Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu October 29 2015

Budapest Takes Its Place Among the World's Best Tourist Cities

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | October 29, 2015

Budapest Takes Its Place Among the World's Best Tourist Cities

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The Iron Curtain came down roughly 25 years ago. Since then, the eastern half of Europe has evolved in terms of tourism. At first, the region’s countries were seen as cheaper alternatives to pricey destinations in the West. In the early days of democracy, these former socialist strongholds mainly drew adventure-seekers and backpackers. Then some spots, like Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, became Europe’s “next-best” destinations. 

Yes, some of the places in the East’s far-flung corners still feel off the beaten path. However, more centrally located spots are talked about casually in the same breath as long-time tourist favorites like Florence, Vienna and Barcelona. 

Budapest scores very well on new tourism survey

When Conde Nast Traveler polled its readers to find out what their favorite city in the world was, the results showed that the East has truly arrived on Europe’s mainstream travel scene. 

Some of the rankings published by CN Traveler were not surprising: Florence occupied the top spot, and Paris, Sydney, Vienna and Rome were also highly rated. People who have already discovered Budapest might not be surprised to learn that it was second only to Florence in the reader-opinion-based rankings. But the fact that it beat out some of Europe’s long-established tourist havens surprised many.  

The reemergence of a great city

Budapest has always been a beautiful city. It sits on the Danube River, and it is covered with Art Nouveau, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Because of its buildings and its bridges over the river, it is sometimes compared with Paris. The well-respected Hungarian National Museum even dates back to the same era as the Louvre. 

Reasonable prices probably helped the Hungarian capital score highly with travelers. Admittedly, Budapest does not have the food scene of some of Europe’s other big name cities, but classics like pastries and goulash are of the highest quality, and you might even be surprised to find that Hungary has some tasty homegrown wines. There is a cosmopolitan restaurant scene that makes this arguably the best place to eat in Eastern Europe. The coffee shops are also worthy of a place on any flavor-seeker's itinerary. 

Budapest is quite user-friendly. The public transit system is more than decent and some of the main thoroughfares have become pedestrianized, so you can take a long sightseeing walk without encountering too much vehicle traffic.

Soaking it all in

Most experienced Budapest visitors will point you right to its thermal spas. The best of these venues, which are not unlike Turkey’s bathhouses (the Ottoman Empire once included Hungary), are surrounded by classic architecture. The Gellért Baths and the Széchenyi Spa are must-visits for many, but you can soak in the same mineral-rich, naturally heated water in a more-modern setting in some of the city’s hotel spas as well. 

Perhaps now that it is getting the press, Budapest will become more of a household name. Or perhaps taking the slower approach to tourism success has been better for this charming capital. This way, people can discover the Hungarian city on their own, instead of thinking of it as an alternative to Paris, Rome or Vienna. That is already starting to happen. Would an alternative to Paris or Vienna earn the second spot on a worldwide survey conducted by one of the world’s most respected travel magazines?

Probably not. 

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