My son recently took part in an international skating competition in Budapest. The perfect excuse to go on a short citytrip and see the Budapest highlights. For some reason, I did not have high expectations, but Budapest pleasantly surprised me.
Budapest in brief
Budapest is the capital of Hungary and has 1.7 million inhabitants. The Danube runs right through the city. Buda lies on the left bank, Obuda and Pest are on the right bank. It used to be two separate towns, but has been once city since 1873. W.T. Clark’s suspension bridge over the Danube symbolizes the union between the two districts.
- Buda is the more residential part of town. There are a few major attractions here, such as the Buda Castle, Gellért Hill and Fisherman's Bastion.
- Pest is more level, and has wide avenues, beautiful buildings and many attractions.
The Celts, Romans, Huns, Franks and even the Mongols once were in power here. After the Hungarian invasion (9th century), Pest became the first medieval city centre. The town was partially destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols, and subsequently Buda Castle was built to protect the city from outside attacks. In slightly more recent history, Hungary was ruled by the Habsburgs (Austria) in 1686. In 1867 they won back their partial autonomy. The Republic of Hungary was only established recently, in 1989. Since then, the city has seen major reforms. The architecture still shows that the city has a special history. There are monuments, castles and fortresses from different periods.
City trips to Budapest are much less popular than trips to nearby Prague. And I must frankly admit that Budapest was not high on my wish list either. And so I was really pleasantly surprised. The city has many well-preserved monuments, grand avenues, and the Danube gives it all some extra charm. The city is clean, the people are nice, and it's safe (if you, like anywhere, use common sense). And if you add countless trendy bars and restaurants, you have an ideal city trip.
The best neighbourhoods in Budapest
Budapest is divided into 13 neighbourhoods or districts. Each district has a number. The closer to the centre, the lower the number. 16 of the districts lie in Pest, the other ones are located in the smaller Buda.
- District I: Castle District (Várkerület)
- District V: Inner City and Leopold Town (Belváros-Lipótváros)
- District VI: Theresa Town (Terézváros)
- District VII: The Jewish district (Erzsébetváros)
- District VIII: Joseph Town (Józsefváros)
- District IX: Francis Town (Ferencváros)
Budapest highlights per district
The castle district is one of the most important neighbourhoods. Located in Buda, it mainly covers the 70-meter high hill along the Danube. Here are some of the main attractions of Budapest:
This neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque bastion is located on the banks of the Danube River and was built between 1895 and 1902. The seven towers symbolize the Hungarian tribes that once inhabited the Pannonian plain. The towers symbolize the nomadic tents of the Magyars. At that time, this part of town was guarded by the guild of fishermen which is why it is called the "Fisherman's Bastion”. From here you have a fantastic view of the parliament building, St. Stephen's Basilica, Margaret Island and the Chain Bridge.
This church from the 13th-century was named for King Matthias Corvinus. During the Turkish occupation, the church was largely destroyed and it served as a mosque. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that the church was restored.
The old royal palace is a castle complex on Castle Hill. The complex consists of a number of historic buildings and narrow alleyways.
This hill was a notorious place for a long time. Prince Vata, the brother of King Istvan, started a pagan uprising here in the 11th century during which bishop Gellert was killed. In the Middle Ages they thought that witches organized meetings here. The Turks built a small fortress here and the Austrians built a citadel on top. The hill did not become popular until the 2nd half of the 20th century. Now it is a favorite picnic area and a beautiful park has been laid out. If you take a city trip to Budapest in the summer, this is the perfect place to escape the heat. Walk in the cave church, which is inspired by the cave in Lourdes.
If you want to stay in this area, the Gellert Hotel, a spa hotel, is a good choice. Even if you are not staying here, you can still use the spa.
The banks of the Danube and the whole district are on the Unesco World Heritage List.
Innercity and Leopold Town
You should also definitely not miss this district. Here you will find Budapest's most impressive building and according to me theone of the highlights of Budapest.
One of the true highlights of the city. Even just the outside of this 268-metre long and 118-metre wide building is spectacular. It is the 4th-largest parliament building in the world. It was designed by famous Hungarian architect Imre Steindl, and he was inspired by the Palace of Westminster when he designed this neo-Gothic building. Definitely book a tour of the building, because the interior is spectacular too. You will also get to see the Hungarian crown jewels during the tour.
This is the oldest bridge (1849) over the Danube in Budapest. It is the 5th bridge you encounter when going downstream. This 375-metre long bridge links the Adam Clark Square in Buda with the Szénchenyi square in Pest, and was the longest bridge in Europe at the time.
The bridge is officially called Szénchenyi, after the man took the initiative to build the bridge at the time. The count had to miss his father’s funeral as the ferry could not bring him to the other side in the bad weather, and so the idea was born.
The bridge was blown up in 1945 by the Germans in an effort to stop the Red Army. The bridge was immediately rebuilt after the war, and it is an exact copy of the original bridge.
It's the largest basilica in the city. Construction began in 1851. However, the dome collapsed in 1868, and they had to start again. The basilica was finished in 1905. The designer of the building died before the work finished. At the time, every self-respecting Hungarian artist worked on the interior of the church. The right hand of the holy king Stephen is preserved in the church. The well-known Andrassy avenue starts at the back of the church.
