Some fall in love with the city at first sight, some are won over only after a longer period of discovery, but all agree that it occupies one of the most beautiful sites in the world.
The metropolis of two million people is cut in two by the mighty stream of the Danube, with the hills and valleys of Buda on one side and the flat, low-lying Pest on the other. This riverside panorama was made a World Heritage site by UNESCO, and those who have seen it illuminated by night will understand why.
The following are some of the main characteristics of Budapest
Inhabited fifty thousand years ago, it has had its present name for only 128 years: Óbuda, Buda and Pest were separate towns until 1873.
Under its hills there is a continuous cave system with medicinal waters welling up from thermal springs. 80 thermal springs supply 12 spas with 70 million litres of thermal water daily.
Among its monuments there are 2000-year-old Roman amphitheatres, 400-year-old Turkish baths and typically Hungarian Art Nouveau style buildings from the 19th century. The cityscape owes its uniform appearance to the elegant mansions erected at the beginning of the 19th century in Eclectic style.
There are also points of interest in its transport system. The underground railway connecting the Inner City with the City Park was the first on the continent and has been running for 105 years. Serving the Buda Hills you will find the world's third mountain railway and a forest light railway operated by children.
For lovers of culture, the only problem is choice. 237 monuments, 223 museums and galleries, 35 theatres, 90 cinemas, 2 opera houses, 12 concert halls and nearly 200 places of amusement offer a wide variety of things to do, while over the 365 days of the year travel agencies organise walks and sight-seeing tours by coach and boat, tailored to your requirements.
Here we can only mention the most important sights of the city. Let's start in Buda, on the right bank of the Danube.
It is one of the features of Budapest that the Buda side is also the capital's green belt, with memorable places for excursions. The hills János-hegy (hegy means hill), Normafa, Széchenyi-hegy, Kis- and Nagy-Hárs-hegy, Remete-hegy, Hármashatár-hegy as well as the Budakeszi Game Preserve are all part of the Buda Nature Reserve. The following is a suggested route for visiting them: the cog-railway (one station from Moszkva Square by tram line 56) to Széchenyi-hegy, then by the Children’s Railway to Hűvösvölgy. The railway touches the highest peak in Budapest, János Hill (526 m), from where you can reach Zugliget by chair lift, then go back to Moszkva Square by the 158 bus. The two Budapest caves which are open to visitors are the Pálvölgyi Stalactite Cave which can be walked for 500 metres (entry at 162 Szépvölgyi Street) and the 300-metre long Szemlő Hill Cave (entry at 35 Pusztaszeri Street)—this is also a medicinal cave —which can be reached from Kolosy Square in Óbuda by bus.
Situated in the northern part of the city are the remains of the Roman civil and military town of Aquincum, which predates Budapest by two thousand years. There are two amphitheatres, mosaic-decorated villas, a military bath and the stone pillars of the water system. The Aquincum Museum (139 Szentendrei Street) forms a coherent area of ruins, the most valuable monuments of which are carved stones, wall-paintings and the ancient organ.
The unique atmosphere of Fő Square in Óbuda is created by the old single storey houses, taverns and excellent museums. Nearby you will find theImre Varga Museum (7 Laktanya Street) exhibiting the works of the well known contemporary sculptor; also the Vasarely Museum (6 Szentlélek Square) containing the entire life-work of Győző Vásárhelyi Vasarely who became world-famous as the father of op-art. In the Kiscelli Museum (108 Kiscelli Street) works of art relating to the capital and an extraordinarily rich collection of 20th century Hungarian visual art can be seen.
The Buda Castle Hill
The Palace (Szent György Square) erected in the 14th century and rebuilt in Baroque style 400 years later was the residence of Hungarian kings for 700 years. Today it houses the most visited museums and galleries in Budapest. The Hungarian National Gallery (buildings B, C and D) gives a cross-section of Hungarian history of art from the 10th century to our age: it houses exhibits of medieval and Renaissance stonework; Gothic wood-carvings, panel pictures, triptychs; Renaissance and Baroque art; 19th and 20th century painting, sculpture and medals. The crypt of the Habsburg Palatines can be visited with a guide. In the Budapest Historical Museum (building E), restored parts of the medieval Buda Castle, its chapel and Gothic sculptures, as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions on the history of Budapest can be seen. In the National Széchényi Library (building F), the largest library in the country, medieval codices from the very rich collection of King Matthias Corvinus are exhibited and there are regular temporary exhibitions. The Museum of Contemporary Arts—or Ludwig Museum—in building A, offers visitors outstanding domestic and foreign works of contemporary art.
Buda’s basilica, the Matthias Church, (2 Szentháromság Square), also called the Church of Our Lady, has a tower of stone tracery and used to be the venue for coronations and royal weddings. At the beginning of the 19th century it was rebuilt in Gothic style with contributions from the most illustrious artists of the age.
