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Towering 235m (770 ft.) above the Danube, Gellért Hill offers the city’s best panorama on a clear day (bus: 27 from Móricz Zsigmond körtér). It’s named after the Italian Bishop Gellért, who assisted Hungary’s first Christian king, Stephen I, in converting the Magyars.

Gellért became a martyr, according to legend, when vengeful pagans, outraged at the forced and violent nature of Stephen’s proselytism, rolled Gellért in a nail-studded barrel to his death from the side of the hill.

An enormous statue now stands on the hill to celebrate his history.

On top of Gellért Hill, you’ll find the Liberation Monument, built in 1947 to commemorate the Red Army’s liberation of Budapest from Nazi occupation.

The 14m (45-ft.) statue of the woman holding the palm leaf of victory is visible from just about any viewpoint along the river. To her sides are statues representing progress and destruction.

Following the first election in 1990, there was much discussion as to whether the statue should be removed since the Soviet troops were more of an occupation rather than liberation.

Also atop the hill is the Citadella, built by the Austrians shortly after they crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1848 to 1849.

Citadella
Citadella

 

Views of the city from both vistas are excellent, but the Citadella is spectacular. Don’t bother paying the extra to traipse up to the upper part; the view is not that much higher, so don’t waste your money.

 

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.

Pest is as flat as a palacsinta (pancake), spread over a number of districts, taking in two-thirds of the city. Pest is the heartbeat with the commercial and administrative center of the capital and of all of Hungary.

Pest
Pest

 

Central Pest, the term used in this guide, is that part of the city between the Danube and the semicircular Outer Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút), where stretches of it are named after former Austro-Hungarian monarchs: Ferenc körút, József körút, Erzsébet körút, Teréz körút, and Szent István körút, changing names as the district changes.

Central Pest
Central Pest

 

The Outer Ring begins at the Pest side of the Petőfi Bridge in the south and wraps itself around the center, ending at the Margit Bridge in the north. Several of Pests busiest squares are found along the Outer Ring, and Pest’s major east-west avenues bisect the ring at these squares.

Central Pest is further defined by the Inner Ring (Kiskörút), which lies within the Outer Ring. It starts at Szabadság hid (Freedom Bridge) in the south and is alternately named Vámház körút, Múzeum körút, Károly körút, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, and József Attila utca, depending on the district, before ending at the Chain Bridge. Inside this ring is the Belváros, the actual city center and the historic Inner City of Pest. For the traveler, the Pest side is our recommended side for accommodations since this is where the lion’s share of the action is and it is easy to walk to where you want to go.

Váci utca (distinct from Váci út) is a popular pedestrian-only, touristy, shopping street between the Inner Ring and the Danube. It spills into Vörösmarty tér, one of the area’s best-known squares.

Váci street
Váci street

 

The Dunakorzó (Danube Promenade), a popular evening strolling spot, runs along the river in Pest between the Chain Bridge and the Erzsébet Bridge. The historic Jewish district of Pest is in the Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town), between the two ring boulevards.

Duna promenade
Duna promenade

 

Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) is in the middle of the Danube. Accessible via the Margaret Bridge or the Árpád Bridge, its an enormously popular recreation park with restricted vehicular traffic. It is extremely popular in the summer for sunbathing, sports, jogging, and bike riding. It has a small petting zoo for children and the remnants of an old monastery.

Margaret Island
Margaret Island

 

Buda & Óbuda

On the left bank of the Danube is Buda; to its north, beyond the city center, lies Óbuda. Buda is as hilly as Pest is flat and is a good place for hiking. The two most advantageous vista points in the city are in central Buda on Castle Hill and the even higher Gellért Hill. Streets in Buda, particularly in the hills, are not as logically arranged as those in Pest.

