I could be prejudiced toward many parts of Hungary, but somehow the capital city has always been at the center of my heart. The city, where the impressive past is present with the progressive present at the same time.
Budapest, where you don’t know, which you should adore more, the lively downtown Pest, the ruin pubs or the breathtaking hills of Buda and its surroundings. You know what? Don’t make a choice, check out everything you can and absorb this unique city.
History of Budapest
Budapest is not only the capital city of Hungary, but also the most populous city, and it is among the European top 10 of ‘most’. We can feel this in the composition of the city: apart from the autochthonous, there are many students and workers who have moved here from the countryside, but we can meet people here from all over the world.
Budapest’s story started in Roman times, as Aquincum. Traces of this can still be found. By the way, the population of the city was around 20000, and occasionally emperors also visited the governor’s palace in Óbuda.
Somehow, the area has always played a central role. According to Anonymous writings, after the conquest, Chief Árpád chose Budavár the city of the former King Attila, as his tribal residence.
Did you know, that the Hungarians immigrated from Asia to the Carpathian Basin?
In the 15th century, during the King Matthias’s rule, Buda became the capital of the country. The King, especially with his wife Beatrix’s assistance, created a royal court and a palace at European level. Pest side was not ashamed either, it became the major trading city.
During the Turkish rule, Buda was the center of the Ottoman troops and the Sultan. Life began to resume in the 18th century, thanks to Maria Theresa, who brought the royal establishments and a university here.
Development peaked in the 19th century, at the time of Reformations, when the city became the center of the country, both culturally and economically. For example, the Széchényi Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest, the Parliament, the spas and many other significant buildings were built at that time and became a cult since.
Buda or Pest? Which side you should pick and why?
During WWII, the city suffered serious damage, but it slowly came to life again, and although history never spared it, it still provides an unforgettable sight for us.
Sights of Pest
There are so many sights in Budapest, that we must separate the city, even if we mean it emblematically. The left side of the Danube River is the Pest part, which has a completely different atmosphere from the Buda one.
Although, there is a green zone, rather concrete determines the street scene. The typical apartments of Pest with circle halls, with traces of time on them, as a form of a gunshot.
Most of the people come to Pest, as they say, just to have fun. In the seventh district of the city, we find the so-called party town, where we can find better and better nightclubs.
I know the picture lives in most people’s heads: Budapest equals the ruin pub. Believe me, there is so much more to enjoy here. Of course, there are many places to serve this kind of desire. There is everything, from the quiet family vine bar, the alternative locations to rock pubs. Places closing and opening after each other here, but if we keep our eyes open, we can’t miss it, we can find plenty of choices.
The history of the district is interesting itself: in the former Jewish town, in 1944-45, many died and the place was neglected for a long time. Gentrification had to wait until the 2000s when the apartments have found new owners.
Youngsters found opportunities in the cheap flats. Initially, they only wanted to set up cheaply furnished cafes, but they quickly realized the need. Youngsters wanted to have fun for cheap. This is how the ruin pubs were created, with their cheap picked furniture. As the district grew in popularity, other nightclubs, pubs, cafes, galleries, and of course restaurants were added too.
Hardly known, unprecedented sights in Budapest which are not included in any guide books.
Of course, not only fun you can have in Pest, the culture and history are everywhere. If it is the Pest side and museums, I have to mention the Museum of Fine Arts, located in the Heroes Square and the Art Gallery. We are sure to come across some very exciting exhibitions here. I wrote a recapitulative article about the best museums in Budapest, which you can find here.
If we are already in the city center and still wish to go a little green, then we don’t have to go far, because we find one of Pest’s favorite refuges: the city park, the second-largest contiguous green space in Budapest, which is currently undergoing many transformations.
So don’t be surprised, if some parts are closed, but they still offer many options. Right there is the City Park Lake, where you can go boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter. For those who love romantic castles, I recommend to them the Vajdahunyad Castle in the Park.
A replica of the Hunyadi family’s Vajdahunyad Castle was completed for the 1896 Millennium Celebrations. At first, almost the entire structure was made of wood, then, later, due to its popularity, they have made it with more durable materials too. How well they did, it is one of the most intimate parts of the city.
