Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is one of Europe’s most stunning cities, known for its palatial buildings and landmarks, such as the imposing stone Chain Bridge linking lively Pest with serene Buda. It’s a compact city that’s easy to navigate by foot, which you should do along the Danube River whenever possible. From its banks, you can take in numerous UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Sightseeing aside, Budapest is fast becoming an epicenter for food and drink, buoyed by its proximity to quality wine regions like Tokaj, Villány and Szekszárd.
While a number of touristy restaurants crank out must-try goulash in the Buda Castle District, Pest-Buda is where to settle in for homestyle Hungarian cooking. Housed in an 18th-century building, black and red banquettes and arches make the dining room chic and cozy. The dishes are classic yet refined, such as the peppers stuffed with minced pork and rice with a piquant tomato broth and petite new potatoes. The wine list includes an ode to locally made favorites: Try Gál Tibor’s Titi Egri Bikavér, a “bull’s blood” blend from Eger.
Jewish culture has long been part of Budapest’s history, and is highlighted at Rosenstein, a homey yet grand restaurant with rustic beams in the shadow of Keleti Railway Station. The expansive menu at this family-run institution is heavy on game, with specialties such as a fall-off-the-bone goose leg with onion mashed potatoes and roast duck accentuated by prunes and braised cabbage.
For a luxurious respite, head to Kollázs at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace. The brass- and mirror-adorned bar and brasserie is the domain of Mátyás Szik, a three-time winner of the Hungarian Sommelier Championship. Take a break from sipping on a brooding Márkvárt Cabernet Sauvignon and wash down that mustard and caramelized-onion-laden “hot dog” with a Happy Carrot—a bright cocktail spun from Aperol, lemon, sugar and carrot pálinka, Hungary’s own potent brandy.
Budapest’s seventh district is packed with rowdy ruin pubs, but a delightful contrast is Doblo, a wine bar that combines brick and chandeliers. Savor charcuterie plates accompanied by pillowy Balkan bread alongside a leisurely bottle of Kadarka from Szekszárd’s Posta Borház.
Budapest is synonymous with Old World cafés that showcase ethereal confections.
On the Buda side, locals flock to Szalonspicc for a relaxed vibe to relish the likes of Szent Tamás’s Mád Furmint, accompanied by a playlist that ranges from Salt-N-Pepa to Nancy Sinatra. In good weather, head for the terrace.
Before the journey home, stock up on hard-to-find Hungarian wines at Bock Bisztro inside the Corinthia Hotel. The restaurant, where Villány winemaker Jozsef Bock is a partner, isn’t just the place for chicken-stuffed pancakes (hortobágyi): It doubles as an intimate wine shop with more than 300 wines from the homeland, including Laposa’s Juhfark, Takács Lajos’s Hárslevelű and, of course, Bock’s own Pinot Noir. Budapest is synonymous with Old World cafés that showcase ethereal confections. At Centrál Kávéház, housed in a building that dates to 1887, sit underneath an ornate ceiling with one of the city’s most alluring renditions of traditional somloi—a sponge cake trifle layered with orange-vanilla whipped cream and chocolate-rum sauce.
Ruszwurm, a tiny shop close to Buda Castle, is a Biedermeier-era throwback flaunting original wood and spot-on krémes that unite buttery vanilla cream with flaky pastry.
After a barrage of gluttony, take a therapeutic dip in one of the city’s historic thermal baths. The gilded, neo-Baroque Széchenyi fürdő is an especially striking introduction to Budapest’s most beloved ritual.