Budapest offers a wide array of attractions to the visitor. Soaring churches, stately museums, wide boulevards, excellent food and wine – we enjoyed our visit here. The downtown lacks the quaint winding cobblestoned paths of some cities, but makes up by the easy and often free access to major sites (unlike some cities). Prices are reasonable and service seems accomodating.
Two items that made our visit to Budapest particularly enjoyable:
1- Despite the weakness of the dollar, we found prices relatively reasonable for everything.
2- The city was very “manageable” for the independent traveller. Between the transit system and walking, everything was easily and conveniently reached.
The history of Budapest is a recurring cycle of development, prosperity, and destruction. First, Celtic tribes first created a town at this site hundreds of years BC. The Roman legions conquered the area in 35 BC, setting up their own center at Aquincum, only to be ousted in the early 5th Century by the Goths and then Huns. Between 896 and 900, a fierce nomadic tribe from the western Russia area called Magyars conquered the region led by the legendary Arpad, founder of a dynasty which would last 400+ years. King Geza and particularly King Stephen adopted western customs and led in the conversion of the Magyars to Christianity. Stephen was coronated on Christmas Day 1000 with a crown sent by the pope. In 1222 the Hungarian nation is created by the signing of the “Golden Bull” granting rights and obligations to the nobles and royalty. Buda became the capitol. The Mongol hordes destroyed the region in 1241, but left soon afterward. King Bela then began extensive construction of the region as defense for the future. Under the reign of King Matthius in the late 15th Century, Hungary became a leading European power. With his Italian wife Beatrice, Obuda, Buda, and Pest became centers of culture and learning as well as an economic and military power.
The Turks under Suleiman conquered this area between 1526 and 1541, leading to a long 150 year period of decline and decay. In 1686, after a destructive 1 1/2 month siege left the cities wiped out, the Hapsburgs drove the Ottoman Empire from the area and became the new military rulers. After some decades of repression, the Hapsburgs recognized the potential military and economic benefits of this important Danube site and begain to rebuild the area. Pest became a wealthy city, attracting immigrants including Jews and Serbs, even as Austrian rule remained autocratic. Periodic bloody revolutions led to the 1867 equalization of Austria and Hungary with extensive reforms in the Great Compromise, creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As the millenium of the Magyar invasion approached, great construction and growth marked another Golden Era. Obuda, Buda, and Pest were united as one city in 1873. Economics and culture exploded. WWI ended with the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Budapest was unscathed but Hungary lost much of its land volume and populace.
WWII left Budapest the devastated capitol of a small country. After the first war, Regent Miklos Horthy affiliated with the Nazis and supplied military forces in return for receiving lands lost in the WWI settlement. Near the end of the war, when Hungary tried to back out of its association, Germany took over with their right wing Arrow Cross party, which among other dubious accomplishments, managed to transport as many as 560000 Jews to the extermination camps in Poland. At the end of the war, the Germans destroyed the city and its bridges in front of the Allied advances.
Reconstruction began under the Communist period which began in 1948. Their construction was functional and shoddy, leading to shabby apartment blocks and business buildings with poor architectural planning and design. The same stultifying atmosphere submerged the Hungarian spirit, leading to Revolution. In 1956, Imre Nagy led a short-lived Revolution crushed by the Russian armies. But in the years leading up to Oct 23 1989, increasing demand for reforms led to the creation of an independent democratic Republic of Hungary. The years since have seen a renaissance in Budapest as a major economic and cultural centre.
Here are the best things to do in Budapest:
1. Fisherman’s Bastion – Halaszbastya
One (if not the) of the most popular sites in Budapest is the Halászbástya or Fisherman’s Bastion. Built overlooking the Danube on the Buda side of the river within the castle complex, it provides stunning views of the river and city.
With its seven towers, the Bastion was built to commemorate the 7 tribes who essentially, together, formed the Magyar empire more than 1000 years ago. It’s a slightly bizarre monument in that it resembles, on a small scale, a fairytale castle, yet it gained its name from the fish market that was found on the site in medieval times and the Guild who traditionally defended this part of the castle walls.
It’s not as old as many think – its a neo-Gothic structure built in 1905 as a viewing platform. It is found very close to Mátyás Templom, and in the plaza fronting the monument is the equestrian statue of St Stephen (977-1038).
Overlooking the Bastion is the controversial (and ugly) Hilton Hotel complex (built in and around a 14th century church and baroque college) . You get some great reflections from the glass facade of the Bastion.
2. Buda Castle – Royal Palace
We travelled by public transport to Buda castle, getting off at a bus-stop when we could see the Castle. Unfortunately, we could have gone one stop further, then the walk uphill would have been much shorter.
We had come from the Tabán (the green southwest area outside the Castle), walked along Szarvas Terrace and then up the wide steps from Váralja street and through Ferdinand Gate.
We were very surprised by the lack of tourists, just us and another couple! Then I found out, not many people use this gate, but the other two main gates.
