If you think Paris is passe, Venice is a cliché and Rome overrated, try Budapest, the Paris of the East. Whether you are a culture vulture, a party animal or a romantic soul, Hungary’s capital, Budapest, has something for everyone. You are likely to be spoilt for choice – particularly if it is your first visit. To help you make your trip a memorable, take a look at our top ten things to do in Budapest.
Winding for 1,725 miles from southern Germany to the Black Sea, Europe’s second-longest flowing river is the perfect place to admire the UNESCO World Heritage-listed views of Budapest. A river cruise is the perfect way to experience the Danube and there are plenty to choose from. There are few things more relaxing than a night cruise, where you can sip a glass of chilled Hungarian wine, enjoy live music as you take in the sights of Andrassy Avenue, the Buda Castle Quarter, and admire Budapest’s stunning architecture in all its twinkling glory.
Budapest has many nicknames and its moniker “City of Baths” is well-earned. Budapest is blessed with numerous thermal springs, whose healing qualities have been lauded for over a thousand years. With plenty of baths to choose from, a trip to at least one must be on your list of things to do in Budapest. Szechenyi Baths were opened in 1881 and were steadily expanded over the next twenty years, as their popularity grew. Today, a Baroque-Palace exterior houses 18 pools, 15 of which are fed by natural springs. While the Szechenyi Baths are the most famous in Budapest, the Gellert Baths are known as the most beautiful. Presiding regally over the Danube and decorated in intricate Art-Nouveau style, you can languish in luxury in a range of spring-fed, Roman-style pools.
Hungarian wine may not be at the top of your list when you go shopping in the UK, but there are plenty of delicious vintages of wine and fizz that will rival any fine wines you have tasted before. Secreted beneath Buda Castle is a maze of winding passages, some of which house Faust Wine Cellar. Here, you will be able to discover Hungarian wines from the country’s 22 wine regions, handpicked by resident sommeliers, to give you a divine insight into Hungarian wine. Whether you are with a group of friends or with a loved one, the setting is opulent, romantic, yet relaxed. What’s more, you will leave with a deeper understanding of the country’s wine (and, possibly, a light head).
The Chain Bridge is one of the key things to do in Budapest, from a historical and aesthetic point of view. Proposed by Count Istvan Szechenyi, designed by British engineer, William Tierney Clark, supervised by Scottish engineer Adam Clark, and with financial support from the Viennese financier Baron Gyory Sina, construction of the Chain Bridge started in 1839 and was finally completed in 1849. The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge to join Pest and Buda together, and was only the second bridge to cross the Danube. The bridge was blown up during WWII and faithfully reconstructed in 1949. Exactly 100 years after its inauguration, the bridge was reopened, its classic architecture bearing its former dignity and majesty, and standing testimony to Budapest’s strength in the face of adversity.
Central Market Hall
Gourmands, bargain-hunters, wine-lovers and shopaholics will fall in love with Central Market Hall. Budapest’s biggest market has been running since the 19th Century. In 1996, the market was renovated and it has since become a tourist hotspot. You can explore local delicacies, including cured meats and fish, fresh fruit Hungarian paprika and local wine. If you venture up to the second floor, you will find traditional arts, crafts and souvenirs – anything from rich Hungarian embroidery, to painted eggs and dolls in traditional costume – the list is endless. As can be expected, the market is packed and bustling with activity but if you go with the flow, it can be a fantastic experience.
St Stephen’s Basilica
The Neoclassical cathedral is one of many fine examples of Budapest’s architecture. The Basilica of St Stephen tool over half a century to complete, in part due to complications with its vast dome. It is the dome, however, that makes the cathedral so special. Here, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the city, as you marvel at the architectural triumph of a building designed and constructed over 100 years ago, without the help of technology or machinery. The interior of the cathedral can feel a bit gloomy, but head towards the alter, where you will see the Holy Dexter – the mummified right hand of St Stephen, and the focus of the construction and maintenance of the Basilica.
Memento Park quite literally brings Hungary’s Communist period out into the open. From 1949-1989, Hungary suffered under a communist regime – the park bears statues of communist leaders. One of the architects of the project said “This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.” The park is divided into two segments: Statue Park (officially called “A Sentence About Tyranny”) is home to 42 statues, which were removed from Budapest’s streets after the fall of the communist regime. On the west side of the park is Witness Square, where you can see a symbol of the Hungarian revolution – a replica of Stalin’s boots, and visit the exhibition, which tells you more of the regime and its impact on the people of Budapest.
Even if you are only going for a couple of days, Castle Hill should be on your list of things to do in Budapest. The kilometre-long limestone hill presides 170 metres above the Danube, and is home to some incredible medieval monuments and museums. Castle Hill’s walled section comprises two discrete sections: the Royal Palace and the Old Town. Built in the mid-1200s, the Royal Palace has been home to royalty and war for over 800 years, has been burnt down and rebuilt on several occasions. However, its scale and beauty are simply breath-taking and no doubt contribute to Castle Hill being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This Roman town was built nearly 2,000 years ago, in 100AD. Aquincum is the most complete remains of Roman civilisation in Hungary. Listen to the footsteps of time as you follow in the steps of millions of others over the past two millennia, and explore the remains of baths and houses, elegant courtyards with beautiful fountains, and incredible underfloor heating systems. If you want to find out more about Aquincum, and to make the most of your visit, take a trip to the Aquincum Museum, which is at the town’s entrance, where you can get an insight into the remains, their construction and uses, as well as see a huge exhibition of Roman objects.
Built in 1859, the Great Synagogue is the largest Synagogue outside of New York City. The vast building bears Moorish and Romantic architectural styles, its massive scale, precise geometry and symmetry making it all the more impressive. Inside the synagogue, you will find the Hungarian Jewish Museum and Archives, where you will find a collection of curios pertaining to everyday and religious life. To the north of the synagogue, the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial marks the mass graves of Jews killed by Nazis. In addition, the Tree’s leaves are inscribed with the names of hundreds of thousands of holocaust victims.
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