Travel

Hungarian Honeymoon in Budapest

It’s surprising how many cities lay claim to being “the Paris of ….”  There’s Bucharest, Romania which calls itself “The Paris of The East.” And so does Prague, Istanbul, Beirut and Shanghai. There’s Montreal, “The Paris of North America,” not to be confused with Buenos Aires, “The Paris of South America.” Not to be outdone, Kansas City was given the moniker “The Paris of the Plains” in the 20th century Jazz Age.  We nominate a new Paris of the East, Budapest, Hungary. We think it’s the perfect place to honeymoon. And we’ve even found the perfect hotel.

Budapest has everything Paris has but one: You won’t break the bank in Budapest.

Hungary’s capital has glamour to spare. It’s a wildly romantic place whose architecture alone is a spell-binding mix of styles ranging from Renaissance to Rococo. Its broad avenues are lined with shops, cafés, and pastries that rival anything in the French capital. It’s famous for music, museums, and immense thermal baths that are fed by Hungary’s subterranean hot springs. And most of what’s on offer in Budapest is well within budget. But it’s not just the money you’ll save. It’s that Budapest will always belong to you both. Once you visit here, it’s officially ‘your place.’ Its restaurants quiet little tables for two are yours. Its sidewalk cafés are your Starbucks (and yes, there are actually 33 Starbucks and counting. But buyer beware, they don’t appear on TripAdvisor’s records until #129.) Instead, go to our local favorite restaurants and coffee bars set out below.

Budapest is an out-sized city built when it was one of two capitals of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.

You may wonder why everything in Budapest is, well, big. Its magnificent Parliament Building is the second largest Capitol in the world and built when Hungary was three times larger than today’s Hungary is. In punishment for being on the wrong side in both the 1st and 2nd. World Wars, Hungary’s territory was reduced to its present size. But that still didn’t prevent the city from being, after Berlin, the second largest city in central Europe. It now contains 1/5th of the country’s entire population. And that’s not counting its thousands of commuters. And if ogling has a special fondness for you, more than half the country’s gorgeous university students study here. But look away, you’re on your honeymoon, remember?

Budapest is actually two places: Buda and Pest. Which side to choose?

A river runs through the city dividing it into Buda on one side and Pest on the other. That river is the magical Danube or, in Hungarian, the Duna. The Budariver is on a hill overlooking Pest and the River. It’s been residential long before the baroque Buda Palace was completed in 1769. Destroyed or damaged most recently in World War II, it’s been completely restored. It’s well worth a visit as is the whole Castle Hill. You’ll be amazed by the tiled spire of the medieval Church of Our Blessed Lady, more commonly called Matthias Church.  Its interior stenciling is as much of a draw as the Fishermen’s Bastion, built on the site of an ancient fish market. From this vantage point, you can see incredible views of all of Pest on the other side of the river.

Visit Buda but stay in Pest.

It’s the Pest side where you’ll find the action. And right in its center is one of the greatest boutique hotels in Europe. Situated practically in the lap of the historic St. Stephen’s Basilica, it’s steps from a glorious square surrounded by shops, restaurants, cafés, and music venues.  It’s 5 minutes from the renowned Chain Bridge, the chic stores of Andrassy Avenue and the newly reopened Budapest State Opera House. The Aria Hotel Budapest is truly unmatched in every way.

We love the Aria Hotel so much; we went out of our way to go back.

On quiet Heregprimás Street, The Aria Hotel Budapest is dedicated to music. Every one of its 49 guest rooms and suites are a celebration of artists in classical, opera, contemporary and jazz music. Assuming your partner shares your taste in music, request a room in your favorite genre. Open the door and walk into rooms dedicated to commemorating a composer or an artist. Irving Berlin, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, Mozart, JS Bach, Diana Ross are all celebrated in rooms whose décor, art and sound systems are finished in minute detail. Even the books on the coffee table celebrate whatever artist’s room you select. Caricatures by Josef Blech adorn the walls. Famed architect Zsolt Szecsi and master interior designer Zoltán Varró transformed a 19th century bank building into a limestone-clad intimate luxury hotel with the atmosphere of a private home and a to-die-for rooftop bar and restaurant.

The lobby is the heart of the hotel.

Leaving the pleasures and splendor of your honeymoon hotel room is a tough call. But leave you must for the splendors of the Aria Lobby, the Harmony Spa, the Café Liszt and the spectacular High Note Sky Bar. In the Music Garden Lobby, follow the piano keys and find a perfect spot to have a beautiful (and included) breakfast up until 11:00am. And after a day of touring, what’s more welcoming than complimentary wine and cheese from 4pm to 6pm. To one side of this skylit room, you’ll find the musical director’s library. Yes, the Aria employs a musical director to select music to listen to in your room via iPads and 55-inch flat TVs.  All rooms are soundproofed with double noise protection to allow every guest to hear their music and theirs alone.

The Café Lizst offers a selection of irresistible cocktails and treats, its wall autographs of famous Aria guests. Across the hall is the intimate “Library,” where guests dine on fine cuisine.

