Adrian Bridge, The Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2014
Wes Anderson's latest film Grand Budapest Hotel may be set in the fictional state of Zubrowka, but it has still inspired renewed interest in the Hungarian capital. For those who have yet to visit Budapest, this atmospheric city, split into Buda and Pest by the winding Danube, is one of Eastern Europe's grandest capitals.
Here concierges from three of Budapest's best hotels share their insider guides to all the city has to offer.
Sharing their knowledge are:
Márta Andrási, chief concierge at Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Lóránt Molnár-Fritsch, chief concierge at the Autograph Collection hotel Boscolo Budapest
Tamas Ungár, chief concierge at Corinthia Hotel Budapest
I’m new here. Tell me something people don’t know about Budapest.
Márta: Traces of the city’s past can be found throughout the city. Remains of the Holy Roman Empire stand by remnants of the 17-century Turkish occupation, while the reign of the Habsburg dynasty also has its footprints all over our city and culture.
Lóránt: It may sound funny, but the thermal water in the City Park has a positive effect on the fertility of the hippos housed in the zoo.
Which attraction should I definitely make time to see?
Márta: The Castle District is a beautiful and romantic area, with breath-taking views of the Pest side of the city.
Lóránt: Buda Castle is a must-see.
Tamas: Széchenyi Bath, one of the biggest bathing complexes anywhere in Europe, dates from 1879 draws its water from the deepest thermal spring in Budapest – the water’s so hot that you can use the outside pools in winter as well.
Which of the “must-visit” attractions should I avoid?
Márta: The crowds at Citadella, the citadel on Gellért Hill, may be an issue for some – but it's a great place to take pictures.
Lóránt: Personally I’m not really keen on Szoborpark (Memento Park) considering how far it is from downtown.
Which cultural attraction would you most recommend?
Márta: There so many festivals worth visiting. You can enjoy spectacular classical concerts during the Spring Festival at the end of March, for example, while the architecturally impressive Hungarian State Opera House stages excellent productions from September until June.
Lóránt: The State Opera House, either enjoying a performance or just admiring the inside of the building.
Tamas: The Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive collection of Dutch, German and French masters from the 15th to 19th centuries. On top of that, it is also home to the second largest collectoin of Spanish painters, such as El Greco, Velazquez and Goya, after the Prado in Madrid .
Where can I take the best picture of Budapest?
Márta: You can take good shots from Gellért Hill or, from the Pest side, the top of St. Stephen's Basilica offers a unique perspective.
Lóránt: There are fantastic views from Danube Promenade.
Tamas: From Gellért Hill.
I’d like to try something new here – what should I do?
Márta: There is a natural cave under the city and it’s possible to explore it with the assistance of private guides. It’s strenuous – you’ll have to crawl and climb as part of the experience.
Lóránt: Szamos – Hungary’s famous confectionery company known mainly for delicious marzipan – organises courses on how to make excellent truffles and Szaloncukor, a type of traditional Hungarian Christmas sweet.
How can I best experience Budapest’s baths? (And is there any bath etiquette I should be aware of?)
Márta: There is no real bath etiquette. As long as you enjoy yourself without disturbing others you are doing the right thing. For extra privacy, though, Szechenyi Bath house has a rooftop VIP lounge with special relaxation areas and massages.
Lóránt: Before visiting the spa check whether it offers separate opening hours for ladies and gentlemen, and don’t forget to bring a full set of spa equipment including bathing suit, rubber sandal, toiletries, towel and cap.
Tamas: In addition to visiting Széchenyi, I suggest going to Császár Bath in Buda, also known as Veli Bej. It’s a Turkish masterpiece dating from the 16th century and after its recent refurbishment it offers a good combination of modern services and stylish period design.
I’d like to buy an unusual souvenir – what do you recommend?
Márta: A pair of jeans with traditional Hungarian Kalocsa flower patterns. They’re becoming fashionable now among celebrities such as Nicole Kidman.
Lóránt: Hungary is famous for its culture of horse riding so I think a horsehair water flask makes a great souvenir.
What’s the best restaurant in the city right now?
Márta: According to the Michelin guide, it's Onyx and Costes, but our favourite is our Gresham restaurant and Aszú restaurant .
Lóránt: Located in the heart of the city, Michelin-starred Onyx Restaurant offers the best cuisine at the moment.
Tamas: I would suggest the traditional Gundel Restaurant, which serves Hungarian dishes and has an outstanding wine selection. Order the pancake for dessert.
And where’s the most interesting restaurant?
Márta: Spiler in the heart of the lively Jewish quarter – the buzz there is fantastic, whenever you visit.
Lóránt: Sir Lancelot takes you back to the medieval ages. Diners have the option of eating with their bare hands and there are themed performances and duels to entertain guests.
Tamas: On the Legenda Boat, diners cruise along the Danube as dinner is served.
What’s the best bar in Budapest? I don’t want somewhere touristy.
Márta: Our hotel's Lobby Bar which serves the best cocktails and, believe it or not, isn’t that touristy. Our other recommendation is Boutiq Bar, which has a great ambiance and excellent drinks.
Lóránt: DiVino in Sas Utca, next to St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
Tamas: I like Kiosk, which is brand new and has a fantastic range of wines and beers. The terrace, with views of Gellért Hill, should be popular in summer.
And the most characterful coffee house?
Márta: New York Cafe in the recently restored New York Palace building.
Lóránt: Our New York Café is truly the most beautiful café in the world, and a real pearl of Budapest. Its history and original surrounding will leave you breathless.
Tamas: The Central cafe in the city centre is a wonderful place for coffee and cake, and serves as a real meeting point for younger and older generations.
I’m going to propose to my partner – where should I do it?
Márta: Arrange a private evening cruise with a luxury boat to enjoy the city by the lights. A glass of champagne underneath the historic Chain Bridge with a view to the Buda Castle should work in your favour.
Lóránt: Fishermen’s Bastion, located in the Castle, has a gorgeous view over the city – it is especially romantic in the evening.
Tamas: Hire the Dunarama boat, which is tastefully finished in mahogany. Take some champagne and flowers and it should prove quite a romantic evening.
Can you recommend a daytrip I can take from Budapest?
Márta: Take either a day trip to the Eger wine region with private wine tasting at the top wineries of the region or visit the Herend Porcelain Manufactory, a heaven for those that like to shop.
Lóránt: The Danube Bend river cruise is a great idea as you pass through some beautiful landscapes and there are plenty of historical sites to be seen en route.
Tamas: Don’t miss the Danube Bend Tour, which takes in visits to the cities of. Esztergom, home to the country’s largest Catholic church; Visegrád, where you’ll find the former Royal Palace; and Szentendre, a bohemian village with small galleries and cafes.