A great starting point for your tour is the Országház – the breathtaking neo-Gothic Parliament, which also houses the crown jewels worn by Hungarian monarchs since the Middle Ages.
Budapest never fails to impress, which it does so effortlessly. At Hősök Tere, the biggest and most impressive square in Budapest, you can watch footloose skateboarders in action under the glare of the seven statues of the mustachioed chieftains that once ruled the wandering Hungarian tribes.
While there are numerous places to take in the stunning panoramic views of the beautiful city of Budapest, the Castle Quarter is arguably the best. And for some time away from city life, visitor can take a ferry to Margitsziget, a recreational island in the middle of the Danube – a welcoming green oasis in the heart of Budapest.
Budapest is also a delight for shoppers. Whatever you need, you will find it in Andrássy Avenue, the 2,310 meter boulevard lined with buildings showcasing uniformity in marvelous architecture.
After an exciting day wandering around Budapest, a soothing and relaxing spa is just what you need. Since the Roman times, Budapest has been famous for its hot springs and is today home to an endless array of baths and spas, including the impressive Gellért-fürdő built in the art nouveau style.
The splendid attractions of Budapest are on display both by day and by night. From dusk onwards, watch the wide opaque surface of the Danube glitter as it reflects the evening lights of the magnificent Széchenyi Lánchid, Hungary’s iconic chain bridge.
Budapest boasts a rich heritage and fascinating history evident in the iconic monuments that abound. The best place to get your fill is on the museum-sprinkled hillside of Gellért-hegy. There is also no shortage of magnificent churches, the most impressive being the Classicist-style St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Be it the bubbling hot springs, the Gothic spires and world-class museums, or even the hip night life, whatever you’re in the mood for, you are bound to find it in this beguiling Magyar capital. With all these amazing sights and great atmosphere, it’s no wonder that many who go on vacation in Budapest find it very difficult to leave.
Budapest offers a grand feast for the architecture lover’s eyes, starting with its icon, the Országház. Országház, which translates to ‘House of the Country’ or ‘House of the Nation’ is the Hungarian Parliament Building, and one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings. Attracting many tourists, it is currently the largest building in Hungary and the highest building in Budapest.
“The nation lacks a home” stated Mihály Vörösmarty, a famous Hungarian poet, somewhat bitterly in 1846. And this was true, for before the Országház was built, Hungarian rulers governed the country and enacted laws from wherever they happened to be at the time. For centuries, a narrow segment of society comprising aristocrats, barons, noblemen and high priests, claimed to constitute ’the nation’ and would meet in council, passing judgment at their leisure. However, the ‘Era of Enlightenment’ heralded a change in times by calling for increased involvement of the people in the democracy.
Országház, the heart of the Hungarian state, is a unique structure that was conceived around the 1896 millennial celebrations. Originating from the Hungarian people’s demand for representation, the design of the building was partly inspired by the Palace of Westminster, although it was Imre Steindl, the famous Hungarian architect who crafted the plans in their entirety.
Stretching 268 meters in length along the embankment of the Danube, this building is ornamented with white neo-Gothic arches and turrets, and constitutes the Pest side horizon’s most outstanding landmark. Since 2000, the coronation symbols of Hungary: St. Stephen’s Crown, the Scepter, the Orb and the Renaissance Sword have been displayed at the Parliament building.
Decorating the outer walls of the façade are 90 statues of Hungarian monarchs and military commanders. The unique interior design features large halls, more than 12.5 miles of corridors, with 691 rooms. The interior walls house 152 statues, the Coat of Arms of both the county and the city, as well as local flower motifs. About 40 kilograms of 22-23 carat gold was used in the building’s decorations.
The statues of 16 Hungarian kings and rulers along with their Coat of Arms, decorate the walls of the 96m high dome hall in the middle of the building. Be sure to visit the southern conference room which houses the chamber of deputies. Here you will find wall paintings that depict historical events and statues representing allegoric figures of honorable virtues. When Parliament is not in session, the entire building can be visited and cameras are allowed.
