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Every few years, there seems to be a shift in what I call Europe’s ‘IT city’. The ‘IT city’ is the hottest new (not in age of course) European city that has recently improved infrastructure and/or safety to attract droves of first time tourists where previously there may have been some apprehension. Travel coverage in media such as Conde Nast and Travel and Leisure magazine explodes as they build up travel knowledge on a city that will likely see major growth in tourism figures in the next several years.
Savvy travelers will strive to travel to ‘IT cities’ now before others catch on and the cities become too touristy. The ‘IT city’ attracts tourists that are a bit more adventurous because these up and coming cities are not quite as refined in terms of tourism infrastructure as the known quantities of the European classics like London, Paris, and Rome.
About 10 years ago I would say Istanbul became Europe’s ‘IT city’. Culturally different from the rest of western Europe, this Turkish city’s tourism figures exploded. Then about 5 years ago I felt that shifted to Prague. Prague was highlighted as one of the least destructed cities from World War II so what you were looking at was older than other reconstructed parts of Europe. Today I believe Europe’s new ‘IT city’ is the Hungarian gem of Budapest.
I spent an amazing three days in Budapest and I believe it is worth the hype. The view from the Danube river in the evening is one of the most dramatic sights I have ever seen in my life. From my experiences, the view rivals standing atop the Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janiero and the peak in Hong Kong. No view in Europe that I have experienced has matched the Danube splitting Buda and Pest.
To supplement a world class view, the prices in Budapest are very inexpensive by European standards. Meals in Budapest were about half of what we were paying the previous few day in Vienna.
The infrastructure is pretty dated but still quite useful. There is a series of trams and underground trains which are efficient. Furthermore a lot of the most popular tourist sites are walkable.
The biggest problem with Budapest is a corrupt taxi system. You won’t have any issues getting a fair taxi at the main airport through an official kiosk or through the bellman at a nice hotel but for everywhere else around the city you are left to fend for yourself which just sucks. To avoid getting ripped off you can call and arrange a taxi from several legit operators but that can be a bit challenging as an international traveler without a reliable phone. I spoke with several people from the hotel about this issue and they acknowledge that this is a serious problem and one that embarrasses the city. The government has plans to overhaul the rules to improve the conditions before the end of this year so hopefully that goes through.
One of Budapest’s major international events is the Formula One race held each year just outside the city at the Hungaroring. This was the event that brought us to the city for our first visit.
There was an added energy in and around the city for the event. We stayed at the Le Meredien Budapest and enjoyed eating our Platinum breakfast with the entire Williams F1 team (minus the drivers). I’ll cover that hotel in the trip report.
People as a whole are very friendly. You may at first think they are being standoff-ish but after you’ve come to the realization that they are a pretty quiet bunch, then you adjust and it makes sense.
The bottom line
Rookie traveler? I won’t suggest Budapest since it takes a bit more travel aptitude to navigate the experience. For others seeking a more unique European experience, Budapest has risen to the top of my suggestion list.
Budapest is an incredible city no doubt. I believe recent improvements in general safety and infrastructure make this one of Europe’s hottest new destinations. If you like seeing cities before they are overrun with tourists I would suggest looking for ways to get to Budapest in the very near future. Prague for instance, which I labeled as the previous Europe’s ‘IT city’, was ABSOLUTELY SWAMPED with tourists four days before we were in Budapest to the point where it seriously detracted from the experience. Budapest, even on its busiest F1 weekend in the summer, was pleasant and without massive tourist crowds.