If we are already in this area, we should mention some words about Heroes Square, which is one of the city’s symbols, and it is no image film where it is not showing off.
In its place was once a will, designed by Miklos Ybl. The Millennium Celebrations have transformed the cityscape, after all, in this context the decision was finally made, to build a memorial here.
The colonnade and the statues portraying the kings, only later came to the squares, in the 1910s. This venue was important for all ages and eras and was redesigned accordingly to this. During the communist regime, for example, Archangel Gabriel was replaced with Marx and Stalin.
In addition to Heroes Square, we can find the Metropolitan Zoo and – Botanical Garden, which has one of the oldest and largest collections of zoos in the city. If you come to Budapest with a child, don’t miss it.
Budapest with kids – 25 great spots that will bring a smile to your kid’s face
If you are in Budapest, then the Széchenyi Spa is a must-see, which is the largest Spa complex of the city. Szecska, as the locals call it, has 3 outdoor and 15 indoor pools, but we can enjoy the sauna besides the spa treatments. It is an unusual experience to swim between the ancient walls, I would say it is obligatory to do just because of its mood.
As we head towards the Danube, the number of sights is still not decreasing. Deák Square is one of the favorite meeting places for young people. So there’s everything from cheap little pubs to fancy restaurants.
In the summer, Elizabeth Square, next to Deák Square, is for those who want to have fun. The spectacle that turns out is that not just only in pubs, but also in the grass, blankets, we can stumble upon cheerful youngsters who have, say, quite a lot to do with alcohol.
The Aquarium Club is home to many concerts throughout the year, and the Budapest Eye is a favorite among tourists as it provides easy access to the entire city.
Shortly afterward on St. Stephen’s Square, history plays the leading role again. St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of the city’s most impressive buildings. The Neo-Renaissance church is one of the main sites of the cult of St. Stephen and with its 96 meters high, it is one of the tallest buildings in the country.
Believe it, as you stand in front of the basilica, you will understand how small you are in every sense of the word. In its place originally, it was the Hecc Theater in the 1800s, which hosted animal fights. It is a big change, isn’t it? Then the Great Danube Flood destroyed almost everything, and the survivors decided to build a temple in memory of the miraculous escape.
As I mentioned, finding a green area on the Pest side is relatively difficult, so this is why Margaret Island is a treasure. The situation is a bit tricky because I wouldn’t say that it is full of the people of Pest. It is located between Pest and Buda, on the Buda side of the I and III districts, on the Pest side of the XIII Perimeter. The island is 2800 m long and 500 m wide.
If you want to run around the island, it has a great runway. It’s a little over 5 kilometers long and it’s an amazing experience to run here; this is own experience. The average, like me, can take about 30 minutes to complete, but I’ve seen miracles here. The island, by the way, is home to some of the restaurants, spas, hotels and one of the symbols of the island, is the Margaret Island Water Tower.
From the point of view of the Pest side and Hungarian public life, one of the most important buildings is the House of the Country, or, as many people call it incorrectly, the Parliament.
It is based on Imre Steindl plans, born in the spirit of eclecticism, but it also wears Baroque and Neo-Gothic styles. I think there are few such beautiful parliaments in the world like ours, both outside and inside.
The building is 268 meters long, 123 meters wide and 96 meters high, so it’s no wonder that it offers a stunning view. The Parliament looks like it was made into a Wes Anderson movie because it is perfectly symmetrical and its two meeting rooms are mirror images of each other. The Holy Crown and other coronation badges are also preserved here.
Sights of Buda
As we reach through to the other side of the Danube-let’s do it on any magnificent bridges-we enter into a completely different world. Here, the time slows down, and nature gets in the way. This is where everyone who wants to get some air escapes from the city, let’s understand it physically and mentally.
One of the best ways to relax is a little wellness, and the Gellert Spa, which is a beautiful Art Nouveau masterpiece, is perfect for this. There is no shortage of medicinal water in Buda, besides the Gellert, I can recommend the Rudas spa, which was left to us from Turkish times. So, who wants to try a truly authentic Turkish bath in Hungary, has come to the right place.