This 3.3 km long beautiful avenue connects Elizabeth Square with Heroes Square (in district VI). The avenue itself, and the millennium subway line that runs underneath, are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Along the promenade lie imposing buildings such as the Opera (district VI). Lovers of Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and other designer brands can indulge here.
This 65m high mobile ferris wheel, or Sziget Eye, was situated on the Elisabeth Square (February 2019). It's a mobile wheel so they replace it every few months;
The ride takes about 10 minutes.
Try an evening visit, as the wheel looks its best at that time, and the view is utterly romantic.
Andrassy avenue continues through this part of town. Stroll all the way down to Heroes Square.
Hungarian State Opera House
it was completely surrounded by scaffolding (February 2019). So wait another year and you can see the results of the restoration I am sure this will be the highlight of Budapest. However, you can still book a tour of the building, and that is absolutely worth it. Or just walk inside, even if you don’t have time for the tour. The entrance hall alone will give you a good impression. The opera house is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Hungarian State Opera was built between 1875 and 1884. The Hungarians had to get approval from the emperor of Austria at the time, Franz Joseph I (the husband of Empress Sissi). They were allowed to build an opera on the condition that it would be smaller than the Opera House in Vienna. Franz, however, forgot to say that it was not allowed to be more beautiful. The Hungarians proudly proclaim that their Opera is the most beautiful in Europe.
Another beautiful building stands across from the Opera. It was the ballet academy at the time. Currently it is in a state of disrepair, but the W-Hotel will open its doors here in 2020.
House of Terror
This museum on 69 Andrassy Avenue shows the misdeeds of the fascist and communist era. Book your tickets in advance, as there is often a queue at the door.
Budapest - Keleti station
Keleti is the largest and most important railway station in Budapest. It is a beautiful building in eclectic style dating to the late 19th century.
This huge square is at the end of Andrassy Avenue. It was built in 1896 to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest. In the middle of the square stands the colossal 45-meter high Millennium Monument. The monument consists of a column with Archangel Gabriel on the top.
Besides the column, there are seven mounted figures representing the seven chieftains of Hungary. Left and right of the column are statues of famous Hungarian heroes. Previously there were the statutes of 9 Hungarian and 5 Habsburg rulers. After Hungary became independent, the Habsburg statues were replaced with Hungarian heroes.
On one side of the square stands the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Kunsthalle Budapest lies on the other side. Just beyond the square is the City Park.
Varosliget is the city park of Budapest. These are the main attractions:
- The park is the location for the Vajdahunyad Castle that was created for the Millennium Exhibition and was built out of wood and cardboard. Later a stone version replaced the original, and today it houses the Museum of Agriculture.
- Across from it stands the Statue of Anonymus, an unknown monk from the 12th century. He probably wrote the first book about Hungarian history. The anonymous man has a pen in his hand. Legend says that touching the pen brings luck during your studies and inspiration for writers. So just to be sure, I went and touched the pen.
- There is also a large pond in the park. During the summer you can take out a rowing boat for a romantic tour. In winter, the pond turns into a large skating rink.
- The Széchenyi baths are located at the end of the park. They are is one of the largest baths in the world and one of the hottest thermal baths in Budapest. The neo-baroque building from the early 20th century is open all year. The discoverer of this thermal spring is commemorated by a statue in front of the building.
- If you travel with children, it could be fun to visit the Vidam amusement park, the Grand Capital Circus, and the zoo. The zoo was established in 1866, and a lot of its buildings are in Art Nouveau style.
The Jewish Quarter
This is the smallest but most densely populated district of Budapest. If you want to go out for the night, this is the place to be.
The neighborhood has many synagogues but the Great Synagogue on Dohany Street is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world.
a hidden alley with plenty of nice restaurants and bars. A perfect place to wander around in the evening.
The restaurants are rather touristy but nevertheless we enjoyed a nice meal.
Located in Kainczy Street, the party-street of Budapest. Stroll through the wooden entrance and find dozens of stalls selling delicious street food. There are a few tables and benches to enjoy the delicious burgers, inspired cupcakes, or vegan specialties. Perfect for a quick bite. Visit the neighborhood at night when everything is illuminated beautifully.
when it comes to entertainment, you can experience a unique highlight in Budapest. Here the so-called ruin bars were created, basically pubs in vacant old buildings. Often the pubs are only temporarily open because the buildings are set to be demolished. However, some are hanging in there, including Szimpla Kert (besides Karavan). Szimpla is located in a former factory where they built heaters. You wander from one place to another, and there is always a different atmosphere. Dancing in one room, in another everyone is enjoying a hookah, some parts are in the open air, ... And the decoration and lighting are all super kitsch. Ruin bars are truly a must-see during your citytrip in Budapest.
This part of town is becoming increasingly popular. There are lots of cafes so it's the perfect area to end the evening.
Great Market Hall
The large market hall is the primary attraction here. It is a few hundred meters away from the Liberty Bridge over the Danube. In this covered market there are hundreds of stalls with vegetables, sausages, fish and meat.
On the upper floor there are a few restaurants and stalls where you can taste Hungarian specialties. At Fakanal you can order an assortment of his Hungarian specialties. And also the goulash soup was tasty. But, just like in all market halls, you really pay too much here. Even if you are looking for a nice souvenir (maybe a nice bag of paprika), you can go here.
The exterior of the building alone is worth the effort. The market is said to be the most beautiful market in Europe (and even the most beautiful in the world according to CNN).
is Budapest on your bucketlist?
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