The Paris of the East offers a somewhat affordable getaway
Through some miracle of timing and oversight by the black gods of modern economics, you have a weekend and a bit of extra cash at the same time. The space-time continuum has not been ruptured, yet somehow your beloved is also free and will not be washing her hair. It is high time for a romantic journey. We humbly suggest Budapest.
Budapest is, in all likelihood, the best romantic getaway you can get, afford, enjoy and return from in time to resume your daily toil on Monday morning. It's close to everyone and everything in Europe (Only one hour flying in from Prague, and thee-ish hours or less from the UK), sports much of the old Europe that is slowly disappearing elsewhere, and has countless romantic possibilities.
Budapest is loaded with cultural, architectural and historical lore and locations. Not a single one of them lacks in old-world charm. But for a single weekend, there is definitely a higher concentration of places to be seen staying near the 5th District. You'll want to arrange accommodations nearby and explore, since the best shopping, most interesting architecture and most romantic spots are all within a rather pleasant scenic walk of this hub.
A romantic stay can be had in a number of smaller and more intimate venues. Perhaps the best is the Brody House, (1088 Budapest, Bródy Sándor utca 10, Tel. +36 (1) 266 1211,). Aside from its boutique ambiance is a deep knowledge of the best nooks and crannies in the city's creative and social space, many dreamed up by the Brody folks themselves.
If you prefer the modern, you might try Bohem Art Hotel (1056 Budapest, Molnár utca 35, Tel. +36 (1) 327 9020). Filled with the works of local artists, this spot is known for an excellent breakfast and efficient service.
If you merely need a space to hold your bags and provide some privacy while you wander the charming streets of the Paris of The East, you will find many hostels offer private rooms and even full apartments in the area. One such place is The Astoria City Hostel.
Plan to check in and head out immediately on Friday. If you landed hungry, you have a rich selection to choose from cuisine-wise. Stex Ház (1085 Budapest, József körút 55-57, Tel. +36 (1) 318 5716) offers steak and a number of delicious local favorites. You can relax here, tables are available in privacy. But if you can call ahead, a locals' favorite is Frici Papa Kifőzdéje (1077 Budapest, Király utca 55, tel. +36 (1) 351 0197 ). Inexpensive but delicious and charming, it is nearly always packed with locals, and for good reason. Of course, you can try any of the uncountable kebab shops and pizza stands for something on the go.
Arriving on a Friday night, the best start to your romantic weekend may be a stroll into the rollicking nightlife of the 7th District. The former Jewish ghetto is home to Szimpla Kert, the first of the world-famous Budapest ruin pubs. The bar's little cousin is a few blocks away and specializes in Berlin and Budapest craft beers (and some quieter nooks to get close in). Information on both is available in English. Whimsical does not begin to describe Szimpla's ambiance. From there, you can either visit another, even more unusual ruin pub, such as Instant, or a mellower spot like Csendes, where you may profess your love on the wall for all to see as you please.
A good, romantic Saturday might start off with breakfast at New York Café in the Boscolo Budapest Hotel. A historical and opulent surrounding for a cuppa indeed, it will dazzle and set a romantic tone for the day ahead. From there, it is a great idea to take the tram outside toward eight Margitsziget (Margaret Island) for a stroll to some ruins and a visit to the singing fountain, or transfer to the oldest metro line in Europe, the Millennium line (the very old-school cool Line 1) to Hero's Square (Hősök tere). Here you'll find the Museum of Fine Art and Városliget, the city park that plays host to a castle built in commemoration of 1000 years of Hungary, as well as seasonal events and museums of every stripe.
Rather than taking a heavy lunch, try a menu offering at any local place. These are multicourse daily specials that offer multiple smaller courses of local fare. Better yet, save your hunger and make it to the Great Market Hall (1093 Budapest, Vámház körút 1-3) before 2 p.m., and browse the open air market bazaar in this architectural gem as you hunt trinkets for your memories. The second floor is filled with souvenirs of the handmade kind and hot food, served both in a rather cozy restaurant and casually, as takeaway.
When you're done taking in the Great Market, walk outside and cross the Liberty Bridge to the foot of Gellert Hill. You'll find a cave church here, just above the street, that is as romantic as it is beautiful and interesting.
Finish your climb to the top as the sun sets to view the city coming to light and life below, and descend again to the Gellert baths, or, a short walk away, the Rudas baths (unisex on weekends). These thermal baths, one a luxurious modernized facility and the other a preserved and updated Turkish historical site, are the most relaxing way to end the day. Both offer pampering in the form of spa services.
If you like cruises, I recommend Budapest's dinners aboard, which follow the beautifully lit night-time Danube. Highlights are the passage by Buda Castle, the Neo-gothic Parliament Building and Chain bridge. But if you want to stay ashore with your paramour, or you lingered in the baths, then no ambiance can beat that of Onyx, a one-star Michelin restaurant. Too much? Then perhaps a visit to Drop Shop for lighter fare and truly amazing selection of wines is a better bet with a smoother finish.
Sunday morning is not the most bustling time in Budapest, but coffee shops abound. When you finish, wander across the Chain Bridge and walk to the Fisherman's Bastion. If you have a later flight, the perfect end is a walking tour of the Buda Castle District, both free. If you have time and want one last bit of Hungarian cuisine, your last stop should be Rivalda, a restaurant in the castle with a view and a reasonable lunch menu to boot.
Flying home will seem like the worst idea ever, but you will have left an impression your love won't soon forget.