Approximately one year ago I visited one of my favorite cities of all time. You may have seen me mention it here. Budapest is a gem of history, architecture, and leisure thriving on either side of the Danube River. There I learned it was actually two cities that have morphed into one in 1873, kind of like Minneapolis-St. Paul. It's full of history, nightlife, good food, and hot springs. So, now the question is where to spend most of your time once you've decided to come here. Because you obviously should see both sides, I've broken it up into categories: culture, nightlife, outdoors, food, accommodation, and thermal baths. From there you can decide where you want to put up your home base and better explore.
From its world famous opera's inception in 1884 in Pest to the Sziget Fetival that draws in 440,000 people to Obuda Island for a week every summer. The city has been a hotbed of culture since the 15th Century with the creation of the 2nd largest library in the world and continued with impressive Art and History museums. Pest has an impressive Parliament building housing the royal jewels and St. Stephens Basilica housing some Saint's mummified hand, to coincide with a world class opera house. But Buda has Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, and Matthias Church all centered around each other on the top of the hill. Across from there the Citadella gives you views of the whole city and all the Danube's bridges, along with a history from the Hapsburgs to the Nazis and Soviets. There's a cave church below it and when you finally make your way back down you can go to the classical Gellert Baths.The museums that are peppered throughout the city kind of cancel each other out in the argument of which side is superior.
The Buda side gives you some of the city's most famous riverboat clubs. However Pest has some of their own and gives you a bigger variety. The urban sprawl provides a range of classic bars & cafes, British & Irish pubs, and romkocsmas (pictured left), which are abandoned houses that have been converted into bars and are difficult to spot without help. If you want to make it a social event and need a little help finding the spots, contact these guys. It's the longest running bar crawl in the city and they take you to a mix of the original ruin pubs and new ones as well. And if that sounds like too much for you or you're looking for something different, they've got a variety of tours and tastings that are a great deal.
Because you gotta eat and Hungarian food is full of delectable blends of meat and spices. Aszu Etterem located next to St. Stephen's Basilica is one of the best restaurants I've eaten at regardless of cuisine, country, etc. With entrees starting at $13 and finishing up with the most tender venison you'll ever eat for $20. Please, please go here.
Pest is pretty flat, but bigger than Buda and that gives it some open green spaces and allows it to house the city's zoo and main city park. Buda however mixes their cultural landmarks with some up and down urban trekking and even houses two caves. Elizabeth Lookout is the highest point in the city, resting in Buda's hills. Kalandpalya is a massive reserve that has a lot of activities geared for kids. If you can't decide and want to split the distance in the summer, go to Margaret Island on the Danube and lie out on the beach or walk through its gardens.
Pest dominates when it comes to hostels, which they have a massive amount of for the size of their city. Buda wins out when it comes to luxury accommodation, and the Danubius is maybe the fanciest in the city. Pest has an advantage when it comes to available area and they have their own collection of luxury hotels and a large some supply of economy and mid-range ones.
Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Hungary. Going is not only a therapeutic experience, but a historical and cultural one as well. The two most famous Gellert (Buda) and Szechenyi (Pest) are can't lose. There are smaller baths all over the city and for this reason you really can't go wrong.
Obviously, there was never going to be a clear winner. They both have their respective strengths and you would be doing a disservice to yourself if you stuck to just one side the whole time. When I was there I stayed in Pest and went out there during the night. You have to take a boat up and down the Danube and spend at least a day walking the hills from the Citadella to the Buda Castle area. In Pest you have to visit Parliament and St. Stephen's Basilica. But honestly, you can't go wrong with whatever you decide to do here because Budapest is awesome any time of the year and has an area of reprieve for all passions.