Budapest also boasts being the only large city in the world that abounds in fountains of healing water. Since antiquity, people have travelled from afar to sample the treasures of the natural hot springs of Budapest. And today, 70 million liters of warm thermal water heated at 21-78 Celsius, spring forth daily from the 118 natural thermal springs.
The Hungarian capital offers a unique array of options when it comes to therapeutic waters. It therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that Budapest has for decades been afforded the title of “Spa City”. In fact, no city can put forward a stronger claim to this title than Budapest which nature has so generously endowed with wonderful thermal waters and unrivalled natural beauty.
Of the 15 baths available in Budapest, 10 are open all year round. For the best sampling of the medicinal hot springs of Budapest, go to the Gellért-fürdő or ‘Gellért thermal baths’, situated within the Gellért Hotel. Here you can indulge in a beautiful spa decorated with rich original art nouveau furnishings, stained glass windows, artistic mosaics and sculptures. It is also possible to taste the medicinal water pouring from various drinking wells around Budapest.
3. Hősök Tere
As the capital, it is expected that Budapest would take center stage in paying homage to and standing in memory of the great personalities in the history of Hungary. And this is a role the city plays well. Hősök Tere which translates to ‘Heroes’ Square’ is one of the major tribute squares in Hungary.
Situated at the end of Andrássy Avenue, Hősök Tere and Városliget, the adjacent City Park were both built in 1896 in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the arrival of the Hungarian tribes to the Carpathian Basin.
At the center of the Square stands the Millennium Monument which was built in an eclectic semicircular style by Albert Schickedanz. It comprises two semi-circular colonnades at the top of which are symbols of War and Peace, Work and Welfare, Knowledge and Glory. Its niches are adorned with statues of kings, governors and other famous personalities in Hungarian history. At the foot of every statue is a small relief depicting the most important moment in the life of the personality.
In the middle of the Monument is a 36 meter high Corinthian column, which is the focal point of the Millennium Monument. The column is topped by a statue of Archangel Gabriel, the symbol of Roman Catholicism, holding the apostolic Double Cross of Christianity and the Holy Hungarian Crown.
At the base are equestrian bronze statues in honor of the 7 chieftains of the Hungarian tribes who, led by Árpád, conquered the present territory of Hungary. It was Árpád’s descendants who formed the royal dynasty of Hungary. Also situated inside the Square is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On the northern side of the Square is a monumental classical building housing the Museum of Fine Arts, home to an exquisite collection of European art, which is well worth a visit. The gallery of this museum features works from old masters including Goya, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Raphael, El Greco, Rubens and Dürer. The museum also holds a collection of sculptures and artifacts from Ancient Egypt, the Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The building itself is a rather impressive offering of an imposing neoclassical structure.
Another great spot for art lovers is Műcsarnok or the ‘Palace of Art’, which stands opposite the Museum of Fine Arts. It also takes the form of a Greek-like temple, which complements the design of the museum. Műcsarnok comprises an exhibition hall which over the years has hosted temporary exhibitions of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, as well as collections of French and Spanish paintings. The building’s magnificent façade of colossal gilded columns is an attraction in itself, while the tympanum is adorned with a colorful mosaic depicting St. Stephen as patron of the arts.
One of the most visited attractions in Budapest, this Square is easily accessed via metro – which is an attraction in itself. The M1 metro line that stops at Hősök Tere is one of the oldest in the world, having been opened in 1896.
4. Széchenyi Lánchid
Budapest is full of famous historical landmarks which are easily viewed from most areas of the city. One of the symbolic structures in Budapest, the magnificent Széchenyi Lánchid is the most famous bridge in the Hungarian capital.
The Széchenyi Lánchid was the first permanent stone-bridge built to connect Buda and Pest, the two halves of the Hungarian capital. At the time, the two cities were still separate. This chain bridge was also the second permanent crossing on the entire length of the Danube River.
Before the Széchenyi Lánchid was built, the nearest bridge over the Danube was located in Vienna, and the only way to cross the river during wintertime was via ferry. A temporary bridge was available only during the summer months, but it had to be disassembled every year to protect it from drift ice.
Construction of the chain bridge was proposed by Count István Széchenyi, a leading figure in 18th century Hungary and construction began in 1839. The completed bridge measuring 375 meters long and 16 meters wide was inaugurated ten years later in 1849.
