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The famous buildings of the capital’s premier park were erected by enthusiastic Budapest citizens to commemorate the country’s millennium in 1896.

The City Park
The City Park

 

At the imposing Hősök tere (Heroes’ square) the Archangel Gabriel raises the Holy Crown to a height of 36 m. The centre of the square is occupied by a colonnaded monument commemorating the millennium of Hungary’s conquest.



A group of sculptures represent the Magyar chieftains, including their legendary leader Árpád, who led the conquering tribes from Asia into the Carpathian Basin. Between the pillars statues of kings, generals and politicians of Hungary can be seen.

Heroes’ square
Heroes’ square

 

On opposite sides of the square are the two principal art museums of Budapest. The Museum of Fine Arts contains the country’s prime art collection. Its old masters section boasts the largest collection of Spanish masters outside Spain as well as an equally superb collection of works by masters of other nationalities, including Bellini, Brueghel, Corregio, Dürer, El Greco, Giorgione, Goya, Murillo, Leonardo da Vinci, Raffael, Rembrandt, Rubens, Titian and Velasquez. Famous pieces from the 19th century include those by Delacroix, Gauguin, Monet, Renoir and Corot.

Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts

 

The other museum is called Műcsarnok (Palace of Arts), and it is the country’s largest exhibition hall, a suitable venue for major temporary exhibitions.

Palace of Arts
Palace of Arts

 

Erected on Széchenyi Island, Vajdahunyad Castle is an imitative anthology of some of old Hungary’s famous buildings and architectural styles ranging from the Romanesque to the Baroque. Of the imitation buildings, the most important is the replica of the Castle in Vajdahunyad in Transylvania (today in Romania).



It houses the Agricultural Museum, the first of its kind, established in 1896. The nearby lake is a romantic setting for boating in summer and ice skating in winter.

The Széchenyi Baths complete with thermal pools, Turkish steam baths and tubs, swimming pools and a water park (11 Állatkerti körút) is Europe’s largest spa baths.

The Transport Museum (11 Városligeti körút) houses one of Europe’s oldest collections of transport history memorabilia.

The 135-year-old Budapest Zoo, built in the Art Nouveau style, was the first of its kind in the world. The other popular amusement facility in the City Park is the Metropolitan Circus.

Budapest Zoo
Budapest Zoo

 

The Palace of Wonders at 19 Váci út is Central Europe’s first interactive ‘playhouse’ of science, popular with children. So is the Park of Hungarian Railway History (95 Tatai út) with trains that visitors can drive.

Good to know about The City Park

  • City park (Városliget) is a landscape public park in Central Budapest. Városliget was among the first public parks in the world open to the whole public
  • The area used to be a meadow and popular hunting area for noblemen. It was turned into a city park at the beginning of the 19th century
  • It used to be the main venue of the 1896 Millenium Celebrations, Hungary's 1000th anniversary. Many attractions were built then such as Heroes' Square or Vajdahunyad Castle
  • Other attractions include: the Zoo, Budapest Circus, Széchenyi Bath, Városliget Pond (an ice rink in winter)
  • The Városliget ice rink is the largest open air ice rink in Europe
  • Vajdahunyad Castle is an architectural museum presenting the major building styles used in Hungary for Romanesque to Baroque. Part of the building is a replica of an existing castle in Vajdahunyad, Romania
  • Vajdahunyad Castle was first built out of cardboard for the Millienium Celebrations. It was so popular that a permament, stone building was erected
Városliget ice rink
Városliget ice rink

A buzz with pavement cafés, street artists, vendors, boutiques and nightclubs, the dowtown (belváros in Hungarian) or Inner City is the hub of Pest.

A buzz with pavement cafés, street artists, vendors, boutiques and nightclubs, the dowtown (belváros in Hungarian) or Inner City is the hub of Pest and, for tourists at least, the epicentre of what’s happening. Commerce and pleasure have been its lifeblood as long as Pest has existed, first as a medieval market town and later as the kernel of a city whose belle époque rivalled Vienna’s.

