Back off, Paris. Step away, Vienna. There’s a new European luxury travel destination in town, and it comes from a city you may never have expected.
Budapest has been on the budget travel radar for a long time, but many have not considered it in a luxury travel light. Not only are there so many spots in Budapest in which you can relax and indulge, but compared to the more popular luxury destinations in Europe it is far, far cheaper. Here’s our guide to beauty on a budget in Budapest.
The River Danube is the body of water that slices the city of Budapest in half, creating Buda on one side and Pest on the other. On the riverbanks of Pest sit the grand, ornate buildings that are signature to the Budapest skyline, and on the Buda side towers the castle, with its iconic pinnacles and spires.
The perfect way to experience these views is to relax on a cruise down the River Danube, which gives you the opportunity to marvel at the beautiful sights of both sides of the city. I can definitely recommend looking to the Pest side as you pass the mind-blowing Parliament Building; it is, to me, one of the most breath-taking buildings in Europe. Prices for a tour lasting around 90 minutes, in the day or evening, are around 20 euros, making it an enjoyable experience that won’t break the bank.
Budapest is famous for its thermal bath experiences, and the waters that come naturally from this area of Hungary are said to have natural healing powers. Aside from the supposed health benefits, nothing is more luxurious and relaxing than immersing yourself in a warm pool and forgetting about the world. Széchenyi Baths are the most famous in the city, and here you can enjoy the outside pools in the summer months and even challenge a local to a spot of chess on the boards situated in the middle of the pools.
Built in the early 20th century in an Art Nouveau style, Gellért Baths are also a popular choice and offer a bit more of an exclusive experience, with decadent surroundings and indulgent spa experiences. A visit to Budapest would be incomplete without a visit to the baths, and with prices varying but usually not exceeding the 15 euro mark, it’s an luxurious day out that almost anyone can afford.
Andrássy Avenue, otherwise known to the natives as Andrássy ut, is one of the most famous streets in Budapest, and a UNESCO World Heritage site in its own right. You will find this avenue lined with luxury stores and boutiques, and new places are being added all the time.
A new luxury shopping centre named Il Bacio di Stile just opened its doors at the beginning of September 2013, and it is packed to the rafters with decadent brands, some of which have never been seen in Hungary before. If you have the cash to splash, this is the place to be. If you don’t have the cash (this is an affordable luxury guide, after all!), why not pay Il Bacio di Stile a visit anyway — just being there will make you feel like a member of the Budapest elite.
If you’re looking for something not quite as fancy or mainstream but still with a touch of class, try heading over to Király utca, or Király Street, where you will find plenty of independently owned boutique-style stores. I often like to shop in stores like this when I’m abroad just because the items I can buy here are like no others I find in the more commercial shopping centres, and the things I buy give me more of a lasting memory of a place. Meander through the little stores down Király utca, and take a few stops at the charming cafes and restaurants along the way, too.
Budapest is a city rich in flavours and Hungarian culinary traditions, making it a great place to try new things and get to know Hungarian food. Here you’ll find many authentic restaurants that serve up local grub cooked to perfection, but there are also a few Michelin-starred restaurants that do it like no other — and won’t empty your wallet.
Csalogány 26 is a seriously swanky spot that serves up traditional Hungarian food and international dishes to a Michelin-star standard. The presentation of the food is just as fantastic as the flavour, which makes it one of the top restaurants in the city. Dinner will cost you a small fortune, but if you go and try the set menu for lunch it will only set you back around 5 euros. Yes, you did read that correctly: 5 euros.
Onyx is another Michelin-star restaurant that does the same kind of deal, but at around 15 euros for two courses. Budapest is the kind of place where it’s always worth hunting down the deals at these high-end restaurants because the majority of them will have something that any visitor could afford.
There are so many place to stay right in the heart of Budapest, either situated in the centre of the buzzing Pest district or nestled away in the magical Buda side of the city. The Corinthia Hotel is a mind-blowing 5-star establishment, with a lobby so bright that it will hurt your eyes and make your jaw hit the floor in astonishment. It’s always ranked within the top five hotels in the city, and you would hope so with prices starting at around 270 euros a night. However, compared to other similar hotels across Europe, that’s cheap, and you certainly get a lot of bang for your buck here.
If you’re looking for something a bit more cutting edge with a modern urban atmosphere — and, as we’re all friends here, something a little bit cheaper — Estilo Fashion Hotel is a great little 21st century establishment. The average room price is about 120 euros per night, and considering it’s a 4-star joint with beautiful décor, that’s not such a bad deal. Luckily, you’ll find a lot of that in Budapest; these kinds of hotels would be much more expensive in other parts of Europe.
Welcome to Eastern Europe, where luxury is almost always affordable!
Photo credits: Jan Macynski, Yotofuji Tanaki, Theodore Moniodis, and Brian Kessler.