Budapest

Divided by the river Danube with the Buda hills to the west and the Great Plains to the east, the Hungarian capital, Budapest, has a long history of different civilizations imbuing themselves and rendering it a beautiful cultural potpourri. Its politics and economy replicate this eclectic blend of persistent capitalism mixed with communism of the past 40 years.

The monuments reflecting its impressive 1000-year-old culture and the relics of those who settled here have contributed to Budapest being called the ‘Little Paris of Middle Europe’. Architectural remnants of the earlier Roman rulers and the Turks who came much later, can still be seen in the city. The union with Austria after the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Astro-Hungarian empire has had a spectacular effect on the city’s form and style.

The river Danube bisects the city into two halves, Buda and Pest, and hence the name Budapest.

The medieval streets, houses, museums, caves and the Roman ruins of the historic castle district of the Suburban Buda contribute to its ancient charm. The Pest side is more dynamic and houses the largest parliament building in Europe, besides the riverside promenades, flea markets, bookstores, antique and café houses.

The museums and galleries, churches and synagogues, palaces and historic buildings, baths and pools, and the Secession architectural influence, all give Budapest a rightful spot in your vacation itinerary.

How to reach
By Air

Budapest Franz Liszt International Airport (Budapest Liszt Ferenc Nemzetközi Repülőtér), is the airport through which that most travellers arrive. Flying to airports in Debrecen, Sármellék, Győr-Pér and Pécs-Pogány, is also another option. Ferihegy, now Liszt Ferenc airport, is the largest airport of Hungary and is located about 16 km (10 miles) southeast of the city centre. Though a small airport by international standards, it is easy to navigate and is well connected to the city by public transportation.

To/From the airport
Public Transports – Bus:

The main public transport from the airport to the city is the bus (no. 200E), which runs frequently and commutes between Terminal 2 and the Kőbánya-Kispest, metro line M3 which would take about 25 minutes and continues its journey to reach the city centre within 20 to 30 minutes. It stops next to the metro stop. There a fleet of stairs you would have to cross with your luggage.
The other option is to go to the local train station Ferihegy and get on the MAV network to Nyugati station in Budapest or other rail destinations.

Public Transports – Taxi

Founded in 1913, Főtaxi is the only contracted taxi operator from Liszt Ferenc airport. The cost for a trip would range from 5000 HUF to 10,000 HUF, depending on your destination. The new Taxi Decree has regulated the price of the taxi tariff, fixing the basic fee at 450 HUF and 280 HUF / km. The inner city is 20 kilometres away from Terminal 2.

Arriving by Train

Keleti pályaudvar (East main railway station), Nyugati pályaudvar (Western railway station) and the Déli pályaudvar (Southern Railway Station) are the main railway stations of Budapest. Most international trains arrive at Keleti. Check your particular itinerary for more clarity.

Places of interest
Hungarian Parliament

The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest is a masterpiece of Neo-Gothic architecture.

The Parliament of Budapest is found on many famous postcard and tourist brochures and is a monumental symbol of Budapest. Imre Steindl won the competition to design the Parliament building, which was held in the 1880s, to coincide with the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the country. The Neo-Gothic spires and the onion dome emerging over the riverside, were designed by him. At 96m in height, the dome is a mathematical marvel revering 896 AD, the year of the arrival of the Magyar tribes, who then settled down in Hungary.

The 24 slender towers, the spacious arcades, high windows and the vast central dome provide grace and dignity to the long façade of this living landmark and gives it a baroque spatial effect. Lined with 90 statues of great figures from Hungarian history, the exterior looks stunning, competing with the corbels decorated with 242 allegorical statues. There are 691 rooms, 10 courtyards and 29 staircases inside. For the staircase and halls, around 88 pounds of gold were used!

The sweeping staircase, central Dome Hall and the ceiling frescoes can all be enjoyed during a guided tour of the building. The Parliament’s most hallowed treasure, the Szent Korona (Holy Crown), is the country’s national symbol and is set in a glass case.

Royal Palace

Over the past seven years, the former royal palace has been demolished and reconstructed for at least half a dozen times. In the mid-13th century, Béla IV established a royal residence here and his successors added to the structure. To defeat the Turks, the palace was levelled in the battle in 1686, only to be then rebuilt by the Habsburgs, who spent very little time in it. There are two important museums and the National Szechenyi Library, in the Royal Palace today,

Castle Hill

The limestone plateau towering 170 m above the Danube and straddling almost a kilometre in length, is the Castle Hill or the Castle District. It was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, and contains the most important medieval monuments and museums of Budapest. There are about 28 km long network of caves below it that were formed by thermal springs.

The walled area of the castle district can be divided into two distinct sections – the Old Town where commoners stayed and the Royal Palace, which was the original site of the castle and set apart for the nobility.

