Many celebs love the intimacy and privacy of low-key Budapest. The Hungarian capital is rich with history, embodied by the stunning architecture that remains intact due to it being one of the few European cities that wasn’t bombed during World War Two. Christmas, when shamelessly festive markets pop up all over the city, is the perfect time to visit.
Cate Blanchett recently stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace with her family, and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson also put this hot spot on our radar when he tweeted about his four-month stint there while shooting Hercules. With its stunning Art Nouveau features and luxurious interiors, it’s easy to understand why this hotel is a fave of visiting celebs and has been ranked the number one hotel in Budapest by TripAdvisor. We were particularly awe-struck by the Narnia-like chandelier in the grand lobby, among other opulent features. Our warm and comfortable room overlooked Budapest’s main attraction – the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, providing us with splendid first view of the Danube. The rooms come with a whirlpool tub, and the waterfall shower has a massage setting. Don’t skip breakfast – the Hungarian scrambled eggs are a speciality.
INFO: Rooms start from €285 (Dhs1,430) a night, www.fourseasons.com/budapest
Soak up the atmosphere at Vörösmarty Square, home to one of Europe’s top festive markets, to buy unusual gifts for everyone back home. The area is full of life, with carollers and other entertainment, and there’s even an ice rink, should you fancy a spin. You can sample local delicacies such as goulash and cabbage rolls stuffed with mince, as well as festive mulled grape to keeps you warm in the frosty winter temperatures. It’s also a prime position from which to watch the light and sound show projected onto St Stephen’s Basilica at set times during the evening.
FILM SET CITY
Budapest’s majestic architecture has earned it a leading role in Hollywood as it’s often used to recreate other cities, such as Buenos Aires in Evita or Moscow in both World War Z and A Good Day to Die Hard. We couldn’t help but recall vivid scenes from these films while walking around.
SEE THE SIGHTS ON A BUS TOUR
A guided tour run by the Big Bus company takes in many of the sights spread across each embankment, including the Opera House, the Royal Palace, the Citadel, the Parliament, Heroes’ Square and Gellért Baths, the thermal spa for which Budapest is famous.
STROLL ALONG THE FAMOUS BRIDGE
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is Budapest’s iconic landmark that connects the city’s two districts – historic Buda and vibrant Pest – separated by the mighty Danube river. A walk across the bridge is mandatory and it’s even more stunning when illuminated at night.
Cruise down the DANUBE
Most bus tours around Budapest include a cruise down the Danube, one of the world’s most impressive rivers. Book a trip for sunset so you’ll get to see the city’s stunning architecture bathed in white light – tours typically last for about 90 minutes.
SHOP & EAT LIKE A LOCAL
A visit to the Central Market is a must for buying indigenous crafts and food. Whether you’re looking for jams, smoked meat or paprika (something Hungary’s famous for), the marketplace is always busy and a great place to pick up high-quality produce and gifts at non-tourist prices.
CURRENCY: Dhs1 = 68 Hungarian forint
GETTING THERE: Round-trip flights from Dubai World Central to Budapest start from Dhs965, www.wizzair.com
GETTING AROUND: An adult ticket on The Big Bus Tour costs 7,000 forint (Dhs103) and gives you 48 hours of hop-on/hop-off bus access with guide commentary in several languages, a one-hour night tour and a 90-minute river cruise, www.bigbustours.co