It may not be as stately as Vienna or as preserved as Prague, but Budapest isn’t called the “Paris of the East” without reason. Within its boundaries is a treasure trove of discovery, straddling the conflicting identities of both Buda’s ancient royal palaces and Ottoman-era spas, as well as Pest’s cosmopolitan lively resurgence and art nouveau facades. Few European cities can rival its setting astride the banks of the Danube River, which coupled with the Buda’s iconic Castle District and the eclectic showcase of Neo-Renaissance architecture along Andrássy Avenue, have earned the city its status among the UNESCO World Heritage powerhouses.

Since the official union of Óbuda, Pest, and Buda in 1873, Budapest has lived up to its role as the cultural, political, intellectual, and commercial heart of Hungary. It was during the time of its founding that the capital city underwent its “golden age”, creating a wealth of Baroque, Neoclassical, and Art Nouveau structures. And although some 30,000 buildings were destroyed during World War II and the 1956 Revolution, the past still lingers in the often-crumbling antique structures that remain. Today, amid these haunting yet glorious remnants of history resides over 20-percent of the nation’s population, who proudly claim that anywhere else is simply “the country”. Indeed, ever since the free elections of 1990, Budapest has undergone a radical makeover, drawing a youthful and stylish generation to its center with its ever-rising artistic soul, vibrant nightlife, and bathhouse culture.

The nerve center of Budapest’s history is located in the Castle District, where most of the capital’s most important museums and attractions come packed in a convenient quarter. Beyond the architectural postcards, however, is an opportunity to experience Budapest like a local, whether shopping among residents for traditional Hungarian food at Central Market Hall, taking in a performance at the world-famous Budapest Opera House, dining at one of the city’s four Michelin-starred restaurants, or dancing at a Ruin Bar, a firmly established fixture on the Pest party scene. This is also a city of spas, and any visitor would be remiss not to take to the thermal waters as the natives have done since the Roman times, gathering in some of Europe’s largest public baths for relaxation and recovery.

At any time of the year, Budapest flaunts a myriad of charms, but there is nothing quite like floating down the broad Danube River as the Castle District and the country’s largest building, the Hungarian National Parliament Building, illuminate over the waters. And there is no better way to do it than with Ker & Downey.