Known as the Pearl of Danube, Budapest is a sonorous city teeming with the allure of the old world and the vivacious spirit of modernity. Natural splendours surround historic and eclectic buildings, creating a romantic ambiance that floats like a mist throughout the streets of the city. Enchanting and affordable, Budapest doesn't compromise when it comes to stunning vistas, a fluent nightlife, and delightful attractions.
Originally a Celtic settlement, Budapest's past is comprised of frequent foreign occupation by adjacent civilisations including the Romans, Mongols, and Ottomans. It is now the capital of the Republic of Hungary. In 1873, the three districts of Pest, Buda, and Óbuda were unified into one city entitled Budapest. These districts, split by the river Danube, are still relevant to the geography of the city.
Pest is the commercial hub of Budapest. Situated on the eastern banks of the Danube, the flat terrain precedes the Great Plains. An effervescent district, Pest is brimmed with museums, restaurants, theatres, and shops. A favourite site, St. Stephen's Basilica was completed in 1905 and is adorned with sacred frescos and mosaics as well as the mummified fist of the first king of Hungary. Also in Pest is the Hungarian House of Parliament. It is the largest parliamentary edifice in Europe and exhibits the country's crown jewels.
To the west of the Danube is Buda. A verdant courtyard that simultaneously allocates serenity and adventure, Buda is swarmed with parks, spas, and cafés. Warm thermal water caves are a feature of the Buda Hills, as are the passenger trams that climb to its peaks. The highest point in Budapest is Elizabeth Lookout. Atop János Hill, the terraces of the lookout offer panoramic views of the city.
Óbuda is commonly referred to as Old Buda since it is the oldest district in Budapest. North of Buda, it too is on the western shores of the Danube. In antiquity, the Óbuda area was known as Aquincum, a Roman military stronghold and provincial capital of Pannonia. Interlaced within the residences of modern day Óbuda is a wealth of archaeological discoveries including the amphitheatre and ruins of Aquincum.
Defining the skyline of Budapest is the Royal Palace in a quarter of the city labelled Castle Hill because of the numerous castles that have been built and destroyed on the site. Along the regal cobblestone streets is the resplendent Matthias Church. Over 700 years old, opulent coronations and royal weddings have commanded its grand aisles. Equally majestic is the Fishermen's Bastion, a towered complex that stretches along the banks of the Danube. Buried deep underground Castle Hill is the Labyrinth of Buda Castle where natural caves and household cellars interconnect, forming dark and mysterious tunnels.
Andrássy Avenue is a prestigious boulevard connecting the centre of Budapest to City Park. Aristocratic mansions and designer labels dominate the street with golden eloquence. Exclusive dining establishments provide sustenance and rest for the wealthy weary, but a number of cafés nourish more budget conscious purses. Devotees of the theatre often take pleasure in performances at the Opera House. Renowned for its acoustics and composers, it is one of the finest in the world. More sombre, the House of Terror is also found along Andrássy Avenue. Previously a Nazi headquarter in Budapest that was taken over by the communist regime, it is now a tasteful but sad museum dedicated to the hundreds of victims tortured within its walls. Beneath Andrássy Avenue is the Millennium Underground, the second oldest underground railway system in the world.
The stirring Heroes' Square is the largest in Hungary. It marks the settlement of the Magyars, the original Hungarian tribes, in the region and also honours those who fought for the country's independence. Centred in the square is the Millennium Monument. A massive structure, it includes a pillar upholding the archangel Gabriel and colonnades that shelter kings and other historical figures. Keeping with patriotic overtones, many restaurants neighbouring the square serve authentic Hungarian fare. A sculpture of a horseman carved by Leonardo Da Vinci is on display at the nearby Museum of Fine Arts, as well as an elaborate Spanish, French, and Italian art collection. Contemporary art can be viewed a few steps away at the Kunsthalle.
As Budapest is divided by the river Danube, bridges are a glorious feature of the city. Chief among them in terms of old fashioned elegance is the Chain Bridge. A suspension bridge constructed of stone, it was the first crossing in the city that linked Buda and Pest. At night, lights illuminate the bridge in all its glory. Those wishing to see the medieval ruins, fertile walkways, and musical fountain of Margaret Island will need to journey across Margaret Bridge, the second oldest in Budapest. The Liberty and Elizabeth bridges also have a steep history and are beloved by the city.
Indulgent and serene, public bathhouses are a decadent highlight of Budapest. It has popularly been appointed as the City of Healing Waters because of the abundant warm springs beneath the ground that are rich in minerals. The first baths were discovered in the Roman ruins of Aquincum. Built in the 16 th century and still thriving, the Király Baths are a rustic spa experience presented in an authentic Turkish bathhouse. The Gellért, Széchenyi, and Lukács baths have been operating since the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Many newly built bathhouses also occupy the city.
Budapest hosts plentiful parks and scenic attractions. City Park is the largest. Within its lush paths are shimmering lakes that surround the Vajdahunyad Castle, a replication of a Transylvanian castle with the same name. Also within City Park are the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Hiking is prevalent in the Buda Hills, and Margaret Island boasts many wonders including exotic gardens and the Bottomless Lake. Perhaps the most distinct recreation in Budapest is cave exploration. There are many underground passageways open to the public including some that contain crystals and stalactites.
The streets of Budapest surge after the sun goes down. Known as a kertek
, outdoor gardens reserved for entertainment, drinks, and conversation are widespread. The social scene is a unique blend of lively parties orchestrated with a relaxed ethos, a concoction that has awarded Budapest with the reputation of having an unparalleled nightlife.
A majority of the main attractions in Budapest are World Heritage Sites, evidence of a city that flourishes with cultural and artistic brilliance. Like the river Danube, a revered tranquillity flows throughout the esteemed buildings, astounding bridges, and beautiful parks. Budapest is a city with a passionate voice and freewill, but it also emanates the peaceful satisfaction of dreams fulfilled.