Once through Ferdinand Gate, we passed by the Mace Tower, the Great Bastion and the Palace Gardens. From here, it was up the stairs and to the History Museum in the Lion Courtyard.
THE MACE TOWER & BASTION
The location of the Ferdinand Gate of Buda Castle, is the area where some of the original medieval remnants are still standing.
Buda was one of their most important western strongholds of the Turkish Empire. This southern end of Buda Castle, was a huge military base that hasn’t changed much up till today.
The Mace tower is to the left of Ferdinand Gate. It was built in the 14th century, during the time of King Sigismund. The Turks decided to keep the Tower and set about thickenening and coating the walls, plus renaming it the “Small Frengi tower.”
To the right and further down the pathway from Ferdinand Gate, is a path that leads past an impressive Bastion and the Castle walls. Inside, I stopped and took a look through one of the small windows in the Castle walls, and found quite a nice scenic view.
LIONS AT BUDA CASTLE
As Lions are the symbol of Budapest, you will find many statues of Lions situated around the city.
Statues of Lions abound in Buda Castle.
The statues were made in 1902, and do vary in stance. One Lion was looking very aggressive, ready to eat anybody trying to pass through the gate, whilst another was quite passive. Another looked majestic and as if he should have been pounding his chest. A closer look at the buildings revealed more Lions, this time just their aggressive heads!
THE HORSE HERD STATUE
The Horse-herd Statue I came across in the Western courtyard of Buda Castle. I really liked this “different” bronze statue, as it was complimented by lovely flower beds and the castle as a backdrop. Really nice.
The statue was displayed in the Exposition Universelle in Paris, but was damaged and removed in the 1960’s, to be restored and re-located in the western forecourt of the palace in 1983.
HABSBURG GATE & FISHING CHILDREN’S FOUNTAIN
After I had viewed the large mythical Turul bird sculpture, I decided to head down a level to what is known as the Danube Terrace.
To reach this area, I first had to pass through the beautifully decorated Habsburg gate, and then proceed down the double flight of steps, called the Habsburg Steps – these connected the Habsburg room with the Royal Gardens on the Danube terrace. I imagine many famous people would have walked these steps!
In this area of the Palace was the Habsburg Room, situated right in the middle of the long palace complex. Baroque decoration with half-pillars and gilded stuccoes, a vaulted ceiling with a huge fresco “Apotheosis of the Habsburg Dynasty,” made this room spectacular.
The Habsburg Room survived World War II, but in the 1950s, it was deliberately destroyed for political reasons.
This is a delightful area of lawn and gardens including statues and fountains.
Just below the steps was an attractive Fishing Children Fountain, created in 1912 by Károly Senyey and restored in 2001. Rather cutely, it shows two children grappling with a fish while water is spouting from its mouth and into the air.
THE DANUBE TERRACE
One of the many excellent viewpoints at Buda Castle is Danube Terrace.
As it is named “Danube Terrace,” you can expect wonderful views over the River Danube and the Pest side of Budapest. We happened to strike a thunderstorm, so no sunny pictures for me!
I was happy with the lovely views of the Chain Bridge and the other bridges along the River. I could see the Houses of Parliament in the distance, the old part of Pest, and I loved watching all the Tourist Boats plying the river.
Below the terrace, were the original walls and other terraces, a paved pathway led down and past these.
The best thing is, you can come here and enjoy the views for free!
3. Great Synagogue – Central Synagogue
THE EXTERIOR OF THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE
Budapest’s Great Synagogue is one of the largest Synagogues in the world and a sight you will not want to miss! This grand Jewish Temple also goes under the name of Dohány Synagogue.
We first saw the Temple from a side street, at that time we didn’t realize what it was! Straight away I liked the coloured brick work and Moorish features. We walked around and found the entrance way where a short queue of people were waiting to buy tickets.
The Temple was built between 1854 and 1859 in several styles, probably Moorish is the main style, then Byzantine, Gothic, and Romantic architecture can be seen. Two 43.6 metre (143 feet) high towers add appeal to the Temple, so do the yellow and red bricks giving the building a striped appearance. At the entrance way, is a rose stained-glass window.
Restoration of this lovely Temple took between 1991 to 1998 to complete.
It is mandatory to wear a kipah inside the synagogue, that will be given to you when you enter.
You can buy tickets online and tours are available.
THE INTERIOR OF THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE
This was one of the busiest sites I visited in Budapest. I entered and was gob-smacked, for before my eyes was a massive richly decorated oriental interior, complete with frescoes, ceiling decoration, many chandeliers, lamp-brackets, ornaments and a great pulpit and organ. WOW!
The frescoes are golden and coloured geometric shapes, done by the famous Hungarian romantic architect – “Frigyes Feszl.” Women and men in the congregation are separated – men have seats on the ground-floor, while women are seated on the first floor gallery. Altogether, 2840 seats are available.
The interior was amazing, so do allow some time to sit and take it all in!