The Harmony Spa is an amazing place. It has both Swedish and infra-red saunas, a steam bath, an indoor pool, jacuzzi, an aquatic exercise bicycle, and a fitness center with cardio equipment.

The spa pampers with an array of treatments featuring Hungarian thermal mineral waters coupled with Hungarian natural herbs and seed extracts. And of course, the Aria provides music playlists customized to your preferences. There’s even a treatment designed for couples.

The High Note Sky Bar is in a class all by itself.

One step inside the rooftop bar on the Aria’s 7th floor and you’ll see why the High Note is consistently on the lists of Best Roof Top Bars anywhere. And in Budapest, it’s the only year-round full-service rooftop garden terrace there. Apart from its unbelievable views of the city, it offers dining, cocktails, and sunbathing. One of its unique features is a drinks menu that pinpoints the sights – all ten of which feature a cocktail created to salute each place. Just point the menu in the direction of the Basilica next door. And if you’d care to combine your honeymoon with a destination wedding, the High Note features a glassed-in pavilion that accommodates 40 people.

Where to go in Budapest:

For a wonderful overview of the city, hire a guide in a luxury car through the Aria concierge.

In 3 or 4 hours, your well-informed guide can show you the lay of the land – on both sides of the river. And his luxury car has permissions to park closest to the sites you want to see. Splurge, it’s worth every forint, which is Hungary’s official currency. (Currently 350 forints to the US dollar.)

Cruise the Danube after sunset.

Budapest outdoes itself by lighting every key monument along the Danube River. And the best of all ways to see it is from the decks of the sightseeing boats that cruise its waters after dark. Silverline’s 6 Course Dinner Cruise with a window table (a must) will set you back $109.57 each. Or opt for unlimited drinks and that window table for $278.90 per couple. The concierge at the Aria will make all reservations for you.

Sip cocktails at Széchenyi, Budapest’s most opulent thermal bath.

The crowning jewel in a city famous for them, you can soak in these 77°F waters and toast each other from one of the pop-up bars at Szechenyi in City Park. Or choose the Gellért Spa behind whose Art Nouveau façade is a water palace.

Don’t miss Budapest’s quirkier museums.

By all means, visit Buda Castle’s Hungarian National Gallery and Pest’s Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. But don’t miss such only-in-Budapest galleries as The House of Houdini. A private museum in Harry’s hometown, escape artist David Merlini highlights Houdini’s memorabilia and his own artistry every 30 minutes. Reservations are essential. Go to www.houseofhoudinibudapest.com to make them. Then there’s the Flippermúseum which is filled with vintage arcade and pinball games.

Experience Budapest’s coffee culture.

Coffee and cake are a Budapest ritual. And there’s a good reason Café Gerbeaud is wildly popular with locals and tourists alike. And it’s not just for the coffee. It has its own cake!

Gerbeaud cake combines a ground walnut and jam filling with layers of sponge cake covered with chocolate. When you visit Buda Hill, you’re practically on top of Ruszwurm, the oldest Café in Budapest at Szethátháromság utca 7 in the Castle District. Its pastries so delighted

Queen Elizabeth “Sissi,” (1837-1898) Austrian Empress and Queen of Hungary – and more recently The Empress on Netflix – sent couriers to pick them up for her breakfast.

The tip of the iceberg in restaurant recommendations.

There are, at last count, 3,028 restaurants in Budapest. Since the city attracts not only tourists but chefs from all over the world, you can find whatever you fancy at all price points. We even have friends who raved about the pizza they ate at Local Korner, Semmelweis utca 17.  Turns out Local Korner tops Trip Advisor’s list too. For a taste of Hungarian cuisine accompanied by live music, we loved Rezkakas Bistro at Sas utca 3. But if a Michelin star is your guide, Hoppá Bistro at Oktober 6 utca, not only has one, it’s also a great value according to the guide.

There’s never a bad time to honeymoon in Budapest.

In spring, Budapest streets are filled with the scent of linden trees. Summers can be hot, but the city has multiple places to cool off. Think of those thermal baths. Fall is brilliant as the tree-lined boulevards burst into color and the crisp air encourages walking everywhere. Finally, there’s the joys of winter – cold yes, but Budapest’s central park, City Park becomes a fairy tale landscape when its lake transforms into a magnificent ice rink rimmed by castles.

Happy honeymoon!

 

ADDENDUM

Gay Political Climate:  The government of Hungary is currently led by Viktor Orbán, who has been roundly criticized for an anti-transgender law his government passed in the middle of the pandemic. But Hungary is part of the European Union. And the EU won’t stand for any laws attacking the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. Everyone, from Emanuel Macron of France to Angela Merkel of Germany piled on Orbán. This prompted Viktor to declare himself a fighter for LBGTQ+ rights stating: “I am a fighter for their rights. I am a freedom fighter in the communist regime. Homosexuality was punished and I fought for their freedom and their rights. So, I am defending the rights of the homosexuals.”  Whatever Orbán’s views are, Hungary is far richer in the EU than it would be if it weren’t. So, economics win and, by extension, the LGBTQ traveler wins. There was nowhere in Budapest where this writer and his partner felt the least bit unwelcome.

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Monte Mathews

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