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The Ultimate Guide to Budapest

by Roberto
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Budapest, one of Europe’s finest city’s, has become practically my most visited city over the last five years. Partially through marriage, frequent trips to Hungary have taken me there, but I’ve also visited through love of the city. It has a perfect combination of sights, atmosphere and food and I can not fault the city in any respect.

This blog is dedicated to the sights of the capital. I had previously deemed myself not ready to put a guide like this together. My prior visits had been short, but four action filled days this January have given me ample scope now to do the city justice, and guide you to the best of what the city has to offer.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I have recommended. While clicking these links won’t cost you any money, it will help keep this site going and me travelling. Thank you for your support.

I have covered the culinary delights of Budapest in my Guide to the Best Hungarian Cuisine, with suggested restaurants, so I would suggest you refer to that if you are a foodie at heart.

Budapest is a city of two halves with a clear demarcation line being the Danube River (or the Duna as it is known locally). For the purposes of this guide, I will split the attractions between those located in Buda and in Pest. Buda is the more historical side containing Budapest Castle, and Gellert Hill. Pest the more commercial side, is not without its stars, with the Parliament, Dohány St Synagogue, and St Istvan’s Cathedral all worthy of a visit. My suggestions are to spend a day exploring the castle and its many sights, a day soaking in the baths and climbing Gellért Hill, before taking to Pest and to its architectural delights.

With one day in Budapest the Buda part is where to start. The castle and the baths at Gellert are the quintessential experiences. Two and three days in Budapest will allow you to branch into Pest. Four days in Budapest will let you see Heroes Square and the host of sights in that area. In my opinion three of four days in Budapest is required to see this vast city.

Currency

The currency of Hungary is Forint for those who aren’t familiar.  Exchange rate usually fluctuates around 300 Forint to 1 Euro, and this is a decent approximation for conversions. At the current time

  • 312huf= €1
  • 285huf= $1
  • 370huf= £1

Arriving in Budapest

First of all let me tell you it’s a big city. You can travel around on foot, but don’t be surprised to see the Fitbit clock up a very high step count, and the soles of your shoes become worn.

There are a number of options to travel from the airport to the city. The easiest is a Taxi inevitably, which should cost around 8000 huf, but be sure to ask for a price in advance. Private airport transfers are available too from the airport, with the price being very comparable to a taxi.

The cheapest mode is of course public transport, with bus 100E leaving every 30 minutes and taking you to Pest, the stop being near the Szent Istvan Cathedral. The trip takes 35 minutes and costs 900 huf. Be sure to validate your tickets on all Hungarian buses, as fines are easy to come by. Alternatively bus 200E will take you to Kobanya-Kispest metro station, and the M3 metro line, which allows you more selectivity of where to stop. The 200E costs 350 huf, with the metro being 400 huf each.

The Budapest metro is the most convenient way to circumnavigate the city with its four lines connecting most of the principal sites. It also avoids the somewhat difficult and angry bus drivers, which is always a plus. There is also a huge network of trams traversing the city.

Where to stay

Having stayed in Budapest on four separate occasions, we have stayed in the two principal areas, the castle district and in Pest. Most of the main hotels are in Pest but should you desire to stay in the more touristic centre, the Hotel Castle Garden is ideal. Comfortable yet inexpensive it will put you on the doorstep of some of the castles most prominent sites.

In Pest I can recommend the Three Corners Hotel Anna Superior which is located near the Jewish Quarter. Located in an elegant building, out room was super spacious with 2 large bedrooms and a large bathroom. The room was clean throughout and perfect for a few nights in the city, especially if one wants to visit Pest. Not sure if the room would suit those with a fear of spiders, the lights were suspended from black cables that looked like spider legs. But I quite like our arachnid friends. The breakfast was interesting too, I filled up on Retes, which are a Hungarian variant on strudel, stuffed with sour cherries, cottage cheese and other delights.

Three Corners Superior Hotel, Budapest

My most recent stays were in the 12 Revay Hotel. This is a medical hotel, the complex being part of a dental practice. So again any sufferers of Dentophobia, steer clear. They offer good room sizes, transport from the airport, and a convenient location. The breakfast offering was a little standard though, but maybe that’s good dental practice. The hotel cost €65 per night in low season.

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12 Revay Hotel

Buda

Buda is the region to the west of the Danube and is mostly dominated by Budapest Castle. It isn’t a castle in the traditional sense, more a sprawling area with an absolute wealth of attractions within. If you only have a few days in Budapest, it is where to start.

