I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about Budapest before going there. Being a part of the former Eastern Bloc, it was always a place from my past that was off limits. Today, Hungary definitely embraces a more Western culture, and in many ways reminds me of other, more familiar European cities. Still, even with the move to democracy and its membership in the European Union, there is still a difference that can be felt there. It is by no means threatening or foreboding. But you can feel the presence of its heritage as you walk through the city. I had the privilege of doing just that for two days.
My reason for being in Budapest was to attend the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) River Cruise Expo. This was an excellent opportunity to see the River Cruise ships from six different cruise lines and to inspect 10 different ships. Then, I was able to go on a 7-day river cruise on one of those ships. I will report more on both of those opportunities in later posts.
When visiting Budapest, you will appreciate that this is really a city of two main parts – Buda and Pest, split in two by the Danube River. The “Buda” side is the hilly side of the city. It is where the castle, the palace and the President’s home are located. The “Pest” side is opposite on the other side of the Danube and is the flat side of the city. It is where you find many of the hotels and restaurants including places like the Ritz Carlton, the Intercontinental and Marriott hotels, and Michelin Star restaurants like Wolfgang Puck’s Spago restaurant. Here you can also find the Hungarian Parliament Building, the City Park, and St. Stephen’s Basilica.
These are some of the places I visited.
Located near the Danube River, not far from where our ship was docked, is the Central Market. This market is completely under roof and has two different levels. On the ground floor, it is primarily a food market with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables. On the upper level, I would describe it as part souvenir shop, clothing store and other goods.
The building daters back to the 1890’s and was refurbished in the 1990’s.
The picture here of the market building shows one of the things that is unique to Hungary – the colored roof tiles. These are common here, but something I don’t think I have seen in other European cities.
Located in the eastern side of Budapest, in the northern part of the city is a City Park, containing the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, the Hungarian Museum of Fine Arts and the Hero’s Square and Millennium Monument.
The Baths are fed by thermal springs and used year round. The water in these baths can reach 165 F.
The Heroes Square, shown here, was originally built as part of Hungary’s 1896 millennium celebration.
The amount of time I had here was very short. To visit this area properly, you should allow yourself at least a half of a day or more.
The Hungarian Parliament Complex
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the largest building in the country. The dome at the center of the building stands 315 feet high and the building contains 691 rooms. It was modeled after the British Parliament Building. There are tours of the building available.
Near the Parliament Building, on the banks of the Danube are is a memorial made of 60 pairs of cast iron shoes. A Jewish Community has existed in Budapest since the 13th century, and before the Holocaust, the Jewish population of Budapest numbered over 250,000.
During World War II, Hungary was an Axis country along with Germany and Italy. In late 1944 and early 1945, a Hungarian Militia known as the Arrow Cross Party arrested over 20,000 Jewish citizens and shot them along the banks of the river. Before murdering them, the militia made them take off their shoes, because they were considered valuable. This memorial was established in 2005.
St. Stephen's Basilica
Located near the Parliament building is St. Stephen’s Basilica. The building was constructed between 1867 and 1905, so as far as cathedrals are concerned, this one is relatively new. The building is named for István, the first Christian King of Hungary, who lived from 975 – 1038 AD.
Inside the Basilica, you can go up into the dome for panoramic views of the city.
For places of worship such as these, it was often important that they house the remains of the person for whom they are named. St. Stephen’s is no exception, and inside the basilica is a gold case that contains St. Stephen’s right forearm and hand.
Moving across the Danube River to the Buda side of the city is the Castle and Palace Grounds. This is where the Hungarian President lives. This area is also the site of the Matyas Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Old Town.
Getting to the top of the hill can be done by walking, taking the Funicular, or by a shuttle service located at the base of the hill.
Getting There and Recommended Stay
Getting to Budapest is relatively straightforward, but will require flying into another European Airport before getting to Budapest. Connections are available through London, Frankfurt, Paris, Munich and Vienna.
In addition, Budapest is the origination or destination for most river cruises on the Danube.
To properly see the city, I recommend a stay here of at least three days. There is so much to see and do here. I did not get to see half of the things I wanted to do here.
For places to stay, I recommend the InterContinental Hotel and the Marriott Hotel. They are located near the Danube and the Parliament building. Both will have rooms with views of the Palace.