Budapest is the capital of Hungary and situated on the river Danube. People in Hungary say that there is only one city in the whole of Hungary and, quite naturally, that is to be Budapest. Maybe this is an exhuberant expression but matter-of-factly Budapest is the more than just the capital. Budapest is the culutral and spiritual centre of Hungary, science and politics are at home in Budapest. And with a population of 1.8 million people Budapest is the second largest city upon the river Danube, ranking second after Vienna.
Budapest is the city with flair and maybe we can call it Budapest flair, but, honestly, everyone who had the opportunity to visit the place will have a hard time to find the absolute superlative that vividly portraits the swing of Budapest.
We travelled to Budapest either to have a good time and, obviously, to see a lot of new things. This is our report on a week in Budapest.
How to travel to Budapest is, mostly not the first question. Though, we think it is a starting point. There are a few options open to the visitor such as by car, by plane, by train or by coach. If you want to be mobile in Budapest a car should be the obvious choice. However, be warned, parking space is hard to get by in Budapest. If you are lucky you might get hold of a parking slot in one of the car parks (parking block or parkade) where you can leave your car for the time of your stay.
For anyone having to travel on a tight budget, going by coach to Budapest is not the worst idea to come up with. On the contrary. There are many direct coach connections available to Budapest:
From Italy: Naples, Turin, Padua, Venice, Florence, Milan, Bologna, Triest, Brescia, Rom, Verona
From Switzerland: Geneva, St. Gallen, Basel, Zurich, Bern, Lausanne
From Poland: Gdansk, Warsaw, Lód´z, Katowice, Poznan, Krakow, Sopot, Katowice
From Belgium: Namur, Liege, Brussels
From France: Aix-en-Provence, Paris, Nice, Montpellier, Reims, Strasbourg, Lyon, Toulon, Cannes, Marseille, Avignon, Nimes, Bordeaux
From Croatia: Split, Zagreb, Dubrovnik
From Serbia: Belgrad, Novi Sad
From Romania: Bucharest
From Bosnia: Sarajevo
From Czech Republic: Ostrava, Prague, Brno, Budweis
From Slovakia: Donovaly, Bratislava
From Slovenia: Ljubljana, Rijeka, Maribor
From Austria: Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Graz
From Ukraine: Rivne, Lviv Kyiv / Kiev
From UK: London
From Spain: Barcelona
Grom Germany: Cologne, Stuttgart, Essen, Ulm, Hildesheim, Bochum, Deggendorf, Karlsruhe, Nuremberg, Saarbruecken, Bremen, Merzig, Limburg an der Lahn, Hannover, Zweibrücken, Frankfurt, Regensburg
Admittedly, travelling by coach requires limited luggage, but it also could mean getting around in Europe.
When travelling by plane, train or coach, you will have to organise your travel to the hotel yourself.
Either you know someone where to stay or you simply browse the internet, using the most common booking sites such as booking.com, trivago.com, smarttravel.com, travelocity.com to name but a few, whithout touting for any brand mentioned here. Though, using the internet to book afforadble accommodation is the best you can do. Of course, the large hotel chains are all available in the middle of Budapest. It all depends on the budget available at the time of travelling.
What we did was to book an accommodation very close to the Budapest Eye. It was a holiday rental (vacation apartment) in a hotel. So we had the option to cook our own supper and breakfast was served in the breakfast lounge for all hotel guests. As for parking, the hotel adviced to use any car park within their proximity, which we did by looking up a suitable place, using google maps.
From my point of view two days are the very minimum you should plan for, meaning two days without travel. That minimum makes it possible to see the major sights around the old town. Though two days also mean that you are rushing through towm at high speed.
Do you need your car during your holiday in Budapest? Honestly: No! We did most of our tours by walking about town or travelling by tram or bus. Trams are everywhere in Budapest, and the city is also full of yellow cabs, if needed, you will get one.
Budapest taxis are yellow and sport a black and yellow chequered stripe around the car. You can call them also yellow cabs and at times you might think being on Times Square in NY, because there are so many yellow cabs on the major avenues at any time, day and night.
As for the language, naturally Hungarians speak Hungarian (joke), do we have to learn the language in order to get around in Budapest? Answer: No, not necessarily. Hungarians speak mostly German and / or English and it is quite easy finding your way in the city. Besides there is an international community of students stationed at Budapest University, therefore, English is really rather common.
The Currency. Although Hungarian being EU member, they decided to keep their currency. That currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF).Need money, just put your card into the next ATM and Bob is your uncle.
The national dialling code is 0036 or +36. The telecom net is superb, no problem to phone in Hungary or any numbers abroad at all.
