| 7.3°C Belfast

The best of Budapest: Europe's most Instagram-ready city is as historic, cultural and pretty as you'll get 


Budapest, Hungary - South entrance of Buda district at sunrise with autumn foliage and beautiful sky

Budapest, Hungary - South entrance of Buda district at sunrise with autumn foliage and beautiful sky

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Budapest, Hungary - South entrance of Buda district at sunrise with autumn foliage and beautiful sky

Budapest truly is a tale of two cities. Separated by the River Danube you have hilly Buda to the west and Pest to the east.

Judging from friends on social media it seems to be the cool place to visit at the moment and after a pre-Christmas visit, I can see why it was recently crowned as having the best Christmas market in Europe.

The city truly comes alive at Christmas with its wonderful food, drink and craft stalls but this city should be a must-visit destination at any time of year.

Its centre with all its shops, hotels, bars and restaurants is on the Pest side, while the Buda side has hills where you will find the breathtaking Fisherman's Bastion, which offers stunning views of Budapest, and Buda Castle - the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest.

Our base for our December break was the amazing Aria Hotel Budapest on the Pest side and right next to another of the city's best sights - St Stephen's Basilica.

Named the number one hotel in the world, Europe and Hungary by the Trip Advisor Travellers' Choice Awards 2017, music is the inspiration behind the hotel. This is evident throughout the premises, from its black-and-white keyboard carpet and its treble clef light fittings to its awe-inspiring centrepiece - a space-age piano designed by Hungarian musician Gergely Bogányi. It has to be seen to be believed.

Every room is themed around a different musician or musical legend. Divided into four wings the Aria's sections represent classical, opera, jazz and contemporary.

We were staying in the contemporary wing and its Beatles room with its portraits and books of the Fab Four, never mind free-standing bath in the bedroom and the incredibly comfortable bed. It was a very pleasant surprise to discover that all of the rooms have balconies that overlook the glass roof of the Music Garden Courtyard. A perfect place to sit out and enjoy a glass of wine, particularly when the pianist is playing below.

And as luxurious and relaxing as the room was, there is just too much to see and do in Budapest that you need to get out and about.

As mentioned, at the Aria Hotel Budapest you are right next to St Stephen's Basilica and can view its domes from the hotel's superb sky bar.

The basilica's 315ft dome is exactly the same height as the Hungarian Parliament, an equally beautiful building. The interior is stunning with gold and mosaics and it is also home to the mummified arm of St Stephen, the first king of Hungary. Try to get there early to avoid the queues.

A trip to Budapest wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Buda Castle complex which towers over the city with its Fisherman's Bastion which has fairy-tale like buildings and turrets. Walk across the Chain bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest with its imposing lion statues at each of the abutments which were installed in 1852.

When you cross into Buda there are a number of ways to get up Castle Hill, the medieval hilltop district that was once the seat of Hungarian royalty.


Inside the beautiful St. Stephens Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.

Inside the beautiful St. Stephens Basilica in Budapest, Hungary.

Getty Images

The most fun way is the funicular railway which takes you up 95 metres but there is still quite a bit of walking due to where it stops. We jumped on the bus which offers a jump-on jump-off service throughout the day.

A tip you will thank me for is to choose the blue bus service if buying a bus ticket rather than the red. When we were there it was much more reliable with red buses few and far between.

There are so many sights in the city with culture all around. If art galleries are your thing, the Hungarian National Gallery has more than 40,000 works on display.

History and its legacy is all around Budapest. Take a walk to the top of Gellert Hill where you will see the old walls of the citadel, built in the 1800s, as well as the Liberty statue - the city's own Statue of Liberty. In Memento Park you will find several statues and sculpted plaques from Hungary's Communist period.

And check out Heroes' Square, laid out in 1896 to mark the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival of the ancestral Magyar tribes. It includes a 36m-tall column topped with the Archangel Gabriel, while behind are colonnades bearing statues of some of the country's greatest leaders.

To quench your hunger, or thirst, after all that sightseeing, Budapest is full of brilliant bars and restaurants.

Make sure to try out the ruin bars in the area which was home to the Jewish ghetto during the Second World War. Here an array of brilliant bars have sprung up in the ruins of old buildings destroyed in the war or left abandoned afterwards.

