On the Pest waterfront stands the immense Hungarian Parliament with its domineering beetroot-colored dome in contrast to the otherwise sharp and pointy neo-Gothic structure. Also in Pest’s beautiful Belváros (Inner City), Szent István’s Basilica rises imperiously over a spacious square. Nearby, bizarrely tongueless sculpted lions guard the Chain Bridge which sweeps you over the River Danube to the sprawling Royal Palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion, colorfully tiled St. Matthias Church and the narrow winding streets of Castle Hill.
Tourists marvel at the palatial surroundings and labyrinth of pools, saunas and steam rooms at the neoclassical Széchenyi fürdő while locals play chess in the piping hot semi-circular pool. The Art Nouveau Gellért spa has an air of faded grandeur from the outside but is ostentatiously ornate within. Light beams in through the ancient Turkish cupola as the sound of water and voices echo at Rudas Gyógyfürdő. In summer, there’s a holiday camp atmosphere at Margaret Island’s vast lido-like Palatinus Strandfürdő.
A ticket to a performance at the lavish Budapest Opera House is often cheaper than taking a tour. The former ticket office next door, now a coffee house known as Callas, is a classy mix of designer chic and fin de siècle style. Step across the suave but slightly decaying boulevard of Andrássy út for a Magyar meal or just a glass of fine Hungarian wine at Klassz restaurant. Beautiful people spill out of a row of trendy bars on to pleasant Liszt Ferenc tér in summer. A flew blocks away in the shabby-chic Jewish district, bars spring up in the courtyards of empty old townhouses.