Budapest: Like Prague Only Cheaper

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From THESTREET.COM:

Budapest is an Art Nouveau bohemia touched by only a few true luxury hotels and designer outposts of Western European capitalism. It's been compared to '20s Paris as well as Prague before it became pricey, a gritty version of both that still manages to be affordable.

5 p.m. -- Live Like a Habsburg

It is difficult to remember what a stay in Budapest was like before Four Seasons Gresham Palace opened.

And what a palace it is, one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Central Europe, breathtakingly restored with sweeping staircases, stained glass, mosaics and ornate ironwork. A cobblestone motor court at the face of the building offers head-on views of the Danube framed by the Chain Bridge and Buda Palace. Glass-encrusted iron gates insolate the lobby area with its towering glass-dome ceiling and palatial décor where sound is never louder than a whisper.

As the most prestigious hotel in the capital city, the crowd here includes numerous politicians and business elite, giving the hotel an upper-crust vibe.

8 p.m. -- Eat With Some Fashionable Locals

A short walk from the Gresham Palace is Váci Utca, Budapest's central shopping district where small perfumeries and local fashion brands coexist with glassy outposts of H&M and Marks & Spencer. It's here that you'll find the super-stylish Cyrano Restaurant (Kristof ter 7-8) on a small side street.

In a city plagued by unsightly restaurant architecture, a smoked-glass façade reveals a glitzy dining room of baroque wallpaper and staff with chiseled features.

The dining room fills-up around 10 p.m. with Budapest trendsetters looking for gourmet-level cuisine in a stylish dining room.

10 p.m. -- Local Lounge Society

For visitors to Budapest, the best clubs are often frustratingly hard to find. Within a Spanish-style building without any remarkable numberings or signage, Szoda makes its home in a marble-tiled courtyard with three-story atrium. Guests enter through an unassuming gate on a quiet urban park off the speedy thoroughfare leading to the Chain Bridge.

Inside the courtyard are various archways offering private lounges with sofas and chairs, oversized foosball room and a DJ booth mixing one of the best underground-mixes in Europe. Summer features weekly theme nights, including an outdoor cinema showing sports games and the occasional film noir.

10 a.m. -- Hit Budapest's Best Shopping

Don't waste your time browsing the clothing stores you already have in New York or London. Instead, hit Budapest's treasure trove of antique shops.

Unlike the pristine antique parlors of Paris, these shops are dusty warehouse spaces where pieces are lined up like a junkyard and rare objects from paintings to rugs and jewelry are ripe for the picking. Head to Falk Miksa utca in Budapest's fifth district, where a shady tree-lined street of period architectural buildings is home to shops like Szent István körút.

Don't let the size of the upstairs space confuse you, most shops offer basement-level storage areas where the real goods are hidden.

2 p.m. -- Do Spa With the Locals

Budapest is the original spa city, built on 118 natural thermal springs that supply the city in a wealth of bubbly rejuvenating baths. Located on the Buda side of the Danube, make your way to the mother of all thermal baths at the Hotel Gellert.

Opened in 1918, the hotel is a decadent beaux-arts style hotel and spa known for its in-house medical facilities and leisure-minded spa open to the public. Guests enter via a box-office-style cashier that feels like a municipal swimming pool. The dramatic reception area is impressive, although in need of refurbishment, leading to a labyrinth-like walk to the locker area above several of the elaborate bathing halls.

Whether booking in for a massage, or simply enjoying the outdoor pool and sun terrace complete with on-the-hour wave pool, make sure to pack a good swimsuit.

8 p.m. -- Not Your Average Cruise Ship

The deliciousness of its location is hard to debate, located directly on the Danube overlooking the Buda Castle and Chain Bridge. A replica of a big white barge, like many that will sail by during dinner, Spoon was launched in late 2003 as a quirky idea for a trendy eatery offering some of the town's best views and food.

The result has been successful -- any pretense to eating on a barge is lost upon entering the modern reception area flanked by elegant staff and trendy modern decor.

The space is divided between two restaurants, cigar bar, lounge and rooftop terrace for outdoor dining. The crowd is composed of well-heeled locals and the occasional couple strutting their dressiest eveningwear.

12 a.m. -- Spiritual Dance Awakening

The several open-air bars and dance club that line the Danube on both the Buda and Pest sides of the city dominate spring and summer nightlife.

Start off at Buddha Beach, found on the Pest side of the Petofi Bridge. There's no VIP list at this club. Unlike most big city hotspots, an unattended door leads to a well-secured tollbooth, where everyone patiently waits to pay their entrance fee. Two open-air bars as well as an elevated interior space that's used during colder, wetter months surround a large open-plan dance floor that's almost always packed with fast-footed locals.

Once the air gets a little chilly, head-over to nearby A38, located on the Buda side of the river, hosting up-and-coming music acts and DJs like Richie Kortzen year-round.

11 a.m. - Say Goodbye With Brunch

It's time for Sunday brunch at Gallery Café, located within the new Lanchid 19.

On the Buda-side of the famed Chain Bridge, visitors arrive at a space-age façade molded of natural limestone and glass, with small terrace area of bright-pink plastic chairs and café tables. A glass atrium-covered lobby area with transparent floor reveals Roman ruins unearthed during the hotel's renovation.

A glass and steel staircase connects the lobby lounge with the in-house restaurant, which is located on an upper mezzanine level and offers new Hungarian cuisine with revolving artwork from local artists to end your weekend in Budapest on a stylish note.

 

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