Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. With a unique, youthful atmosphere, world-class classical music scene as well as a pulsating nightlife increasingly appreciated among European youth, and last but not least, an exceptional offer of natural thermal baths, Budapest is one of Europe's most delightful and enjoyable cities. Due to the exceedingly scenic setting, and its architecture it is nicknamed "Paris of the East". The local pronunciation can be approximated by "boo-dah-pesht". In 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.
Travelers are quickly recognising the appeal of Budapest, with tourism accounting for approximately 2.7 million visitors per year. Consisting of two cities with different flavours, Buda on the west bank of the Danube River and Pest on the east bank, Budapest offers travellers a unique atmosphere influenced by Viennese and Parisian architecture. Hungarians are proud of what their beautiful capital has to offer and its contributions to European culture, especially in the field of music, and sciences. They also take some pride in their language which is unrelated to languages of the Indo-European family such as English, French or Russian. While e.g. Finnish is a distant relative to Hungarian, these two branches of the Uralic family are estimated to have diverged a few thousands years ago, and no communication between them is possible.
While Buda has been the capital of Hungary - or that of the Osman-occupied territory - for the better part of a millennium, it has become a grand cosmopolitan city during the country's fast industrialisation in the late nineteenth century. The population of 2.1 million in 1989 decreased formally due to suburbanization.
For those with a reasonable budget, Budapest offers a rather high quality of life. The offered range in terms of culture, cuisine, and general 'vibe' is comparable to other major European cities (see. dedicated sections), while prices are lower, influenced by salaries of the locals.
Local salaries are significantly lower than those in western Europe (a recent university graduate may earn e.g. 150-300 thousand HUF after taxes), so that living standard of the local population is somewhat lower, especially for those employed in lower paid jobs (official minimal salary is around 90 thousand HUF, as of 2012). A more serious issue is unemployment, especially in the face of the recent economical problems. This is also connected to the rise in the number of homeless people seen in metro stations doorways in both Buda and Pest in recent years. While this does trouble locals who often grew up without seeing explicit homelessness (before '89), this issue is still minor compared to other major cities and usually does not present a safety risk to travellers.
Budapest offers a truly exceptional density of thermal springs and its fame is still rising as a major European Spa location - so go "bathing". The baths are among last vestige of Turkish culture in Budapest; some baths indeed date back to Turkish times. However, Hungarians have modified and moulded this tradition into something of their own during the last four centuries.
Thermal baths contain several thermal pools. They are usually complemented with multiple steam baths (in later decades also denoted by the Finnish word 'sauna'), massage services and other therapies including drinking cures. Unlike in some Scandinavian or German baths, Budapest baths mostly require you to wear your bathing suit! Among foreigners, Russians seem to be most frequent visitors to Budapest's baths, followed by Italians and Americans.
Hugarian cuisine and restaurant experiences are happily remembered by visitors, even if the Hungarian diet may seem rather meat-based to many western visitors. The city has large variety of great places to eat at prices quite reasonable for western-Europeans. Like in some other cities, a number of restaurants see tourists as scapegoats. It is a good idea to avoid restaurants in the heart of the most touristic areas like Váci utca, especially if all customers seem foreigners - here you'll more likely than not be served mediocre food with a high bill padded with number of bizarre charges. In some restaurants anything you don't explicitly ask for, but appears on your table, is likely to be charged for. Don't take restaurant tips from suspicious individuals on the streets, ask at your hotel or local friends.