Budapest’s history is a veritable mix of conquests, resettlement, pillaging and prosperity. The city itself is actually the result of a union of two separate towns: Buda and Pest. The influence of the various cultures that have called the area home, however, is an important part of what makes the city so striking. Budapest is the 10th largest city in the European Union, as well as Hungary’s capital city. As such, it is an important cultural and governmental center and has a thriving local population and culture.
For shorter visits, the best way to see the city highlights in one go is a ride on Tram Route 2. A Budapest CityPal can help you navigate the Budapest public transportation system. For those planning to stay several days, consider the character of each city side: Buda is generally considered the more cultural, quiet half, while Pest is generally livelier, containing much of the city’s restaurants and nightlife. Whether you prefer close access to cultural institutions or, to abundant food and drink will determine which side is best for your stay.
An absolutely unmissable attraction is Hungary’s Parliament Building. Tours are regularly scheduled and quite popular with visitors, and provide interesting background about Hungarian history and government, as well as providing a glimpse at the deliciously opulent building interior (SPOILER ALERT: there is a lot of gold!). Just a short walk from Parliament is the gorgeous and impressive Szechenyi Chain Bridge, constructed in 1840.
Another of the city’s most gorgeous sites, the River Danube, flows directly next to Parliament. The banks of the River Danube, aside from its legendary status in the world of folklore, is a lovely place from which to take in the sites and sounds of the city. Visit Shoes on the Danube, a powerful sculpture meant to recall the complexities and challenges of Europeans during WWII. Walk the banks of the Danube to Margaret Island to enjoy a quiet, idyllic escape from the city, as well as a show from the park’s musical fountain. Speaking of relaxing, no visit to Budapest is complete without a trip to the Gellert Bath Palace, a renowned and beautiful European-style spa.
If you visit Budapest in the summer, don’t miss the Sziget Festival, one of the largest music and cultural festivals in Europe. It is held every August in northern Budapest, on Óbudai-Sziget (“Old Buda Island”), a natural island on the Danube. More than 1,000 performances take place annually and the Sziget Festival is the main event of the year.
Spend some time at Castle Hill, also known as Buda Castle and Buda Hill, in order to take a closer look at some of the gorgeous structures in Budapest’s Castle District. You can either walk up the hill or take a ride in the Funicular in order to enjoy the view on the way up with a side of relaxation. Fisherman’s Bastion is also located in this district, providing a scenic city overlook. Just across the Danube from here is the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica, as well as Andrassy Avenue on which Heroe’s Square, the opera house, and the House of Terror Museum are located.
Vajdahunyad Castle is also a fascinating site. It was designed to imitate a Transylvanian castle and it reflects over a dozen different architectural styles reflected by the castles across Hungary.
Last but not least, make time and room in your stomach for Goulash! This dish is native to Hungary, and for meat eaters, there is no more satisfying cool-weather fare. Often served in a bread bowl, goulash is the perfect opportunity to slow down, enjoy the soul-warming spices and flavors, and reflect on your inspiring days in this sparkling city.