The sheer grandeur of Budapest can be startling to first-time visitors, especially considering the small size of Hungary today. But the country was far larger when it achieved independence from Habsburg rule in 1867, becoming half of the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary. Between then and World War I, Budapest vied with Vienna to create the most impressive capital city. My apologies to Vienna, but I think Budapest won.
The extravagant Gothic Revival Parliament Building is the showiest landmark, set right on the water like its London counterpart, but the city boasts countless architectural jewels. Often, historicist buildings display an unexpectedly intricate geometric ornamentation that harks back to when the Ottoman Empire ruled the region. The exquisitely restored Gothic-Moorish Párisi Udvar shopping passage, now a restaurant and café, stands as an especially opulent reminder of Budapest’s place between East and West.
Art nouveau was as popular in Budapest as in Barcelona, and numerous fine examples adorn the Pest side of the city, divided from Buda by the Danube. The peerlessly located Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace exemplifies the local interpretation of the style. For years, this property has been our sole recommendation in Hungary’s capital. Since our cruise with the AmaMagna (see our review) finished in Budapest, it seemed an opportune time to find out whether this hotel’s monopoly had at last come to an end.