Put Szimpla Kert at the top of your list, With crumbling plaster, graffiti-laden walls and mismatched furniture, this vast and funky warehouse is home to around a dozen bars, including ones that specialise in craft beer, wine and cocktails. Expect regular DJs and performances by live bands in several bars in different areas of the building.

In the ruin bars you will pay around £2.50/£3 for a beer, £2 for wine or slightly less for a shot of palinka fruit brandy (try this local shot before you leave!). Hungarian food was also on our must-do list with Langos with a garlic, cheese and sour cream filling and Hungarian goulash among the many treats we enjoyed.

We also enjoyed a very special meal at the Aria Hotel Budapest's restaurant Liszt which features Hungarian cooking at its very finest.

Liszt means flour in Hungarian and there is more than a nod to this with the restaurant's home-baked bread. It is delicious and among the breads is a sourdough featuring grape seeds and skins.

The food and service here is so good it is little wonder that the restaurant walls are adorned with mirrors signed by some of the celebrities who have dined there, including actor Will Smith.

For starters I enjoyed a smoky duck breast with duck foie gras, orange peel and quinoa crumble followed by mushroom veloute with stuffed leak and marinated mushrooms. The skill in the kitchen was clear to see in these expertly crafted dishes which were full of flavour.

Next up for me was mains of wild boar stew with whisky, marinated plums and potato dumplings. Again, it was faultless.

Dessert was just called chestnut puree which left me curious but the server assured me it would be worth trying. He was so right as it was the star of the show.

This bit of chocolate heaven was served in an edible green chocolate shell which matches that which you would find a chestnut in.

When dining there make sure you get the pairing wines to enhance your experience. It truly is amazing food.

Afterwards we enjoyed cocktails in the hotel's High Note Skybar. This sprawling, split-level roof terrace offers magical 360-degree views of the city and you can almost touch the domes of the Basilica.


Budapest, Hungary - August 30, 2019: Famous Secheni Thermal Pools in Budapest, Hungary. Having fun and bathing people. Wellness complex of public therapeutic pools and saunas for water treatments. Budapest ancient tourist attraction

Budapest, Hungary - August 30, 2019: Famous Secheni Thermal Pools in Budapest, Hungary. Having fun and bathing people. Wellness complex of public therapeutic pools and saunas for water treatments. Budapest ancient tourist attraction

Getty Images

The cocktail menu revolves around different themes. When we were there it was Legends and Myths. I particularly enjoyed the Horn of Destiny cocktail.

The menu explained this horn belonged to Heimdall, the protector of the Bifröst, the rainbow bridge that connects Asgard, the world of the Aesir tribe of gods, with Midgard, the world of humanity.

The drink itself was a delight, comprising of gin, homemade aquavit, bramble, juniper berry and lemon.

A member of the Library Hotel Collection, you'll find the service immaculate throughout the Aria. Breakfast is in the courtyard atrium, and features a good range of cereals, pastries and charcuterie, as well as hot dishes of eggs benedict and the like. I was particularly delighted to discover that there is free wine and cheese in the courtyard every day between 4pm and 6pm for residents.

After all that you might, like me, need a lie down and the beds in the hotel are so comfortable you are guaranteed a great night's sleep or you can relax in the underground spa downstairs.

The subterranean Harmony Spa offers a range of rejuvenating treatments and down there you will find a sauna, steam room, gym, and a low-lit pool complete with a jacuzzi and loungers. If you love Galgorm Resort & Spa's outdoor spa on our doorstep here you will just adore the Szechenyi Thermal Spa in Budapest. The city has geothermal springs, which attracted the Romans and now attract scores of tourists.

With waters touching 40c, the Szechenyi Thermal Spa is located in a large palace-like complex. Entry costs £15 and includes locker access (

With so much beauty, it's no wonder that Budapest is known as Europe's most Instagrammable city.

Travel Factfile

I stayed at the Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection. Check out


I flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin. It operates up to four flights a week from Dublin to Budapest with fares starting from €45.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Visit and check out the Aer Lingus January Sale fares with up to 30% off European travel, valid for travel from March 1 to June 15, 2020.

Please log in or register with for free access to this article.

Already have an account?

Belfast Telegraph