Budapest was the city I picked to celebrate my 26th birthday in. Neither me, nor my girlfriend had ever been there. For both of us it looked as a great choice, to combine the birthday party, with a city break trip and a sightseeing tour. Another reason why I chose Budapest was the fact that Hungary has a historical role in the formation of my family tree. My great grandparents from my father’s side were Hungarians that eventually moved and settled in Bulgaria. When the departure day came, we both believed our programme was precisely done and all we had to complete is the two hour flight from London to Budapest.
Oops, I forgot to introduce myself. I am Alex, born Bulgarian, but my study, work and life brought me to UK. I live in London and love traveling, same like my mom. First time posting on www.tanyagotravel.com, but it’s not going to be the last one. The Budapest story took place on the first weekend of March, when all Europe was frozen, covered by snow and ice.
I was expecting something pompous and quite aristocratic, because Hungary holds the heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. When we landed, though, I felt similar to home. The airport, the landscape and architecture reminded me of Bulgaria. When we got outside of the airport the first thing I saw was a #HelloHungary sign and I just new that had to be the first photo we take to highlight where we were.
Budapest is separated by Danube river into two parts – Buda (West) and Pest (East), where the former represents the hills and the more suburban area, while the latter is the city centre with most of the attractions and rich night life. There are multiple sights worth to visit, but I would like to focus on the most valuable for the shaping of our experience.
By my opinion, three days in Budapest are enough the main sights to be seen, also to get familiar with and to enjoy the local atmosphere. I gathered lots of memories and emotions, but at this particular article I’ll focus only on the top sights. In the next ones, I’ll get more precise about the useful applications and tools on site. Another upcoming exciting story will be the stunning river boat tour, Margaret island trip and spectacular Budapest bridges
Now, similar to the geographical placement of the city, my sights list was separated in Buda and Pest:
My Top ranked Budapest Sights for tourists
Liberty Statue & the Citadel
This sight is situated on Gellert Hill and the view is spectacular, overlooking the entire city. It is a nice exercise to get to the top, but the scenery is worth it. The mix of stairs and steep hills going in zigzag is a challenge and with every step more and more of the city is revealed. If you like hiking, you would appreciate the whole experience. At the top, you can see the Citadel and the Liberty Statue, commemorating those who sacrificed their lives for independence of Hungary. The statue was originally built in 1947 as a symbol of gratitude for the end of the domination by Nazi Germany. There are some merchants on both, the ground and upper floors, that sell souvenirs and you could grab a bite to eat.
Buda Castle (or The Royal Palace) is situated on Castle Hill and is a beautiful building that was historically the home of all Hungarian rulers. Currently the building is hosting the National Gallery of Fine Art and Buda Castle History Museum. Again, because of its positioning, you have a lovely view of Pest. The gallery contains the most popular pieces of Hungarian artists and it’s one of the places mentioned, where you could get the EU citizen discount of 50% (900HUF=€3) . The History Museum is focused solely on Buda Castle and the discoveries made in the area. The museum includes the tower of Buda Castle, which was used for imprisoning.
Buda Castle Funicular
Right in front of Chain Bridge (), you can see the Buda Castle Funicular. Built in 1869, it was only the second rail funicular in Europe at that time. It is a short, but exciting way to get to Buda Castle on Buda Hill. The easy and effortless way to get to the top would cost you though. A single return ticket is currently at 1,800HUF (€6). There are two wagons that go constantly up and down, so you would not have to wait too long to get on. Try to be at the front of the queue and get in to the first compartment. That is the only one that gives you a clear view without any obstruction – perfect spot for photos or a video recording.
Castle Bus Tour
Another option to get to Buda Hill is by using the Castle Tour Bus, which is free with a Budapest Card or at the standard price of 2,100HUF (€7). The bus works on a hop-on-hop-off basis and circles all key locations in area around Buda Castle (i.e. Buda Castle, Mathias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, etc.). The bus moves very slowly, so that tourists could take pictures while it is moving. There is a bus every 15 minutes passing through all 5 stops.
Matthias Church is situated on Castle Hill, right next to the Fisherman’s Bastion and 5 minute walk away from Buda Castle. It was originally built in the 11th century and rebuilt in 15th due to its destruction by the Mongols. Initially, it carried the name of the Virgin Merry, but was renamed in the 19th century in memory of King Matthias. In order for you to get into the church or the church tower, you would need to buy a ticket at the price of 1500HUF (€5).
The Fisherman’s Bastion was built at the end of the 19th century and its seven towers were designed to represent the seven Magyar tribes that inhabited the lands at the end of the 9th century. The structure can be seen as a balcony, from which you have a panoramic view of Pest, Margaret island and Gellert Hill. Just under the balcony you have café, where you can eat and drink, while gazing at the view.