Budapest Castle

It’s not easy to define how to visit Budapest Castle. It’s an area that drags me back time and again, with the Fisherman’s Bastion, being my weakness. But there is so much to do and see besides the areas top billed stars.

Budapest Castle has evolved throughout the centuries from the original defensive function, through the building of many palaces, to its modern-day functions. The many palaces now play host to branches of Hungary’s main institutions from the National Library, the National Gallery, to the History Museum. The buildings of the castle district are all maintained in impeccable condition.

Siklo Funicular

There are a number of ways to access the castle district (if you aren’t already there) but none quite as historical or attractive as the Siklo Funicular. We actually took it back down as the queues up can be horrendous.

If like us you arrive to the daunting prospect of a massive queue, take to the path and stairs that runs up the hill adjacent to the funicular. It’s a steep climb especially if you take the shortcut up the embankment. There are footbridges running over the funicular which give great views down over the chain bridge. Alternatively you can complete the climb to the top where similar views are from a higher position.

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Castle Hill Funicular in action

Sandor Palace and changing of the guards

The first building to your right as you disembark the funicular is the Sandor Palace. The grand entrance of Sandor Palace complete with ornamental gates and magnificent wall mounted Turul bird greet you at the top of the hill. The Turul is a mythological bird of prey. Sandor Palace is the official residence of the president of Poland. It’s also the location of the Changing of the Guard and we were lucky enough to stumble upon it. The changing of the guard consists of a good gun salute, and much marching and drumming. It’s not on a par with that at Buckingham Palace but it’s very enjoyable nonetheless. The changing of the guard occurs every hour on the hour, and the soldiers work 9 to 5 like the song.

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Changing of the Guards

Matthias Church

As you make your way north from here, the foundations of the castles earlier incarnations can be seen on your right. Beyond lies the suburbs of District VII of Budapest and the Buda Hills. Continue north and to two of Budapest’s main sights.

The first is the Matthias Church. It’s a real eye catcher. It’s elaborately designed spire has glorious gargoyles and the diamond pattern roof tiles are a magnificent highlight. It really is a gorgeous church and one of the most beautiful in Hungary.
The church hasn’t always looked like this. It was originally constructed in 1015 before being completely rebuilt in the gothic style in the 14th Century. It served time as a mosque during the occupation of the city by the Turks. A major refurbishment in the 19th century was responsible for the roof tiles and the spire.

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The impressive Matthias Church

The ticket office is located in the square in front and if you want to climb the church tower you have to pay separately for that. The tower is by guided tour only, and you can only go at the set times. Why I don’t know, it’s perhaps only for safety. The church and the tower each cost 1800 huf to enter.

It’s a blessing the churches exterior is aesthetic, as at least it prepares you for the interior. I immediately christened the church “the fairytale church” as I started walking around. So much of the interior is as if plucked from a story book, or from the mind of Hans Christian Anderson. The interior will confound you with its floor to ceiling paints and murals. It’s hard to even place its influence, it’s simply unlike any church I’ve been in before. Give plenty of time to study all the walls. During the Turkish occupation these walls were whitewashed to tone down the building for use as a mosque, so it’s even more wonderful that they could be restored to their original elegance. The church’s pulpit contains a ring of carvings around its parapet, and dates from the 1890s.

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There’s a number of side chapels too, my favourite being the chapel housing the tombs of Béla III and Agnes. For me this was the most fantastical part of what is a fantastical church.

Tomb of Bela and Agnes

Yet another compelling part of the church is the Madonna statue. Hidden behind the wall during the occupation, cannon fire caused the wall to collapse, exposing the statue to the praying Muslims. Perceived as a sign from God, they lost faith and soon they lost the city too.

The Ecclesiastical Art Museum is also housed in the church, in its basement and on the first floor. Again the wall designs are as interesting as the artifacts. It contains several relics and also a copy of the Hungarian crown and royal jewels. There are elevated views of the church from here too.

Having booked the tower tour too I planned my ascent to coincide with the sunset. Luckily the tour began at 4, some fifteen minutes before the winter sunset. The interior of the tower contained information on the church, the most interesting pertaining to the bells. Apparently if the largest bell were to be rang, it would knock the tower down due to its weight. Renders it a bit pointless but interesting nonetheless. But with any tower I’m always more interested in the top and the views over the church’s roof and down to the Danube below. They didn’t disappoint, and ensured the 197 steps were worth their effort. My timing was perfect too as the sun just disappeared behind the Buda Hills. It was incredibly windy up there in winter time so that’s something to bear in mind, and some of the people with me found it uncomfortable at the top.