4. St. Stephen’s Basilica – Szt Istvan Bazilika
St Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest, and the most important Catholic church. It was completed in 1905, but construction started 50 years earlier. When the dome collapsed during a storm in 1868, the whole building had to be demolished and work started from the ground again. The church is built in neoclassic style. Statues on the exterior shows the twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, etc. The interior is decorated with work of arts made by 19th century Hungarian artists.
The church is open every day, but not in the morning on Saturdays and Sundays.
In summertime you can climb the steps (or take the elevator) to see the view from top of the dome, but it was closed in February when I was there.
Holy Right Chapel
The Holy Right is believed to be the mummified right hand of St Stephen (King Stephen I was canonised 1083, about 50 years after his death). The relic is behind glass and in darkness. To see it better you can put a 100 ft coin in a machine and there will be light for a while in the glass casket.
The Holy Right Chapel is to the left in St Stephen?s Basilica, behind the main altar.
5. Terror Haza – Terror Museum
A feeling of sadness has descended upon me as I think about writing on this museum.
You see, I am thinking about what I saw and read about the people who were kept captive, beaten, starved, tortured and killed in this building, by members of two of Hungary’s most frightening regimes – the Nazis in the early 1940’s, and the Soviets, until 1956.
It was in December, 2000, when the old building was purchased, so it could be reconstructed and refurbished to become the Museum.
After paying our entrance fee and being told that no photos are allowed, we began our tour. There is a set way to go around the Museum.
The Museum is very well set out and done in a way to make people “feel” what it was like to be held in this building.
The prisoners weren’t actually executed here, they died here through the horrific conditions at the Terror House.
There are four floors to the Museum. The basement contains cells where torture took place – including a room in which oxygen was shut off to the occupant and a room where the occupant was made to sit or stand in water.
Outside the Museum on the exterior wall, are photo’s of many of the young victims. So sad to see the young ages.
6. Parliament – Orszaghaz
Probably the most photographed building in Budapest and one you cannot miss is the Parliament building. It is *the* landmark of Budapest and Hungary, the largest building (691 rooms) of the country. The neo-Gothic style of the construction was designed after the model of the parliament in London – you’ll notice right away. It was opened in 1902 but finally completed only in 1936.
The most notable difference with the London parliament is the huge dome in the centre (height 96m/315ft). Right below the dome is a grand hall where the crown and szepter of the Hungarian Kings are on display, surrounded by sculptures of former Hungarian Kings along the walls.
Originally both assembly halls were used for the parliament (like House of Commons and House of Lords) but nowadays there’s only one National Assembly. The other hall in the northern wing is used commercially for congresses.
You can join a guided tour of the building. No reservation in advance is necessary. Please see their website for detailed information. Note that the tour is free for EU citizens. For non-EU citizens the fee is quite steep: 10 Euro, students get a 50% discount (which is still expensive). The quality of the tour was not particularly exciting. And it was quite short.
7. Thermal Baths
A must do when in Budapest is to visit one of the many thermal baths. As Budapest lies in a geological fault there are many hot springs. The Szechenyi baths were built, and extended, in 1909 – 1926. Here you will find many pools with water of different temperatures. Beside each pool there is a sign telling the temperatures of the pools.
I liked the outdoor pools very much. As the air was much colder than the water, steam was rising from the water, and the sun shining behind offered a very nice view. I wish I had got the camera with me. In one of the outdoor pools there was a jacuzzi and a stream. Going from the outdoor pool to the inside, you will have time to get cold in winter and it is then nice to go straight to the sauna and sit there for a while.
As you arrive to the baths you pay for what you want to do, bath, pedicure, massage, etc. Then a woman will give you a locker room to change and leave your stuff. You will have one key and the women will keep the key for the second lock.
The price is different depending on what time you are visiting and how long you will stay.
The entrance on a Tuesday afternoon was 2300 ft. If you stay less than three hours you will get 400 ft back.
8. Danube Cruise
In case you would like to leave the city for a day, then it’s worth going on a day trip on the Danube by boat. It is a really relaxing way to travel, and you can get to Hungary’s nicest areas this way.
The two nearest destinations available by boat are Szentendre (1.5 hrs) and Visegrád (2.5 hrs).
Szentendre is a small town near Budapest with a nice, but usually crowded centre. It’s a great destination if you like strolling in cobblestone streets, visiting old churches, shopping souvenirs and eating cakes and ice-cream.
Others attractions here include a bunch of art museums and galleries, a public transportation museum (next to the station of the suburban railway – HEV) and the Skanzen, which is an open air museum displaying typical Hungarian houses (out of town, take local bus to get there).
Visegrád is a good option if you like trekking, as visiting the Upper Castle (Fellegvar) requires a steep climb uphill. However, there are amazing views from the castle over the Danube, so it’s worth the effort.
Other attractions here include a bob track (open all year round) and a lookout tower close to castle on top of the hill, and ruins of an old royal palace downhill near the river.