At the time of its opening, the suspension bridge was the longest in Europe and a marvel of engineering as it had only 2 towers supporting the span, along with giant iron chains. It was these chains that gave the bridge its name ‘Lánchid’, which is Hungarian for ‘chain bridge’. The beautiful towers of the bridge are adorned with the Hungarian Coat of Arms.
Guarding the bridge on both sides are imposing stone lions constructed by sculptor János Marschalkó. Legend has it that the sculptor threw himself into the river when, during the ceremony inaugurating the bridge, a spectator proclaimed that the lions had no tongues. In fact, the lions do have tongues, only that they are not easily visible. The sculptor survived and lived on for many more decades.
Like many other bridges of the Danube, the Széchenyi Lánchid did not survive the ravages of the Second World War and had to be rebuilt in 1949. Today, with the Castle of Buda tucked into its background, the bridge is a fascinating spectacle that draws many visitors to the Hungarian capital.
Visitors are certain to enjoy taking a walk on the bridge’s pavements, which offer a magnificent view of the Parliament building on the Pest side. If you want to take in the spectacle of the Hungarian Parliament building from the front, take a 10 minutes’ walk from the Buda end of the bridge northwards to Batthyány Square.
The center of this Square is adorned with radiant flowers from spring to autumn. The Square also hosts one of the termini of the Buda Hill Funicular which takes visitors up to Buda Castle within a few minutes. Once there, you will be grateful for the beautiful panoramic views of Budapest and its magnificent chain bridge.
For a marvelous view of the Danube, its bridges and the most splendid areas of Pest, walk to the top of the tunnel situated on the Buda side. Beautiful by day, the illuminated bridge is equally a sight for sore eyes by night as its lights glitter over the surface of the Danube.
5. Szent István-bazilika
The religious history of Hungary is forever on permanent display in its capital. Szent István-bazilika or ‘St. Stephen’s Basilica’ is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Budapest, which also boasts the second highest ecclesiastical status in Hungary. The Basilica’s famous masterpieces are the statues of Stróbl, and a painting by Gyula Benczúr of St. Stephen offering his country to the Virgin Mary.
The Basilica was built in 1851 by József Hild in Classical style and continued by Miklós Ybl, who added a neo-Renaissance style to the original design. It was József Krausz who worked on creating the inner layout and completing the building in 1905. The inner side was decorated by famous Hungarian painters and sculptors, who used 50 different marble types.
The Basilica is home to the Hungarian people’s most sacred relic which fascinates many tourists: the right hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. The mummified hand is kept within an ornately decorated shrine behind the sanctuary in the Chapel of the Holy Right, and paraded around the streets of Budapest every year on August 20, the anniversary of the King’s death.
One of the unique aspects of this Basilica is the fact that it has the statue of a human on the high altar – that of St. Stephen, patron saint of the Basilica, created by Alajos Stróbl. On special Papal permission, the statue of the first Hungarian king who converted Hungarians to Christianity has been displayed here.
The Basilica features a Greek-cross floor plan, while its center is crowned with a majestic dome reaching the height of 96 meters. The dome can be viewed from virtually every part of the city and also offers a wonderful 360 degrees panoramic view of the Hungarian capital.
The reliefs decorating the tympanum, as well as the statues crowning the colonnade of the church’s apse are both the creation of Léo Fessler. The sculptor is also responsible for the large statues of the 4 Apostles resting in the niches of the drum that supports the central dome. Below the tympanum is a massive wooden door decorated with medallions that show the busts of the 12 Apostles.
Inside the right tower is the largest bell in Hungary which weighs 9 tons. An elevator takes visitors up into the left tower from which they can enjoy a magnificent panorama of the city. Visible from here are the squares and streets of downtown Pest, the Citadella, Castle Hill, as well as other hills of Buda.
In recent years, the Basilica, also known as the Lipót City Parish Church, has undergone renovations that had its huge walls cleaned and the surrounding areas nicely arranged. There is now a pleasant hotel in front of the Basilica, while the square at the front of the church has been transformed into a beautiful pedestrian section with a few cafes and benches to sit on.