Sunset view from Matthias Church Tower

Fisherman’s Bastion

Back on level ground the attractive statue of Hungary’s first king St Istvan provides an introduction to the spectacular Fisherman’s Bastion beyond.

King Istvan Statue

The Fisherman’s Bastion is second only to the Parliament building in terms of the aesthetics of Budapest buildings in my opinion. Taking the place of a defunct castle wall, the bastion was built to provide a medium to look down upon the best views in Budapest. But the bastion isn’t all about the views. It’s a series of balconies and steps, accompanied by seven turrets. The seven turrets represent the seven tribes that formed Hungary and the bastion takes its name from the Fisherman’s guild that once protected this part of the city. The current structure was built in the 19th century during the golden age of Hungarian architecture.

The beautiful turrets of the Bastion
The perfect place to get your instgram on

The main pleasures to be derived here are from simply walking through the bastion and traversing it’s stairs. One of the taller turrets can be accessed at a cost of 800 huf. This gives access to a seated area and comes with a free drink. Of course the views from here are again spectacular both to the rear over the Matthias Church and down to the Danube and the Parliament Building. On the top floor of the turret there is a model of Budapest, with interactive lights on all of the city’s main attractions. For me this is Budapest’s best spot, with stunning views, and its most instagrammable location. However everyone else thinks the same so it can be very crowded.

Down to the Parliament

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Make your way back along Uri Utca, and if underground exploring is your thing then you are in the right place.

Underground Budapest

There are two very different experiences to be had. The first was the Budapest Labyrinth. These tunnels are a remnant from bygone times when they served a purpose for storage and access. Nowadays they are little more than a maze and they mostly serve for scares. There is a searing smell of damp. The tunnels under the castle are quite extensive but as you travel deeper they become darker and darker. There are exhibitions on Vlad the Impaler and others but at 3000 huf I question if it represents value for money.

A far more rewarding experience is the Hospital in the Rock. The Hospital in the Rock consists of 1km of old caves which were used on two separate occasions as a hospital facility. The museum costs 4000 huf to enter and after the heartbreak of hearing that no photography is permitted inside, I recovered to thoroughly enjoy it. The hospital first found its use in World War II before again being used in the uprising of 1956. Commemoration is paid to those who made it possible to run a hospital here. It also tells of the hardships, how disease was rampant and how a shortage of bandages caused the death of many.

After the 50’s the area was converted for a new use, as a fallout bunker in the event of nuclear war. Exhibitions on the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are harrowing in their depiction of the ravages on humanity. Perhaps the most moving of all was a series of drawings done by survivors in Hiroshima. One ghastly drawing that has stayed with me depicted people drinking acid rain, so ravaged by thirst and hunger, yet completely unaware of their fatal action. The museum was a sobering experience, but I do appreciate anything that exposes the negative side of war.

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Lower Buda Castle

The section of the Buda Castle below the Sandor Palace is also well worth exploring should you have the time. There are the National trio, the National Gallery, National Library and the History Museum. I haven’t visited any (yet). Keep an eye out for the Fountain of King Matthias, Budapest’s version of the Trevi Fountain. King Matthias was a 15th century famed king of Hungary. You can guarantee there are plenty of crowds here too, but not quite on a par with its Italian equivalent. The Fountain depicts King Matthias in a hunting party, standing defiantly at the top over a dead stag. It’s a beautiful feature of the city. The sculptor was Alajos Strobl and the fountain was erected in 1899.

Fountain of King Matthias

The lower extremities of the castle are also worth the effort if for the continued good views. There are structures of historical significance too in the Mace Tower, which was constructed during the 14th Century, and the Deli Rondella, a beautiful semi-circular structure, also dating from the same period. They were both rebuilt in the 1950’s. Keep an eye out for the stunning stain glass windows above the rear entrance to the history museum.

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Deli Rondella
Beautiful stain glass windows in Buda Castle

Further on we come across the Castle gardens Bazaar which is a renovated complex of exhibition halls and gardens. The gardens are an ideal way to approach or return from the castle, with a maze of walkways and paths. Originally they date from the 19th century. The gardens are fronted by a neo-renaissance gateway lavishly adorned with statues and featuring an interior fountain. Two beautiful arches stand to each side. The structures are what one would expect Mediterranean countries and the gardens are a welcome slice of colour in a city renowned for its architecture.