Esztergom (4 hrs) is further away along the Danube, so you will only have about 3 hrs to spend there before the boat is leaving back to Budapest. However, this time is still enough to visit its Basilica and the surrounding area. Why it might also be worth taking the longer trip to Esztergom is that the section between Visegrád and Esztergom is one of the nicest areas in Hungary, the “Danube Bend”.
If you would like to spend less time travelling and extend your stay in Esztergom with a few extra hours, you have two further options:
1. Take a hydrofoil instead of a standard riverboat. It is much faster, but you will only be able to enjoy the views from indoors (while riverboats also have outdoor seating).
2. Go there by train and then come back by boat (or vice versa), as trains are faster and leave at least once every hour. Furthermore, the route of the train is quite scenic as well.
Boats to Esztergom leave from the piers near Vigadó tér, while the trains depart from Nyugati station.
9. Heroes’ Square – Hosok Tere
Meet Arpad, first Hungarian king. He is at the base of the 120 foot (37 meters) pillar erected on this square in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th year of Budapest’s existence. Arpad’s dynasty lasted about 400 years and he is topped on the pinnacle of the monument by the archangel Gabriel offering the crown to Hungary’s first Christian king, Istvan (Stephen). In front of the monument is the Hungarian War Memorial and the colonnades behind it are filled with the rich and famous of Hungarian history. It was pointed out to me that there are no Hapsburgs as the figure of Franz Josef was torn down after Hungary regained its independence following WWI. There are four figures across the top of the colonnades representing Work and Welfare, War, Peace, Knowledge and Glory.
There is a huge open square in front that seems to be a favorite spot for skateboarders and children on various little vehicles. What a great place for a youngster to learn to ride a bicycle with no traffic. Also as you can see in the photos the statues make great climbing opportunities for the kids. While some might be put off by this, I find it refreshing that in addition to honoring Budapest’s past, it is a great place for family gatherings and activities. Just behind it is the entrance to the huge City Park which includes the zoo, botanical gardens, Vajdahunoyand Castle and the Szechenyi Baths. The square also sits between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art.
10. Margitsziget – Margaret Island
Margaret Island sits in the middle of the Danube and is accessible from the Margaret Bridge either by foot, bus or tram. There are no motor vehicles allowed on the Island except for access to the spa hotel and maintenance vehicles.
It is a haven of tranquility in the middle of the city. Around the circumference of the island is a jogging track with obviously the river on one side and the wooded interior on the other. The interior is criss-crossed by tree-lined paths, but you can just wander anywhere. It is actually possible to almost lose yourself in the middle and escape totally from everyone else for a short period of time.
There is a little zoo with exotic birds, an outdoor swimming pool, a couple of outdoor cafes, an outdoor music stage – all sorts of interesting little things which I came across just wandering aimlessly.
My personal favourite is the fountain just after the entrance which is synchronised with opera excerpts played over outdoor speakers – it had me transfixed for about half an hour.
Also worth doing is going up the water tower for an overview, there is a small charge but the view is worth it.
11. Central Market Hall – Nagy Vasarcsarnok
Due to its size, fame and central location, the Grand Market Hall has become a bit touristy now, but still functions as a work-a-day market place for many locals. It’s a great place to come if you are looking for tourist souvenirs and memorabilia, but also manages to have piles of delicious local produce. Surprisingly the prices here tend to be lower than other markets in the city, despite the tourists, because of the huge amount of competition. The market vendors all speak enough English to do business, but watch your change. Most are honest, but one of my friends was short-changed here.
The Great Market Hall is an impressive building and is worth visiting just for that. It’s also the biggest market building in Budapest. Of particular interest is the unusual Zsolnay tiling on the roof, which is reminiscent of many buildings in the Zsolnay factory’s home city of Pec.
12. Chain Bridge -Szecheny Lanchid
Walking the Chain Bridge across the legendary Danube is a highlight of visiting Budapest. The first permanent bridge across the river below Vienna since Roman times, it was constructed between 1842-9. Count Szechenyi hired British engineer William Clark to design the bridge, which was based on a smaller version in the UK. The construction was supervised by Adam Clark, who then built a tunnel under the Castle Hill to connect the Buda area directly to the bridge. The center span of 202 yards (606 feet / 185 meters) was the longest suspension bridge span in existence at that time. Joining Buda and Pest enabled the rapid economic growth of both. The only major reconstruction required was following WWII when the Nazis blew up the center span as they retreated near the war’s end.
The name Chain Bridge derives from the use of chains rather than cables to cross the river, like a bicycle chain. The roadway is suspended from the chain.
At the Pest end, ter Roosevelt is backed by the Gresham Four Seasons Hotel and as seen from the Castle district, St. Stephen’s church looms in the background. On the Buda side, a square named after Adam Clark houses the famed funicular to the Castle Hill as well as the tunnel under the hill.
Count Istvan Szechenyi (1791-1860) is an interesting historic figure. He visited Britain several times and not only imported the engineer and builder of the bridge, but also brought to Budapest such advances as horse racing, steamboats, and flush toilets. Tourists have much to thank him for.
