Hungarian capital offers three cities in one

Budapest, Hungary (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Sarah Gregory)

Budapest, Hungary (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Sarah Gregory)

Aviano Air Base, Italy -- The classic European city Budapest has everything for today's traveler to enjoy and explore. Golden cathedrals, historical sites, giant squares, Roman ruins, pedestrian-only shopping areas and a bustling nightlife all make Budapest a top tourist destination.
Budapest is actually three separate towns - Buda, Obuda and Pest -split by the Danube River. A majority of Budapest's attractions are located on the Pest, or east, side of the river. Here visitors can see the Hungarian Parliament building, St. Stephen's Basilica, the Hungarian National Museum, Heroes' Square and the State Opera House. On the Buda side of the river is the Fisherman's Bastion, Citadel Hill and the Hungarian National Gallery. 

Dominating the river front with its gothic-style architecture and domed center is the Hungarian Parliament building, completed in 1902. The outside is beautiful and is worth stopping for a picture, but the inside can only be explored when Parliament is not in session. One of the key sights inside the building is the Domed Hall where the crown jewels are kept. The height of the dome is exactly the same as St. Stephens's Basilica and is supported by 16 pillars, which display the statue and coat of arms of significant Hungarian rulers. To find out if Parliament is in session or to book a ticket, call 441-49-04. Tours are free for European citizens and 2,300 Forint, about $12, for all others.
At night, the Parliament building and the basilica, as well as many of the other statues, monuments and bridges around the city are lit, which earned Budapest the nickname the Paris of the east. 

The basilica, built from 1851 to 1905, is made up of 37 different types of marble, mostly from Carrara, Italy. The marble's vibrant colors give the inside a warm glow. One of the main attractions to the church is the mummified forearm of St. Stephen, which was brought to the basilica Aug. 20, 1945, on display near the main altar. The basilica is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily during the winter and is free to enter. 

While many of the main sights are on the east side of the Danube River, the best views are from the hilly, west side. There, visitors can climb up Citadel Hill or the Fisherman's Bastion for a sweeping view of the Danube River, the seven bridges crossing over it and all of Budapest's most famous sights. 

Visitors can shop anywhere and at many places, they'll find shops carrying the staples of the Hungarian diet - sausages similar to kielbasa, paprika, peppers and onions. When dining, be adventurous and try some traditional foods such as goulash or beef in sweet onion and paprika sauce. Menus are often printed in English, and if not, the waiters usually speak enough English to help you select a meal. The food is typically heavy and filling but it's something to look forward to after a day of sightseeing or if the weather's chilly. Walk off the heaviness by looking for one of the many clubs, bars and cafés Budapest has to offer. A good bet is to head toward the Vaci Utca, a pedestrian-only street on the east side of the river. Lined with shops, restaurants and bars, this is the place to see and be seen. 

Budapest is a friendly city and its residents are eager to show off their city's culinary skills, creative arts and architectural wonders. Adventure awaits in Hungary's capital. 

Money matters: Although it was admitted to the European Union in 2003, Hungary still uses the Forint as its currency. There are plans to phase in the Euro by 2010. The exchange rate is about 100F = $.52. Many places will accept Euro, so it's best to only exchange what you absolutely need and exchange all Forint for Euro when leaving Hungary.