I had a recent opportunity to tour Budapest on a romp through Europe. I was amazed and thrilled by Budapest, a city of amazing people and wondrous sights. The world heritage buildings, the churches and the bridges all somehow survived occupation by two regimes, and the city’s architecture is unique in Europe.
As usual, I had planned my trip to the hour with a mind to experience everything Budapest had to offer. There really is no chance to see this city in several days, you need at least a week just for the major sights. The city is divided by the Danube into two areas, formerly distinct cities: Buda and Pest. The Buda side has hills overlooking the Pest, the Buda Castle and various museums.
The Pest side has majestic government buildings, the river walk with sightseeing boats, and the nightlife. There are three main bridges that connect the two sides: the Liberty Bridge with its green color and tram crossing, the Elisabeth Bridge named which is the main traffic bridge (named after the Hapsburg Queen), and the Chain Bridge, the most picturesque with the Buda Castle in the background. Just walking these bridges gives a sense of time and an amazing atmosphere. The most amazing sites were definitely the views from just about any location.
I started my tour at the Citadel, which is a military building on top of Citadel Hill. The hill has numerous paved trails leading through the woods, offering small outcroppings of view, perhaps a statue, and leading down to a nice park at the base. If you go toward the Liberty Bridge, you are led to a very unique church called St Ivan’s. The entire church was hollowed out from caves in the mountain. Services are still held there and they are quite packed.
Gellert Hill Baths
As you proceed down, you get to the famous Gellert Hill Baths. The Hungarians love their hot spring baths and they are also very crowded, even in the summer. Although for some the best time to enjoy the baths is during winter in Budapest. They are a place of social meetings and the families can stay all day at one of the six huge bath complexes in the city.
In Pest, of course, you must visit St Stephen’s church with the relic hand of St Stephen. There are many other sites nearby, though, such as the amazing and winding Hungarian National Museum. There is the Great Synagogue and nearby, the Great Market Hall with its shops inside a grand building.
Along the Danube is the famous “Shoes on the Danube” sculpture. This sculpture commemorates a spot where the Germans in WWII would execute people. They would have them take off their shoes before they shot them and dumped their bodies in the river.
Further the Parliament building. This can only be appreciated from Castle hill across the river as it is incredibly majestic, especially at night. At night, the whole area near the Chain Bridge is a haven for locals and tourists, offering great dining options, bars, and shopping.
On the Buda side, there are two hills: Citadel and Castle hill. Castle Hill is the home of Mathias Church (the Coronation church), and Fisherman’s Bastion, a colonnade built to view the city below. Castle Hill is filled with old buildings and shops and is worth a walk around.
I did visit one very nice attraction there; the Labyrinth. This is a series of caves and tunnels under the hill, and the attraction is a must-see in the area. Inside the labyrinth, there is a tribute to Verdi, another exciting tribute to Dracula, a complete-darkness maze that you must walk through holding onto a line (very thrilling).
The Budapest History Museum on top of Castle Hill is an amazing structure as well, incorporating the ruins of an old church into its confines. This was a highlight of my trip and, I think, unfortunately, many people pass it by. When you are done exploring Castle Hill, you can also take the funicular (tram) down to the base of the hill where there is a nice park to walk around.
The city is quite walkable and I only took transportation when I was tired. There are buses, trams and subways everywhere so you can get around easily. There are 23 World Heritage sites in Budapest and you easily see them all in 3 or 4 days. Besides the sites, there are some amazing views and walks throughout the city. There are hundreds of cultural buildings, museums, and churches in the area and all are unique.
For instance, the House of Terror Museum which honors those lost in two periods of Hungarian occupation, and the National Gallery, a repository for amazing Gothic works of art as well as other Hungarian artists.
Budapest is a city of wonder and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The food is also incredible. The goulash is just basically a meat stew but Budapest offers many other great dining experiences. The Pest shore has many boats that you can dine on while touring the river at sunset. The wine in this area is exceptional. The exchange rate, for US citizens, couldn’t be better right now so prices are very low.