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Budapest History

The modern touristic pull of thermal spas and gastronomic brilliance is what drew Budapest’s first settlers too.

Evidence of Hungary’s early hunter-gatherers show they lived along the gradient of what would later become Gellért Hill, and down both sides of the mighty River Danube.

With a wealth of animals to eat and warming natural springs, these settlements soon swelled in size under the expansion of the Celts in the third century BC.

Before long though, this became a Roman-dominated area. They saw the land’s topographical advantages and built up the ancient city of Aquincum, which became the capital city of Pannonia Inferior. You can see its remains today in Óbuda.

The Romans found themselves fleeing the city when the Huns invaded in the second century AD. Further attacks and wars hindered any significant development in terms of Budapest itself, as the Avars and Charlemagne tribes passed through, scattering settlements.

The Magyars arrived in around 896, and following the Bulgarian army’s victory over the Holy Roman Empire, two military fortresses were erected: one in Buda and a second in Pest.

Budapest’s first Golden Age coincided with the reign of Renaissance King Matyás (1458-90), before a second one was symbolised by the 1896 millennium celebration in City Park.

The city’s Silver Age came during the 20th-century inter-war period, when the likes of Evelyn Waugh and the Prince of Wales frequented Budapest's spas and casinos.

Balanced against the good times, however, are plenty of bad periods. The Hungarians' defeat against the Turkish in 1526 stung, and the Hapsburg rule deprived Hungary of its autonomy until 1867.

Devastation in WWII was followed by Soviet control, which oversaw the brutal crushing of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, and was only lifted in 1989.

After a chaotic period of post-communist adjustment, Hungary joined the EU in 2004 and Budapest emerged as a buzzing 21st-century metropolis.

Did you know?
• Completed in 1859, Dohány Street Synagogue is Europe’s largest synagogue.
• Modern Budapest was officially born in 1873, when Buda, Óbuda and Pest were joined.
• Budapest’s subway system opened in 1896 and is the second oldest in the world.

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Continental Hotel Zara

With 272 rooms to pick from, the Continental Hotel Zara isn't shy on size. Between the tall windows and chic, chocolate-coloured design of the sleeping quarters, it doesn't lack style either. All rooms have satellite TVs, soundproof windows and air-conditioning, with Continental Suites and Executive Rooms available for the extra extravagant explorer. The hotel's lavish restaurant and cool little café are worth checking out too, or swap both for a chilled beer on its rooftop garden. Its wellness centre should help with any hangovers or well-travelled legs.

Hotel Palazzo Zichy

Originally built as the residence of Count Nándor Zichy, a 19th century nobleman, the hotel that shares his surname now has ample space for 80, well-proportioned rooms. Held in Pest's palace quarter, the modern simplistic style of the bedrooms has everything the modern traveller could desire from satellite TV and soundproof windows to internet access and large, laptop-sized safes. The hotel also has a gym, sauna and concierge service.

Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge

With unparalleled panoramas across the mighty Danube, the Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge is a hotel that's all about the details. While location may be its first selling point, through its doors it offers a terrace bar, chintzy cocktails and a tinkling pianist in the Bibliotek Lounge. The centrally-located spot also has a serene spa and gives visitors the choice of 301 soft linen sleeping chambers with marble bath tubs, flatscreen TVs and free Wi-Fi in most rooms.

Hotel Parliament

As new boutique hotels carry on cropping up around the Hungarian capital city, the minimal décor of Hotel Parliament continues to stand out. With 64 double rooms to decide on, each comes with air-conditioning, soundproof windows, Wi-Fi and satellite TV. Its lobby, wellness retreat and onsite Htel Bar are more modern in design with their sharply-coloured sofas, chandeliers and sleek simplicity, while its Parliament Suite is suited to those on longer sojourns.

Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace

Many hotels use the 'palace' moniker without justification, but not the Gresham. Built in 1906, this architectural delight is a masterpiece of art nouveau design, both inside and out. Many of the fittings, including Zsolany ceramics and a stained glass window by Miksa Róth, are original, while the rest were lovingly restored in 2004 when the palace received a glorious makeover. The Gresham has all the trappings of a 5-star Budapest hotel, including a fitness and wellness centre.

Mercure Budapest Korona Hotel

A relaxed saunter from Budapest's pedestrianised shopping area between Váci and Ráday street, the 4-star Mercure Budapest Korona Hotel has all the touches of comfort and quality expected from a chain of this stature. Generous-sized rooms come with air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, satellite TV and tea and coffee making facilities, while a heated indoor swimming pool, sauna and masseuses are available too.