With its cafe culture, stunning architecture, ubiquitous Turkish baths and ever-evolving nightlife, it’s not hard to figure out why Budapest is such a firm favourite with city break junkies.

Known variously as the spa capital of Europe, the Queen of the Danube and the Paris of the East, it’s a town that wears grand titles well, having survived the rise and fall of empires and the harsh realities of communist rule before evolving into the sophisticated European capital of today.

A tale of two cities

Budapest’s two halves, Buda and Pest, face each other across the river Danube. For views and romance, Buda has to be the winner. The grand neo-Gothic buildings of Castle Hill, the elaborate architectural fantasia that is the Fisherman’s Bastion and the spectacular views from the fortified Citadel atop Géllert Hill are all worth checking out. Across the river, Pest is the business end – younger and funkier in feel, where the city’s nightlife really kicks off. It’s also home to the impressive Westminster-style parliament buildings and Heroes Square, where important figures from Hungary’s past are immortalised in statue form.

Bathing beauties

A legacy of Ottoman rule, Budapest has many Turkish bath houses but the city’s bathing traditions actually date back to Roman times. Two public baths stand out. At the foot of Géllert Hill in Buda, the Géllert baths (belonging to the hotel of the same name) are ideal for photo opportunities, thanks to their exquisite Art Nouveau decorations. For the classic bathing experience, though, head to Pest’s popular Széchenyi baths in the City Park where some say the customer service is better.

On the town

Pest’s nightlife hub is the Belváros (inner city), in the vicinity of the Deák tér Metro station. The area is buzzing with bars, cafés and clubs. Explore the side streets or head into the ‘burbs if you’re after a really cut-price beer, though a pint in a city centre bar should still cost a fair bit less than in London. Be sure to try some Hungarian wine, often excellent and very reasonably priced.

Feeling Hungary

If you like hearty stews, sour cream and pork, you’ll be in heaven – though like any cosmopolitan European city, there’s more than just regional cuisine on offer. Budapest has some extremely sophisticated eateries along with the cheap ‘n’ cheerful goulash joints. Vienna-style coffee and cake sessions are a long-standing tradition, which is all the justification you need for frequent refuelling stops.

Worth a look

Margit sziget
This island in the the Danube is a romantic spot with plenty of green space. Hire a bike for a leisurely ride away from all the hubbub.

Soviet remnants
After the fall of communism, Budapest’s Soviet statues and monuments were banished from the streets and they can now be found in the Statue Park park on the outskirts of the city. For an insight into other aspects of the city’s Soviet past, there are tours which include a guided visit to the Statue Park plus a visit to a communist-era block of flats and a ride in a Trabant, the boxy little car that’s a symbol of the Soviet era. See www.absolutetours.com.

Bonus points for: East-meets-west cultural dynamism
Loses marks for: Tricky local lingo
Check out: www.budapestinfo.hu/en