Skip to content

More cosmopolitan than Prague, more romantic than Warsaw and more beautiful than both, Budapest straddles a gentle curve in the Danube, with the Buda Hills to the west and what is essentially the start of the Great Plain to the east. With parks brimming with attractions, museums filled with treasures, pleasure boats sailing up and down the scenic Danube Bend, Turkish-era thermal baths belching steam and a nightlife throbbing until dawn most nights, the Hungarian capital is one of the Continent’s most delight ful and fun cities.

Cosmopolitan city
Cosmopolitan city

 

And the human legacy is just as remarkable as Mother Nature’s. Architecturally, Budapest is a gem, with a wealth of baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and Art Nouveau (or Secessionist) buildings. Overall it has a fin-de-siecle feel to it, for it was then, during the industrial boom and the capital’s ‘golden age’ in the late 19th century, that most of what you see today was built.

In some places, particularly along the Nagykörút (Outer Ring) and up broad Andrássy út to the sprawling Városliget (City Park), Budapest’s sobriquet ‘the Paris of Central Europe’ is well deserved.

Nearly every building has some interesting detail, from Art Nouveau glazed tiles and neoclassical bas-reliefs to bullet holes and shrapnel scorings left from WWII and the 1956 Uprising.

At times, Budapest’s scars are not very well hidden. Over the years, industrial and automobile pollution has exacerbated the decay, but in recent years the rebuilding and renovations have been nothing short of astonishing. Indeed, some people think the city is tidying itself up a bit too quickly.

Yet Budapest remains – and will always stay – Hungarian: exotic, sometimes inscrutable, often passionate, with its feet firmly planted in Europe but with a glance every now and then eastward to the spawning grounds of its people. Budapest is fabulous, romantic and exciting at any time, but especially so just after dusk in spring and summer when Castle Hill is bathed in a warm yellow light.

Chain Bridge

 

Stroll along the Duna korzó, the riverside embankment on the Pest side, or across any of the bridges past young couples embracing passionately. It’s then that you’ll feel the romance of a place that, despite all attempts – from both within and without – to destroy it, has never died.

City Life

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.

Most people who only arrange a day or two in Budapest find they have shortchanged themselves and pledge to return for a longer visit in the future. However, if your time in the city is limited, you will find ways in this chapter to maximize your trip.

Historic Budapest is basically a small area and many sights are relatively easy to walk to as listed on this Guide Website, and you’ll have the added pleasure of perusing the architecture along the way. However, if you are severely limited by time, we suggest you invest in a transport pass, covering the number of days you will be here, so you can get around more quickly.



Conversely, if you scheduled more than a week in Budapest, you may want to balance it out with one or two side trips using the city as your base. In an easy day of travel and touring, you can visit the small, quaint villages of Szentendre, Vác, Gödöllő, or Esztergom, each within an hour of the Hungarian capital.

You may want to consider the information here as a supplement for the itineraries of the walking tours listed in post, “Strolling Around Budapest.”

The best day trips outside Budapest

To really appreciate the city and the layout, you will need a short history lesson. The city of Budapest came into being in 1873, making it relatively young in its present form. It is the result of a union of three separate cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (literally meaning Old Buda) consisting of 23 self-governing municipal districts.

Budapest is divided by the River Danube (Duna) with Pest, almost completely flat, on the eastern shore, making up almost two-thirds of the city. On the western bank is Buda and farther yet, Óbuda, which has the hilly areas, these areas being much older settlements. The entire Danube River flows eastward for a distance of some 2,850km (1,771 miles) making some strange twists and turns as it goes flowing through or forming part of a border of 10 European countries, making it the longest river in the European Union.

City Layout
City Layout

 

The stretch of the Danube flowing through the capital is fairly wide (the average width is 400m/1,312 ft), and most of the city’s historic sites are on or near the river.

Nine bridges connect the two banks, but two are for rail travel only, with five in the city center. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) built in 1873, was the first permanent bridge across the Danube uniting Óbuda, Buda, and Pest. Although it was blown up by the Nazis in 1945, it was rebuilt after the war, reopening in November 1949.



If you look at a map of the city, you will see that the districts are numbered in a spiral pattern for the most part with districts I, II, and III on the Buda side and then IV starts the Pest side until XI, which again is the Buda side.

Main streets & squares Pest