13. Mathias Church – Mátyás Templom
Like much of Budapest, this church has a long history of destruction and reconstruction in the architectual style of the moment. It sits at the high point of Castle Hill, its towers dominating the skyline. First a Gothic church in the 13th Century, it was enlarged during the reign of Matthias Corvinus who ruled from 1458-90. Known as “the just”, he reunited Hungary after years of feudal bickering. He married twice here, the second to Beatrice of Aragon who instilled an interest in art and architecture, bringing with her the Renaissance spirit. He expanded the church and is variously stated to have commissioned one or both of the major towers.
Between 1541-1686, under Turkish Rule, the Church was converted to a mosque. The sacred art was covered by scenes from the Koran and the fine furniture removed and destroyed in large part. Attempts to restore the church after the Turks were ousted were unsuccessful until the late 19th Century when architect Frigyes Schulek recreated the church in a neo gothic style. The original frescoes were uncovered and he added the famous gargoyles and beautiful multicolored diamond pattern roof tiles.
The interior is decorated with paintings by famous 19th Century Hungarian artists including Karoly Lotz. There are beautiful rose windows and altars as well as a museum containing replicas of the Hungarian royal crown and jewelry, stone carvings, and other sacred items. Some of the relics date back to King Bela III in the 13th Century.
The church has functioned for royal weddings and coronations for hundreds of years. The last two Habsburg kings were coronated here. Today, besides being a functioning church, there are frequent concerts and recitals because of the good acoustics. It was also a filming location for a horror movie by Michele Soavi entitled, unsurprisingly, The Church.
14. Gellert Baths
I’ll admit I wasn’t really sold on the idea of going to the thermal baths in Budapest, having been to boring old Canadian hot springs before (Banff, can you hear me?). However, I’d spent the previous two days walking around Budapest and my feet were sore and my skin was dirty (despite showering!) and I was just plain tired. So I went to Gellert Spa and Bath. And my life changed forever (well, for the rest of the week, at least).
Located in a turn-of-the-century hotel at the foot of Gellert Hill, the Gellert Spa and Baths is a fantastic place for you to rest and relax in Budapest. Every day thermal springs in Budapest release seventy million litres of water, and you’ll get your share of that water here in the eight thermal pools. The bath area itself is somewhat symmetrical, with a center section open to men and women (in a large pool that is supposedly “effervescent”), and then with gender-specific wings off to either side. Each wing had pools ranging in temperature from 26°C (78.8°F) to 38°C (100.4°F), as well as a sauna, steam room and ice-cold plunge pool. I must have spent two hours running back and forth between the sauna and cold pool, each time making my pores feel just that much cleaner. That, combined with intermittent soaks in the various pools, left me feeling so relaxed I was almost giddy. I felt like I could take on the world. I also noticed an outdoor pool upstairs, but the weather wasn’t nice enough to warrant checking it out.
I purchased a package that included a full-day admission to the baths, and a massage. The massage was all Eastern European Utilitarian: I was ordered to strip naked in a public area (well, public to other women), then massages vigorously by an old woman while other people walked in and out of the room. Relaxing, no. Good for my muscles, yeah. I also opted for a foot massage, which was slightly traumatizing. Besides not being able to figure out how to exit the baths (well, it was the future re-entry that was confusing), I watched someone get a very unsanitary pedicure before having my feet manhandled by a masseuse who was probably a prison guard in a past life. Oh well, my feet were half their prior size when he was done (they must have been swollen after all my walking!).
Your day pass to the spa (including a private, locked changing cabin) costs about fifteen euros. You can get a small amount of that back if you leave within two hours (but you’d be crazy to leave that soon!). There is a snack bar on site as well, but I wouldn’t recommend planning to have a meal here. Instead, I’d suggest having a big brunch around 11:00, then going to the baths from 12:30ish until the early evening, at which point you can float on air back to your hotel or to another restaurant (nothing goes with spas like wine!).
15. Budapest by Night
Buda Castle is a historic place. It’s really beautiful and impressive. We went there with a funicular (don’t forget transpot cards and Budapest card don’t value there, the ticket costs 700HUF). The view of the river and Pest are great, we could see the Parliament, the bridges, etc.
In the Castle is the national Gallery (free entrance with Budapest Card). The gallery has a lot of temporary exhibition and is really worth a visit.
You could also have a walk around the Castle and enjoy the view of Buda. I really like Mattyas fountain and the garden around the castle.
I liked most the Castle during the night when it is lighted. It looks really baronial!
16. Szechenyi Baths – Szechenyi Furdo
Summertime in Budapest can get quite steamy, we had two days over 30°C (86°F) so we decided to head to one of the baths in the late afternoon on a weekday.
Although Gellert is the more widely known, we headed to Szechenyi on the recommendation of some fellow travelers.