Hungarian National Gallery

Hungarian fine art, comprising of medieval religious paintings & statues, Gothic, Renaissance & Baroque art, and 19th & 20th centuries’ collection of artworks, are all exhibited in the Magyar Nemzeti Galéri, which comprises the massive centre block, Wings B, C & D of the Royal Palace. Notable works that won Picasso’s admiration are of the Romantic Mihály Munkácsy, the Impressionist Pál Szinyei Merse and the Surrealist Mihály Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry. A large collection of modern Hungarian sculpture is also on exhibit.

Castle Museum

Almost 2000 years of the history of the city is summarized in the exhibits of the Castle Museum spread over three floors. Rooms dating from 15th century, that have been restored, can be reached from the basement, where there are three vaulted halls. One of them has a resplendent Renaissance door frame in red marble, bearing the seal of Queen Beatrice and tiles with a seal of her husband, King Matthias Corvinus, a raven and a ring, which eads to the gothic hall, the 14th Century Tower Chapel and the Royal Cellar.

Matthias Church

Its Gothic spires coated in patterned majolica tiles and its walls and columns painted in rainbow colors, give a sense of extravagance to the Matthias Church. The major part of the building was constructed only at the end of the 19th century, as one of the projects to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the country, though the church itself dates back to the 13th century. The Romantics Károly Lotz and Bertalan Székely created the stained glass windows, that portray snapshots of the memorable moments of Hungarian history.

Fishermen’s Bastion

Halászbástya, the lookout terrace and the Fisherman’s Bastion provides spectacular views across the Danube to Pest. The construction style is Neo-Gothic and was built in 1905, designed by the architect Frigyes Schulek. There are seven towers in it, symbolising the leaders of the seven Magyar clans, who came to the Carpathian Basin at the end of the 9th century. Constructed between the years 1890 and 1905, it is named after the once nearby fish market and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars. Legend goes that people doing different trades defended different parts of the castle walls and this particular section of the defence was raised by the fishermen’s guild.

Chain Bridge

One of the famous landmarks of Budapest, the Chain Bridge, is a spectacular suspension bridge, built in the 19th century, across the Danube, to connect Buda and Pest, when they were two separate cities.

It has the honour of being the first permanent bridge in Budapest then. The closest bridge was the one in Vienna. The only way across the river Danube was by a ferry. A temporary bridge was available, but only in summer, as it required disassembling to protect itself against drift ice. During winter, people could just walk over the ice to cross the Danube.

When the 375 m (1230 ft) long, 16 m wide bridge opened on November 20, 1849, it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe. The proof of its engineering marvel as that there were only two towers supporting the entire span of the bridge with giant iron chains. These chains gave the bridge its name lánchid, meaning chain bridge in Hugarian.

Imposing stone lions, sculpted by János Marschalkó, guard the bridge on either side. The bridge has its towers decorated with the Hungarian coat of arms.

During the War of Independence, in 1848, the Chain Bridge was almost destroyed by the Austrians. Close to the end of WW II, in 1945, the bridge was blown up by the Germans to halt the progress of the Red Army. The bridge was rebuilt after the war and was reopened in 1949. The current one is a replica of the original.

Margaret Island

Margaret Island, which is an island on the Danube and right in the middle of the city, was first mentioned 2,000 years ago as the summer residence of the then commander of the Roman garrison at Aquicum. It is more than 2.5 km long and covers almost 200 acres.

Today, complete with an outdoor summer thermal spa and a professional swimming pool, the island is open for a good stroll, jog, sunbath or a good leisure time! Flocks of families visit this island when the weather is good to spend time in its gardens or enjoy its sporting facilities.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

The chief landmark of Pest is its largest church, St. Stephen’s Basilica, that can hold 8,500 people! The Roman Catholic basilica has a tympanum on its front porch filled with beautiful statuary. The basilica’s dome and the Parliament’s dome are the most visible on the skyline of Pest, as both domes were planned to be 315 feet high, to celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the settling of the Carpathian Basin in 896.

Heroes’ Square and City Park

Modelled on the Champs Elysees, the broad Andrássy út leads to the Heroes Square, from the city centre. The end of the 19th century saw the massive square being laid out, to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary. Statues of the country’s lauded leaders line the pair of curving colonnades, ahead of which stands a column with Archangel Gabriel at the top. At the square’s northern edge is the museum of fine arts. Beyond the square is the City Park, the main green lung of Pest.

The city park includes a boating lake that becomes an ice rink in winter, the enchanting Vajdahunyad Castle that was designed to showcase the country’s favourite architectural styles in a single edifice, the Budapest zoo and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.

Thermal baths

The thermal waters of these baths are where a major population of Hungary relax in. the Szechenyi complex in the City Park is an aquatic wonderland, that also has lap pools, spa tubs, whirlpools and waters of different temperatures, with a holiday camp vibe, in a palatial ambience.

