Last Updated: 1st Jan 2014
by – Matt Vernick, Tour Manager, Europe
The proud capital of Hungary, Budapest is considered by many to be one of the most visually beautiful cities in Europe, earning a reputation as the ‘Paris of the East’ and the ‘Queen of the Danube’. The city technically is a combination of two cities, Buda on the west bank of the river and Pest on the east and is known not only for it’s beautiful buildings and architecture but also its rich and recent history to go along with it’s comparably cheap way of life and traditional food and wines.
Buda and the Castle Hill District
Despite its name, there is no castle to be found here! However, there is the Royal Palace that houses the Hungarian National Gallery. The district is also home to Gellert Hill. The footpaths from Elizabeth Bridge lead to the top of Gellert Hill (Gellert Ter), allegedly a gathering place for witches in the 17th century, you will now find a Citadel at the top used for defense during World War II. The springs inside the hill feed three of Budapest’s baths. The hill is also home to the Freedom Monument. Part of the Fisherman’s Bastion in Buda is the Matthias Church, considered by many to be Budapest’s most beautiful. The church has also been witness to royal weddings and coronations.
Also on the hill is the Hungarian House of Wine where you can take a self guided tour of the cellar and try whatever wine happens to be open. There are also explanations about the different wine making regions of Hungary. Located opposite the Hilton, it us open from 12 noon until 6pm. The ‘Labyrinth’ is made up of natural caves deep inside Castle Hill. These caves have served many purposes throughout history but have now been transformed into a spooky subterranean labyrinth.
Most of the city itself can be found in the Pest part of Budapest.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Entry is free into the largest church in Budapest, named after the patron saint of Hungary whose mummified right hand (the national treasure) rests there. You can also climb the 300 stairs to the top for excellent views.
The Hungarian Parliament was modeled on the English parliament, and is every bit as spectacular. You can take a tour of the Parliament with a guide with English language tours run usually every hour or so.
Heroes Square and surrounds
Heroes Square is an open air square built for the city’s millennium celebrations in 1896 and is surround by statues of the Nations heroes. Flanking the square are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Modern Art. City Park is located directly behind Heroes Square where you can fins the city zoo (Allatkert), an artificial lake, an amusement park (Vidam Park) as well as one of the city’s largest spas.
Leading away from Heroes Square is Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s version of the Champs Elysees. The street is also home to the Hungarian National Opera and the House of Terror Museum displaying the history of Hungary from the time of the Russian Revolution to the present. Some chilling displays here include the 1956 revolution in which saw the Soviet tanks kill many innocent Hungarians.
Vaci Utca is the pedestrian only street is the main shopping strip in Budapest. At one end of Vaci Utca is the Market Hall, selling fresh produce as well as folk-art and souvenirs.
Bars, Clubs and Restaurants
Liszt Ferenc near Andrassy Avenue is where many of the locals head for night life and dinner while Club Rio is a local clubbing institution.
This island is a green haven in the middle of central Budapest. In the summer it has a number of outdoor bars and cafes where locals relax.
Baths and Spas
The original baths of Budapest date back as far as Roman times, but the bathing culture Budapest is now renowned for was established during Turkish occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Gellert Baths are considered to be some of the finest whilst those in the City Park are some of the largest and most traditional. There are various services offered, from simply relaxing in the hot springs to massages and beauty treatments.
Outside the city center, this park displays huge statues of communist figures that previously stood in the streets of Budapest.
River Cruise and Dinner
Budapest is a beautiful city to explore during the day and tours visiting the city also offer a Danube River Cruise with dinner as an optional excursion during the evening.