As a chill descends, the Hungarian capital – with its historic grand cafés, ornate baths and festive markets – really comes to life. With art nouveau splendours lining a curve of the Danube, Budapest promises genteel romance. While the fin-de-siècle façades, old-fashioned cafés and refined baths politely sweep you off your feet, the traces of Goulash communism and the city’s fascinating modern history add spice. Budapest is an easy city to navigate, with the river at its heart. Cross a bridge to the west and you’re in Buda, the leafy hills hiding natural hot springs and crowned with a palace that provide views down to the scene-stealing gothic parliament building on the far riverbank. Behind this is Pest, the eastern city, unified with Buda in 1873, where you’ll find attractive boulevards and the Jewish quarter, which has seen a bohemian drinking scene develop around dilapidated courtyards beautified with eclectic art and flea market furniture. Article via The Telegraph The city remains affordable, with the more desirable hotels and restaurants attainable on most budgets. Where to stay Special treat The Four Seasons Gresham Palace (1) (0036 1 268 6000; fourseasons.com/budapest) is in a palace at the end of the picturesque Chain Bridge. Rooms have a hint of art deco. Ask for a river view with a balcony. Superior rooms from £216, excluding breakfast. Mid-range The Buddha Bar (2) (0036 1 799 7300; buddhabar.com) is set in an art nouveau palace on Váci utca, a famous shopping street in the centre of Pest. The Asian colonial-style rooms in enamel black and scarlet have beds you could lose someone in, rainforest showers and 47in televisions. Superior rooms from £92 a night excluding breakfast. On a budget Lanchid 19 (3) (0036 1 457 1200; lanchid19hotel.hu) is a contemporary boutique hotel right by the Danube underneath the Royal Palace. It’s part of the Design Hotels chain. Doubles with river view from £84, excluding breakfast. On arrival 7pm Ease yourself into the weekend with a dip at Gellert baths (4) (gellertbath.hu; £14 during the week or £15 at the weekend), one of the city’s loveliest thermal complexes, with sumptuous Secession interiors, at the bottom of Gellert Hill. 9pm Book a table with a view at the Halászbástya restaurant (5) (0036 1 201 6935; eng.halaszbastya.eu) on the Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda, a terrace studded with conical towers overlooking the Danube and parliament building. Modern Hungarian dishes start at around £11. A five-course menu costs from £59. Day one 10am Squeeze into a Castle Hill funicular carriage (dating back to 1870) and climb slowly to the pedestrianised district of old Buda. Wander around the Royal Palace, rebuilt in the 18th century by the Habsburgs, today housing the Hungarian National Gallery (mng.hu/en). Look out for the Matthias fountain, which vividly depicts a hunting expedition in bronze, then walk through the cobbled streets to Matthias Church (6), the coronation church of Hungarian kings, with a multicoloured roof. 12pm Make your way back down and across the river to Pest, stopping to sample choice cuts of Hungarian hams at Divin Porcello (0036 30 665 1004; Apáczai Csere János utca 7). A mixed board costs from £5.40. 2pm Stroll further into Pest, taking in St Stephen’s Basilica (7) and the Hungarian State Opera, before hopping onto one of Europe’s oldest metro lines, the M1 (opened 1896). Stations with pretty tiled walls slip past on the way to Városliget (8), the city park, where there is a boating lake that becomes a popular ice rink in winter. The park opens on to Heroes’ Square, a World Heritage site flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts (szepmuveszeti.hu), currently closed, and the Kunsthalle hall of contemporary art (mucsarnok.hu). 4pm Cure the last of your ills at another of Budapest’s most famous baths nearby, the neo-baroque style Szechenyi Bath (£13 for a weekday ticket or £14 weekend ticket). Forgo a locker to change in one of the quaint wooden cabins upstairs, then soak in one of three outdoor pools (keep an eye out for the old men playing chess) or 18 indoor ones, before braving a sauna of up to 50C. 8pm The First Strudel House (9) (0036 1 428 0135; reteshaz.com) is an old-style farmhouse where you can try your hand at strudel-making. It also serves traditional Hungarian mains from £8. Or try the delectable Asian-fusion cuisine on offer in the Buddha Bar restaurant (see above). A shrimp pad Thai is £12. 10pm Budapest’s first “ruined bar” – opened in an abandoned building – was Szimpla Kert (10) (Kazinczy St 14; szimpla.hu), set around a ramshackle courtyard. Although it’s quite touristy, it’s brimming with interesting bric-a-brac and has many cosy nooks. Its success led to the brightening-up of other disused buildings nearby. Kuplung has striped garden furniture, a whale mural and jellyfish lanterns; 400 Bar has a large indoor area and a burger grill; Mika Kert has seating inside an old boat and Ellato Kert is another courtyard bar, with a den at the back serving cocktails and tacos. If the desire to dance strikes, take a taxi to the A38 (a38.hu), a boat moored on the Danube that hosts popular DJs. Day two 9am See the city from the Danube with a short cruise, including an audio history of the sights along the riverbanks. Legenda (legenda.hu) has 70-minute trips costing £10 for adults. 11am Disembark at Margaret Island (11) for a stroll. The wooded island park is home to an overgrown chapel, Franciscan ruins and a fountain that dances to music. 12pm Once, there were about 500 cafés in the city. Don’t leave without visiting one for a sweet pastry or sour cherry dessert. Try the high-ceilinged Central Coffee House (Károlyi Mihály St 9), which dates back to 1887, or the equally grand Café Gerbeaud (12) (Vörösmarty tér 7-8). Ibolya Espresso (Ferenciek tere 5) has a retro, Soviet feel, with leatherette chairs and moulded lamps. Budapest checklist The Budapest card (£15 for 24 hours) grants unlimited travel on public transport and discounted admission to museums and baths. See budapestinfo.hu. Music fans should time a visit to coincide with Sziget Festival a hugely enjoyable Glastonbury-sized event on the Danube in August. For more on the city’s totalitarian past, visit the House of Terror Museum(terrorhaza.hu; Andrássy út 60) in the former secret police headquarters. Tours focusing on communist-era history are run by Underguide (underguide.com).