The city of Budapest is not all concrete jungle, as it also boasts its own variety of tranquil green spaces. Margitsziget or Margaret Island is a large island located between 2 bridges: Margit-híd and the Árpád-híd. Aside from several hotels, the island is uninhabited and serves mainly as a place of recreation, not only for tourists but for locals as well, especially on the weekends.
Originally known as Rabbits Island, the island was later named Palatinus and frequented by the royal Hungarian family at the beginning of the 1800s. In 1896, the island was opened for the public and soon after transformed into a health resort, which attracts visitors in need of the benefits of its therapeutic springs.
The island originally comprised of 3 separate, yet artificially connected islands covering a surface area of 96 acres and a length of 2,500 meters. Margitsziget is today a protected, traffic-free area that is home to a variety of rare plants and famous for its sycamore trees.
If you enter the island from Margit-híd, you will come face-to-face with the Centenáriumi emlékmű or ‘Centenary Monument’. The monument was erected in 1973 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the merging of Buda and Pest which happened in 1873. This bronze monument depicts 2 intertwining leafs.
Don’t miss out on the Margitsziget fountain situated close to the Monument. This large fountain is animated by background music and features a central jet propelling its waters up to a height of 25 meters. The fountain is illuminated beautifully during the nighttime.
Recreational facilities abound and are at the disposal of island visitors, including the Olympic Pool situated on the western side of the island. The Hajós Alfréd swimming pool is named after the Hungarian swimmer who won 2 medals during the 1896 Athens Olympics. The complex features a 50 meter outdoor pool that is open the whole year round.
Almost 1 kilometer farther north is the Palatinus-strand – a massive complex that features a number of open-air swimming pools, all of which are set at varying temperatures. Also included are water slides, wave baths, as well as a section for nudists, in addition to the athletics center.
There are many architectural relics on the island including remnants of churches and other religious sites. Situated between these 2 swimming complexes are the ruins of a Franciscan church dating back to 1272. This Gothic church belonged to a religious cloister of which only a wall now remains. Other remains are of a convent that was once the home of princess Margit, daughter of King Béla IV, after whom the island was named.
In the year 1241, King Béla IV vowed that if he succeeded in repelling the Mongol invasion, he would place his daughter in a convent. In keeping his word, he built a Dominican convent where he sent his 9 year old daughter to live in 1251. Margit died at the convent at the age of 29. The Turks destroyed both cloisters in the 16th century. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the ruins were excavated and Margit’s body was found and exhumed.
Another ecclesiastical building that can be viewed on the island is the Premonstratensian Chapel. This Romanesque chapel is a medieval monastery situated near the Dominican convent ruins. Dating back to the 11th century, the monastery was destroyed during the Turkish invasion of 1541, and rebuilt during the 1930s with material from the original structure. The monastery’s tower bell, which dates back to the 15th century, had been buried before the invasion and was rediscovered during the early 20th century.
Művész-sétány or ‘Artists’ Promenade’ is situated north of the Dominican convent ruins and is an area flanked by busts in honor of Hungarian artists, writers and musicians. At the middle of the island is a beautiful flower garden with a geometrical layout, which features a colorful array of flowers from a broad selection of species. There is also a Water Tower overlooking a large open-air Theatre that hosts concerts, operas and other stage presentations.
With its hot springs, baths, green meadows and a modern skywalk, Margitsziget is arguably the most beautiful park in the city. The island also houses the ruins of sacred medieval sites, a beach, running track, a hotel, a health spa resort and bars. Be sure to stop by the Grand Hotel restaurant for a sampling of Hungarian cuisine.
Visitors can spend a pleasant 2-3 hours walking around in this green oasis, although bicycles and 4-Wheelers are also available for rent. The best way to access the island is via tram from the direction of Margit-híd. You may also walk to the island using the small bridge that connects it to Margit-híd.
7. Gellért-hegy and the Citadella
A popular excursion site, Gellért-hegy or ‘Gellért Hill’ rises majestically above the Danube, and offers visitors amazing views of Budapest. The Hill is named after St. Gellért Sagredo, a missionary bishop who came to Hungary around the year 1000 A.D., upon the invitation of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king. Gellért was tasked with assisting in the conversion of Hungarians to Christianity.