Since their fates diverged, the Belváros has lagged far behind Vienna’s Centrum in prosperity, but the gap is fast being narrowed, at least superficially. It’s now increasingly like any Western city in its consumer culture, but you can still get a sense of the old atmosphere, especially in the quieter backstreets south of Kossuth Lajos utca.

Pest

Pest, on the left bank of the Danube, also has many historic districts, resorts and famous sights. There are nine bridges spanning the Danube, the oldest being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge built in 1849.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge

 

Downtown - Pest The Downtown Parish Church on Március 15. tér was the city’s first church. Examples of all architectural styles, ranging from Romanesque to Classicist, blend into the interior of the church.

At 2 Dohány utca Europe’s largest synagogue is found, serving also as a concert hall of excellent acoustics. The Jewish Museum in the courtyard of the synagogue is a centre for Jewish studies.



The Hungarian National Museum (14-16 Múzeum körút) is the finest example of Hungarian Classicist architecture. In existence since 1846, it is the most significant public collection in Hungary, tracing the history of the Hungarian people from prehistoric times to the present day.

Hungarian National Museum
Hungarian National Museum

 

The Vásárcsarnok (Grand Market Hall, 1-3 Fővám körút) is striking in its architectural inventiveness.

The finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Hungary include the Museum of Applied Arts (33-37 Üllői út) with its wide selection of permanent and temporary exhibitions, the houses on Szervita tér (Pest town centre) and the building of the former Postal Savings Bank (4 Hold utca).

The Parliament (Kossuth Lajos tér) is the largest and the most lavishly decorated building in the country. Built between 1885 and 1902 by Imre Steindl, this exquisite edifice is 96-m high and 118-m wide, and has 10 courtyards, 29 staircases and 27 gates. Europe’s first area heating system was put in service in this building. Seat of the Hungarian Parliament and government offices, it provides a place of safety for the Holy Crown and the royal insignia. It is accessible only by guided tours in groups.

The neo-Renaissance St. Stephen’s Basilica (Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út), elevated to the rank of basilica minor, is the largest church in Budapest, and the second largest in Hungary. The right hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king (970-1038), preserved intact for over 1,000 years, is the relic of the Chapel of the Holy Right. The tower balcony of the basilica offers a splendid uninterrupted panorama of the whole of the city.



It is worth taking a walk along the straight Andrássy út, a boulevard that is now a World Heritage site. It is lined with 19th- and 20th-century Eclectic-style palaces.

The State Opera House (22 Andrássy út), with its frescoed interior, seating an audience of 1,200, is a splendid work of by Miklós Ybl, Hungary’s most famous architect, and has been the centre of musical life in Hungary since 1864. There are guided tours.

State Opera House
State Opera House

 

After a stroll along Váci utca from Vörösmarty tér and a look at the splendid view of Várhegy from the embankment, the best way to appreciate the dowtown is by simply wandering around. People-watching and window-shopping are the most enjoyable activities, and though prices are above average for Budapest, any visitor should be able to afford to sample the cafés. Shops are another matter – there are few bargains – and nightclubs are a trap for the unwary, but there’s nothing to stop you from enjoying the cultural life, from performances by jazz musicians and violinists to world-class conductors and soloists.

 

While peace and quiet is harder to find in Pest than it is in leafy Buda, you don’t have to trek out to City Park or Margaret Island to experience what is known as "park life" as a secluded spot is often never more than a few corners away.

The cute park at Honvéd tér with its trimmed lawn and neat flowerbeds is tucked away close to the busy Pest thoroughfare of Szent István körút but is totally peaceful, bar the sounds of kids playing. There’s also concrete ping-pong tables with iron nets that may be an unglamorous hangover from Communism but they can stand all weather and make for a good game.

Honvéd tér
Honvéd tér

 

You’ll run into English speakers here and also on the playgrounds of Szabadság tér. Although Szabadság tér, literally Freedom Square, may be synonymous with the violence after the riots of 2006 and repression in the form of the Soviet War Memorial, this big open space, surrounded by colossal buildings that serve to block out the bustle, is a superbly relaxing place and you can contemplate the awesome aspect of the city’s biggerthan- thou architecture.

