But Budapest is also spectacularly appealing at night. The Chain Bridge is festooned with white lights, and the main public buildings like the Parliament, the Opera and the Royal Palace, as well as the entire panorama of the Castle District, are imaginatively and sensitively floodlit.
It's easy for Budapest to play with light in the manner of an elegant lady trying on her jewels, for everything looks good. This is a vibrant city: it throbs with life morning, noon and night; visitors arriving from other countries get the feeling that something interesting is happening round every corner.
There are plenty of other capital cities built on the banks of a river, and in many cases the river runs through the historic centre. But such a wide and majestic river, as is the Danube at Budapest, is more of a rarity. Even more exceptional is the perfect contrast between the right and left banks. Buda is built upon hills, the feet of two of them - Castle Hill and Gellért Hill - almost stand in the water. Facing it is Pest, as flat as a pancake (or, as a Hungarian might say, as flat as a "lángos", a pita-type bread popular for many a century).
It's no exaggeration to say that Budapest is one of the finest capital cities in Europe, and also one of the best situated. Among the several places in Hungary that have been afforded the classification of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the first were the Danube panorama (on the Buda side from the Gellért Hotel all along Castle Hill to Margaret Bridge, and on the Pest side from the Parliament back down to Petőfi Bridge), and Andrássy út (along its entire length from the centre of Pest to Heroes' Square, where the Millenary Monument stands on the edge of the City Park).
At the time of the Magyar Conquest in 896, the first Hungarian tribes settled in the plains to the east. They migrated to the hills further west later on to take advantage of the greater protection they offered. Buda became the royal seat in the thirteenth century and saw the court's rising status reflected in the building of ever more splendid palaces and the expansion of the town into a flowering middle class town. Pest at this time was a town of merchants and artisans.
In the history of Budapest the year 1872 stands out as a milestone, for it was then that the three separate settlements of Pest, Buda and Óbuda (literally "Old" Buda) were united. Budapest officially became the capital city of Hungary, and underwent rapid growth in size and eminence. This was the city's golden age, and coincided with the Hungarian millennial celebrations in 1896.
Budapest, now home to two million inhabitants, would appear countless times on any list of superlatives. The Continent's first underground railway was built here. From here originated more pioneering Hollywood film makers than from any other European city. Budapest was the home of such world class inventors as Kálmán Kandó, the father of electric railways, and János Irinyi, one of the early developers of matches. Hungary's two most celebrated composers - Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály - lived in Budapest, and Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian author Imre Kertész was born here.
Hungary's oldest academic library, the University Library, is to be found here. It is the location of Europe's largest synagogue. It is the only capital city in the world where there are more than one hundred hot thermal springs. There are no other cities of comparable size anywhere where visitors can explore dripstone (stalactite) caves in the middle of the residential districts.
It would be difficult to find another city where visitors are faced with such a choice of transport: bus, tram, trolleybus, train, underground railway, cogwheel railway, funicular, forest railway, horse-and-trap, chair-lift, boat, bicycle and on Margaret Island "bringóhintó" family cycle cars - Budapest has them all! Let's choose one, and set off in the World Heritage streets.