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Belváros, Budapest - Hungary

The former walled city of Pest encompasses a small part of Bud apest’s downtown. Strewn with stories, it’s where traditional Hung arian d ishes get r einvented, says Jennifer Walker

Travel Time 1hrs 10min

Why go?

The Hungarian capital is a city with distinct personalities, since it’s not only partitioned by the River Danube but also arose from the unification of three cities in 1873: Buda, Pest and Óbuda. It’s resplendent with exquisite architecture, from baroque Habsburg grandeur and art nouveau from the Belle Époque to brutalist reminders of the Communist period. The Buda Hills rise above the west bank of the Danube, but on the east side, Pest is flat, packed with wide boulevards and tight streets lined with ornate apartment blocks before it sprawls into the distance. Today’s Belváros (Inner City) is an exciting district that once lay within the historic city of Pest. It resides between Liberty Bridge and Chain Bridge, with the Small Boulevard marking its outer border. Váci Street is its main thoroughfare and although many shops and restaurants primarily cater to tourists, a foray into the shady side streets reveals hidden gardens, squares, vibrant cafés, Hungarian design boutiques and grand architecture that invites you to look up and drink in the details. Don’t miss the vaulted Central Market Hall next to Liberty Bridge, packed with fresh local produce like Mangalica pork products, packs of crimson paprika and tangy, spicy pickled vegetables.

Pest was enclosed by a 2.2kmlong wall in medieval times, but you can still see parts of it in courtyards, cellars and even on some street corners. Many buildings date back to the 19th century, mainly because the Danube burst its banks in the Great Flood of Pest in 1838, destroying or damaging this part of the city. In 1848, the Hungarian
Revolution against the Habsburg Empire began to bubble up in the area’s cafés, culminating in a mass demonstration on the steps of the Hungarian National Museum, whose events led to the eventual dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary in 1867, and ushered in a prosperous era for the Hungarian capital. The Habsburg influence on the Inner
City streets is evident – it resembles downtown Vienna – while also incorporating
influences from the Belle Époque. The Inner City is a time capsule from Budapest’s ‘Golden Age’, where even World War II, the 1956 Revolution and the Communist regime hardly dented its charming character.

What to do

Where to stay

A Belle Époque icon, Matild Palace Hotel reopened after a decade of renovation in the heart of the Belváros neighbourhood. The ornate facade resembles something created by a confectioner, while its grey-, white- and gold-hued rooms mix up vintage and contemporary luxury. The hotel is also a hub for fine dining, with Spago by Wolfgang Puck and the opulent Matild Cabaret café residing on its ground floor.

Across the road, the Párisi Udvar Hotel transformed an art nouveau shopping arcade into a hotel with rooms embodying minimalist elegance, while its jewel-box-like arcaded passage offers a stark contrast with neo-gothic arches adorned in dark wood and gold and its curved glass-mosaic houses. You’ll find its signature restaurant here, headed by chef Lajos Lutz, a Hungarian Bocuse d’Or Academy member, and the Étoile Champagne Bar.

Kempinski Hotel Corvinus on Deák Ferenc Square caters to those looking for modern high-end rooms, with a cluster of fine-dining options such as the Budapest branch of Nobu and ÉS Bisztro with its contemporary take on Austro-Hungarian cuisine.

Where to eat and drink

If you’re looking for Hungarian food of any variety, you’ll find many choices in the Inner City to keep you going from breakfast till late. Once a smoky late-night hub for writers and Bohemians, opened in 1887, today Centrál Grand Café & Bar is a chic café serving Hungarian and French-inspired dishes from brunch to dinner.

Around the corner, lunchtime queues spill out of Belvárosi Disznótoros, a standing-roomonly spot popular for its paprika-laced grilled sausages and meat. While for cake and coffee, the historic Café Gerbeaud, founded in 1858, drips in opulence with its crystal chandeliers, damask upholstery and decadent cakes. Try the famous Gerbeaud slice: flaky pastry, apricot jam, walnuts, rum and dark chocolate.

At sunset, seek out the secret lift to the Matild Palace Hotel’s rooftop cocktail bar The Duchess, featuring curious concoctions created from their ‘liquor library’ and front-row views over the Danube. Nearby, Salt, which got its Michelin Star in 2021, takes you on a culinary journey into the countryside, where herbs and wild plants are blended with fresh farm produce and creativity. Wind down after at Csendes on Ferenczy István Street, a quirky ruin bar with graffiti-clad walls and works by local artists.

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Travel Information

Travel Information

Getting There


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