.Budapest Baths

Budapest biggest attraction for many are its baths. Thermal waters are a common thing in Hungary, and this feature has been exploited by the occupiers of Budapest’s area for two millenia. Inevitably the Ottomans embellished the landscape with baths during their occupation, and some of these still remains. Budapest’s modern baths are quite the architectural achievements, evoking thoughts of Ancient Rome. The baths are scattered across the city, with Király, Gellert and Rudas located in Buda, and Szechenyi near Heroes Square in Pest.

After studying the various complexes, the classical stylings of Gellert and it’s location won it for me. I certainly didn’t regret my decision. Depending on where you are commuting from the metro can be a time and leg saving way to get here. I for the most part prefer to walk city’s and Budapest was no exception. The stroll to Gellert is both scenic and startling. I approached from the castle and took Ybl Miklos Ter. There is a spectacular array of buildings and monuments along the docks. A spate of museums lies on this stretch and outside the medical museum stands some enormous statues of fighting soldiers. It’s part of an exhibit on World War I.

The walk passes the Rudas Baths, one of the Ottoman survivors, before running along the Danube and the base of Gellert Hill. The Hill contains quite a few caves and shrines, but many have become the refuge of the homeless. Always sad to see human life like this.

Before you reach the baths, to your right from the complex is the entrance to the Cave Church. Is it worth your time? You betcha it is. As you enter the cave opening contains a shrine, with elevated statues of Jesus and Mary. At this point it looks like any other cave shrine. But with your admission of 600 huf, the caves, which have been extended more and more over the years take you deeper, with increasingly more interesting features. The crucifix in the main church shows a great awareness of the human body by its artist. The churches main artifact is the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, but I was somewhat more intrigued by the black eagle in the Polish Chapel. An audio guide is provided, and it’s really needed to understand the significance of much of the church.

Gellert Baths

I had booked my tickets in advance at my hotel, for 6200 huf. You can book a locker or a cabin, with the cabin easily worth the few forint more for the privacy.

The Gellert Baths opened in 1918 and form a part of the Gellert Hotel complex. As you walk through the doors, you are met by art nouveau opulence. From the broad entrance hall, to the airy foyer; its statues, balconies, and stain glass skylights catch your eye. It’s all done in a mixture of vibrant and bright colours. It would be easy to forget that you came here to relax in thermal waters, and not to gawp at the surroundings.

After walking some impossibly long corridors you arrive at the changing rooms. There is a shop after selling anything you may have forgotten such as swim hats or slippers. Trust me if you come in winter you will be glad of the slippers. The pools are as intricately decorated as the lobby, with pillars and balconies overlooking the aquamarine water. To the end of the first pool, lie a further two on each side. The furnishings here are turquoise, and the statues also add to it’s over the top elegance. Water spouts from the mouths of fish and huddling babies top arches. The decor is completely OTT and its perfect. This is where you will find those bath like 40 degree waters, saunas, and the most steam filled steam rooms I’ve ever seen. I didn’t realise I wasn’t alone for a few minutes. There are many options to expand your experience with massages but I was more than content to soak and wallow in those most beautiful of surroundings.

Getting back to my warning about those slippers. There are a few external thermal baths and even in the winter their temperature is perfect. However it’s quite the walk to get out to them, and believe me the ground is not pleasant in near zero temperatures. My bare feet did not thank me for that.

Statue in Gellert Baths foyer
The columned pool of Gellert Baths

Gellert Hill

Not sure if I did it the right way around but having relaxed and chilled for the afternoon I put more pressure on those feet with a hike up the nearby Gellert Hill. It’s a great hike, and well worth a visit. If you can time it with a sunset,  you will be guaranteed a radiant display (providing there is the sun of course). There is a huge number of steps to get to the top, it’s hard to say how many as there is no definitive way with so many paths, but the increase in elevation is 235 metres. Along the way the view of the Liberty Bridge and the Danube gets better and better. The summit is crowned by the Statue of Liberty, erected by the Russians to celebrate victory in World War II, and a citadel. The hill has a chequered past, during the revolution of 1956, Russian tanks fired down into the city from this lofty position.

