Budapest, is one of the foreign exotic sounding names we had came across while flipping the beautiful magazine pages when we were kids. Now all grown up and in our mid-30s, the dream to set foot on Budapest has been materialised.
We had boarded the train from Prague’s main railway station very early in the morning, braving the chilly pre-dawn air. It was supposed to be a six hour train ride, with a few stops along the way. It was a nice experience seeing the sunrise against the setting of rural Czech Republic. There were no wifi available onboard the train, just majestic countryside view of three countries to keep us occupied and entertained. Apart from the Czech Republic and Hungary, the train also zips through Slovak Republic.
The six hours flew by quite quickly, much to our amusement. Before we even realised it, we have safely arrived in Budapest Keleti railway station. Budapest Keleti railway station is the main international and inter-city railway terminal in Budapest. This is also the railway station to take trains headed to the Balkans. A future travel pursuit for us.
We had only three days to discover Budapest, a bit rushed but ample enough to discover the key attractions of Budapest. Like Prague, Budapest gives you more – and for less money. Budapest is one of the few cities which provides its visitors with numerous historic buildings, amazing sights, a large selection of different activities, vast cultural experiences, distinctive natural landscapes, and relaxing spas.
Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe, bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia. Being landlocked means there are many options to access the country from, that is the beauty of travelling in Europe.
There are two parts of Budapest; the Buda side and the Pest side. Budapest is actually the result of an 1873 merger between two distinct cities: Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the bank opposite. Chain Bridge spreads across the famous Danube River, connecting the two. Built on a series of hills, Buda is the site of a grand Hapsburg palace and has a detached, imperial air of settled wealth. In contrast, populous Pest is flat; busy and buzzing with an assortment of bars, cafés and gourmet restaurants.
Buda offers sweeping panoramas. Most visitors are content with the view across to Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill and ignore the less accessible Gellért Hill just to the south. How lucky we were to have chanced the view from Gellért Hill.
What we had time for…
We had opted to stay at an apartment, because of the convenience and comfort it offers. We chose to stay on the Pest side; with the Parliament House and some other main attractions within a short walking distance. Budapest is a much bigger city if we compare it to Prague, some attractions are only accessible with some mode of transportation.
Hopping on the Hop On Hop Off bus is always a good idea to discover a foreign city where English is not widely spoken. And that is what we did. The English audio-guide is most informative as we sit and look at the buildings on the left and right side of the bus as we made our way along the determined route.
As previously mentioned, Buda is where most of the history and everything majestic are.
1. The Chain Bridge (Lánchíd)
This bridge was the first permanent link between Buda and Pest and is a fitting monument to István Széchenyi – known as the ‘Greatest Hungarian’. The bridge has a British connection too: it was designed by William Tierney Clark and constructed by Adam Clark, after whom the roundabout on the Buda side is named. Make it a point to walk across River Danube on this beautiful iconic bridge. River Danube, is the longest river in EU. It runs through and touches the borders of 10 countries.
2. Castle Hill
Home to what you might call Buda’s ‘old town’ – has been a cultural and strategic focal point of the city for centuries and was also the site of over 30 sieges. The inevitable damage resulted in several episodes of rebuilding, often re-using stones from the rubble and lending to the district a fascinating mix of architectural styles. The showpieces are the spectacular Mátyás Church and the Buda Royal Palace to the south.
3. Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya)
This is often the first stop for tourists visiting Budapest, the fairytale turrets offering an elevated vantage point from which to view the city. The minarets and walls look medieval, but they were actually built in 1902 to complement Mátyás Church. This is the large white tower and lookout terrace complex you see hanging over the side of Castle Hill beneath the Mátyás Church. It was built between 1890-1905, and is named after both the medieval fishmarket once nearby and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars. The story is that different trades were responsible for defending different parts of the castle walls and that this section of the defenses was raised by the fishermen’s guild. In fact, the structure is a late 19th century fantasy built to add class to the area. That this is an invention does not detract at all from the attractiveness of the structure, nor from the impressive views of the river and Pest on the opposite side. In tourist season there is an admission charge of about $1 to climb on the bastion. In the daytime around the year, the bastion is the place most overcrowded by tourists in the Castle Hill, mainly brought in here by buses.
4. Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy)
Visible from almost everywhere in Budapest, Gellért Hill with the impressive Freedom Monument on its peak, is one of the city’s memorable landmarks. The 14-metre monument symbolises the country’s liberation from the Nazis. Just beyond the monument is the Citadella, a fortress constructed by the Habsburgs following the 1848-1849 war of independence. It now houses an open-air museum chronicling the history of the hill. Fantastic panorama of Pest can be seen from this hill.
Located just next to River Danube, is the world’s second largest parliament building. It is a favourite for visitors to Budapest due to its beautiful and bright exterior. It is equally lavish on the inside, but tourists must be part of an organised sightseeing tour to enter.
2. Liberty Square / Szabadsag Ter
It is one of the most beautiful places for some quietness, peace and a cup of coffee during the spring and summer. What makes this square so special are the buildings surrounding it, and the size of the park that is in the middle of the square. There is a statue of former American President, Ronald Reagan here; the man credited for ending communist rule in Hungary.
3. St Stephen’s Basilica
Named after Szent István (St Stephen) founder of the Hungarian Christian state, the basilica is visible from all over Budapest. The dome, at 315 ft is the exact height as that of the Parliament.
4. Andrássy Avenue
It was named after the former Prime Minister who had done much to make Budapest a true metropolis. He was determined that Budapest should have an elegant thoroughfare to emulate Paris’ Champs Elysees. The cream of Eclectic architecture is to be seen along the Avenue including the outstanding Opera House and many beautiful tenement blocks with intimate inner courtyards, statues and fountains. One of the special features of Andrassy Avenue is the more than 125 year old underground, which is still carrying passengers today along a line only slightly longer than the original.
5. State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House is not only the sanctum of music and dance, but also a historical monument. The construction started in 1875 with the permission and financial support of Franz Joseph, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary. The plans and personal instructions were conducted by Nicholas Ybl. The Opera House opened its gate to the public on the 27th September, 1884. The Opera House can be visited with a local guide every day at 3&4 pm in 6 different languages. More information: www.operavisit.hu or +36 30 2795677.
6. Heroes’ Square
The statues on Heros’ Square (Hősök tere) are very much a who’s who of Hungarian history and its scale and grandeur is an indication of the pride Hungarians have for their country. Fans of legendary Michael Jackson may recognise this square, as seen in his music video.
7. Vajdahunyad Castle
This fairytale castle is also known as Sleeping Beauty Castle. In winter, it provides a spectacular backdrop to an ice rink, while in summer, it is surrounded by a lake where pedalos and rowboats can be hired. It is located in the City Park by the boating lake / skating rink.
8. City Park
City Park is Budapest’s second favourite park after Margitsziget. It is is situated behind and to the right of Heros’ Square as you approach from the centre of town. City Park offers a host of attractions of its own, including the Budapest Zoo, the Petőfi Csarnok concert venue and the obligatory Széchenyi Baths.
Shopping in Budapest
Great Market Hall, is Budapest’s largest and oldest indoor market. It was built at the end of 1800s. It is located at the end of Vaci utca, a famous retail shopping street.
|What to buy
What we missed…
It is no secret that Budapest is a huge city with many attractions to experience. Three days is definitely not enough for us to experience everything the city has to offer. Of course this list of missed attractions shall be a good excuse for us to come back to the city.
Budapest is the biggest spa town in the world; with more than 12 thermal baths available to pamper yourself in.
Arts & Culture
High culture surrounds you, whether you decide to visit the stunning Opera house, the brand-new Budapest Music Center, the stylish concert hall in the Palace of Arts or the classical Franz Liszt Academy of Music, a pearl of Art Nouveau. High culture at surprisingly low prices. More than 70 museums and exhibition centers offer remarkable educational and cultural experiences.
Car-free Margaret Island (Margitsziget) has everything you need to enjoy a relaxing day – including sport stadium, numerous tennis courts, outdoor swimming complex, an open air theatre, Japanese and Rose gardens, early medieval ruins, two spa hotels and a beer garden.
|Hungary Fast Facts