How do I call, for example, the UK from Budapest? Add 0044 or +44 to the number you want to call in the UK and drop the first 0 of that number. How do I call a number in Germany? Add 0049 or +49 to the number you want to call in Germany and drop the leading 0 of the phone number.
It might be difficult to visit it all during the first visit and, at least that happened to us, we did not manage to go everywhere we hade planned for. Why, because you always need more time, especially if you want to take good images and if you decide also to walk off the trodden path and simply walk about town eager to see what comes next.
Anyway, the major spots are:
As you can see there is much to see and to go for.
As has already been mentioned we stopped at a hotel on the Buda side of Budapest. The hotel was somehow hidden in an extensive system of rear houses. Upon arriving we firstly parked the car at the previously selected car park and then went back to the street to look for the hotel, thereby following the orders of google maps on our smart phone. Admittedly we had no idea where we were and when we left the car park we found ourselves in the middle of a system of thoroughfares connecting the already mentioned rear houses. What we didn't know was that we were only 200 metres off to the hotel entrance. Anyway, we made our way to the street and followed Google Maps which in turn brought us to another busy street telling us you are at the hotel, though there was no hotel to be seen. So we were more than confused, understandably and went into the thoroughfare and back into the rear house system. After about 100 metres we actually were in front of the hotel entrance. As you can probably imagine, yes, we didn't know what to expect and went up the stairs to reception. What can I say, the hotel offered really everything one could possibly hope for.
At this point I would like to mention that many hotels and guest houses in Budapest can be found at backyards but offer every possible comfort. Also now it becomes clear that Budapest is somehow special. Do not expect to travel about town in your car. No need for that. The locals are already jamming the streets big-time. Get out as early as possible and walk about town. That is the best way to learn about people, culture, city and all.
The good thing about the location was that the backyards and thoroughfares were full of pubs, restaurants and night clubs. During the day the place was rather empty, but with afternoon approaching life came back to the place and people came out to enjoy themselves.
You already know the London Eye, the large ferris wheel in London? Yes, very good but then meet the Hungarian pendent the Budapest Eye. The Budapest Eye is not as extraordinary as the London pendent, which is not even intended; but the Budapest ferris wheel is a huge landmark at Budapest City centre and can be seen from all vantage points in Budapest.
Address: Erzsebet Square
A drive with the ferris wheel is charged at about EUR 8 and provides a view over the entire city. Opening times are:
Monday: 1000h -2300h
The Budapest Eye reaches a height of 65 m and is located in the Elizabeth Park. Visiting the wheel during night time is mostly recommended as the illumination of the wheel is fantastic.
Budapest has 7 great bridges crossing the river Danube and thereby connecting the two parts of Budapest, which are the more hilly Buda on the westbanks and the flat Pest on the eastern side of the river. The amalgamation of Buda and Pest to one city only happened in 1867.
The first fixed bridge construction to cross the river Danube was the Chain Bridge, built between 1839 and 1849; the Hungarian name of the bridge is Széchenyi lánchid. It is certainly no exaggeration that the Chain Bridge is the most photographed item of Budapest at all. The bridge is photographed day and night. And yes, the bridge is a magnificient view and great scene.
When walking through Budapest, quite naturally, one is going to cross the main bridges several times during a week's stay. In our case we more than often crossed Chain Bridge and a few times we went across Liberty Bridge (Szabadság hid), Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet hid) and Margaret Bridge (Margit hid). Though, Chain Bridge is the one most photographed by myself.
Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet hid) was first built in 1903 and named after the revered Empress and Queen of Hungary Elizabeth. Destroyed in 1945 by detonation an new bridge was needed which was built between 1959 and 1964. The new bridge measures 379 metres across and and a width of 27.55 metres. The bridge is located about 1000 metres downsrtream from Chain Bridge and connects Buda between Castle Hill and Gellért Hill with Square of 15th March (Ma´rcius 15. tér) on the Pest side.
Liberty Bridge was opened on October 4th 1896 connecting the Buda Gellert Hill with the Great Market Hall on the Pest side of the river Danube. The bridge is really a lovely sight and great scene. When visiting the Great Market Hall then also plan vor crossing the bridge and taking some shots of the scene.
Don't know where to go in the evening in Budapest? No problem at all. Going out in Budapest is as easy as squeesing a lemon. In other words you don't have to ponder where to go just pop into the next pub or restaurant and try out what they have on offer. It works.
Wanting some party later? Also no problem. Budapest is the party capital of Europe and there is always something going on that city. Day in day out. People even party in front of the Chain Bridge.
Castle Hill is one of high hills in the Buda part of Budapest and by far the largest hill. The hight of the hill varies between 50 and 60 metres whereas the length is 1.5 km. From Castle Hill one does have an anstonishing view of Budapest and the river Danube. The plateau of the hill is fortified with its main complex being the Castle Palace, a bit lower than the palace are the civil quarters of the so-called Citizen Town (Bürgerstadt), also on castle hill there is the Holiy Trinity Column and Matthias Church, the latter being visible far across Budapest. In fact, Castle palace and Matthias Church are the skyline of Buda because of its prominent position on castle hill.
The entire complex on castle hill became UNESCO world heritiage site in 1988. On castle hill we also find the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library and the Historical Museum, which are part of the Castle Palace Complex.
When looking at the Castle Palace we will notice that the complex is similar to Vienna Hofburg and to Prague Castle. During the Habsburg KuK-Monarchy in Budapest and Prague much effort was put into copying the Vienna model of the Hofburg, especially because the Austrian emperor used to stay in these cities at several weeks every year. In other words these castle palaces were the residential home of the emperor.
Access to castle hill is either possible by walking up the hilly slopes or in case you are after some comfort, then just use the mountain cableway. The entrance to the cableway directly opposite to Chain Bridge.
The castle complex was not built at once but is the result of several centuries of extensions that were added to the original castle. First fortification were built in the 13th century, though nothing was left of these building. It was the Mongol invasions of Europe which actually triggered the first building works on the hill, because the Mongols did ransack the countryside, which led King Béla to have a large castle with donjon built on the hill. The foundations for a new palace on the hill are laid about 100 years later in the 14th century. It was King Lajos of Anjou who wanted to built a residential palace to accommodate his ideas of holding court and building the Anjou palace. King Sigismund of Luxemburg extended the castle and made the best fortified and strongest royal castle in Europe. Later King Matthias Corvinus improved the buildings and added splendid palatial rooms and halls, which are said to have been superior to the best roman palaces.
During the 150 years of Turkish occupation (1541-1686) the palace became derelict and it was a lightning in 1578 that led to the detonation of the powder stored in the palace. After that the palace was in ruins.
It was king Karl III of Habsburg who decided to build a new baroque palace. Instable walls were demolished and the entire plateau was levelled. Between 1714 and 1723 the new palace was built. Karl's daughter Maria Therisa had the last remnants of the old royal palace demolished and had the palace extended to the north. From 1790 on Budapest Castle Palace was designated to be the residence of the royal governor.
The Castle Palace as we know it today ist mostly the work of the Habsburg aera.
In 1806 Count Vincent Sand´or had a classisistic palace built by Mihály Pollack, which was meant to be his town house in Budapest. The place was knwon for lavish parties with an endless coming and going of illustrious guests such as Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia and the Russian Zar. After some modifications in 1867 the palace was used as seat of the government until 1944. Since March 15th 2002 the palace is the residence of the Hungarian President. A military guard is placed in front of the palace. Though visitors can walk about up to the barrier. Besides the Budapest funicular railway (Budavari Siklo) car to castle hill has its top station close to the palace.
Next to the eastern end of the tunnel underneath castle hill is the ground station of the Budapest funicular railway "Budavari Siklo", which represents the most effortless way of reaching castle hill. The top station of the railway at the plateau is directly next to Sandór Palais. Usually one has to wait a bit to fetch a ride as there is always a rush.
The railway was opened in 1870 and is the oldest railway of its kind worldwide. Two passageways cross the railway at 36 metres and 54 metres hight above ground station. From ground to top the railway overcomes a hight of 51 metres at a speed of 3 metres per second. Each cable car can carry 24 passengers.
Address: Clark Àdam tér, 1013 Budapest
Fisherman's Bastion is part of Budapest's Castle Hill and a masterpiece of neo romanesque architecture in the late 19th century. Built between 1899 and 1905 by Frgyes Schulek the bastion convincingly emulates the atmosphere of medieval castles and monasteries. The bastion was built as part of the millenium festivities for the beginning 20th century.
Although the bastion never saw any conflict it was built on the derelect Buda city walls on the banks of the river Danube, which, in medieval times, was defended by the Buda fishermen's guild, hence the name Fisherman's Bastion. The fortification is far from being a real bastion but it exists as a peaceful everlasting project of architectural art.
From the ramparts of the baston visitors have a wonderful view over Budapest. The visitors can cast their eyes over the vastness of the city of Budapest and the surrounding Hungarian countryside.
Within the ramparts of the bastion the equestrian statue of Hungary's first king Stephan I. takes centre stage. Also, Matthias Church is part of the architectural complex of Fisherman's Bastion.
It must be said that Fisherman's Bastion is one of the most visited top touristic sights in Budapest as a whole. Nowhere else, apart from Chain Bridge one can see as many people walking about the place. The Bastion is visited by locals and tourists alike and always packed to the rafters, even on cold and windy days.