Freedom Square
Freedom Square

 

Still on the Pest side, Károly kert also belies its central location close to hectic Astoria, transcending metropolitan modernity and transporting you back to Budapest’s early 20thcentury heyday.

Károly kert
Károly kert

 

Step through the wrought-iron gate and feel at the center of a living bastion of old-world charm.

 

After a lot of pacing the streets in Day 1 and Day 2, here we start with a coffee at one of Budapest’s most luxurious coffee houses, followed by a spot of shopping, taking in everything from designer boutiques, folk art shops, and food markets. This tour also gives you the option of ending the day with a swim and a thermal bathe to soothe the joints after scaling the dizzy heights of Gellért Hill.

START: M1 to Vörösmarty tér or Tram 2 to Vigadó tér and walk for two minutes in the opposite direction of the river.

Café Gerbaud

Try morning coffee and cake at one of the plushest of the city’s illustrious coffee houses. Your biggest decision here will be to work out where to sit to take it all in.

This is not the place we would choose to start the day every day - the ornate interior can be a bit over the top - but we find it tasteful enough in small doses to be an ideal treat. Coffee culture is about not only reading papers and devouring Gerbaud’s renowned Esterházy and Dobos cakes, but legend has it that young men indicated their availability to well-heeled ladies of pleasure by tipping an excessive amount of sugar into their coffee.

In summer, if the wealth of chandeliers, marble tables, fine wood paneling, and stucco ceilings gets a bit much, take to the terrace and sit out on Vörösmarty tér.

Time: 45 minutes. Opening hours: 9am–9pm.

Location: Budapest, Vörösmarty tér 7. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér.

Váci utca

Even those who are not shopaholics can easily take in this relatively short shopping street and surrounding area. Starting from Vörösmarty tér, which often has something going on and hosts a Christmas market, you’ll find most big international fashion brands from Zara and Mango to Jackpot and H&M.

However, most of them offer a somewhat modest selection in comparison to other international cities. Keep an eye out on the side streets for high-end designers.

Souvenir shops also abound, though with steep price tags, but if you are into embroidered tablecloths and folk art, then you have come to the right place.

The shopping street continues on the other side of Szabadsajtó út, where the vibe is less frenetic.

Time: 60 minutes.

Location: Walk through the pedestrian crossing that connects the two sides of Váci utca from Vörösmarty tér to Vámház körút. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér (starting point).

Great Market Hall

You may feel like you’re walking through an Impressionist painting when the sunlight shines into this beautifully restored king of neighborhood markets. However, it’s far from a museum piece; many locals come here to shop for fresh food and it’s bustling with life and color. The array of meat on sale shows just how thrifty Hungarians are, as they consider every part of the animal fair game for the pot. The carp and catfish crammed in tanks on fish "death row" downstairs are an uncomfortable sight for some, but hey, at least they’re fresh.

There are plenty of foodstuffs like paprika, salami, and goose liver to take home in the Great Market Hall, and upstairs look out for folklore and handicrafts hidden among the mountains of tourist goods.

There are plenty of nibbles to be eaten upstairs.

Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Location: Budapest, Vámház körút 1–3. Opening hours: Mon 6am–5pm, Tues–Fri 6am–6pm, Sat 6am–3pm. Metro: M3 to Kálvin tér. Tram: 2/47/49 to Fővám tér.

Walk across Liberty (Szabadság) Bridge

Buda and Pest are seamlessly connected by this bright green piece of intricate ironwork that joins the Pest’s Great Market Hall and its neighbor the Budapest University of Economics (formerly the Karl Marx University) with the Gellért Hotel and the dramatic Gellért Hill of Buda.

The Liberty Bridge was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1896, who actually knocked the last rivet into it.

Time: 10 minutes.

Location: Starts where Pest’s Vámház körút meets the Danube. Tram: 47/49 to Kálvin tér.

Gellért Hill

The imposing Gellért hill, that towers over the Pest waterfront of the Danube has been used to good effect to suppress forces for change. Italian missionary Szent Gellért was reportedly rolled down the hill in 1046 to his death by revolting pagans. The Austrians then built a Citadel from which to lord it over the Magyars.