You should come here not for the history, but for the vista, with all five major bridges lying before you. Is it any wonder to find lovers locks on a fence, in such a romantic place. Dare I say it, this view is better here than that at the Fisherman’s Bastion. What could be better than that? Following my advice and coming here for sunset. Whilst there the sun put on one of its best light displays I have ever come across in a city. It was amazing.

View south over the Danube
Statue of Liberty
Lovers locks on a perfect o#position over the city
Amazing sky over Budapest

It’s best to exit Gellert Hill, by heading towards Margarit Bridge. Parks are not somewhere I’m fond of being in at night. On the way you pass the Gellert Monument, constructed in honour of the saint who lent his name to the hill (he was killed by pagans who threw him from the hill), before finally winding down toward the Elisabeth bridge.

Bridges of Budapest

As mentioned before Budapest is very much a river city and five great bridges span its breath. The banks of the river are worth traversing just to see them all, but Chain Bridge is the one to beat them all. At the foot of the funicular, cast your head over your shoulder. There is a beast of a tunnel running under the castle known as Budai Varalagut. It’s opening looks like the mouth of a whale. and though a little dirty the arch like entrance is very impressive. Adam Clark the famous Scottish engineer aided in its design, but his attentions were focused on what lies in front.

The Chain Bridge (Szechenyi Bridge) is the most impressive of the bridges that cross the Danube, and it was also the first permanent bridge on the river. This suspension bridge was opened in 1849. It is best seen at night when it is illuminated but its amazing to cross by day too, and marvel at its construct. From the imposing lions that sit guard on the bridge entrance to the stone towers that break up all the wrought iron, it’s a beauty. The Pest side of the bridge greets you with the art-nouveau luxury of the Gresham Palace Hotel.

Lions of Chain Bridge

Danube River Cruise

If you don’t have the time or energy to go bridge chasing then fret not, what do all good rivers have. River cruises. And Budapest is no exception. There are a host of companies offering cruises, with dinner and nighttime cruises also available. I haven’t tried other for these, but for the day cruises I saw little difference between any of the cruises so we had picked the Legenda cruises company for no reason other than we liked their flyer and the look of the boat. They dock at dock seven. The cruises are 3900 ft for an adult and last about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Children are surprisingly free and the addition of a drink of your choice on the way out and a glass of lemonade on the way back seal a good deal.

The cruise boat had a capacity of several hundred and there was an upper deck. The cruise itself was very pleasurable and the view took in most of the city’s river side sights.  The boat sailed south as far as Petofi bridge before heading back north past Gellért, the Castle, and the main attraction that is surely the Parliament building. It’s a beautiful river and it’s another great way to see the city.  Five great bridges cross the river and the boats route sailed under all and around the 2.5 km Margarit Island. The island is the realm of the fit, joggers make full use of its circumference and activities include swimming and bike renting. Legenda cruises offer you the chance to alight and explore the island. You can make your way back to the city by yourself or wait forty minutes for the boat to return. It’s a worthwhile way in my opinion to see the city from a different angle and get some relaxation time in.

Pest

Pest is not as showy as Buda with far more locals and commercial and administrative functions. But that doesn’t make it much less than its counterpart. The secessionist architectural movement of the late 19th and early 20th Century, found great inspiration here, and some amazing buildings were constructed. The best place to start your tour of Pest is with its best, the Parliament Building.

Hungarian Parliament

No building in Budapest can quite produce the same impression as the Hungarian Parliament. In every respect it is astounding. As the largest building in Hungary and the joint tallest in Budapest, it dominates the banks of the Danube. The parliament is 96 metres tall and has a total of 691 rooms. Needless to say the tour doesn’t visit all. The parliament was constructed to mark the millennium of the Hungarian nation, and after the unification of the tri cities of Buda, Pest and Obuda to form Budapest. The building is constructed in the Gothic revival style with a huge central dome. I suggest walking around the full circumference of the Parliament, its magnificent from all angles.

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Various views of the parliament

Entry is by guided tour in only and costs 2400 huf. Tours in different languages are available. I’ve never been in a more secure building, armed security lurked in the corners around the perimeter, a full army platoon were based in the reception and armed guards monitored the metal detectors as you entered. Phew, I’m glad my intentions were to see the building only. Inside we were chaperoned by security, I was a little bemused by our one, he was an angry guy and kept urging people to keep moving. Needless to say that was usually me, as I dropped back to take photos.

