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Friday, May 22, 2015

10 Reasons to Love Beautiful Budapest

Budapest is 2 cities in 1. While most places you go have a defined sense of their central location, Budapest has two. On one side of the Danube river there is Pest - busy and bustling, with many streets that easily match Paris for the sheer style and grandeur of their architecture. And over the bridge there is Pest, which has hills, greenery, and such a profusion of old buildings that it almost feels like a film set.

A city for all ages.
There's no denying that Budapest is a hip and groovy place. It's laid back, buzzy and cultural. But while here are many areas that could be a match for Shoreditch in terms of the hipster count, the city is so big that no matter your age or your cultural tastes, you'll find places that suit you down to the ground. Whether it's the tranquil, classical parts of Buda or the crazy and fun nightclubs of Pest, you'll find your groove here very quickly indeed.

High quality at low prices.
If you're travelling from the UK or Scandinavia you may be in for a shock when when you visit Budapest. But it is a pleasant one indeed - this city, while offering all the delights a major European capital offers - is very inexpensive. Top notch restaurant food is often around half the price (or even less) than in London, while many bars stock a great range of beers and other drinks at much lower prices than you'd expect. Every day out feels like a succession of bargains. However, while things are cheap they are mostly great quality. The fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy on sale in supermarkets is generally of superior quality - so if you're self-catering there's no need to skimp at mealtimes.

Superbly located. Being right in the centre of Europe means that Budapest is easy to get to. Whether you're travelling from London (approx 2.5 hours), Moscow (same) or Tel Aviv (3 hrs 15 min), the flight time isn't a major chunk of your day. This centrality also adds to the buzz of Budapest - being easy to get to means it has a diverse and dynamic tourist population, and on many streets you will see cars from neighbouring countries such as Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Austria and Croatia.

History. And LOTS of it! Hungary doesn't just have an interesting story to tell from times far past - its 20th Century story is as compelling as just about anywhere else on earth. Observant tourists will even spot the occasional Trabant rolling along the street. It seems that there are little parts of history that are still in the present.

Nightlife.
A lot of kudos is heaped on Budapest for its so-called 'ruin pubs'. And rightly so. They're unlike any other pubs in Europe. Essentially lots of buildings that would otherwise be derelict have been turned into vibrant and fun places to go for a drink, meet with friends and listen to music. In many cases there's been no attempt to refurbish -with exposed brickwork covered in graffiti, flaking paint, no sign on the door. Interestingly, this makes these places all the more fun - they provide an environment that's all about the people and the fun, rather than bowing down before the gods of trendy interior design.

Public Transport.
For such a big city, Budapest is very easy to navigate thanks to its extensive tram and metro networks. And if you're really stuck, there's always the bus.

Weather.
Being in the middle of a giant land mass has its advantages in spring and autumn - without the cooling influence of surrounding seas, Budapest can be pleasantly sweltering in what feels like high summer heat in months where more northerly capital cities are experiencing the odd snowfall.

Accommodation.
Whether you want your stay to be five star luxury or something a little less fancy, you'll find what you want here. There are some really reasonably priced apartments on airbnb if you want to experience city life in spacious tenement rooms, plus there are some great hostels for backpackers from all over, as well as your Grand Budapest Hotel style establishments.

People.
If you're from one of the more effusive parts of the world, Budapest may seem a little reserved at first. But if you attempt (however badly) to speak Hungarian, people respond very positively. Sure, Budapest is laid back- but there's just the right amount of European decorum going on too.

When to go: All year round. But be aware that the winter can be bone-bitingly cold!

Health: if you're an EU citizen, your EHIC should cover emergency basics (although they won't necessarily be free). Travel cover is advised. For longer stays (e.g. working holidays) then international cover is recommended - more on what's covered here.

Currency. If you use ATMs in Hungary you may not get the best exchange rate. There are plenty of reputable currency exchange outlets in the centre of Budapest. But as with anywhere, be very discrete with your cash and make sure you keep it secure.

Staying safe: Read up on scams and areas to avoid. Being sensible (as you would in any big city) is a must. See this guide for Hungary travel advice.



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