In its crypt a collection of religious art (stonework remains, relics, treasures, a replica of the Holy Crown) can be found, and concerts are organised here from spring to autumn. The Fishermen’s Bastion (Szentháromság Square), a neo-Romanesque bulwark with seven towers built on medieval walls, offers an excellent view of the city.
In its background stands the St. Nicolas Miklós Church and monastery of the Dominicans. By an elegant architectural solution, the remains of the 13th-15th century monastery were incorporated into the interior of the elegant Hotel Hilton. The Dominican Court is the scene of open-air performances. Opposite this you can taste nearly every variety of Hungarian wine in the cellar of the House of Hungarian Wines.
The civic houses on the streets connecting the two entrances to the Castle District, Bécsi kapu Square and Dísz Square are monuments built on medieval foundations, their unique artistic value is provided by the Gothic sedilia of the gateways. A 1,800-metre section of the 12 km cave system under Castle Hill, the Castle Cave (entry at 16 Országház Street), can be seen with the help of a guide. The Museum of Military History (40 Tóth Árpád Promenade) and the Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Catering (4 Fortuna Street.) show historical memorabilia from the past. The medieval Jewish Chapel (26 Táncsics M. Street) presents the lifestyle of the Jews of Buda. The rare instruments of the Museum of Musical History and a rich collection of the manuscripts of the great Hungarian composer, Béla Bartók (1881–1945) are preserved in the Baroque-style Erdődy–Hatvany Palace (7 Táncsics M. Street).
It is rare to see a hill like this, a protected nature reserve, in the middle of a city. The Citadel, built on the top of Gellért Hill in 1851 as a military fortification, is today at the service of tourism. Its terraces offer the most perfect view of the city.
The water of the medicinal springs welling from the depth of the hill are exploited by three spas built at the foot of the hill. One of them is the most elegant spa in the country, the Gellért Thermal Baths (2-4 Kelenhegyi Street), in which thermal and tub baths, bubble and wave pools, as well as a swimming pool and an open-air bath can be found. The remaining two—Rudas (9 Döbrentei Square) and Rác Baths (8-10 Hadnagy Street)—date back to the Roman age, and in both there is a thermal, a Turkish and a tub bath, in the Rudas a swimming pool as well.
Further monuments of the Turkish age are the Tomb of Gül Baba, a Moslem pilgrimage site on the Hill of Roses Rózsadomb (4 Mecset Street) and the domed Király King Thermal Bath (82-84 Fő Street) with thermal, tub and Turkish baths.
Budafok lying in the Southern part of the city became a town of wine and champagne because of its fertile vineyards. Places of interest are the cellar labyrinth and the museum of the Törley Champagne Manufactory (82-94 Kossuth L. Street).
Near Budafok a unique collection of open-air sculptures made in the socialist era can be found in the Sculpture Park Szoborpark Museum (corner of Balatoni Street and Szabadkai Street). It is worth seeing the Palace Museum of Nagytétény (9-11 Kastélypark Street) because of its interesting furniture exhibition, and the Campona Shopping Centre because of the Tropicarium presenting the life of the sea.
If you go over from Buda to Pest, on the left bank of the Danube you will find city districts with historic atmosphere, leisure centres and many places of interest. For the crossing, let's choose the oldest of the nine bridges spanning the Danube: the Széchenyi Chain Bridge built in 1849.
The Inner City Parish Church in Március 15. Square is the first church of the city. It is exceptionally interesting in that its interior shows examples of all architectural styles from Romanesque to Classicism.
The recently renovated building of the Synagogue in Dohány Street (2 Dohány Street) is the largest synagogue in Europe, and its excellent acoustics also makes it suitable for concerts. The Jewish Museum, set up in its courtyard, has one of the most outstanding Judaic collections of Central Europe. The museum is at the same time the research centre for Jewish culture. The Hungarian National Museum (14-16 Múzeum Blvd.) is the finest monument of Hungarian Classical architecture. This is the most significant public collection in the country and has, since 1846, been preserving the historical memories of the Hungarian people from ancient times to our own age. The Grand Market Hall Vásárcsarnok (1-3 Fővám Blvd.) is outstanding in its architectural features.
The most beautiful monuments of Hungarian Art Nouveau are the Museum of Applied Arts (33-37 Üllői Street) with its rich collection, the dwelling-houses of Szervita Square (Inner City of Pest) and the former Post Office Savings Bank (4 Hold Street).
The Parliament (Kossuth Lajos Square) is the largest and most decorative building in the country. Imre Steindl built the 96-metre high and 118-metre wide edifice between 1885 and 1902. It has 10 courts, 29 staircases, 27 gates and the first long distance district heating system in Europe. The Holy Crown and the royal insignia are kept at this seat of the Hungarian Parliament and government offices. Group guided tours are available.
