Sitting atop a north–south stretch of the Blue Danube, Budapest is composed of three formerly independent cities: Buda to the west, Pest on the east, and Óbuda (now the old town) located to the north. For historical sights, go to Buda, home to the Gellért baths, the Cave Church, Castle Hill. Often-grittier Pest has more contemporary action: the vibrant Jewish quarter, stylish Andrássy boulevard, the opera, and a whole lot of nightlife, as well as most of the city's best restaurants. Wherever you stay, you'll probably end up crossing the Danube at least once a day, which might be the whole point: On a romantic evening, the beautiful Chain Bridge becomes a destination in its own right.
WHEN TO GO
The tourist office boasts that Budapest is beautiful year-round. That might be true, but the beauty here can be accompanied by nearly intolerable heat (and crowds) in the height of summer. And while winter is often clear and bright, temperatures hover around freezing, even at midday, and snow is possible from December through March. If you're sensitive to temperature extremes, the best months are April, May, and (early) June, as well as late September and October.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ferihegy airport is located ten miles to the southeast of Budapest. Only Malév, the Hungarian national airline, flies direct to Budapest from New York's JFK (daily in high season). Northwest and Air France have good connections, the former from Amsterdam, the latter from Paris and Lyon. Shuttle buses offer quick connections to the city, and taxis are arranged through a central booker: Look for the queue outside the arrivals gate. The cab fare to the city center is about 7,500 forints ($36). The city bus #200 costs 260 forints (about $1.40) when tickets are purchased from the driver (use an ATM and buy a candy bar in the airport shop to get change) and drops you at the gritty-but-safe Köbanya-Kispest metro station, where you can buy a packet of ten metro and bus tickets (2,050 forints, about $11) before continuing into the city center on the metro's #3 (blue) line.
Many international trains arrive at the city's Keleti train station in Pest (Baross tér, District VIII; 36-1-413-4610), just three stops from Déak Ferenc tér on the metro's #2 (red) line. Some trains from Vienna stop at Kelenföld train station, which has no metro. Instead, connect to the center through trams 19 or 49.
Bring sturdy shoes and buy a good map: Budapest is made for foot traffic, and pedestrians have a unique perspective that is completely lost on car passengers. Public transportation is excellent, although figuring out how to get where you need to go can be confusing (and fun). Buy a ten-pack of tram and bus tickets (2,050 forints) from any metro station, hop on board, and by all means remember to punch your ticket: This is, after all, the city that recently made Kontroll, a movie about ticket inspectors.
You'll find tourist offices in each terminal of Ferihegy airport, but if you're zonked after your flight, there are other branches in Pest at 11 Liszt Ferenc tér (near metro Oktogon; 36-1-322-4098) and 2 Sütö utca (near Deák Ferenc tér; 36-1-438-8080). In Buda, go to Szentháromság tér (at Budavár / Buda Castle; 36-1-488-0475). The main Web site is www.budapestinfo.hu. Otherwise, look for copies of the Budapest Sun, the city's English-language newspaper, or the wonkily named but up-to-date Budapest Funzine, a free handout (www.budapestfunzine.hu).View Hungary Factsheet