To find the Gellért Statue upstream towards the Erzsébet Bridge where you will see the steps leading up. Gellért, who participated in spreading the gospel in 11th century Hungary on King Stephen’s request, met his end being tumbled down the hill (that was subsequently named after him) in a barrel filled with nails.

Ultimately, Christianity won through with Gellért canonized in 1083. The Gellért Statue captures the saint preaching defiantly but precariously on the edge of the hill. It dates back to 1904 and is the work of Hungarian sculptor Gyula Jankovits (1865–1920).

Follow the path up and you reach the Citadel that the Austrians, smarting from the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, built, replete with cannons galore, atop the hill pointing at the Hungarians below. There wasn’t much use for it after they patched up their differences in 1867, although German occupying forces utilized it in World War II.

The three-level bunker inside the Citadel has waxworks and photos chronicling the Siege of Budapest. Close by and at the peak of the hill, Budapest’s very own statue of liberty, the Freedom Statue M, ironically went up in 1947 as a tribute to the Soviet forces that liberated the city from the Nazis. Featuring a woman proffering the palm branch of triumph and not overtly Soviet-looking, it survived the cull of Communist statues from the capital.

Time: 1–2 hours.

Cave Church

On the way down, just before reaching the Gellért- Hotel and Baths, check out this spooky church whose eerie passages dig deep into the hill.

Don’t be alarmed if a priest appears from nowhere in the Cave Church!

Time: 15 minutes.

Gellért Baths

After another hard day of pounding the streets, the Art Nouveau architecture of the Gellért thermal baths allows you to relax in style but also to see something special. Inside, the central pool is surrounded by Romanesque columns and lions spitting out water, and just for a moment you might expect Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra to dive in alongside you.

At the end of the pool, the male and female thermal facilities are to the right and left respectively. This is where things start to get really colorful and heated, and we are not just talking about the design or decoration, nor the saunas and steam rooms. You can keep your bathing costume on, though many locals like to let it all hang out and dispense with their modesty cloths, although the authorities are said to be cracking down on that sort of thing.

The plunge pool is so icy you feel the chill right through your bones, but the thaw of the warm pools is always close at hand. While the waters are supposed to sort out arthritis, blood circulation, and the spine, we say just enjoy them and come out feeling squeaky clean and purified. In summer, be sure to check out the outdoor pools and garden, which is a bit more suited to kids who can enjoy the artificial waves in the main outdoor pool.

For more information, please see this post about Best Thermal Baths in Budapest.

Time: 2 hours. Opening hours: 6am–7pm.

Location: Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4. Tram: 47/49/18/19 to Szent Gellért tér.

 

After a hard day of major sightseeing on Day 1, take the plunge and relax in one of Budapest’s world-renowned thermal baths, while still admiring its architectural beauty, then get out and about again to uncover some of the unique buildings that reflect the country’s varied and troubled past.

START: Take the M1 or "Millennium Underground" to Széchenyi Fürdő.

Széchenyi Baths (Fürdő)

The therapeutic waters of this neo-Baroque bathing bonanza will revitalize tired joints and set you up for a fulfilling day. That’s providing you don’t spend all your time being slow cooked in the hot pools, which will leave you seriously sleepy.

Alternate between hot and cold pools, saunas, and steam rooms and take some time out in the mediumtemperature pools or just chill out on a deckchair.

Széchenyi Thermals
Széchenyi Thermals

 

The most luxurious pool is the outdoor semi-circular one, from which steam dramatically rises in the cold of winter as locals play chess.

The whirlpool is great for kids.

Time: 2 hours. Go early to avoid the crowds, especially in summer. For more information please reed our post Best Baths in Budapest.

Location: Budapest, Állatkerti körút 11.

Vajdahunyad Castle

Looking at it now, it’s hard to believe that this fairly authentic-looking folly was once made out of cardboard and dates back barely a century. Vajdahunyad Castle went up as a temporary structure as part of the Magyar millennium celebrations in 1896, depicting the various Hungarian architectural styles over the centuries.

Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle

 

By 1908, Vajdahunyad had been transformed into a collection of stone replicas representing treasured creations from right across the Magyar realm. Particularly prominent are the ramparts facing the lake from Vajdahunyad Castle and Sighişoara’s clocktower, both in present-day Romania.

Time: 30 minutes.

Location: Metro: M1 to Hősök tere / Széchenyi Fürdő.

Fine Arts Museum (Szépművészeti Múzeum)

The Fine Arts Museum is closed for reconstruction for about 3 years since march 2015.

The mighty Habsburgs who once ruled as far as Spain and the Netherlands acquired an astonishing collection of impressive art works, many of which found their way here. A tour de force in European art from the 13th to the late 18th centuries, lovers of Madrid’s Prado gallery will see similarities with this collection, which is also particularly strong in Spanish masters, with El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo, Ribera, Cano, Zurbarán and Goya all represented. El Greco’s Annunciation, painted in the late 16th century, is set to heavenly clouds and bright lights, while Velázquez’s early work Peasants Around a Table, dated around 1619, magically preserves the timehonored tradition of getting stuck into conversation over a few drinks.

Fine Arts Museum
Fine Arts Museum

 

Time: 1,5–2 hr. Go early when major temporary exhibitions are running.

Location: Budapest, Dózsa György út 41. Opening hours: Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5:30pm. Metro: M1 Hősök tere.

Walk up Andrássy út

You are more than likely to have explored portions of this, the grandest of Budapest’s boulevards on Day 1 when checking out the Opera House, but further examination is rewarding. Walking from Heroes Square the first stretch is lined with luxurious villas, including Kogart, an arts center and restaurant.

Andrássy út
Andrássy út

 

Further up, Andrássy út is traversed by Kodály körönd, a striking square of faded but ornately painted town houses.

Time: 30 minutes.

Terror House

It’s funny how both the Fascists and the Communists both favored this location on classy Andrássy út to do their worst. An address that seems to be cursed, this visually impressive museum caused controversy with its highly politicized opening in 2002. Seen by many as an affront to the re-spun Hungarian Socialist Party, which once ruled Hungary with an iron fist but has changed beyond recognition, on behalf of their archrivals Fidesz, it was even sponsored by the then Fidesz Prime Minister Victor Orbán. More about the: Terros House

House of terror
House of terror

 

Cynics’ claims are backed up by the fleeting coverage of Fascist Hungary and the much denser coverage of the red terror. However, the fascist Hungarian Arrow Cross Party ran the country for only a year, coming into power in 1944, but what a gruesome year that was, with the previously protected Jewish population being shipped off in droves to concentration camps.

Politics aside, from the Russian tank that greets you; to the pictures of victims and their jailors; the industrial and dark classical soundtrack; film footage and interviews; genuine exhibits including Hungarian Nazi Arrow Cross uniforms; and the trip to the cells and gallows.

Time: 60 minutes. Opening hours: Tues–Fri 10am– 6pm, Sat–Sun 10am–7pm.

Location: Budapest, Andrássy út 60. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty utca.

Great Synagogue

With its onion domes, Moorish and Byzantine influences, Budapest’s great synagogue not only pioneered a new style of Jewish architecture, it also spawned the father of modern Zionism who was born here, Tivadar Herzl.

Zsinagóga
Zsinagóga

 

Time: 15 minutes.

Location: Budapest, Dohány utca 2. Metro: M2 to Astoria.

Applied Arts Museum

You might have encountered this remarkable-looking Art Nouveau masterpiece by Ödön Lechner, Budapest’s answer to Gaudí, if you took the road in from the airport. Lechner, who also worked on the building’s plans with secessionist sidekick Gyula Pártos, created a Hungarian take on the Art Nouveau movement, adding Hungarian folk touches and emphasizing certain eastern influences on Hungary.

Accordingly, traces of architectural styles from as far afield as India can be detected, and the bright green and gold Zsolnay tiles that adorn the roof and dome are more Oriental than European. You may find more info about this Museum here.

Time: 1,5-2 hours. Opening hours: Tues–Sun 10am– 6pm.

Location: Budapest, Üllői út 33–37. Metro: M3 to Ferenc körút.

Budapest's Bests in Three Days