Legend has it that following the death of St. Stephen, Gellért was captured by some rebel pagan leaders who did not wish to convert. He was then sealed inside a barrel and rolled down the side of the hill. In 1904, the St. Gellért Monument and its Fountain were built facing the Elisabeth Bridge, on the Northeastern slope of the hill, as a monument to Gellért’s martyrdom.
While on the Hill, you can visit the Citadella, a fortress built in 1851 by the Austrian emperors of Habsburg as a show of their dominance over the Hungarians. When the Habsburgs left Budapest in 1867, ownership of the Citadella reverted to the city and the Hungarians tore down part of the walls as a symbol of victory over the Austrians.
The Citadella was later used during the Second World War by a German SS regiment to hold the city at bay. Today, its old barracks have been converted into a tourist hotel, with its panoramic terraces mostly serving as a view point for stunning views of the city and the Danube below.
A short walk away is the Liberty Monument, erected in 1947 in tribute to the soviet soldiers who liberated the city from the Nazis during World War II. Designed by Hungarian sculptor Kisfaludi Stróbl, the main figure is the Szabadság Szobor or ‘Liberty Statue’, which consists of a woman on a tall pedestal holding an olive branch – the symbol of peace, in her hands.
On the right hand side of the Liberty Statue is an allegorical representation of ‘Progress’, while on her left hand side is a symbolic representation of ‘Evil’. On the right side is depicted a young man standing in victory over a dragon to symbolize the defeat of fascism.
You may climb the Hill starting at Elisabeth Bridge near the Gellért Monument, or take the steeper route beginning from the Gellért Hotel where you will see the fascinating Cave Church to your right. Founded in 1926, the church was used by the Pauline Order and near its entrance is a statue of St. Stephen. There is also the less fun possibility of taking the bus or getting there by taxi.
8. Budavári Palota
Dotting the Budapest cityscape are many important Hungarian icons and monuments, many of which date back to ancient times. Budavári Palota or ’Buda Castle’ was one of the fortresses of stone built on the orders of King Béla IV, following the 13th Century Mongolian conquest. Over the centuries, many wars and battles took place in the Castle, whose remains today constitute an important Hungarian symbol.
The Castle attained its golden age during the reign of Renaissance King Matthias who had it enlarged and transformed into the royal palace. Maria Theresa later had it rebuilt and also enlarged. It was reconstructed in the 19th century by famous Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl.
Today, the building houses the National Library, National Gallery and the Historical Museum, and a magnificent view of the Pest side can be had from its panorama terrace. The funicular next to the Tunnel offers a good way to access the Castle. Through this 95 meters long steep track, visitors can enjoy some of the most astonishing panoramas in the world.
Budavári Palota is located within the Castle Quarter, one of the most beautiful and romantic areas in the city of Budapest. This ancient town district is home to some of Hungary’s most important monuments. Founded over 800 years ago, the beauty of the Castle Quarter remains untouched by the fires, sieges, earthquakes and world wars that have bedeviled it. Although its buildings do bear the tell-tale signs both of ancient and recent historical events.
But there is much more to the Castle Quarter than just the royal castle. This area is also home to an array of churches, museums, theatres, memorial sites and a variety of buildings of historical interest. There are squares, streets, cafes, restaurants and stores, all with a unique atmosphere, which make the Quarter one of the most popular attractions in Budapest.
When done taking a stroll through several centuries inside Buda Castle, visit its northern side at Dísz tér. This was the market place during the Middle Ages at which executions were also performed. Szentháromság tér or ‘Holy Trinity Square’ is located at the front of Matthias Church, and is also the place at which all major streets of the Castle Quarter converge. In the middle of this Square is the Holy Trinity Column erected in commemoration of the plague epidemic of 1709.
Facing the Square is the first Town Hall of Buda, built following the end of the Turkish occupation. Off the beaten track, visitors can still get a feel of the atmosphere of the ancient times from inside the smaller side streets with their hidden courtyards, guild signs and beautifully reconstructed houses. Strolling through this section, you are bound to get a distinct feeling of travelling back in time to a different, more tranquil world.