The Hungarian National Museum was found in 1802 and is the home of the nation’s archaeological, cultural and political history. Some of the permanent exhibitions display items dating all the way to the 9th century (e.i. weapons, coins, clothing), the Hungarian Royal History, and the more modern sections representing the periods of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the rise and the fall of communism, and most present times. You can access the museum for free, if you have Budapest card. It is not the largest, but is well structured with a route going consecutively through more than 20 rooms. It’s located near Liberty Bridge and Central Market Hall and is at walkable distance from the city centre (around 15mins) or you can take the Underground and get off at Kalvin ter station.
The Parliament building is the second largest in Europe and, frankly, it resembles quite a lot the number one in that category. Think about it…very long building, with multiple towers, near a river bank…YES!…You guessed it…Westminster, London. The design is beautiful and same as Westminster. You can go inside and it would cost you though. The good news is, if you are an EU citizen, a discount is available on site – 2,400HUF = €8. For Non-EU the entry is a bit higher – 6,000HUF= €20.
Danube Promenade & the Shoes on the Danube Bank
The Danube Promenade starts from the Parliament going south, in the direction of the city centre. It is a lovely walkway along the river, where you can see a historical sight representing the tough times of terror, during the rule of Nazi Germany. The Iron Shoes on the Danube Promenade are an interesting feature, with a very dark meaning. During the Second World War, 3,500 people in Budapest were forced by the Arrow Cross militiamen to take their shoes off before being shot and their bodies falling in the Danube River. In 2005, 60 pairs of iron shoes were attached to the embankment in memory of the victims.
St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s Basilica is the most important Catholic Church in Hungary and a notable tourist attraction, due to its tower view option. In the beginning of the 19th century, local believers began a fundraising in the desire to build a church. The structure was completed in 1905 and given the name of a famous Hungarian King – similar to Matthias Church – King Stephen I, the first king of the country. The beautiful building is even more impressive on the inside, where worshipers regularly go to pray. Tourists have the option to visit the Tower and/or the Treasury.
I strongly recommend the former due to its one of a kind 360 degree view of the city. In order to reach the top, you need to take an elevator and then you are given the choice – either climb up 147 steps in constant spiral or take another elevator. Needless to say, we took the stairs.
With a Budapest Card you can get a ticket at a discounted price of 400HUF = €1.5 per person. The treasury is also quite nice, even though it is a rather small room. For the price of 300HUF = €1, you can see a replica of St Stephen’s Basilica, gifts by the Pope and other religious artefacts, equipment and clothing.
Heroes Square (Hosok tere) & Millennium Memorial
It is the largest square in Budapest and is situated between Andrassy Avenue and the entrance to the City Park. It has significant political value and is the home of the Millennium Memorial – another of the many representations of the chieftains of the seven Magyar tribes. The monument was erected at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which led to the original statues, being the leaders of the Hapsburg lineage. Those remained part of the structure until the Second World War, when the monument was damaged. In the reconstruction, they were replaced by notable figures that took major roles in shaping Hungary’s history.
Here you could join in a very peculiar activity. A wagon shaped vehicle, with a bar and a steering wheel in the middle. You sit on one of the surrounding seats and you can have a drink. Here is the catch though…you have to cycle at the same time, so the vehicle keeps moving. Who said that drink driving can’t be safe?
The Millennium Underground Line is third oldest in Europe, after those in London and Liverpool, UK. Originally, the line was built in 1896 and since 2002 has become part of UNESCO’s World Heritage. It connects the City Park in the East to the city centre in the West.
Please, use the more modern lines first to be able to feel the difference. It is like travelling back in time. The original signage of the stations is still present over ground and when you get on the platform you feel like you are about to get on a monorail in a coal mine.
Obviously, the trains are not a century old, but the shape of the tunnels and type of railway tracks has restricted innovation. Hence, you travel in very small tram-like compartments through station to station. I admire the locals for attempting to keep the Millennium Underground Line’s authenticity and the same time still keeping it in operation.
Central Market Hall (Nagycsarnok)
The idea of the market was established by the first mayor of the city in the 1890s. It came to fruition in 1897 and it became Hungary’s oldest and largest market to date. The building has two floors and a basement. On the ground floor you can by produce by local merchants and farmers. The second floor is mostly for souvenirs and places to eat. In the basement, you could buy fresh fish and meat. I would recommend to buy items from these merchants. The reason for that is in many other places, I witnessed price speculation aimed at tourists.
I know it might seem like a long list but, trust us, it was a difficult decision to remove many other interesting sights. All of the mentioned above is essential to have the full unforgettable experience as a visitor. However, to put it in perspective, I would like to give an example of Google Maps’ Directions function. During our planning for the second day of our trip, Google suggested that it would take us 16 minutes on foot or 12 by public transport to reach one of the sights. In other words, I recommend walking. And for those who felt like they would like to read more, don’t worry and stay tuned for more tips to guide you on your future trip to Budapest.
To be continued…