The beautiful gold painted building is visible when you exit the metro station. After paying the admission charge, head into the locker room, change clothes and then head out to the pools. There are three central pools outdoors, one hot, one cool for swimming or doing laps, one warm with a circular pool that’s sort of like a wave pool (current pushes you in a circle).
And don’t miss the indoor pools as well, rooms and rooms filled with pools of varying temperature and mineral content. There are also Thai massages for an extra fee and a fitness room but we didn’t use either.
Admission is currently 2000ft for unlimited admission, slightly more if you want a cabin. If you stay less than 4 hours, you get a partial refund so make sure you retain your receipt.
I’m sure the times vary during the year but in August the baths stayed open until 10pm, all of the guidebooks said it closed at 6pm.
What to bring with you? A bathing suit, of course, and it’s also useful to bring a swim cap if you want to go in the lap pool (or you can buy a very stylish shower cap for 50ft), flip flops if you have a thing about foot hygiene, a towel unless you are a very quick dryer and shampoo/soap if you want to rinse off afterward. There are hair dryers for public use and a locker is included with the rate.
The labyrinth was a little hard to find, even though we had the address. When we got there, it was just after 6pm, so we actually did the oil lamp tour. I forgot how much we paid. We had the Budapest card and got a little discount, i think.
There were 3 of us and the staff gave us 2 lamps, so I actually had to travel without a lamp. The minute we passed through the doors, we found ourselves in a pitch dark tunnel. We saw a small “map” of the labyrinth and tried to memorize as much detail as possible so we can hit all the points on the map. There are parts we could not explore because it was closed after 6pm.
I found it quite a disorienting yet interesting (might I say slightly thrilling) experience, mainly because of the oil lamps. We wandered up and down the narrow-ish tunnels, lit only by the dim lights of the lantern and found that we kept returning to the same place. Mostly, we are probably just bad with directions and did not clue in to take a picture of the map. Some sites are easier to find, like the cave with the music and wine fountain – you can smell the wine from pretty far away. One time, I was trying to take a picture of one of the statutes and my friends left, thinking I was with them. Even though I was in complete darkness for only maybe 1 minute, it seemed like forever and I started plotting how to feel my way out or connect with another group of tourists. I couldn’t even follow the voices to try and find them because it was so dark. Luckily, they weren’t too far away before they realized they “accidentally” ditched me. Needless to say, I stuck to my middle position through the rest of the tour.
We explored by oil lamp for about an hour and hit all the sites, including the closed passage to the “labyrinth of courage”. Unfortunately, we could not find the exit of the labyrinth and had to retrace our steps and leave by the entrance. The guides were not happy about that. We found out later that one of the pieces of “art” we saw was actually the door, we just never tried pushing through.
The labyrinth by lamp tour is a lot of fun though not particularly informative. It is probably not a must see, but if you want to have a change in pace from the castles and buildings, it might be worth checking out.
18. State Opera House
Before my trip to Budapest, I did some research about tickets for musical events. I noticed that, for the opera, the lowest ticket prices were HUF 700 (approximately USD $2.50 at the time). I have never been to an opera before — so I decided to purchase a ticket for this very low price. During my 2-night stay in Budapest, I had a choice of 2 operas — Verdi’s Rigoletto (in Italian) on the first night, or Ferenc Erkel’s Bánk bán (in Hungarian) on the second night. Since I was familiar with some of the music from Verdi’s Rigoletto, I decided to purchase a ticket for that performance.
When purchasing a ticket from the Jegymester website, you are able to see a floor plan which shows the location of the available seats — and the ticket prices. I chose a seat at the end of an aisle in the very last row on the right side. As it turned out, my view of the stage was partially obstructed — but it was still a great experience to attend an opera performance in a great European opera hall.
There isn’t a strict dress code, but most people dressed nicely for the occasion.
Even if you don’t see a performance, you will still want to see the exterior of the magnificent opera house in the Neo-Renaissance style. Guided tours of the interior are also available.
19. Daytrip – Szentendre
If you are visiting Budapest for more than a weekend, you may want to escape to Szentendre (St Andrew’s) to get a bit of fresh air and see a quaint Hungarian Village. As it is so easy to reach to from Budapest, it has become quite touristy but it is still well worth going as it is lovely.
It is well taken care of and although small, there are plenty of things to so after you have walked around the streets, gone to see the Danube, which is far cleaner up here, and even walked on the stone ‘beach’. There are lots and lots of art exhibitions and museums and many arts and craft shops too.
To go there, all you have to do is catch the HEV train from Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge). You can get here using the 4 or 6 trams and getting off at the ‘Margit his buda hetfo’ stop. It is on the Buda side of the Danube, right by Margaret island. It costs about 1500ft which is about 5 euros (USD 5.5). There are plenty of trains and the last one back is at about 10 or 11 at night so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck there!
You can also catch the train from Batthyany ter which is on the red metro, or catch a bus from Arpad hid.
20. Vajdahunyad Castle – Vajdahunyad Vár
Contained within an island set in City Park is the centerpiece of this park system. A Disney-like collection of buildings created for the 1896 Millenium, the island houses multiple buildings documenting all the architectural styles dominant in Hungarian History. Architect Ignac Alpar successfully blended these different styles into the most popular section of the park today.
