Located at the top of Castle Hill in the picturesque Castle District of
Buda, the Palace was first inhabited by King Béla in the 13th century
who, after the Mongol invasion, turned it into a fortified stronghold
against further attack. During the next 700 years it was the residence
of many royal figures. The strategic location of Budapest, situated in
the heart of Europe and straddling the Danube, offered whoever controlled
the city a defensive position and potential control of the main waterway
and this led to repeated invasions, followed by rebuilding in the style
of the period. The castle has a mixture of architectural styles, ranging
from Gothic to Baroque. Today it is the country's most important cultural
centre housing numerous museums and the majority of the buildings are
historical monuments. The Budapest History Museum contains an exhibition
explaining the history of the city as well as archaeological remains of
the palace. Also within the palace complex are the Hungarian National
Gallery, the National Library and the Ludwig Museum.
City Park, or Városliget, in Pest's northeastern reaches, makes
a welcome break from the built-up inner-city area and incorporates many
of Budapest's drawcards. The entrance to City Park is Hosök tere
(Heroes' Square), which has the nation's most solemn monument - an empty
coffin representing one of the unknown insurgents from the 1956 Uprising
- beneath a stone tile. The inspirational Millenary Monument, a 36m (120ft)
pillar backed by colonnades, defines the square. The Angel Gabriel tops
the pillar, offering King Stephen the Hungarian crown. To the north of
the square is the Museum of Fine Arts, which houses the city's outstanding
foreign works (especially the Old Masters collection), while to the south
is the ornate Palace of Art. Inside the City Park is the City Zoo, with
its beautiful Secessionist elephant house.
Gellért Hill offers unrivalled panoramic views of the city, taking
in both Buda and Pest and the meandering Danube in between. The hill is
named for a bishop who was tasked to convert pagan Magyars to Christianity
but, according to legend, he was killed by being rolled off the hillside
in a barrel by militant heathens. A statue of the martyred Bishop stands
at the base of the hill. On its summit stands the Liberation Monument,
a female figure holding aloft the palm of victory, dedicated to the memory
of Soviet troops who died freeing Hungary in 1945. With the fall of communism
the inscription was changed to honour those who died for 'Hungary's prosperity'.
Behind the monument is the Citadella, or fortress, built after the 1848
revolution to provide military control against further uprisings. Today
it houses a hostel and a museum. The hill is also home to several historic
spas, valued for their medicinal qualities since the Turkish occupation.
The city's most famous spa, the Gellért Baths, is attached to the
grand establishment of the Art Nouveau Gellért Hotel. Here visitors
can relax in the thermal waters of the Roman-style pool with its lion-headed
spouts, surrounded by columns and mosaic patterns, or indulge themselves
with private therapeutic treatments or a massage.
The Chain Bridge was the first stone bridge to be built over the Danube
and is the most famous with its lion statues. Today nine bridges span
the river linking Buda to Pest, but Chain Bridge takes pride of place
as the city's symbol, a magnificent sight when floodlit at night. It owes
its construction to Count István Széchenyi who decided to
build a permanent crossing after having to wait a week to cross the river
to bury his father. The Chain Bridge was built by William and Adam Clark
who constructed London Bridge. It was considered an amazing feat of engineering
when it was opened in 1849. At the foot of the bridge is Kilometre Zero,
the point in Budapest from where all distances are measured.
Budapest rests on a network of warm thermal and cool mineral springs.
As a result, communal bathhouses, pools and spas are a house speciality.
They are truly relaxing and are the perfect salve after a day spent exploring
the city on weary feet; for many visitors the bathhouses rate among the
city's greatest delights. They're clean, safe and cheap. Some are architectural
attractions in their own right; in between Margaret Island and the Castle
District, along the Danube on the Buda bank, are the Király baths
on Fo utca. It has four pools, the main one with a fantastic skylit dome
dating back to 1570. It should be noted that the baths become a gay venue
on male-only days.
Magyar Állami Operaház (Opera House)
Take some time to ogle the opulence of the 1884 neo-Renaissance Magyar
Állami Operaház (the Hungarian State Opera House) - arguably
one of Europe's most beautiful interiors. It's worth taking a guided tour
just so you don't find yourself distracted by the architecture during
The Great Synagogue and Jewish Museum
Situated within Erzsébet Town, the charming old Jewish
quarter and former ghetto, the Great or Central Synagogue is the largest
in Europe and the second largest in the world, able to seat 3,000 people.
Completed in 1859 the style is typically Byzantine-Moorish, with exquisitely
patterned brickwork in the red, blue and yellow colours of the city’s
coat of arms. Gilded domed towers, archways and beautiful window designs
are just some of the features that make this one of Budapest’s landmarks.
