One of the stops on our city tour of Central Europe was Budapest.
The Hungarian capital, divided into two halves across the Danube River, yet united by a series of bridges, instantly captivates, thanks in large part to its beautiful landscape, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and highlights the great historical periods of the city.
Budapest as a World Heritage Site can be seen as three distinctive parts: Buda Castle District, the Banks of the Danube (including the Parliament and the Chain Bridge) and Andrássy Avenue. Since there is so much to see and do in Budapest, looking at it in this way made it easier for the Miss P, Miss V and I to tour the city.
Banks of the Danube
I believe in starting at the top, and the little ladies and I did just that when we went to the Citadel. This former fortress erected by the Habsburg monarchy after they suppressed the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence as a reminder to the Hungarians of who ruled the country sits on Gellért Hill, the highest point of downtown Budapest, and offers spectacular panoramic view over the city, including Danube embankments and the Buda Castle District. Seeing Budapest spread out before us like that made us giddy with anticipation.
We could identify a few of the bridges, the green dome of the Hungarian National Gallery and the Parliament. The notable landmark, which sits on the Pest side of the Danube River, is a magnificent example of Neo-Gothic architecture. The third largest Parliament building in the world has 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) of stairs and is 315 feet (96 meters) high. The building was closed for renovation when we were there, so we could only admire its beauty from afar, but considering how beautiful it is on the outside, I can imagine how glorious the interior must be, especially since it houses the Hungarian Crown Jewels.
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is another one of Budapest’s famous sights. Built in the 19th century, the suspension bridge spans the River Danube and was the first permanent connection between Buda and Pest. This is my favorite of the eight bridges, which we not only walked across several times, but I also made sure it was part of my running route. There is something about running past those lions at the end of the bridge that was so empowering (cue Katy Perry’s “Roar”).
Every European city has its grand boulevard. Paris has Champs–Élysées, Barcelona has Passeig de Garcia, Berlin has Ku’damm and for Budapest it’s Andrássy Avenue. The mile long avenue starts right behind St. Stephen’s Basilica and goes to Hero’s Square.
Taking a leisurely walk down this iconic avenue with its beautiful Beaux Art architecture was a wonderfully passive way to take in Budapest and some of its history as we passed the Opera House, a building used by the Communist Secret Police as a torture center known as the House of Terror, Heroes’ Square and the New York Palace.
The New York Palace is a building commissioned by the New York Life Insurance Company to be its European head office. Built in the 1890’s in Italian Renaissance-style, the interior of the building is a feast for your eyes. And like the other grand cafes the little ladies and I encountered earlier on our trip in Vienna and Prague, it was fabulous. A pianist only added to the sophisticated ambiance, causing Miss P to remark that maybe we should be eating something more fancy than the burger and chips that were sitting in front of us. I doubt she would have felt that way if she’d seen the bill. Trust me when I say those burgers and chips were very fancy.
Buda Castle District
The most popular way for tourists to get from Pest and the Danube riverside to the Castle District is by taking a ride on the Sikló, also known as the funicular. A little touristy and a lot pricey, but a thrill nonetheless, especially for Miss P and Miss V, who had by this point, had their fill of castles, museums and monuments. Once we reached our destination we just walked around outside mostly, though we did tour the inside of the Mathias Church with a guide.
The castle grounds are filled with great statues and stunning views across the city. The weather was absolutely fantastic when we were there, and the idea of being cooped up inside just wasn’t appealing. So instead, we spent the day just strolling around the cobblestone streets of Castle Hill admiring the architecture and people watching at Trinity Square, Kapisztrán Square and Fishermen’s Bastion. The oddly named Fishermen’s Bastion is a look-out terrace marked by its seven turrets, one for each of the Hungarian tribes, and offers one of the best views of the city.