Castle Hill is one of the most beautiful parts of Budapest with its magnificent view of Pest. Castle Hill is accessed by steep steps, walking paths, and small roads that are not open to general traffic. There are three less aerobic ways to access Castle Hill for those who want to conserve their energy for other adventures. From Clark Ádám tér (at the head of the Chain Bridge) you can take the funicular; from Várfok utca (near Széll Kálmán tér) you can take the No. 10 bus; or from Deák, take the No. 16 bus, all of which will take you to the top.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

 

Castle Hill consists of the royal palace itself, home to several museums. The previous castle was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt afterward and named the Royal Palace specifically to house museums. The Castle District has a long history going to pre-Celtic times, but what remains today are the medieval neighborhoods of small, winding streets, circling around Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér), site of the Gothic Church of Our Lady or commonly referred to as St. Matthias Church. There’s little traffic on Castle Hill, and the only industry is tourism. Souvenirs, food, and drink tend to be more expensive here than in Pest.

Gellért Hill, to the south of Castle Hill, is named after the martyred Italian bishop who aided King István I (Stephen I) in his conversion of the Hungarian nation to Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. A giant statue of Gellért sits on the side of the hill, where legend has it that he was martyred by angry pagans for his efforts. On top of the hill is the Citadella, marked by a 14m (45ft) Liberation Statue of a woman holding a palm leaf to represent victory. It was erected in 1947 and visible from most points along the Danube on the Pest side.

St. Gellért statue
St. Gellért statue

 

Below Castle Hill, along the Danube, is a long, narrow neighborhood and district known as Watertown (Víziváros). The main street of Watertown is Fő utca (Main St.). One of the original market places is off of Batthyány tér in this district. The famous Király thermal bath from Turkish times is right down the street.

Watertown
Watertown

 

Central Buda, the term used in this guide, is a collection of mostly low-lying neighborhoods below Castle Hill. The main square of Central Buda is Széll Kálmán tér, just north of Castle Hill, a hub for trams, buses, and the Red line metro, this area is in serious need of revitalizing. Beyond Central Buda, mainly to the east, are the Buda Hills.

Buda
Buda

 

Óbuda is on the left bank of the Danube, north of Buda. Although the greater part of Óbuda is lacking any architectural significance, reminding one of the Communist times, the area boasts both a beautiful old city center and the impressive Roman ruins of Aquincum. Unfortunately, the road coming off the Árpád Bridge slices the old city center in half, destroying its integrity. The historic center of the old city is Fő tér (Main Sq.) » a charming square dotted with small, yet impressive museums. Óbuda Island (Óbudaisziget) is home to an enormous park that swells in size every August when it hosts Hungary’s own annual Woodstock music festival, called the Sziget (Island) Festival. This festival has developed an international following.

Óbuda
Óbuda

 

Cruising the Danube

Cruising the Danube
Cruising the Danube

 

There’s nothing like a boat ride on a fine sunny day. From Budapest, head up the river leading to the charming towns of Vác, Szentendre, and Visegrád along the Danube Bend.

Etyek

Etyek
Etyek

 

Etyek is one of the friendliest destinations near Budapest. Its wine region is a fine venue for pleasant meanderings in lands suitably called Devilpit-cellar (Ördögárok-pince), Newhill (Újhegy) and Oldhill (Öreghegy). If you want to taste the real flavors of Etyek, don’t leave without sampling the delicacies of Sonkamester, the meals at Rókusfalvy Fogadó and the wonderful wines, for example, at the atmospheric garden of Etyeki Kúria.

Gödöllő

The town north-east of Budapest can boast with about 70 sights but tourists come here mainly to see the Royal Palace (Királyi Kastély). The building has come to be known as one of the symbols of Hungarian autonomy as it had been the summer abode of Sisi, empress of Austria and queen of Hungary in the 19th century.

Gödöllő
Gödöllő

 

Emperor Franz Joseph and his royal consort Queen Elisabeth, affectionately called Sissi by Hungarians, would often stay in the 250-year-old Baroque royal palace (1 Szabadság tér) of Gödöllő. The park of the Baroque building is beautiful, visitors are awaited with permanent and temporary exhibitions and classical concerts.

