There are a million ways to explore Budapest: on foot, by bus, tram and underground, on water, by bike or even by an amphibious vehicle. And what to see while you're there? Start on the top, with the magnificent Buda Castle and Castle District. You won't need hiking boots to climb Gellért Hill to enjoy breathtaking, in fact part of the UNESCO World Heritage, views of the city from the Citadel. Cross the river for the most grandiose building on the Pest embankment, the Parliament. For sacred wonders, visit the tallest building in the city, Saint Stephen's Basilica, and the fifth largest synagogue in the world, the Dohány Street Synagogue. Heroes' Square will give you a peek into the romantic past of the country, and in Memento Park you'll have a chance to enjoy a modern history lesson in the open. For a bit of romancing, stroll along the Danube promenade or head to leafy Margaret Island. Fancy walking along a street that's part of the World Heritage in its entirety? Andrássy Avenue is one, lined with shady streets, bike routes and amazingly beautiful buildings. Prick your ears and if you're lucky, you'll hear music flowing from the open windows of the magnificent Opera House. Don't miss out on the less sophisticated but more fun specialities of Budapest either, the abandoned courtyards turned boozing hotspots, the ruin pubs.
When you're done with the must-sees, leave the main streets behind, and let the city unfold its secrets. Plenty of design shops, tiny parks, terraced cafés, and architectural treasures wait in the nooks and crannies.
Longing for some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of the city? In Szentendre, you can enjoy a Mediterranean atmosphere just 19 km from Budapest. In this gem of a town crammed with galleries and artists, treat yourself to a divine slice of cake in one of the many confectioneries (cukrászda) and have a hand-in-hand stroll along the Danube bank and the town's many cobblestoned streets.
For a truly breathtaking view, hills and valleys spotted with tiny villages and historical ruins, head to the Danube Bend (the picture above). There's a reason it's said to be one of the most amazing parts of the country. In Baroque Vác you'll find a bizarre exhibition displaying the mummified folks of the town from past centuries. Visegrád is a small town where being in nature is part of everyday life. Its three castles basically on top of each other offer you the chance of hiking not only through forests but also the Middle Ages. For a journey into the culture of Hungarian Christianity, head to Esztergom and marvel at the treasures of the Basilica, the tallest building in Hungary.
Ready to explore the hills around Budapest? The closest and most spectacular option is the Buda Hills and (the Pilis Hills further to the north) where you can not only admire how the urban landscape gives way to undisturbed nature, but also descend into the underground world of caves.
For a truly majestic experience, get yourself to Gödöllő. Stroll around the gardens of the Royal Palace following the footsteps of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Queen Elisabeth of Hungary.
Just a stones throw from the capital (a good 26 km one) is the bustling village of Etyek, famous for their characteristic white wines, atmospheric cellars, and Andy Vajna's treat to Hungarian film-making, the Korda Filmstudios (a.k.a. Etyekwood). Hang around to meet a movie star or two