinfo.hu outlines self-guided walks relating to subjects like Bauhaus architecture and Jewish history.

Day 4: Parking Permitted

Budapesters love their parks—and you will, too, because the best of the bunch offer both gorgeous greenery and plentiful bathing opportunities. If you happen to be staying at either the Grand Hotel Margitsziget or Thermal Hotel Margitsziget, Margaret Island is a serendipitous place to take the plunge. Otherwise, head for City Park, at the northeast end of Andrássy út. Developed as the centerpiece of Hungary's 1896 millennial celebrations, this urban oasis is the setting for the Széchenyi Baths. You could while away hours in its indoor and outdoor thermal pools. But before your toes get too wrinkled, consider City Park's other attractions. Beyond the baths, kids can kick back at the zoo, fun fair, and circus. Adults, meanwhile, can enjoy a smattering of museums and concert venues, plus one of Budapest's best-loved restaurants (Gundel).

Day 5: Around the Bend

By now you've probably crisscrossed the Danube on countless occasions. So it's high time you actually got out on the water. The ideal way to do it is by taking a leisurely two-hour boat trip upriver to Szentendre. Although it's known primarily as an artists' colony, there's more to this picturesque little town than galleries and cutesy crafts shops. For instance, Hungary's Open-Air Ethnographic Museum (a site that re-creates village life from centuries past) is located on the outskirts. Those who wish to take everything in can gain precious sightseeing time by opting for the shorter land route when returning to Budapest. Once back, you can compensate for your abbreviated boat trip by booking a moonlight dinner cruise through the city itself.

Day 6: Head for the Hills

Want to escape the urban scene without leaving the city limits? No problem. Gellért Hill is the laced with trails leading up—waaay up—to the towering Liberation Monument and the Citadella behind it. (Don't worry about aching muscles. You can lounge later in one of three vintage baths located on the hill). More outdoorsy adventures are available in the Buda Hills: and you don't have to be die-hard hiker to take advantage of them. János Hill, for example, can be accessed via a panoramic chairlift or a narrow-gauge train that's operated primarily by children. You'll find equally intriguing sites beneath these hills: namely some 200 caves, several of which are open to sightseers and spelunkers. Whatever you choose, reward yourself afterward with a down-home Hungarian dinner, complete with noodle pudding and live Gypsy music.

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