The entrance, from which the castle name is derived, is modelled after a Romanian castle of the same name which belonged to Janos Hunyadi, a hero of the wars against Turkish invaders. After passing through the gothic gate, a romanesque church is modelled after the chapel of Jak, a Benedictine church in western Hungary which has survived to modern times. This is a very popular site for weddings, one of which was proceeding as we passed through. Further along, a large Baroque building is the setting for an Agriculture Museum, quite popular as well (although we passed on this attraction).
A striking Gothic tower is modelled after a castle-tower in Sighisoara Romania, originally in Translyvania. The most famous statue is Anonymus, a hooded figure who lived in the 13th Century and whose work forms the basis for much of our knowledge of early Hungarian history. The entire castle area is surrounded by a moat-like artificial lake for which rowboats may be rented. Certainly the highlight of the park – and nothing surpasses being a vicarious member of the wedding entourage.
21. Funicular – Siklo
A funicular is a self-contained railway in which cables are attached to a tramlike vehicle and move it up and down a steep slope. After walking the Chain Bridge, it is the obvious way to ascend Castle Hill offering astounding views of Pest as it courses approximately 288 feet (27 meters) at a 48 degree incline. First opened in 1870, it was destroyed in 1945 and not fully rebuilt till 1986. The cars appear antique but are electricity powered replicas of the original cars. The ticket office at the base and top are similarly antique-cute with small glass planes and metal trim.
Many of the photographs of Pest were obtained from the funicular ride and lobby at the top of Castle Hill.
22. Andrassy Utca
Andrassy Avenue is now a recognized World Heritage Site.
It was 1872 when Andrassy Avenue was constructed. Back then, it would not have been as busy as today, nor would the trees have been as big and giving so much shade and added beauty to the area.
The avenue was named after former Prime Minister of Hungary, Gyula Andrassy. It is split into three distinct parts – Downtown streching from Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Avenue all the way to Oktogon square. This area is lined with rows of tall residential apartment houses and expensive shops in the housefronts. The Middle section between Oktogon to Kodály Körönd used to be paved with wooden cubes for the nobility on horseback. Today, this is a bicycle path and a walkway. The third section between Kodály Körönd and Heroes’ Square is where I saw magnificient mansions, villas and embassies, giving a feel of a very wealthy part of the Avenue.
Brochures describe the avenue has having “the crème de la crème of Eclectic-style buildings” in Budapest, a statement I agree with! It is also one of Budapest’s main shopping streets, with smart cafes, restaurants, theatres, and luxury boutiques.
I couldn’t help but like this tree lined Avenue in the big City, what could be nicer!
Good for the atmosphere and lovely to walk under on a hot summers day or sit on one of the many garden seats along the way. I walked the 2.5kms (1.5 miles) more than once to view the beautiful Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses featuring designer facades. I kept on noticing something new, this time were flags flying by some beautiful villas. Being curious, I stopped and read the bronze plague on the fence, to find out this was a country’s embassy. From there on, I kept an eye out for more and found quite a few. I believe there are many more in the streets behind.
MONUMENT TO RAILWAY HEROES
Still on Andrassy street, I found two interesting wall plaques. One was on the building at 73-75 Andrassy avenue and were a “Monument to hero of the navigators”.
The second statue is on the corner of Andrassy avenue and Rozna street, one block between the two statues.
The MAV War Memorial – the World War I monument railway heroes, is a bronze relief made in 1932.
UNIVERSITY BUILDING OF FINE ARTS
One building not to be missed in Andrassy avenue is the University Building of Fine Arts.
Located on the corner of Epreskert street and Andrassy Avenue, this Neo-Renaissance building dates back to 1871.
Much of the wall is decorated with beautiful sgraffito, then below is brickwork with evil looking faces that stare at you!
Right next to it at No. 69, in the old building of Mûcsarnok (Art Gallery), is the exhibition hall of the university that is open for the public.
MONUMENT OF JOKAI
Jokai was a hungarian man who, as a young boy, was meant to follow in his father’s footsteps. When his father died, he tried working in the lawyer’s office, just as his father did, but found it not too his liking. He began writing, his first book was a romance and was instantly recognized by all the leading critics as a work of original genius.
During this part of his life, 14 years were spent as a political suspect. He didn’t waste this time, instead he wrote 30 romances and innumerable other books.
He is remembered as an outstanding hungarian writer of the 19th century. His most popular novel was “The Golden Man.”
Both he and his wife are buried at the Kerepesi Cemetery.
Dreschler palace was once the Institute of Ballet. The building was built in French renaissance style between the years 1883 – 1886. I thought it was rather dark and gloomy, probably needed a good clean like many of the buildings in Budapest.
It isn’t open to the public, so has to be viewed from the outside.
It’s situated across the road from the Opera House.
