Straddling the famous Danube, Budapest is a city of contrasts – the rolling hills and greenery of Buda; and the bustling downtown of Pest. Its heritage from an often turbulent past offers lots of historical sights savour. Here we let you in on a few secrets that you might otherwise missed out on.
otherwise known as the Millennary Monument (as it was built to celebrate the first 1000 years of Hungary), this square holds statues of the most important kings and governors in the country’s history, flanked by two art museums – fine art to the left, modern to the right. This is the best place to start a guided tour: you get the history first, and there are plenty of other things to see in the City Park:
home to the Széchenyi Baths, the Vajdahunyad Castle, a thermal lake, a beautiful ice-rink in the winter, an amusement park with an ancient rollercoaster, a weekend flea market, two art and a transport museums and the zoo, this is more than just a park – although there is still plenty of grass to play Frisbee on!
right in the heart of town the former Communist secret police HQ is now a memorial museum for all its victims of terror, plus a few rooms dedicated to those who suffered under Nazism.
decorated by hundreds of statues, this is one of Hungary’s most important pieces of architecture. Lovingly restored in the 1980′s, the resident companies boast a repertoire of almost 90 operas – more than any other in the world. Take a guided tour to see this gorgeous building: there are two a day at 3 and at 4 pm, very nice knowledgeable guides. But for the ultimate experience visit the opera: traditional operas and ballet almost every night and you can get tickets for less than 5€ sometimes.
St Stephen’s Basilica
ever seen a mummified hand? Well, now you can – it belonged to St Stephen, Hungary’s first king, and is thus the country’s holiest relic. Be careful not to slide on the perfectly smooth marble floors as you gaze upwards at the mosaics, and then take the lift to the cupola for one of the best views in town. This is the 3rd biggest church in Hungary and the biggest in Budapest, there are services every day so access might be limited. The legendary Ferenc Puskás is buried in the crypt.
the second biggest in the world with a Byzantine-Moorish design and the graves of 2,281 local Jews who died in the next-door ghetto in the winter of 1944. Visit the Jewish Museum or listen to the frequent classical or Klezmer concerts.
the first permanent bridge over the Danube in Budapest, designed by William Clark and built by (the unrelated) fellow Brit Adam Clark with British iron. Check out the lions on either end – can you see their tongues? The story goes that the architect was so please with his work that he promised to jump in the river if anybody found a fault: a little boy said that the lions have no tongues…
a lovely car free park filled with flowers, history, swimming pools and a tiny zoo, excellent for jogging and pick-nicks.
walking around the medieval streets of this palatial area majestically overlooking the Danube and downtown, you’ll find it hard to believe that it has been smashed up and rebuilt 86 times over the past seven centuries. A gorgeous mix of Gothic and Baroque buildings including the Palace and the Mátyás Church, there is a system of caves underneath which housed the citizens during the battle between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army in 1945. There are lots of museums in the Castle district; including the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum in the Royal Palace itself.
just outside the Castle District, its seven turrets symbolise the seven Magyar tribes who captured the region – but you might be too busy enjoying the view of Pest to notice…
worth climbing up there to enjoy the glorious view of the city and also to visit the Citadella the Hapsburg fortress, which the Austrians built when they suppressed the 1848-9 revolution, or the Liberation monument.
in the Gellért Hill at the Szabadság Bridge you find the grotto still serving as a Catholic church for the Pauline order of monks and the site where Cardinal József Mindszenty was arrested in 1947.
Out of the city centre and a bit further:
just a short trip by bus takes you up to the gorgeous hills overlooking the city. Try out the Children’s Railway (run by schoolkids, although they don’t actually drive the trains!) then walk along to the chairlift and ride back down in style, barely five metres above the back gardens of the locals.
fans of old Communist statues will get their money’s worth just outside the city. Take a scheduled bus from the city centre.
just North West of the town centre you’ll find remains of the Roman city and two amphitheatres.
or go a little bit further to chill out in this perfect postcard town, enjoying lovely Mediterranean atmosphere thanks to the Serbian and Greek minorities. The town has been an artists’ colony since the last century thus having almost as many galleries as Budapest. The best is perhaps to take lovely ride in a boat there and to take the train back. Have a snack at the vegetarian café Dorothea!
Visegrad, Esztergom and the Danube Bend
if you fancy a daytrip, catch a ride up to two of Hungary’s former capitals – including the biggest church in the country, a reconstructed renaissance palace and a ruined medieval fortress. And don’t miss the bob – an all-weather metal slide for the more adventurous among you.