Besides the understandable high security level, the building was a delight. Gold leaf emblazoned much of the walls of the Ornamental Stairs (40 kg was used in the construction) and the place gleamed. As we entered the central part of the building we had an opportunity to witness another changing of the guards. The royal crown of Hungary (complete with bent cross on top from the time someone dropped it) is guarded 24/7 by some more very serious looking guys. While you can photograph the guards, photos in the throne room are forbidden. The crown jewels have been stolen many times over the years and I guess its a precaution. You don’t want to take the chance with that massive security guard following you either.

The two rooms you will most want to see are the Entrance Hall and the Assembly Hall. The Entrance Hall is a symmetrical delight, of stairs and exquisite designs. Gold leaf and stain glass windows add to the delightful room. The Assembly Hall is an exact replica of the one where the Hungarian Parliament currently sits, with curved seating facing the chair. It used to be the upper house of the government before that was amalgamated with the lower.

The tour takes around 45 minutes through the parliament before finishing in the museum. The list of stats here really helps you visualise the size of the building and the sheer effort to keep the place running. Its costly being this extravagant.

On the banks of the Danube near the Parliament is the somber Jewish memorial, in memory of those lost during the holocaust. The line of shoes speaks volumes. The shoe piles in concentration camps often were the thing that made me realise the actual number of people who were lost there.

Memorial to Jews lost in World War II

Much of the buildings near the Parliament are very impressive, such as the Ethnographic Museum and the Museum of Agriculture. However these neo-classical behemoths pale compared to the secessionist Post Office Savings Bank found nearby, its elaborate designs and colours making it one of the most unique buildings in the city. Dating from 1901 the colourful tiles of the roof are a particular highlight. It doesn’t seem possible to go inside though.

The nearby Liberty Square is convenient to walk through en-route to other attractions. The square is named after the Soviet liberation in World War II, and is lined by art-nouveau, including the US embassy.

St Istvan’s Basilica

One of the city’s main attractions is the Basilica. A behemoth of a church it is named after the first king of Hungary, Istvan or Stephen in English. It is said his right hand is held in the reliquary. The Basilica is a relatively new building, only completed in 1905. Interestingly it was built on land previously occupied by a theatre for animal fights, so a major improvement.

The exterior of the basilica
The church has a central dome and two bell towers which can’t be accessed

The church is neoclassical in style, with two twin bell towers and a huge central dome. It shares the accolade of Budapest’s tallest building with the Parliament at 96 metres tall, partially because not other building is permitted to be higher. Entry to the basilica is self-driven with no admission cost, but donations are accepted for the maintenance. The aforementioned mummified hand is the main attraction inevitably. I found the interior a little dark, but it was still easy to admire the interior of the dome. Dark tourism is alive and well. The basilica is huge, capable of holding 8500 people, and its vastness ensures great acoustics. Organ concerts can be attended each Thursday evening.

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The inner design of the dome

The dome itself was for me main attraction, if you are willing to climb the 364 steps to the cupola. Needless to say I was. The stairs vary in style but none are too difficult to mount. For me the winding stairs would prove one of the Basilicas most interesting features. Challenging but worthwhile, I again was fortunate enough to find myself on this viewpoint as sunset fell. With the bustling Pest below and the Budapest Eye (every city seems to have one now) the views are guaranteed to be great any time of day, but dusk was perfect.

Beautiful spiral stairs leading to the cupola
Bell tower- close up
Pest at dusk

The area to the south of the Basilica is the great epicenter of the city. Filled with stylish restaurants, it is also the high street area of the city. You can expect to find all the brands as you would in any European capital. Now shopping isn’t really my thing, but its a good place for street side cafes to grab a drink and people watch, or a glass of hot wine come winter. It’s not without its architectural sights either, the Concert Hall, Philantia Flower Shop and the below Turkish Bank were all built at the turn of the last century.

The design on the Turkish Bank- early street art?

Jewish Quarter

The Jewish Quarter has become known as the trendy part of Budapest. Making up the Budapest Ghetto in the past, it is now where one goes to catch up on the latest work of Budapest’s street artists, chill in a cafe, or party the night away in its bars. It is here that the Budapest ruins bars first started. To those not in the know Ruin Bars are a huge trend here. The area suffered much damage during World War II and many buildings were left derelict and rundown. This was seized upon by local entrepreneurs who saw the potential within, and built sprawling bars within the ruins, but maintained the look within.

