Buda, on the left bank of the Danube River, is the hilly, older part of Budapest. From its highest point—the lovingly reconstructed Buda Castle (or Royal Palace)—the views of the Danube and Pest’s monumental buildings are gorgeous. Getting there can be no less dramatic: from Pest, stroll across the Danube on Budapest’s graceful, landmark Chain Bridge, and grab the steep-climbing funicular that connects you with Castle Hill and its cobbled streets and restored buildings from the Hapsburg era. The immense Buda Castle commands the most strategic location in town. Here the Hungarian kings set up an imposing showpiece residence they would call home for seven centuries. Now it boasts four museums, including the Hungarian National Gallery, and some of the 9 miles of medieval underground tunnels used during WW I (parts of which today house the tacky Buda Wax Works). Views from the seven-turreted Fisherman’s Bastion are inspiring, especially in the evening. Something of the area’s bohemian character lingers in the cozy coffee houses and book stores, but the regentrified UNESCO-protected neighborhood of twisting alleyways and handicrafts shops thrives on tourism and hasn’t seen an aspiring artist in years.
The neighborhood’s premier lodging site is the Hilton, the only hotel in this quietly elegant part of town. Its historically sensitive, award-winning design incorporates the ruins of a 13th-century church; the Baroque facade of a 17th-century Jesuit college serves as the contemporary hotel’s main entrance. The hotel’s small casino is the nicest in town (among more than a dozen), but you might find the summertime classical concerts in the former church’s Dominican courtyard more interesting.