I visited Budapest for the first time four years ago. The funny thing is that it is the capital of Hungary, one of my neighboring countries. I guess some other, far away cities, seemed more attractive beforehand. The truth is that Budapest left me breathless. Bathed in sunshine, it glittered like the most magnificent gem that was in front of my nose all the time. One building after another, one more interesting and splendid than the other, a sight after a sight, made Budapest one of my favorite cities in the world.
The task to make an itinerary to visit it in a few hours and see as much as possible is far from an easy one. It is in front of you now, and it will depend on your available time, how much you will enjoy this magnificent city.
- The Castle Hill
- The Fountain of King Matthias
- The Holy Trinity Column
- Matthias Church
- The Fisherman’s Bastion
- St. Francis’s Wounds Church
- The Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- The Gresham Palace
- Hungarian Academy of Sciences
- Shoes on the Danube Bank
- The Parliament of Budapest
- The Ethnographic Museum
- The Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- The Hungarian State Opera House
- New York Palace Café
- The Great / Central Synagogue
- The Hungarian National Museum
- The Great Market Hall
- Liberty Bridge
- The Citadella
- The Statue of Liberty
- Heroes’ Square
The most convenient start for our tour is the Castle Hill, one of the top places to see in Budapest. The Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings, built in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace that occupies most of the site today was added between 1749 and 1769. The castle now houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. It is an incredible building to walk around and it offers unforgettable views of the city and of the Danube, day and night.
Make sure not to miss the impressive Fountain of King Matthias, on the opposite side of the building, inaugurated in 1904 and showing a hunting party lead by King Matthias. It sits in a very large decorated niche created by four huge Roman columns, topped with an arch.
Walking towards Matthias Church, we will first encounter the Holy Trinity Column in front of it, a beautiful Baroque 15m tall column made to protect the city against the plague. Residents believe the Holy Trinity Statue did its job, because the plague did not return after 1709 when it was built.
Matthias Church is one of the top attractions in Budapest and one of the top romantic places to see there. It is a Roman Catholic Church at the heart of Buda’s Castle District, originally built in Romanesque style in 1015, but with no archaeological remains of it. Its official name is the Church of Our Lady. Each era, ruler and castle siege has left its mark on the building. What we have today was mostly formed in the 1900s when the square was redesigned, Matthias Church got back its Gothic details, and the Fisherman’s Bastion was constructed with the Statue of St Stephen facing the church.
Although less historical, and more like a castle from Disney’s fantasy, but built from 1895 to 1902, so undoubtedly older, The Fisherman’s Bastion is one of my favorite attractions of Budapest. It is a terrace built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style, situated on the Buda bank of the Danube, with seven towers representing the seven Magyar tribes, which settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895. It has many stairs and walking paths and offers an amazing view of Danube, Margaret Island, and Pest to the east.
Walking down those stairs towards the Danube, we will come across St. Francis’s Wounds Church, founded by the Franciscan order in the early 17th century, but completed much later, around 1757. Most of the interior furnishings and decoration were the work of the monks themselves, created in the monastery’s workshop.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Hungarian: Széchenyi lánchíd) is a suspension bridge that spans the River Danube between Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest. It was designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark, and built by the Scottish engineer Adam Clark. It was opened in 1849 and at the time of its construction, it was considered one of the modern world’s engineering wonders. It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary.
Though it carries the name of István Széchenyi, a major supporter of its construction, it is most commonly known as the “Chain Bridge”. Its decorations made of cast iron, and its construction, radiating calm dignity and balance, made it highly ranked among the bridges in Europe.
The bridge will lead us straight to the Gresham Palace (Gresham-palota), a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture. It was built in 1906, and today it is a luxury hotel managed by Four Seasons Hotels. Originally, the palace served as an office building, then it was used by the Red Army during the World War II, and eventually, as an apartment building during the People’s Republic of Hungary. After the end of the communist regime, the building was extensively rebuilt as a luxury hotel, when most of its original details as a large staircase, stained glass, mosaics, ironwork, and winter gardens were restored.
Following the Danube upstream, we will be able to admire the beautiful façade of Hungarian Academy of Sciences, built around 1865 in the Renaissance Revival style, and soon we will come across the Shoes on the Danube Bank, an incredible memorial, which achieves such a powerful impact, in such a subtle way. It is a stunning representation of the horrific events, a memorial for those Jews who were taken down to the Danube and shot, but first they had to leave their shoes to their executioners. If you look into the shoes, you will see grass and flowers growing as a proof that life is indestructible.