I visited the original ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, which opened in 2002. Set in what is a derelict factory, its a vast space. The walls are covered in scrawlings and graffiti, and even though I know that’s the image they were going for, the whole rundown thing wasn’t for me. I found their craft beer offering a little week, and when a cockroach ran up the wall beside my pint, I realised ruin bars are not my thing. I chilled out in a nearby jazz bar contemplating my lost youth. Naturally everyone needs to draw their own conclusions on these places, but perhaps I was a little too solo and sober.

I did have some great street art finds in the area so not all was lost and I returned in daylight to photograph. Two of my favourites were this leaisurely bull and the girl cowering in her house.

Modern day street art
This guy takes no bull
Walls of Szimpla Kert

Dohany Street Synagogue

The Dohany Street Synagogue is famed for quite a few fortunate and unfortunate reasons. As it seats 3000 people it is the largest synagogue in Europe and the fourth largest in the world. It was constructed in the 1850’s in the Moorish revival style, drawing on influences such as the Alhambra in Spain. Naturally then its quite the building to look at, with its twin onion-domed towers complimented by a rose window, and motifs on the walls. Very much a blend of styles, it is somewhat unique. It has had a heavy influence on synagogues built afterwards.

Entry to the synagogue is 2400 huf, and security is again high. There are metal detectors at the doors. Once past this unusual security level at a place of worship, you can enter the main building. Tours run in several languages throughout the day, and you can join in and leave at any time. Just look for the flag with your preferred language on it. The tour will introduce you to the history and styles of the building, to the interesting fact that it is one of the only synagogues to have an organ (playing music is work and there is no work on the sabbath), before taking you outside and to some of the more grim history of the synagogue and the Budapest Jewish community.

The interior is designed again with very much Moorish thinking. Arcades run the length, with arches, and huge chandeliers leading all the way to the ark. The galleries hold as many people as the lower level, as at the time of construction ladies were required to sit separate from men. That rule has been relaxed.

There is a Jewish Museum outside, and the stark reminders of Nazi occupation are everywhere to be seen. The synagogue was located in the Pest ghetto, which formed the largest ghetto in Europe during World War II. The Memorial of Hungarian Jewish Martyrs, is a weeping willow, and commemorates the 400,000 Hungarian Jews who died during the Holocaust. Unusually a cemetery is also within the complex of the Synagogue, as this is not common practice. The cemetery was a consequence of the harsh winter of 1944-45, when circumstance forced its creation, as thousands died from the cold and hunger. Some 2000 people are buried in the small area. It’s a tough reminder of a brutal period in history.

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Jewish cemetery from World War II
The weeping willow is a memorial to those lost

Pest Architecture

Much of Pest is built up and it’s a stark cry from the polish of Buda Castle. It’s less stately with the exception of the Parliament of course but for myself, who is constantly keeping an eye out for buildings of note, Pest is simply full of them. I’ve always thought of Budapest as a blend of Paris and Barcelona, due to its impressive architecture. As one of the principal cities of the Austro-Hungarian empires, it should come as no surprise. I’ve compiled a collection of some of those buildings below for anyone as obsessive as I am.

New York Palace Cafe

Budapest is not what would one regard as being an expensive city, but sometimes a little indulgence is called for. I know I said this is a blog dedicated to sights and not to food, but I don’t regard a visit to the New York Palace Cafe as being strictly about food. Now don’t get me wrong, the cappuccino was perfect, and my chocolate cake was as indulgent as it gets. But my eyes rarely left the decor. This is why we should queue for fifteen minutes. This is why we pay 17000 huf for two coffees, two cakes, a milkshake and a water. That’s €56 according to the credit card machine.

So why so much. Billed as the most beautiful cafe in the world, I am in no position to argue. Certainly it is the most beautiful I have ever seen. The cafe forms part of the five-star New York Palace Hotel operated by the Boscolo chain. Surprisingly the hotel is very reasonable for a stay. The building was constructed by the New York Life Insurance Company in 1884, and the cafe has operated since this time. It has been recently renovated and the interior by Koraly Senyei, Gusztav Mannheimer, and Ferenc Eisenhut is exuberant. The stuccoes, frescoed ceilings, statues, chandeliers and sweeping balconies are opulence of the finest order. Marble columns and Venetian lamps add to the effect. It deserves that Palace in its title. It was worth that €56. It’s not often you can sit and dine in such surroundings, so do as I did. Treat yourself. Of course you can decide for yourself. Not all of us loved the experience.

Looking down into New York Palace Cafe

Budapest by Night

As daylight fades, most great cities take on a new lease of life and Budapest is no exception. Its a gorgeous city by night too, and most of its main attractions glow. The Parliament again proves to be ace in the pack. The bridges, particularly chain bridge is an awesome night time sight, as are the citys churches. I’ve compiled a collection of shots from the city at night below.

Heroes Square

Heroes Square or Hosok Tere lies somewhat outside the city centre. Its reached by a 2.5km walk or more easily by a metro ride on metro M1 from the city. Its easy for me to recommend a trip out here, at any time of year, I visited in January and there was so much to see. As you arrive to the square you are greeted by the large open square, with its monuments. These were constructed for the centenary of the city in 1896, with the large column paying tribute to the seven Chieftans of the Magyars, who took their tribes to present day Hungary before forming the nation. There are two colonnades behind, lined with statues of the Kings of Hungary and great leaders of the people. Its an impressive square made more so by the two buildings which flank it, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art. I’ve yet to strike those two off my list.

But the attractions of the area are not limited to the square. Behind it lies the Vajdahunyad Castle, but more on that later. The winter landscape is transformed by the ice skating rink here, and that castle provides one amazing backdrop. Take a stroll in the City Park, its combination of lakes, willow trees, and restaurants are the perfect antidote for anyone suffering concrete overload from the city. Its easy to wile away a day out here, there are a couple of family attractions in the Budapest Zoo, and the Fovarosi Circus. Even without entering their intriguing structures within are worth walking by to admire. The zoo gateway is a beauty, also built in secession style. The Vidampark, an amusement park seems to have permanently closed.

Zoo entrance way
Strange looking building near the zoo

The more appealing feature of the City Park though is the Szechenyi Baths. If you gave any of the city centre baths a miss (or even if you didn’t) then this should be 100% on your agenda. As Budapest’s largest public baths, it meets all the criteria. Most of the pools are outside though, so perhaps its more of a good weather bath. It has three large pools, plus a few smaller medicinal baths, which your 6500 huf will get you access to. Twenty minute massages are available at extra cost. Being a modern Budapest bath from the early 20th century, the baths are built in the neo-baroque style and are as over the top as you would expect. Statues and colourful surroundings greet you and the theme is maintained throughout. The Budapest Baths are an experience, and its a rich experience that you will be delighted to take home with you. Make visiting one a priority.

Vajdahunyad Castle

Vajdahunyad Castle is another attraction that was built to mark the millennium celebrations in Hungary. While it appears to be a palace-style castle, it was in fact never inhabited, and was built as part of a complex. The complex is a collection of buildings, whose purpose was to show different buildings over that millennium of Hungarian existence. The main castle is based on Hunyad Castle, which is now in Transylvania, but formed part of Hungary at the time.

You are free to explore the parklands around the castle at your own volition and I advise to do so. The architecture of the castle is very admirable, apparently it was originally built in cardboard (yes, really) before popularity convinced its transition to stone in 1904. What is seen now is the Gate Tower, a church complete with cloisters, and the main castle, which nowadays hosts the agricultural museum, the largest of its kind in Europe. A combined ticket price of 2100 huf will give access to both. As a castleaholic I wasn’t going to miss out. Admittedly I didn’t find the Gate Tower to be the most exciting, it contains a photography exhibit

.The exhibitions though and the castle itself were well worth the admission. The agricultural museum, is joined by a horse museum inside, which were both quite interesting. Admission also allows access to the roof, known as the Tower of the Apostoles, for views over the city and the estate in City Park. Upon returning down the floor plan takes you through rooms adorned with innumerate antlers, and wonderful ceilings. Perhaps I enjoyed this more but that’s me. Tours are self guided besides the r#trip to the roof, so i advise sticking your nose into every cranny to see all there is on show. When leaving the castle be sure to circle around the back towards Heroes Square as the views across the ice rink are worth it.

Bridge to the Castle
Bridge to the Castle
The ice rink with the castle as backdrop
Its quite the structure

Summary

Naturally a complete travel guide to any city is near on impossible, as there is just so much to see and do. I will endeavor to keep adding to this as I continue to visit Budapest. For me this is the beginning, and this blog will evolve with time. However I believe I’ve covered the main city attractions and much in between, and naturally I would be more than delighted if this blog guides anyone on their way.

I welcome any constructive comments to make this blog better, or anywhere you think might benefit the blog by its addition.

Lastly, phew, I would really appreciate any shares or pins to bring this blog to a wider audience.

Top Things to see in Budapest

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