The Castle and its beautiful neighboring buildings display a strong architectural harmony with the rows of residential homes on the embankment, as well as with the medieval baths, the rocks of Gellért Hill and the bridges of the Danube. If this magnificent spectacle tempts you to stay longer in Budapest, you can choose from the range of holiday apartments available for rent within the Quarter.
9. Andrássy Út
A visit to Budapest is not complete without a stroll through Andrássy Út, the boulevard that is home to the crème de la crème of eclectic-style buildings in the Hungarian capital. Named after former Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, this is the most beautiful avenue in Budapest, which also links the Budapest City Center with the City Park.
The Avenue stretches two and a half kilometers and features 3 distinct sections. The downtown section stretches one kilometer from Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Avenue to the eight-sided Oktogon square, and is lined with tall rows of residential apartment buildings and luxury shops in the house fronts.
Starting from this section, tourists can admire the most impressive buildings, including the State Opera House, built on the design of Miklós Ybl and the former Institute of Ballet. This section is also home to the old Art Hall, the old Academy of Music, and the Budapest School of Performing Arts.
The mid-section stretches from Oktogon to Kodály Körönd and features 2 tree-lined esplanades running parallel to the pavement. Formerly paved with wooden cubes for the convenience of nobility riding on horseback, this section today comprises a bicycle path and walkway.
The third section between Kodály Körönd and Heroes’ Square has its houses situated farther away from the road. It also widens to allow space for the magnificent mansions and villas, which, with their luxurious atmosphere of tranquility, give the impression of a wealthy country town.
The road track to Andrássy Út was decided upon in 1987. Most of the buildings were completed nearly a decade later, and the Avenue is today home to the eclectic architectural heritage of Budapest. Inside many of the beautifully carved apartment buildings you see here are magnificent statues, splendid fountains, breathtaking courtyards and attractive inner spaces.
10. Mátyás-templom and the Halászbástya
Two of the most visited monuments in the Castle Quarter are the magnificent Mátyás-templom or ‘Matthias Church’ – coronation church from the 16th century; and the Halászbástya or ‘Fishermen’s Bastion’ whose neo-Romanesque style façade runs parallel to the Danube.
Officially known as the Church of Our Lady, Mátyás-templom stands on Trinity Square within the Castle Quarter, and has served as the Hungarian coronation church for centuries. Today, it is home to a vast ecclesiastical collection and treasury, including the sarcophaguses of King Béla III and his Queen that visitors can take a peek at. It also boasts excellent acoustic properties that make it the ideal venue for the many organ concerts regularly held there.
Started in 1255 in the Gothic style, the north tower still preserves certain parts of the original church which was enlarged and renewed during the reign of King Matthias. The King held both his wedding ceremonies in the church and his Coat of Arms with the black raven remain visible on the south tower. It is for this reason that the church commonly goes by the name ‘Matthias Church’.
During the Turkish occupation, the church was whitewashed and converted into a mosque. After the re-conquest of Buda, it was reconstructed in Baroque style, although it still preserved some of its oriental accents.
The final major reconstruction occurred from 1895 to 1903 under Frigyes Schulek who gave the church its present neo-Gothic style. The church was thereafter lavishly decorated with frescoes by famous contemporary Hungarian painters. The church offers a unique atmosphere that is truly worth a visit, not to mention the fascinating crypt and treasure house.
Constructed on top of the walls of the old fortress between 1895 and 1902, the Halászbástya or ‘Fishermen’s Bastion’ features decorative fortifications and lovely lookout towers with some of the best panoramic views of the Pest side.
The structure derives its name from the fishermen’s guild that was charged with defending this section of the castle wall during the Middle Ages. Although in actual fact the bastion never did have a defending function.
This bastion comprises 7 towers which represent the 7 Hungarian chieftains who in the year 895 conquered the land and settled the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin. It was this settlement that subsequently led to the foundation of the present-day country of Hungary.
A significant contributor to the Budapest cityscape, the bastion was designed in the neo-Gothic style, also by architect Frigyes Schulek. In front of the Halászbástya is an equestrian statue depicting St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary.