Budapest had long been on my travel wishlist and I was glad to be able to visit this Eastern European gem when it was still relatively uninundated by tourists. This city is perfect for budget travellers as the Hungarian Forint makes all things affordable. Cost-effectiveness aside, the place has plenty of history, culture and natural sights that deserve at least one visit in a lifetime. Here’s my easy guide to exploring Budapest on foot:-
Gellért Hill And The Citadella
Wake up early and begin your exploration from Gellért Hill in Buda. This hill which was once full of vineyards is named after a bishop who was forced into a wine barrel and rolled down from the top. There are several hiking trails along Gellért Hill that lead to various points of interest which also provide sweeping views of Budapest from great vantage points. The Citadella – a fortress complex, Sziklatemplom – a chapel-cum-museum inside the natural cave structure of this hill and St. Gellért Monument are not to be missed!
Tram It Out If You’re Not Into Walking
Budapest is little enough to be covered entirely on foot (especially if you are a fast walker like me) and yet large enough to warrant public transport and cars. Whatever your level of physical fitness, the city requires a lot of walking. So, if you think you’re going to tire out, hop inside one of their cool trams that run all across the cobblestone streets in Buda and Pest, and also across the Danube River that separates the two parts of Budapest! The locals often joke that the Pesti are not as sophisticated as the residents of Buda, but to discover if there’s any truth in that generalization, you’ll have to explore both the parts of the city. 😉
Buda Castle And The Underground Cave Network
One of the most iconic structures of Hungary is the Buda Castle. This gorgeous baroque palace built on Castle Hill is among Budapest’s World Heritage Sites, along with the embankments by the Danube. The palace complex also houses the Budapest History Museum. The funicular that leads to the palace usually has a long queue and it helps to do the trek instead. There’s also a lift inside that shortens your walk by a couple of floors. The Castle Hill has many more historical attractions which have been carefully maintained for centuries. Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church are important for their intricate architecture and viewing galleries. However, the site that most moved me was the Hospital In The Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum (Sziklakórház Atombunker Múzeum). This underground museum is a complex of interconnected caves right below the Buda Castle. I took one of their hour-long tours to learn that the fortified caves were used as shelter against air raids during World War II and then as an emergency hospital to treat casualties during the 1956 Revolution. A couple of years later, the place served as a nuclear bunker as people feared chemical attacks during the Cold War.
Across The Danube
Once you have had a taste of Buda, cross the Danube to Pest. There are many bridges that run over this river, the prominent ones being Chain Bridge, Liberty Bridge and Elizabeth Bridge. The river is a nice way to tour the entire stretch of Budapest’s embankments. There are countless cruises that have live commentary, food and entertainment onboard. An evening cruise lets you marvel over the glittering banks as you pass by famous buildings and go under the bridges.
St. Stephen’s Basilica – Budapest’s Largest Cathedral
The Budapest Cathedral or St. Stephen’s Basilica is just as tall as the Hungarian Parliament Building at 96m. This is to signify that the country considers the spiritualism of the church and the laws of the world to be of equal importance. Even if you are irreligious, visit this church which took over 50 years to be built. The spiral stairways inside lead up to an observation deck that offers views that are spellbinding!
See The Rooftops Of Budapest
It is from the observation deck of the Budapest Cathedral that I saw my life’s very first double rainbow! 🙂 The rains had just stopped when I had finished climbing the 364 steps to the dome to watch two beautiful rainbows in the clearing sky. From up there, you can see a lot of Pest and Buda – the magnificent royal palace, the tall spire of Matthias Church, all the way to the Tatra Mountains in the distance.
By The Pesti Bank Of The Danube
An evening walk along the riverside of Pest will take you to the third largest parliament building in the world. Guided tours are available inside the Hungarian Parliament Building. Some distance ahead, there is an art installation called ‘Shoes By The Danube’ which displays iron statues of 60 pairs of shoes permanently installed to remember the victims of the holocaust who were shot there.
The Great Market Hall
The largest indoor marketplace in the city – Central Market Hall has numerous stalls that offer fruits, vegetables, chocolates and countless Hungarian specialities. I loved munching on a strudel from one of the stalls here which comes with assorted and unusual stuffings such as pumpkin-poppy-seed. The second floor has eateries and shops which sell clothing and interesting artefacts among many other things.
Jewish Quarter And The House Of Terror
Hungary has a lot of Jewish history, most of it heart-wrenching. The largest synagogue in Europe, Dohány Street Synagogue, has heavy security and employs strict screening of all its visitors. The complex also has a museum, a cemetery and a Holocaust memorial – a weeping willow tree which has names of the Hungarian Jewish victims inscribed on its leaves. Terror tourism is emotionally painful for spectators, but an important way to sensitize the public on the horrors of wars, racism and anti-semitism. You cannot do without a tour of Terror Háza Múzeum (House of Terror Museum) where thousands of people were tortured and imprisoned by the Nazis. The voice recording of a former prisoner describing how they were abused chilled me to the bone as it played in the lift.
Along Andrássy Avenue
Andrássy Avenue, a World Heritage Site, is an important and long stretch of road in Pest that leads to the Heroes’ Square – the largest square in Budapest. Along the street, you come across a number of shops, squares, museums including Terror Háza, the State Opera House and many commercial and residential buildings and villas.
In Case You Have More Time
There is so much to see and do in Budapest that you need a long holiday to fully enjoy all of its attractions at leisure. I was able to spend a day in Margaret Island which sits in the middle of the Danube. This city also has a handful of thermal baths which promise to relax your nerves and cleanse your body with their medicinal properties.
Have I convinced you to visit Budapest yet?
Let me know by commenting below! 🙂
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