After 200 years the restored Baroque Theatre is open to the public once again. The chapel and Calvary in Elisabeth Park are from the 18th century. Because of the 700-year-old miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary, the devotional church in Máriabesnyő was elevated to the rank of basilica minor and became a famous shrine.

The Hungarian Grand Prix takes place at the Hungaroring in the outskirts of Mogyoród in mid-August. There is an aquapark adjoining Hungaroring.

Visiting Szentendre

Only 45 minutes outside the city by HÉV, this small Serbian village boasts a number of tiny museums, shopping opportunities, and pleasant strolls along the Danube.

Szentendre
Szentendre

 

It’s hard to point out what makes Szentendre the charming town it is. You wouldn’t be very far from the truth saying either the Mediterranean feel, the little old alleys, the galleries, the tiny shops or the fresh air. One thing is for sure: the view of the Danube from the hills Szamárhegy and Templomdomb contributes a lot to the atmosphere. At the Museum of Micro Miracles (Mikro Csodák Múzeuma) and Művészetmalom exciting exhibitions are on display. The humanistic nature of the settlement is further emphasized by the collection of the Kovács Margit Ceramics Museum (Kovács Margit Kerámia Múzeum). And the most life-like museum is the Skanzen, an open-air ethnographic museum.

Vác

A delightful town. The center square is a mix of historic buildings with a modern square completed in 2006.

Vác
Vác

 

Vác is a one-thousand-year-old episcopal seat on the Danube bank. It was the terminus of the first railway service launched in Pest in 1846, at the time trains arrived here at a speed of 30 km per hour.

The country’s only triumphal arch, the Kőkapu ("Stone Gate"), can be seen here, erected in 1764 to celebrate the visit of the Empress Maria Theresa. Konstantin tér is dominated by the imposing Classicist cathedral. The Episcopal palace (1 Migazzi tér) was built in the 18th century. The tabernacle of the Piarist Church and Monastery (Szentháromság tér) are also noteworthy. All houses on Március 15. tér are protected Baroque monuments.

The Church of the White Company (24 Március 15. tér) was named after the Dominicans in white habit. Its altar is a richly decorated Rococo masterpiece. Aptly entitled "Memento mori", an exhibition in the air-conditioned cellar in the adjoining Baroque house displays rare 16th-18th-century burial memorabilia found in the vault. The bridge over the Gombás brook is the only Baroque stone bridge with statues in the country.

Visit Visegrád-Esztergom

Hungary’s seat of Catholicism, Esztergom is located 46km (29 miles) northwest of Budapest. St. István, the first Christian king of Hungary, was crowned here on Christmas Day a.d. 1000. The cathedral has impressive views of the Danube and the rest of the city.

Esztergom
Esztergom

 

Visiting the Rennaissance Royal Palace (Királyi Palota) at Visegrád is surely a kind of time travel, which is only taken to another level by seeking out the historical exhibition in the Citadel (Citadella). Going further on along the Danube make sure to stop by the town of Esztergom and see the most prominent Roman Catholic basilica of Hungary. Here you should get across the Danube – and the border, too – and revel in the sight of the church from the downtown of Šturovo, as well.

Explore the Monastery at Pannonhalma

Prince Géza founded the monastery in 969. This is where the gothic cloisters are housed as well as a magnifi-cendy ornate 19th-century library, with the most important collection of Hungarian historical documents. It sits on a hill between the forested slopes of the Bakony region and the low-lying Kisalföld (Little Plain), with a fantastic view.

Pannonhalma
Pannonhalma

 

Esztergom is the seat of the archbishop of Esztergom, the primate of the Hungarian Catholic Church. St. Stephen (970?-1038), the first Hungarian king and founder of the country, was born in the castle erected here in around 970. Built on Castle Hill in the first half of the 19th century, the Classicist cathedral on Szent István tér is the country’s largest church with the world’s largest altarpiece, painted on a single piece of canvas.

The cathedral incorporates the early 16th-century red marble Bakócz Chapel, the only intact Renaissance edifice in Hungary. The Treasury of the Cathedral exhibits the richest collection of Hungarian ecclesiastical art of some 400 items. The private royal chapel, the frescoed castle chapel and a rose window in the vicinity of the cathedral are remainders of a Romanesque royal palace.

The Castle Museum (1 Szent István tér) in the restored halls of the palace of Árpád kings traces the history of the castle in Esztergom. The head of the Hungarian Catholic Church resides at the Primate’s Palace (2 Mindszenty hercegprímás tere), which also houses the Christian Museum exhibiting the most valuable pieces of medieval Hungarian fine arts. The Baroque ambience on Széchenyi tér is created by middle-class houses and the City Hall. Topped by two spires, its parish church (1724-28) is a unique monument of Italian Baroque architecture.

Historical Visegrád

Located 40km (25 miles) north of Budapest., You first travel to Nagymaros, then take a ferry to Visegrád, you can find the ruins of King Béla IV’s reign. The Citadel and the reconstructed Royal Palace are among the places worth seeing.

Visegrád
Visegrád

Visegrád, from here the Papal Nuncio, well used to pomp and chivalry, headed his letters "from Visegrád, a Paradise on Earth" when he stayed as a guest and saw the breathtaking palace of the great Renaissance monarch, King Matthias (1458-1490). With 350 rooms and two-tier fountains of red marble, it was one of the most luxurious royal residences of the age.

The Renaissance courtyard of the palace and the so-called Hercules Fountain, which used to stream wine on various celebratory occasions, have been faithfully restored. The original fountains and sculptures are stored at the five-storey 13th-century Solomon Tower, which is one of Central Europe’s largest and most intact Romanesque fortified dwellings. Battle scenes are re-enacted in its courtyard on occasion. The tower is part of a defence system with massive walls connecting the 13th-century water bastion on the Danube with the castle on top of the hill.

This system defended the royal court that was relocated here from Buda in 1316. The Holy Crown was kept at the Citadel built between 1245 and 1255 for nearly 200 years. It was also here in 1335 that the rulers of Eastern Europe met for the first time in history. The kings of Bohemia, Poland and Hungary concluded an economic agreement, to the exclusion of Vienna. On the nearby heights there are three notable things to see: the ruins of a Roman military encampment from around 330 AD on Sibrik Hill; the Nagyvillám ("Great Lightning") lookout tower on Fekete ("black") Hill; and Mogyoró ("hazelnut") Hill, a prime hiking destination with facilities including a bobsleigh course, a yurt camp, a camping site, forest restaurants, playgrounds and a game preserve open all the year round.

Ördögmalmi ("Devil’s Mill") Waterfall, Magda Spring and Telgárthy Meadow, an ideal place for picnicking, are situated in the Apátkút Valley. A thermal spring in Lepence Valley supplies water to the 33-m long swimming pool of a terraced forest spa situated on a hillside.

 

If you want to start at the highest point, you will have to go to János-Hegy (John Hill) where the tower is 529m (1,736 ft) high. On a clear day, you might just see the Tátra Mountains. The best way to get there is the chairlift. The next highest vista is the Citadella (Citadel) on Gellért Hill. The bus only gets you so far, and then you hike up the rest, but it is worth the effort. This is where you’ll find the Lady of Liberty statue viewable from the Pest side. Castle Hill is of course an excellent viewpoint for photographs from both the front of the castle and Fisherman’s Bastion. The best view though is from behind the President of Hungary’s office buildings. Margit Híd (Margaret Bridge), the side across from the island, has a breathtaking view of the river from where the bridge elbows.

Budapest view
Budapest view