Straddling the Danube – Budapest will charm you with its classic good looks and flamboyant architecture steeped in dramatic history and culture. This Eastern European capital city is full of arts, history, geothermal pools, incredible markets, parks, gorgeous cafes, and ruin bars. The Romans, Magyars, Austrians, Ottoman Turks, and the Soviets have all left their marks in its architecture and culture.River Danube divides the city geographically into two parts Buda on the west and Pest to the east.Both parts of this marvelous city are distinctly different with their own personalities. Buda is hilly and Pest is flat.
Much of the classical architectural landmarks are on Buda side. However, the most recognized symbol – the Iconic Parliament building is on the Pest side. It is one of the must-see sights of Budapest both from outside and inside. So, first thing in the morning head over to Parliament to take the tour that will take you into the Session Hall where the government meets, and you will also get to see the Crown of St. Stephan. Be rest assured you will get to see tons of gold much more than you could have ever imagined!
The two sides of the city are joined by many bridges spanning the Danube with the oldest and most prominent being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. From the Buda side of the bridge,you see Gresham Place a beautiful art nouveau building which is now a luxury hotel and St. Stephen’s Basilicawith a tall dome considered the most important church in all of Hungary. Built-in Neoclassical style with stunning interiors it is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary, whose right hand is housed in the reliquary.
Not far from the Parliament is the Liberty Square or Szabadsag Square home to many significant memorials including the memorial to the soviets and art deco buildings like the National Hungarian Bank. Take a stroll along the banks of the Danube to checkout the Promenade. You will also pass by the Shoes on the Danube a memorial honoring the Jews who were shot here during World War II. Walking along the banks will also take you to the Margaret Island a tranquil getaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown.It is a popular recreation area with quiet walkways, flower gardens,and medieval ruins. One of the must-do activities while in Budapest is undoubtedly is a River Cruise or a Boat Tour after sunset. Its a spectacular sight with all fascinating sites on either side of river and the all the bridges are lit up.
On the Buda side start your day with a tour of the Castle Hill area home to many attractions like the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. This part of Buda is full of charm with its narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, castles, museums, great cafes, and shops. A funicular can take you to the various attractions.
Matthias Church– Built in neo-gothic style it is a Roman Catholic church with a colorful roof. Inside you will notice the vaulted ceiling with ornate décorOpposite to the church is the Holy Trinity Column built in Baroque style to commemorate the victims of the Plaque.Next door to the church is a fairly tale looking structure called the Fisherman’s Bastion which offers sweeping views of the city across the river. You will also come across the statue of King Saint Stephen the first Christian king of Hungary
Budapest is also the Spa capital of Europe with many thermal baths and pools located across the city to choose from. Head to the Baths located at the Gellért Spa and Hotel. Soaking in a spa is the most favorite past time of the locals. It is one of the grandiose of all the spas with many of its pools are being fed with thermal water from the Gellert Hill.
Like the Parliament building on the Pest side, the Buda Castle is an imposing structure on the Buda side. Built on top of the hill, it used to be referred to as the Royal Palace or the Royal Castle in the past. This huge Baroque style luxurious castle houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The museum offers a comprehensive overview of over 1000 years of the city’s history as well as offers some amazing views. From the National Gallery, you get to visit the Castle’s dome.
Take the tram to the Gellért Hill that has several monuments like the Liberty Statue or the Freedom Statue built-in 1947 to celebrate the liberation of Hungary. Some of the best views of the city are from this hill. There are few other statues to see as well – Queen Elisabeth who was the empress of Austria. Then there is also the monument dedicated to Saint Gellért– the bishop who initiated the conversion to Christianity. Besides the statues, there’s also the Cave Church which is built inside a cave.
Take a walk on the Chain Bridge and go over to the Pest side. Visit the Great Market Hall– the oldest and largest indoor market which has many traditional restaurants and souvenir shops The Heroes’ Square at the end of Andrássy Avenue is noted for its iconic statues featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian national leaders. Entrance to the City Park is from this square from one can visit the zoo and the Széchenyi Baths one of the largest spa complexes know as the Széchenyi Spa. It boasts of a dozen medicinal pools along with eight swimming pools.If you are an art buff the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Arts is located nearby. Also at the City Park is the Vajdahunyad Castle, it was built in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of Hungary. End your day with a cup of coffee at the famous New York Café at the Boscolo Budapest Hotel.
The ruin bars are a rage in Budapest for the past few years. Most of them are in the old Jewish Quarter neighborhood in the ruins of abandoned factories, buildings, and stores. These look like very normal from outside but once you get inside you will find big spaces with huge open courtyards and interconnected apartments. DJs, Dance floors, and eclectic furniture provide an entertaining experience. Some of the best known is the Szimpla Kert the original ruin bar that started the trend, Instant with its interconnected apartments, and then you also have Anker’t made up with large interconnected courtyards boasting of a gigantic dance floor.
The beauty of Budapest’s flamboyant architecture is not just limited to the exteriors of the structures, you would be equally amazed by the interiors as well. Go inside and gaze at the State Opera House, the Dohány Street Synagogue, the St. Stephan’s Basilica,and the gorgeous New York Café.
Best Place to Stay –Budapest isquite a walkable city. Whilemost of the sights are on Buda side, the neighborhood around the 5th district in Pest offers many attractions including restaurants and cafes.Pest is also served well by the Metro and other forms of Public Transit.
Transportation – Budapest has low cost and efficient, diverse modes of public transportincluding buses, metro, trolley bus, trams, suburbanrailways,and boat services.Taxi’s are best to avoid. The local version of Uber is called Bolt which also utilizes the taxis and is safe.
Best Time to visit – Summer between June – August is the high tourist season However the shoulder season between March-May and September – November are also good with pleasant day time and comfortable night time temperatures. September is an excellent time with fewer crowds and beautiful weather.
Currency – Hungarian Forint (HUF) in the official currency of Hungary. Euros are also accepted at several places The Hungarian banks offer better exchange rates and it is advisable to exchange your currency at Budapest.
Recommended Itinerary – A 3-day itinerary is a must; however, a 4-day itinerary is perfect to see and enjoy all that Budapest has to offer including spending time at the Spas.