THERE I S s o mething both comfortably familiar and appealingly e x o t i c a b o u t Budapest. Wander the parliamentary area, whose buildings were inspired by Westminster, the high-end shopping malls that showcase global brands and some of the many museums, and you will feel totally at home.
Take in the view from the Danube — which divides the Buda and Pest parts of the city — the Jewish quarter with its shuls, street food, restaurants and ruin pubs, sited in crumbling abandoned buildings that come alive at night, and the tourist experience becomes rich with Eastern promise.
The latter is evident on our first morning. Having finally prised our 24-hour transport passes (around £4 each) from an annoyingly recalcitrant FLY Wizz Air from Luton to Budapest, return fares from £85. wizzair.com STAY Corinthia Hotel; corinthia.com/hotels/budapest Room rates from ¤169, including breakfast but not taxes. SIGHTSEEINGThe Hungarian Tourism website offers a variety of suggestions on how to spend your time in Budapest. http://uk.gotohungary.com ticket machine, we step back in time on the Metro line 1, the first in continental Europe when opened in 1896 and, in terms of station interiors, still looking the part.
The line is recognised as a World Heritage Site by Unesco and such is the bygone vibe that you are literally transported into another age. You can also use your transport card to take the number two tram along the Danube, on a route considered the most scenic in Europe by National Geographic, taking in some of the most arresting sights of the city.
And if on foot, many of the key attractions are within less than an hour’s sauntering radius. If only for panorama, you’ll want to seek out the higher ground of the historic Castle area — and on weekends it’s quicker to walk up than join the queues for the funicular that takes you there. For a scenic nocturnal stroll, take one of the bridges linking Buda and Pest.
One such walk ended up with a wander around the Gellert hotel and spa, a local landmark conjuring up visions of a more genteel era and whose healing waters date from the 13th century.
A sense of history is also engendered by the historic Café Gerbeaud coffee house, on the doorstep of the final station on Metro line 1, Vorosmarty ter.
Developed by pioneering confectioner Emil Gerbeaud, its timeless furnishings and chandeliers are the perfect backdrop to a leisurely hot drink and yummy cake. In my case it was Emil Gerbeaud’s Legacy, a chocolate dessert flavoured with cognac cherries
The Danube as dusk falls over the Jewish quarter, and (right), the imposing Byzantine-Moorish-style Great