The Parliament of Budapest (Hungarian: Országház), is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, and the most notable landmark of Budapest. It is currently the largest building in Hungary and still one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest. It lies on the bank of the Danube.
The construction started in 1885, after an international competition, won by Imre Steindl. (The plans of two other competitors were later also realized in the form of the Ethnographic Museum and the Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture, both facing the Parliament Building). The building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of the country in 1896. It was completed in 1904, but the architect of the building went blind before its completion.
About 100 000 people were involved in its construction. The Parliament Building is made in the Gothic Revival style; it has a symmetrical façade and a central dome built in the Renaissance style.
Also from inside the parliament is symmetrical and thus has two identical parliament halls, of which one is used by politicians, the other for guided tours.
The main façade overlooks the Danube, but the official main entrance is from the square on the east side of the building.
We will then pass Liberty Square in order to get to St. Stephen’s Basilica (Hungarian: Szent István-bazilika), a Roman Catholic basilica, named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (975–1038), whose “incorruptible” right hand is housed in the reliquary.
The site of today’s basilica used to be a theater in the 18th century, where animal fights were hosted. Today, it is the most important church in Hungary, and with the Hungarian Parliament Building, it is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest with their 96 meters (315 ft.). This equation symbolizes that secular and spiritual thinking have the same importance. Current regulations prohibit the construction of any building taller than this in Budapest.
The architectural style is Neo-Classical. It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. Such delay can be attributed to the collapse of the dome in 1868, which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up.
The elevators, or 364 stairs, take up to the viewing area on the terrace of the Basilica, offering an amazing view of Buda and Pest.
Andràssy út will take us to another amazing building of Budapest, the Hungarian State Opera House (Hungarian: Magyar Állami Operaház). It is a neo-Renaissance building located in central Budapest, designed by Miklós Ybl, a major figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture. Its construction began in 1875, and the new house opened to the public in 1884. It is truly magnificent and well worth visiting.
Following Andràssy út, we will turn right to Erzsébet krt, which will take us to New York Palace Café (Hungarian: New York Kávéház), a place that is a must in Budapest for afternoon tea. The New York Palace is a luxury hotel on the Grand Boulevard of Budapest’s Erzsébet körút part, constructed in 1894 by the New York Life Insurance Company as a local head office. The famous ground floor has been a long time center for Hungarian literature and poetry.
Its stunning interior and a quartet playing on the elevated stage at the back of the room, create a fabulous atmosphere that I cannot recommend enough.
We will turn right and take Rákóczi út and walking towards the Danube, it will lead us to the Great / Central Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagoga) on the right and to the Hungarian National Museum founded in 1802, on the left.
The Dohány Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe, seating 3,000 people. It was built between 1854 and 1859 in the Moorish Revival style.
Following Múzeum krt, we will walk pass the Great Market Hall and get to Liberty Bridge (Szabadsag hid), which connects Buda and Pest across the Danube at the southern end of the City Centre. It is the shortest bridge in Budapest’s center. Built as a part of the Millennium World Exhibition at the end of the 19th century, it features art nouveau design, mythological sculptures and the country’s coat of arms. It was the first to be rebuilt after suffering heavy damage during World War II.
We will end our tour on the opposite side, at the Citadella fortification located upon the top of Gellért Hill, the place of the huge strategic importance in Budapest’s military history. Climbing up the hill is a good fun if you like a bit of exercise after eating delicious Hungarian food, or you can simply use the elevator. A walk around the walls leads to the area with a number of statues including the famous Hungarian Statue of Liberty, built to celebrate Budapest’s liberation from the Nazis. At night, Budapest is fantastically illuminated so it is a great spot for exquisite photos.
Naturally, Budapest has so much more to offer, so I highly recommend a longer stay.
Among the sites that should not be missed, but not that close to the city center, is definitely Heroes’ Square (Hungarian: Hősök tere), one of the major squares in Budapest. It is famous for its iconic statue complex featuring important Hungarian national leaders, and for the Memorial Stone of Heroes, erected in 1929 as a tribute to those who died for defending Hungary’s 1000 years old borders.
Two important buildings, the Museum of Fine Arts on the left, and the Palace of Art (or the Hall of Art) on the right, surround the square. On the other side, it faces Andrássy Avenue, which has two buildings looking at the square – one is residential and the other is the embassy of Serbia.
I sincerely hope that you will find my itinerary useful and that it will save you from wandering. If so, I would really appreciate to hear your comments.