THE BIG NAMES IN SHOPPING
These are at the opposite end of Andrassy Avenue to where I began.
Much too expensive for me are the designer stores, which include Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Gucci, Zilli, Dolce & Gabbana and many more! Nice to window shop though and to see what they have to offer. Nearly all of them had a doorman, so I don’t think I would have been let in any of the shops. Beautiful old Art Nouveau buildings in this area. If you like them, then you will like walking around here with your mouth open and happily snapping away! What a treat!
The Neo Renaissance Foncière Palace is recognized as a World Heritage site. It’s said to be a gem of Hungarian architecture.
It dates back to 1881, when the Fonciere Insurance Company announced a tender for the site. It looked different to what I saw today, as it once had a dome that was destroyed in WWII.
It has some interesting statues right at the very top of the building.
23. Gellert Hill – Gellert Hegy
It is a UNESCO World Heritage site as part of “the Banks of the Danube”.
Gellert hill rises above the Danube River, so if your at the top, you should have a good view over Budapest city.
There was once a Citadel, built by the Austrian Habsburgs between 1850 and 1854. Originally, the fortress had walls about 200 meters (656 feet) long with walls about 6 meters (20 feet) high and up to 3 meters (10 feet) thick! When the Habsburgs left, they tore down parts of the walls as a symbol of victory against the Austrians, how-ever the Citadel was used again to house Hungarian soldiers. In WWII, it was from the Citadel that a German SS regiment held the city at bay.
Today, it is a Hotel.
Liberty monument is on top of Gellert Hill, erected here in 1947 in recognition of Soviet soldiers who liberated the city from the Nazis during World War II. The Soviet soldier is not there now, as after the fall of Communism, it was moved to Memento Park on the outskirts of the city. Now stands a 14 metre (46 feet) high statue of a palm-bearing female.
There is even a Cave church, founded in 1926.
It was used by the Pauline order until 1951, when the church was closed by the Communists. It is open once again, and the statue of St. Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary, stands by the entrance.
If you come to the parkland at night time, you may see Bats and Hedgehogs.
24. Danube River
The Danube, one of Europe’s most important rivers, traverses 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) from Germany to the Black Sea. It flows through Vienna, Bratislava, Komarno/Komarom, Budapest and several other key Eastern European cities along the route shown on this map.
In Budapest, the Danube splits the two historic cities Buda and Pest and provides a wonderful reflecting surface for the parliament building. It is also home to Margaret Island, a large, beautiful city park. There are six major bridges over the Danube within the city including the Chain Bridge (1849), Liberty Bridge (1896), Margaret Bridge (1876), and Elizabeth Bridge (1964).
25. National Gallery – Magyar Nemzeti Galeria
The National Gallery of Hungary occupies the major and central portion of the Royal Palace and has an extensive art collection dating from the 11th Century to current and documenting Hungarian art through this entire period. The Museum dates from 1957 and has occupied this location since 1975. The permanent exhibits are divided into several sections, including sacred and secular art ranging from sculptures and paintings to winged altarpieces to modern art. Featured are the most famous of Hungarian painters of the last several hundred years.
It is easy to spend hours in this museum for obvious reasons. I should note that signage for the most famous artwork is lacking at least in English and I am sure we walked right past some of the most important artworks, which is disappointing. Apparently, guided tours can be had for a reasonable price. In retrospect, had we been aware, the guided tour would have been a wise choice. However, the palace of course is magnificent and the National Gallery should be an important stopping point on the Castle Hill.
- Featured image: Dguendel [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Fisherman’s Bastion – Halaszbastya: Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 2. Buda Castle – Royal Palace: Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. Great Synagogue – Central Synagogue: Beyond My Ken [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. St. Stephen’s Basilica – Szt Istvan Bazilika: https://www.flickr.com/people/jlascar/ Jorge Láscar [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Terror Haza – Terror Museum: Wilson44691 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Parliament – Orszaghaz: Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Thermal Baths: Marc Ryckaert (MJJR) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Danube Cruise: Adam Jones, Ph.D. [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Heroes’ Square – Hosok Tere: Varius [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 10. Margitsziget – Margaret Island: Jorge Franganillo from Barcelona, Spain [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Central Market Hall – Nagy Vasarcsarnok: Mister No [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Chain Bridge -Szecheny Lanchid: The Photographer [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Mathias Church – Mátyás Templom: Moyan Brenn from Italy [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Gellert Baths: Joe Mabel [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Budapest by Night: Mmatwiejszyn [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Szechenyi Baths – Szechenyi Furdo: Badics [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Labyrinth: Elelicht [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. State Opera House: PDXdj at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Daytrip – Szentendre: Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Vajdahunyad Castle – Vajdahunyad Vár: Felix König [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Funicular – Siklo: Xosema [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. Andrassy Utca: Dezidor [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Gellert Hill – Gellert Hegy: Globetrotter19 [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Danube River: Jakub Hałun [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. National Gallery – Magyar Nemzeti Galeria: Nelson Pérez [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons