Budapest is an intriguing mix of old and new. The name might conjure thoughts of steamy thermal baths and classical music, but this city has a uniquely youthful atmosphere, bolstered by its huge student population and eclectic nightlife. Whether you’re waiting for a connection at the Franz Liszt International Airport, attending a conference or making a pit-stop with your friends, here are six ways to spend your precious time in the Paris of the East’.

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Take in the best views of Budapest along the Danube. Credit: Getty.

1 hour: Take a brisk walk along the Danube

As with many cities bisected by a river, much of Budapest’s cultural capital clings to either bank of the Danube. Get the subway to one of the metro stations near the water – like Ferenciek Tere or Déak Ferenc Tér – then head north past the Danube Promenade, pausing at the moving Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial sculpture.

For the best view of the world-famous National Parliament building, cross over the Széchenyi Lánchíd suspension bridge and walk up the eastern bank of the Danube. You’ll see the sprawling gothic building from a good distance, but the picture-perfect views are by the Batthyány Ter metro stop. And if you look behind you, away from the river, the regal silhouette of Castle Hill rises above you.

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Visit one of the world’s most beautiful cafés – the New York Café in Budapest. Credit: New York Café.

1 hour: Warm up at the New York Café

Creative types seem to favour particular haunts in every city, and New York Café was the number one spot for Budapest’s 20th-century literati. This grand space ranks among the world’s most beautiful cafés, with a warmth and charm that attracts budding writers and casual coffee drinkers alike.

It was restored to its current splendour in 2006, and the polished marble, ornate golden detailing adorning the walls and airy high ceilings really set this place apart. Keep up with your decadent surroundings by ordering the Chocolate Choice’, a piece of moreish chocolate cake accompanied by a speciality hot chocolate.

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Taste authentic Hungarian fresh food from the Central Market. Credit: Getty Images.

2 hours: Find local favourites at Central Market

This vast open plan market hall draws your attention in several directions at once. Tear your eyes away from the astounding range of produce on offer to look up at the grand ceiling set with decorative Zsolnay tiles.

Pick up strings of crimson paprika and garlic to add an authentic Hungarian taste to home cooking, or buy cured sausages and salami as souvenirs. If you’re looking for an on-the-go snack, the freshly made pastries are almost irresistible. Take the escalator to the basement for quieter delicatessens, or head to the upper level for Hungarian embroidery and a better look at the beamed roof.

If your visit coincides with the monthly Country Day’ (a local favourite) you’ll be able to pick up the best exotic produce from around the world.

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2 hours: Party in a ruined building at Anker’t

Ten years ago, Budapest’s ruin bars were a well-kept secret – the kind of thing that you heard about in hushed whispers from your too-cool acquaintances. These days, everyone’s aware of the drinking spots that spring up in dilapidated buildings – but that doesn’t make them any less exciting.

Anker’t is one of the city’s best, and it’s only one street away from the Opera metro stop. The industrial-minimalist beer garden is open all afternoon from 3pm, and as evening rolls around the nightclub comes alive with hip students and locals revelling in the reclaimed space. As well as club nights, it’s home to photography exhibitions, zine festivals and a vegan food market.

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Paddle, swim and bathe at the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. Credit: Getty Images.

3 hours: Rejuvenate in Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Városliget, or City Park, is a vital green lung in Budapest’s urban streets. Get the metro to Széchenyi fürdő station and you’ll step out right in front of the park’s number one attraction: the majestic Széchenyi Thermal Bath. This ornate structure, built in 1913, houses one of Europe’s largest spa complexes.

Take a relaxing dip in one of the 21 different pools, or really indulge in your downtime with a massage. There’s even a thermal beer spa, where you can soak in the contents of a cold one combined with 36 degree thermal water. Supposedly this is excellent for the skin, though the bigger attraction might be unlimited access to Czech beer from the taps on the side of the tub.

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Get your camera at the ready when visiting the Budapest Castle District Credit: Picfair

3 hours: Explore history and culture at Buda Castle

It’s hard to miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Buda Castle. From its home on castle hill it towers over the city skyline, resplendent with neo-classical columns and a high green dome. You can ride the funicular railway up to the peak and then wend your way back down through twisting back alleys.

For a look round the whole area, catch one of the two-hour walking tours to see the highlights of the Castle District. You’ll see the castle’s ostentatious interior, the panoramic look-out points of Disney-esque Fisherman’s Bastion, and learn about the history of Matthias Church. For more in-depth discoveries, pick one of the castle’s areas and explore it thoroughly: the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest History Museum and National Szechenyi Library are all contained in the palatial castle complex.

Choice Hotels in Budapest