The perfect Pest morning. Start off with a stroll of the east bank’s green lung, City Park. Refuel by the park’s lake before taking in the suitably grand Heroes’ Square, host to the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest’s best collection of foreign art works. After that, it’s time for indulgence, Hungarian style. The warm waters of the Szenchenyi Baths are nearby, Europe’s largest spa complex. From the neo-baroque golden facade of the main building, to the outdoor pool’s ornate founts, to the beautiful series of indoor thermal pools, set amidst colonnaded and tiled rooms, this is the spa experience to beat all others. Have a massage, make like a local and test your chess skills, or just let the luxuriant waters wash over you, experiencing Szechenyi is as essential for any tour of the city as seeing the Danube.
A tour of Buda’s craggy limestone ridge rising high above the Danube is a peaceful escape from downtown bustle. As much as taking in the views, wandering this neighbourhood of quiet residential streets and pretty parks is a handsome way to spend a couple of hours. Those streets eventually deliver to you the hilltop, where you and the statue of St Gellert lord it over the city below. The Royal Palace rises nearby, and a tumble of trees lead down to the Danube’s gentle curve, knitted together by a series of elegant bridges and graced on its eastern bank by the stunning Parliament building. After all that walking, it’s time to cool off. You’re minutes away from one of Budapest’s spa masterworks: the Gellert Baths. A columned, Roman-style thermal pool, complete with ornate mosaics, is the setting for one of the most beautiful dips you’ll ever take, while terraced outdoor pools provide the chance to make a bigger splash.
After a day pounding the trail exploring the vestiges of Budapest’s 19th century golden age, be bold and explore another of the country’s icons – its folk culture. For starters, seek out some folk fibres. Some of the distinctive red and black striped weaving and embroidery is of astounding quality, and it’s also worth taking a look at the pottery. Keep an eye out for brightly decorated plates and bowls, and, even better, colourful, intricate Miska jugs. Even more memorable than the textiles, however, may be a night at a Budapest tanchaz – a traditional dance house. As friendly as you can hope for, this is the place to catch your zithers, hurdy-gurdies and violins, and maybe learn a few of the local dance steps. Chances are this will not only involve a little boot-slapping and circle-dancing, but will also be a great way of meeting some locals and gaining a little insight into that most distinctive element of the Hungarian character, what they call honfibu, their particular strand of patriotic sorrow.