The St. Stephen’s István Basilica (Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Street), a neo-Renaissance church, raised to the rank of basilica minor, is the largest church in the capital and the second largest in the country, with the largest bell in Hungary. The Chapel of the holy Right Jobb contains a jealously guarded treasure, a relic of the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen (1000–1038). It is his right hand which has remained intact for a 1000 years. Relics of church history can be seen in the treasury, while the tower balcony offers a wonderful panorama of the city.
It is worth walking from the Inner City of Pest along Andrássy Avenue, which is as straight as an arrow. Both sides of the avenue are lined by eclectic 19th and 20th century mansions designed with artistic thoughtfulness. The Hungarian State Opera House (22 Andrássy Avenue), the elegant work of the most famous Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, has been the centre of Hungarian musical life since 1864. The public can see its fresco-decorated interior, its auditorium seating 1200 spectators and its technical stage equipment in group tours.
The notable buildings in the capital's most important park were erected by the enthusiastic citizens to celebrate the country's millennium in 1896. In the imposing Heroes’ Square Archangel Gabriel raises the Holy Crown to a height of 36 metres.
The central group of sculptures commemorates the seven tribes and their chief Árpád, the founders of the country. In the colonnade stand sculptures of Hungarian kings as well as generals and politicians who fought for the independence of the country, encircling a memorial to the heroes who sacrificed their lives for their home. Also on the square stands the Museum of Fine Arts containing the most important art collection in the country. In its Antique Picture Gallery you can find the largest Spanish painting collection outside Spain and works of world-famous artists. The works of Bellini, Brueghel, Corregio, Dürer, El Greco, Giorgione, Goya, Murillo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffaello, Rembrandt, Rubens, Tiziano, Velasquez and, from the 19th century, Delacroix, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir and Corot are of international renown. On the opposite side is the largest exhibition hall in the country, the Palace of Art, a worthy venue for the most important temporary exhibitions. The Vajdahunyad Castle—a set of buildings erected on the Széchenyi Island—includes the true reproduction of several famous buildings of Hungary from the Romanesque to the Baroque style. Its most emphatic element is the copy of the Transylvanian Vajdahunyad Castle (today in the territory of Rumania). The Hungarian Agricultural Museum with an exceptionally rich collection was founded here in 1896— the first institution of its kind in the world. The rowing lake not only offers romantic experiences in summer but gives pleasure to skaters in winter as well. The Széchenyi Medicinal Baths (11 Állatkerti Blvd.) is the largest health spa in Europe: it has thermal, Turkish and tub bath facilities, as well as a swimming pool and an open-air bath. The Transport Museum (11 Városligeti Blvd.) is one of Europe’s oldest collections on transport history. The 135-year-old Municipal Zoological and Botanical Garden was one of the first of its kind in the world, its buildings are excellent products of Hungarian Art Nouveau and are listed monuments. In its neighbourhood is the most elegant restaurant in the capital—“the Gundel”— which still bears the name of the family that has become a legend in catering. The two popular places of amusement in the City Park are the Municipal Circus and the Funfair, in which the 100-year-old carousel, holding the Europa Nostra Award is, still working.
Among the outstanding works of Hungarian architecture are the buildings of the Hungarian National Geological Institute (XIV., 14 Stefánia Street) and the Roman Catholic Parish Church of Kőbánya (X., 25 Szent László Square) built in the Art Nouveau style. An interesting experiment in its time was the Wekerle Housing Estate in Kispest (18th district) built with geometrical regularity for minor officials. Children can have fun in the Palace of Wonders (XIII., 19 Váci Street), the first interactive, scientific playhouse in Central Europe and on the drivable vehicles of the Hungarian Railway History Park (XIV., 95 Tatai Street).
Margaret Margit Island
Lying in the middle of Budapest and of the Danube, the island is closed to car traffic and can easily be reached from both banks on foot. There is also a bus that takes you there, route 26 running from Nyugati Square. This 2-km long, green oasis stretching from Margaret Margit Bridge to Árpád Bridge is the most valued park in Budapest. Some of the trees are several hundred years old. There is a colourful carpet of flowers in the rose garden and the evocative Japanese garden has a thermal lake and a waterfall. The park is a pleasant place to relax in and beautiful to look at. The deer park is a favourite attraction for children. The Alfréd Hajós Sports Pool is a venue for first class competitions, while the Palatinus open-air swimming-pool offers the pleasures of summer. The Margaret Island Open-air Theatre at the foot of the water tower is a favourite venue for musical performances in the summer. All this offers all-round recreation and entertainment. The island possesses a 700 year old ancient monument in the ruins of the Dominican and Franciscan church and monastery. The oldest bell in the country tolls in the tower of the Premonstratensian chapel. You can explore the places if interest on the island by using the minibus, which runs in the main season, and the „Bringóhintó” cycle cars, which can be hired all year round at the Bringó Castle at the northern end of the island near the hotels.
Source: Magyar Turizmus Zrt.