Budapest is the most perfect city for a short break with a difference. Bordering seven other countries, Hungary is at the very heart of Europe and the influences of its neighbours can be seen in the language, architecture and cuisine of this wonderful nation. And, for just £38 return at February half-term, it's a destination that will easily come in at under £500 for a family week of Hungarian adventures.
A mere three hour flight from the UK and you and your family are transported to a country that feels unlike any other. As soon as your flight touches down at Ferenc Listz International Airport, you realise that this is a city that is flattered you chose to visit - Hungary became a member of the EU in 20014 and, since then, has very much been geared towards tourism. The transfers into the city are plentiful and, once secured in the central part of Budapest, you won't need any other transport. Budapest is a very walkable city and, indeed, one that is best seen on foot. From Buda Castle to the Fisherman's Bastion, there is so much to see.
Accommodation is very cheap and a quick search on Airbnb will present you with a plethora of choice at about £50 a night for a family of four. We stayed in an apartment in a beautiful old building, seconds from the river and a stone's throw from the basilica and parliament. We lived like locals and our funky flat had a real-feel of a bygone Budapest, with its wrought-iron balcony and courtyards.
The grande dame of Budapest is the parliament building with its gothic architecture and its dazzling white exterior. Located on Lajos Kossuth Square, one of the world's largest parliament buildings looks down upon the Danube, compelling you to tour its miles of corridor. There are guided tours of this political centre regularly throughout the day but visits must be booked in advance. EU citizens get half-price entry so get in while you can...
If you have little ones in tow, the tour buses run regular routes around the city, complete with an informative audio guide. Shop around for the bus that suits your family best. We found the best tour to be the Big Bus Tour company; it was markedly cheaper than the other companies. For two adults and two children, our ticket cost £45 for 48 hours of travel and the kids loved sitting on an open-top bus listening to the facts and figures of this beguiling city. We hopped on and hopped off to our hearts' content and touring the city at night was a great couple of hour's entertainment for us all; we even had a riverboat trip down the Danube included in the price.
Money-wise, the forint is king. Hungarian shops and restaurants do accept Euros as currency but we found that the price in forints was much more economical. A quick shop around the local supermarket will show you just how much you can get for your forint; a drinkable bottle of local wine cost us the equivalent of £1.50! The Old Market Hall next to the Liberty Bridge offers up a whole floor of Hungarian 'street food', complete with the most wonderful patisseries. Its fascinating to eat whilst watching the locals going about their daily business, and then to buy tacky souvenirs from the stalls offering up fridge magnets and tea towels.
Budapest is a magical city that feels different to Europe's other major pulls; it's a gentle city which seems to work at a slower pace. Al fresco cafes under the watchful eye of the basilica are filled with proud Hungarians soaking up their culture and impressive heritage. Why not join them this February?