The splendid interior glitters with lights; gilded arches and balconies
line the walls, the ceiling is covered in Stars of David, and the floor
is tiled in decorative stars. On Jewish festivals it is packed with Jews
from all over Hungary who come to celebrate within its splendour. Next
door is the Jewish Museum containing relics from the Hungarian Jewish
Community, including religious objects from festivals, and the Holocaust
Memorial room. In the courtyard is the Holocaust Memorial in the shape
of a weeping willow tree, each metal leaf engraved with the names of Nazi
The Royal Palace has been burned, bombed, razed, rebuilt and redesigned
at least six times over the past seven centuries. It's now an 18th- &
early 20th-century amalgam reconstructed after the last war. Take a majestic
walk through Ferdinand Gate, under Mace Tower, to the Turkish cemetery
or relax in the palace gardens behind the Budapest History museum.
The palace houses the impressive Hungarian National Gallery (with a huge
Hungarian art section), the Széchenyi National Library & the
Budapest History Museum.
On the banks of the Danube stands one of the world’s most beautiful
parliament buildings, an imposing sight and a prominent feature of the
city’s panorama. With its red dome and white stone lace ornamentation
and spires it is the city’s most decorative structure. Stone lions
flank the entrance guarding a rich interior of marble and gold, statues
and columns, and magnificent artefacts, including the 1,000-year-old crown
of the first Hungarian King, all of which can be viewed on a guided tour.
The grand edifice, stretching for 820 ft (250m) along the embankment,
is one of the biggest national assemblies in the world.
One of the city’s popular but more bizarre attractions is Statue
Park, containing the giant figures of the Communist era that once filled
the streets of Budapest. After the change in the political system the
monuments glorifying Communism were banished into the exile of this outdoor
museum and among the statues, busts and monuments are the forms of Lenin,
Marx and Engels, as well as memorials to the Soviet Soldier and the Communist
Martyrs. This is the only collection in the world from the time of Communist
politics. Some of the interesting souvenirs sold at the park are cans
of air from the ‘last breath of socialism’ and Stalin and
Lenin shaped candles.
Situated in the centre of the Castle Quarter, the 700-year-old Church
of Our Lady is popularly known as Matthias Church after the nation's famous
ruler, King Matthias (1458-90), a patron of learning and the arts who
reconstructed the Hungarian state after decades of feudal anarchy. With
its distinctive multicoloured tiled roof and Gothic spire, the church
is one of Budapest’s best-known structures, and it was here that
the nation’s kings were crowned and King Matthias was married. Today
the church continues to hold High Mass, as well as concerts, organ and
choir recitals owing to its magnificent acoustics. Matthias Church is
a mixture of styles from the various kings, occupations and periods. When
the Turks occupied the Castle in 1541 it was converted into a mosque,
and the interior walls were whitewashed and painted over with scenes from
the Koran. It suffered heavily in the later siege and was restored again
in the 19th century, reconstructed in its characteristic neo-Gothic style,
and remains of the original medieval frescoes were discovered underneath
the whitewash. The interior is richly decorated with gilded altars, statues,
rose windows and frescoes. Inside is the Church Museum, which gives access
to the crypt, and a small collection of religious treasures and jewels.
A fantastic paradox is visible in the reflection of the Gothic church
in the sleek dark glass sides of the contemporary Budapest Hilton alongside.
Built in 1905 on the medieval castle walls, the neo-Romanesque ramparts
were so named after the city's fishermen whose duty it was to defend this
side of the hill during the Middle Ages, but the existing bastion never
actually served a defensive purpose. It is solely ornamental with gleaming
white cloisters and stairways connecting seven turrets symbolic of the
Magyar tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century.
Set back from the ramparts is an equestrian statue of King Stephen, a
memorial to the founder of the Hungarian nation. The view from Fisherman's
Bastion, over the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the Parliament Buildings
with Pest stretching out into the distance, is outstanding. Floodlit at
night, the bastion is a mesmerising sight from across the river.
Hõsök tere (Hero's Square)
The most famous square in Budapest.
Museum of Fine Arts (Szépmûvészeti Múzeum)
Located on left-hand side of Hõsök tere (Hero's Square). One
of the largest Spanish collections outside of Spain. Italian collection
and other famous works.
Budapesti Állatkert (Zoo)
One of the oldest zoos in the world, it is home to 500 species of animal
and 4000 types of plant. The park, which is also an historical site, recalls
the atmosphere of the turn of the century.
Vidámpark (Amusement Park)
The facilities of the 150 year old amusement park offer a great variety
of entertainment to both children and adults.
Szent István Bazilika (St Stephen's Basilica)
Dedicated to the first king of Hungary, the church is one of the most
important religious sites in Hungary.
The traditional and modern facilities of the 150 year old Luna Park offer
great entertainment for both children and adults.
The exhibitions in the labyrinth of natural and artificial passages underneath
the Buda Castle guide the visitors through the span of Hungarian history.