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Budapest – Main Sights

 

Budapest is full of things to see, do and visit, from spas and shopping to ancient monuments and fascinating architecture. One of the best ways to start getting the measure of the city is just to walk around it, along the Danube front, across the bridges or through the streets around Parliament and St Stephens Basilica.
For short visits, must-see sights include:

 

The City Park

 

The City Park, or Varosliget, is a wide green area to the North of central Budapest. The park is easily reached by metro from Oktogon and houses the Szechenyi baths (the largest medicinal baths in Europe)[pictured], which are well worth a visit, as well as the fairytale Vajdahunyad Castle, a large ice-skating rink and the monumental Heroes’ Square, featuring the Millenary Monument with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of it and the Palace of Arts/Museum of Fine Arts to either side. At weekends there is a large and popular flea market on Zichy M. ut, also within the Park and the green space makes an attractive place to wander and enjoy a break from the bustle of the nearby city.
Budapest zoo is very interesting architecturally, even if you don’t have children to entertain!

Andrassy Ut

 

Running from Bajcsy-Zsilinsky Ut to the City Park, with shops, cafes and restaurants at the Danube end (the street becomes less busy to the north of Oktogon), Andrassy is a wide tree-lined street often viewed as the most important street in the city. The southern end also houses the Opera, opens onto Ferenc Liszt Ter and Jokai Ter for bars and restaurants and is the location for many upmarket shops and grand buildings. The northern end is lined with grand, detached, often idiosyncratic buildings housing the odd museum, embassies and so on.

 

Mainland Europe’s oldest Underground railway runs the length of the street.

 

Buda and the Castle District

With a quieter, more relaxed feel than the bustling Pest, this area has cobbled streets and squares, lots of interesting buildings and many museums and churches. The Fishermans Bastion, a fairytale piece of architecture overlooking the Danube and Pest, is a great place for views and photographs, while the former Royal Palace, now home to museums and a library, has a fascinating past. There is a funicular railway running up to the top of Castle Hill which also provides good views across the city.

 

Other places to visit…

include Vaci Utca, a popular shopping street partly pedestrianised. At one end, Kossuth Ter hosts craft markets at Easter and Christmas with all sorts of Hungarian handmade items from glass to straw animals, fur hats to felt plus lots of delicious food and drink stalls. The other end of Vaci Utca leads to the Central Market Hall, with rows of stalls packed with fruit, vegetables, meat and Paprika as well as more craft stalls. The Parliament buildings, on Kossuth Lajos Ter, are an impressive sight and a city landmark. St Stephen’s Basilica, not far away, is also impressive and very beautiful. Walk along either side of the Danube, across the bridges (the Chain Bridge is the most famous) for views of both sides of the city, or take the number 2 tram, which runs along the Danube and past Parliament towards the Central Market Hall. Budapest has a number of thermal spas and many of them are very beautiful and worth a visit. The most popular are probably the Gellert Spa (in the very attractive Gellert Hotel), which has indoor and outdoor pools, a wave machine and stunning interior, and the Szechenyi baths in the City Park. The Szechenyi also has indoor and outdoor pools, with a variety of temperatures, whirlpools and other features. We would recommend visiting at least one pool, even in winter.

Budapest and beyond

 

Beyond Budapest, there are a number of towns and places of interest to visit. Without a car, you are limited to those within easy distance of the train or boat – but this isn’t a great limit and there are a number of places that are worth seeing.

These include: Szentendre, just beyond the borders of Budapest, Esztergom, on the border with Slovakia, Gödöllő , with its Royal Palace, Visegrad for the romantic hill-castle and Balaton for the lake, a popular tourist location in summer.

Food stall at the Christmas Market

Food stall at the Christmas Market

 

Budapest now boasts a number of excellent restaurants catering to a wide range of tastes and pockets. It can be advisable to book, particularly on Friday and Saturday evenings, if you are planning to eat somewhere popular. Hungarian cuisine is generally hearty and full of flavour and we would recommend trying the many Hungarian specialities on offer. It would be impossible, surely, to come to Budapest and not eat cake! It seems as if there are tempting cukrászda (cake shop) establishments on every street. The wonderfully grand Gerbeaud, on Vorosmarty Tér, is a must – as is the coffee shop on the first floor of the Alexandra book shop on Andrassy Ut. There are many more, from Ruszwurm in Buda to Auguszt, with an outlet in Buda and another in Pest.

Budapest books

 

All the usual companies offer guide books to Budapest – if you are used to travelling, you probably have a favourite! There are a few books that are specific to the city and these we have listed here. Some provide background information, some history, some fiction – all are related to Budapest in some way and interesting for that reason. We would strongly recommend the Banffy books to anyone (they aren’t as daunting as they look!)

Only in Budapest – Duncan J D Smith. A list of sights, some common and some rather less obvious, with comments and history.

Budapest – A Critical Guide – Andras Torok. A set of walking tours by an author who knows the city well, giving lots of background history and facts. Can be used to dip into as well as following the tours, and an interesting read.

The Transylvanian Trilogy (They were Counted, They were Found Wanting, They were Divided) – Miklos Banffy. Don’t be put off by the size of these books! They are a great read, a sort of Downton Abbey set before the first World War and with lots of background history and politics. Fascinating for many reasons and beautifully written.

The Phoenix Land – Miklos Banffy. Personal memories from during and after the first World War in Budapest, including an atmospheric account of the coronation of the last Habsburg King.

Danubia – A personal history of Habsburg Europe – Simon Winder. Well-written and humourous.