On a daily basis, thermal water springs varying in temperatures between 210 to 780 C flow 123 natural hot springs and drilled wells in to Budapest’s thermal baths. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Szechenyi thermal baths, is the biggest bathing complex in both Budapest and Europe and the first healing baths in Pest. It resembles the Roman, Greek and Eastern styles of public baths. These thermal waters are famous and eagerly sought out for its medicinal properties and ability to heal several health disorders.

Vajdahunyad Castle

This castle was built in the early 20th century, on the occasion of Hungary’s millennium celebrations. It is a beautiful blend of different architectural styles. It is more an enclave of edifices, than a single structure. It was designed by the architect Ignác Alpár. Each section is designed after an existing building in the Hungarian kingdom. There are 21 different buildings integrated into this enclave.

It got its name from the Hunyad castle in Translyvania, after which the most picturesque wing of the castle was modelled. The castle housed an exhibition during the millennium celebration, outlining the important periods and events in the history of Hungary’s 1000 years.

The city decided to announce it a permanent treasure as the castle become popular with the residents. Hence, in 1904, reconstruction of the Vajdahunyad castle commenced, with brick and stone and as per Alpár’s original plans, with just a few changes.

Hungarian State Opera House

Andrássy út has the city’s most beautiful Neo-Renaissance opera house and is definitely worth a visit. It was designed by Miklós Ybl, and was opened in 1884. Its façade features sturdy columns and statues of renowned composers like Mozart and Beethoven. Images of the Hungarian composers Ferenc Liszt and Ferenc Erkel occupy the pride of place on either side of the entrance. The inaugural performance was conducted by Erkel, who is known as the ‘father of Hungarian opera’.

Frescoes by artists of the 19th century, a huge chandelier and a wide staircase are found inside. There are 45-minutes tours held daily in English. Tickets are available in the Opera Shop, by the sphinx at the Hajós utca entrance.

Vörösmarty Square

Vörösmarty Square is named after a Hungarian patriotic poet. The square is centrally located and easy to reach. This makes it an ideal place for shopping or just for a walk. The square is a busy place in the downtown section of Budapest. It boasts of luxurious stores, antique shops, marvellous pastry shops and other retail shops. Váci Utca, the city’s famous shopping street begins here.

Váci Utca

Váci utca begins from Vörösmarty Square. It is pedestrianized there, and it further leads to the Great Market Hall near Fővám tér, the northern section of which is very interesting, with numerous shops and places for sight-seeing. The growing tourism industry of Budapest has led to the set-up of many souvenir shops!

Central Market Hall

The Great market hall or the Central market hall, in Budapest is the city’s largest indoor market. Its historic structure mesmerises both local shoppers and tourists alike.

When the cities of Buda, Pest and Obuda merged to form one, in the turn of the 20th century, the requirement of a better market place was identified for the burgeoning city. It was decided to build a covered market similar to those in Paris and other European cities.

This ‘symphony in iron’ has a canal that ran through the centre, which brought in goods to by a barge. The early market was divided by a wagon thruway. The wholesalers were to the west and retailers to the east. There were designated areas for stalls that sold meat, fish, poultry, vegetables, fruits, cheese and butter.

There are 3 storeys of stalls selling a variety of wares. The ground level has fruits and vegetables sold. The basement has a supermarket and stalls by fishmongers and meat sellers. The upper floor sold arts and crafts and some fast food stands.

Párisi Udvar

Párisi udvar is a splendid shopping arcade of Budapest. Built in the early 20th century and styled eclectically, it boasts of a grand glass roof and plenty of sculptural wonders. The first two levels of the Brudern House, a seven-storey building with two ornate towers, are occupied by the arcade.

Danube Promenade

A popular esplanade on the banks of the Danube in Pest, is the Danube Promenade. It is lined with huge hotels. The Vigadó concert hall and the ‘Little Princess’ statue are some of the other attractions. Situated between Budapest’s two central bridges, Chain bridge in the north and the Elisabeth Bridge in the south, the promenade allures visitors with its beauty.

Memento Park

An open-air museum, the Memento Park celebrates the demise of Communism by its display of the large statues and monuments, erected in Budapest during the Communist regime between 1947 and 1989.

Post WW II, Hungary came under the Soviet influence. Democracy was never implemented in Central and Eastern Europe as promised by Stalin in 1945, at the conference of Yalta. Instead, Hungary suffered a totalitarian dictatorship, in the name of ‘people’s democracy’. A revolt in 1956 failed after which the regime’s rules were relaxed. The fall of Communism in 1989 saw the birth of democracy and independence! The statues of the communist era are erected around the park for a close up view. They are large and impressive and still have streaks of their monumentality.

There is also an exhibition in the park to educate visitors about the c communist era during the 20th century and highlighting the events of 1956, when the statue of Stalin was pulled down. The 1989-1990 unrest when the whole communist system fell apart is also effectively showcased.

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