You have to be prepared for the uphills here, but the scenery there will compensate everyone for the small climb. Gellért Hill is one of the most beautiful points of the city, which rises 235 meters above the river.
Here, we will find the Statue of Liberty, one of the symbols of Budapest. The statue is 14 meters high and it has undergone several alterations because at first it was intended to capture the “great” militias of the Soviet army.
The hill was named after Bishop Gellert, who was, according to the legends, thrown into the depths by the pagan rebellions. Not only because of the wonderful flora here, but also because of the amazing panorama, you can literally see the whole city. The Citadel is a fortress on the top of the hill.
If you are curious about the fabulous story of Buda and Pest, I mean literally, then you should not miss the Garden of the Philosophers (Filozófusok kertje), which is the perfect place for a little reflection. And of course, the view is something indescribable.
This place is a bit more hidden in the Gellért Hill, and probably you will meet a lot fewer people here, like on the Citadel. One of the symbols is the group of statues found here, which carries almost every prominent thinker on Earth; From Jesus to Buddha. Still, my personal favorite is the statue of Prince Buda and Princess Pest, looking for each other, which gives a slightly more fabulous, romantic robe to the city.
How can I miss the main attraction in Buda: the Buda Castle and its surroundings.
In the area of the castle, there are museums, medieval buildings and of course the castle. The Buda Castle defining the cityscape located on St. George’s Square and has been the home of Hungarian kings since the 13th century. However, only a few walls have survived from this period, and the building was significantly rebuilt in the 19th century.
The Hungarian National Gallery, the National Széchenyi Library and the Budapest Historical Museum are also located here. It is a true cultural paradise. However, if that weren’t enough, treasures like the Seven-Tower Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and Sándor Palace are hidden in the area.
It is not hard to dine and vine in Budapest anyway, but if you are already here, it is advisable to try Ruszwurm Confectionery and Baltazar Budapest. And the newly renovated Castle Garden Bazaar always has some good little programs, but it is also a perfect location for a great walk.
And if you are on the move: for those who want to move out of town for a little while, I recommend Normafa, the favorite hiking and skiing destination in Budapest. If I can suggest a few approaching ways, I would definitely say a cogwheel which is not leaving far from the Széll Kálmán Square. A bit retro, a little loud, but you can admire the view and it’s very cozy.
Normafa is the southern peak of Sváb Hill – János Hill. From here, we can reach the Elizabeth Lookout on János Hill by several hiking trails, on foot or by bike. We can make our journey in a beautiful environment, lined up with amazing views.
I would have never thought that not far from Budapest I can find a place, where there was such a silence. Just you and nature, and of course, some others who want to relax too. For those who can bear with the height, there is also the opportunity for a little chairlift, when the world is literally under our feet, or at least this little corner of the forest.
It is the perfect place for families to go out too: they can choose to access the mountain by the children’s railway and there are many very well equipped playgrounds. Whether you are an experienced or a hobby hiker, there are many opportunities and sights to see.
Budapest in a few words
At first, I have to disprove this subtitle because it is impossible to write about this city in a few words. It has so many known and hidden treasures. In fact, perhaps, it is the most difficult to formulate because, no matter how cheesy is, it must be experienced. Indeed, there are few cities in the world as diverse, exciting and unique as Budapest.
Most popular attractions in Budapest
- Vígadó Square 0.5 km*
- The Synagogue of Dohány street 0.6 km*
- New York Palace – Café 1.4 km*
- Market Hall 1.6 km*
- Shoes on the Danube Bank 1.8 km*
- The House of the Country 2.1 km*
- The Buda Castle 3 km*
- Matthias Church 3.2 km*
- Normafa 8.9 km*
* Distance to Deák Ferenc Square
- Szentendre 23.4 km*
- Martonvásár 33.4 km*
- Vác 41.5 km*
- Visegrád 44.6 km*
- Lake Velence 48.6 km*
- Esztergom 53.7 km*
- Székesfehérvár 65.4 km*
* Distance to Budapest