10 Highlights of Budapest

Night View of the Castle, Budapest

Budapest has long been an important European capital, sitting as it does pretty much in the centre of the continent and straddling the mighty Danube. A succession of invaders have left their mark on the skyline of Budapest and evidence of 20th century European battles is easy to uncover.

Budapest is home to dozens of high profile museums and galleries, and those who are keen to explore these could easily keep themselves busy for a week. For those looking for a brief taste of the city on the other hand, a 48 hour visit should still allow ample time to enjoy many of the most prominent highlights of Budapest.

 

Széchenyi Baths

A Budapest institution, the Széchenyi baths are worth visiting even if the thought of spending an hour or two wallowing alongside some of Europe’s most impressive muffin-tops doesn’t appeal. The 100 year old building housing the baths is simply stunning, while the sheer size of the complex makes this spa experience different from any other. Entrance prices vary on time of day and whether you need towels or private cabins but expect to pay around 3600 forint (£10) for your visit.

Take the time to explore the City Park that surrounds the baths. In the winter months the park boasts the largest outdoor ice-skating rink in Europe.

Buda Castle

Dominating the Buda side of the Danube, the castle is worth exploring not only for the fine views over the city but also for the museums that the impressive buildings house, including the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Visit on a Monday (as we did) and you’ll spend your time enjoying the outside of the many buildings on the hill top as the museums observe the Monday closing tradition.

Matthias Church Budapest

Matthias Church

Built in the 14th century and restored fully in the 1800s, Matthias Church is a beautiful example of the late Gothic style of church construction. With painted walls, ornate balconies and an exterior dotted with many gargoyles, Matthias Church is one of the most popular stops on the Budapest circuit. Catch it between the tour groups that shuffle through and you can enjoy it at its silent best. Particularly interesting is the exhibition detailing the work currently being done to preserve and restore the building. Entrance to the church costs 1000 forint (£2.75).

Parliament Building Budapest

Parliament Building

This impressive neo-Gothic structure was built at the turn of the 19th/20th century and remains Hungary’s largest building. Perhaps best seen from the Danube and reason enough to take a boat trip along the river. Guided tours of the Parliament are free of charge to EU citizens (bring your passport) although only operate on certain days and are liable to be cancelled at short notice.

 

Margaret Island

This parkland to the north of the city is a popular place to walk, cycle and take a picnic to enjoy a pleasant green space in the heart of the city. Wander around the ruins of the old convent and you’ll soon stumble upon the tomb of St Margaret, after whom the island is named.

Margaret Island cloister

St Stephen’s Basilica

One of the most ornate church interiors you’re likely to see, St Stephen’s Basilica is also pretty impressive on the outside, with a neo-classical facade facing straight towards the river. Wander around the aisles and gaze at the gold-dominated artwork. Views across the city are also available from the top of the bell tower (open in the summer months)

Memento Park Budapest

Memento Park

Locals may roll their eyes (and they do) at tourists wanting to see their old communist statues but a visit to Memento Park provides a fascinating insight into life under communist rule. The statues built to glorify Soviet heroes and ideals were shipped to this park in the outskirts of town and now form an odd collection.

Also in the park is a small museum showing old training videos for the secret police. Watch carefully and you’ll learn how to observe people in a park, listen in on your neighbour’s activities and even how to exchange documents discreetly in a public place.

 

Synagogue

The Dohany Street Synagogue is Europe’s largest and the second largest in the world. The exterior is Moorish in style and covers several street blocks. By all accounts it is well worth a visit, although bear in mind that you can only enter by buying a combination ticket that includes other nearby sites relating to the city’s Jewish past. Tickets start from 2600 forint (£7), so don’t make our mistake in allowing only enough time for a quick look before heading to the airport.

Synagogue Budapest

 

Cave Church

Start at the Hotel Gellert (well worth a look inside for its grand lobby) and climb a short distance up the path to the Cave Church. Created as the result of a painstaking attempt to remodel a hermit’s cave based on the Lourdes Grotto, the resulting church was blocked up during communist times and re-opened in the 1990s. Entry is 500 forint (£1.40) and includes an audio-guide.

 

Citadel

From the cave church another 20 minutes of serious cardio-vascular exercise brings you to the Citadel, one of the highest points in Budapest. From here you can enjoy splendid city views while you puff and pant loudly enough to let all the lazy hop-on hop-off bus people how hard you worked to get there. When you have your breath back take a look at the old Russian military hardware on display on the outside of the citadel before heading back down to the city.

 

Practicalities

You’ll hear a lot about the Budapest Card and the fantastic value it offers. We chose not to get one and saved enough as a result to cover a very nice meal. It might pay if you want to visit half a dozen museums a day, eat at the same restaurants as the other card holders and use public transport for journeys that most people can easily cover on foot. If these don’t apply to you, save yourself the money and pay as you go.

Budapest is not an expensive city and you can eat good hearty meals for less than 2000 forint (£5.50) a head. The prices around the main tourist areas are significantly higher so it’s worth venturing away from the crowds. Transport is very reasonable with a bus/subway ticket between the city and the airport costing 480 forint (£1.30) and a day pass on all public transport 1550 forint (£4.30).

We stayed at the Hotel Victoria on the banks of the Danube. The view from our room of the river and the Parliament building was one of the best we’ve had and the room itself was spacious and comfortable. I wouldn’t recommend the hotel for those who have a strong aversion to smoke. There are a few non-smoking rooms but even the common areas have a tobacco stained aroma, although this is not unusual in Hungary. We paid £61 a night, inclusive of taxes and breakfast.

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4 Responses to “10 Highlights of Budapest”

  1. Steven #

    Awesome photos, very informative blog and I really enjoyed the part about the Széchenyi Baths. Makes me want to visit Budapest soon! Thanks so much…

    December 29, 2011 at 10:14 am
  2. Conan #

    Buda Castle and the Parliament building have to have been the highlight of my stay in Budapest. You really don’t realize how beautiful they are until you’ve seen them!

    December 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm
  3. Cam #

    I wish I had read this before our travels to Budapest… I seem to have missed quite a few! The Pariliament Building is so fantastic, I don’t think I would ever tire of looking at it 🙂

    December 30, 2011 at 7:50 am
  4. Catherine #

    Great list. In addition, I think Fisherman’s Bastion is a beautiful sight to visit, but then again there are so many in Budapest, being such a beautiful city. Really looking forward to returning soon.

    January 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm