BRIGHT LIGHTS OF BUDAPEST, Beyhan Ünal | 02.02.2015

The capital city of Hungary, Budapest, is composed of two separate cities that were united in 1873. The old Budin, or Buda is located on the west side, and old Pest is on the east side of the Danube River. As Buda represents the historical side of the city, Pest is the modern side. Seven bridges unite the two parts of the city.

Conquered by Sultan Suleiman in 1526, the Ottoman Empire reigned in Buda and Pest for 150 years, and they were removed from Ottoman rule with the Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699. Despite the fact that the Ottomans built many fine buildings like mosques, madrases, baths and inns, today there are no foot prints of Ottoman Empire except the Turkish baths.

Being damaged very badly during the Second World War, the city was later reconstructed. The European buildings were taken as models, even replicas were built. For example, the parliament building is the exact copy of the one in London, but instead of using stones, the buildings were constructed rapidly with bulk cement, and their surfaces were covered with stones. That's why while strolling around the city center, you will see the crumbling stone façades of the buildings and the cement coming out. If you don't get carried away with these kinds of details, Budapest is a very beautiful city...

The best way to visit the most important spots of the city are the hop on - hop off buses. There are two types of these buses available, convertible and normal ones. The buses tour the city on three lines, red, blue and green. With the ticket you buy you can hop off on any stop you like, stroll around and hop on again to start from where you left off. The ticket costing almost 20 EUR is valid for two days. On the first day you can start and finish the first, longer route, and then on the second day continue with other two shorter lines. You can visit all the places I will write about and share the pictures of them with these buses.

The City Fortress: It's listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Located on a hill, the fortress will offer you some amazing scenery. Especially the Parliament Building, Danube River and the seven bridges are breath taking. Built against the Mongolians attacks, the fortress was opened to settlement with its surroundings after the 15th century.

In this region you can visit:

  • The Buda Castle.
  • The Fishermen's Bastion, which is also listed in the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites, can be visited. I recommend a cup of coffee at the cafe situated between the bastions facing the city view.
  • Let's not skip one of the important churches of Europe, Matthias Church. It was the cutest and the most aesthetic church I have ever seen. Although the Ottomans converted it to a mosque in 1541, it was later reconverted to a church. However it's one of those few churches that has a fee if you want to look inside.
  • There is a small market where you can buy souvenirs inside the fortress. Compared to the city, this market is more economic.
  • From the top of the fortress you can see the most beautiful bridge in Budapest, the Chain Bridge. (Sczechenyl Lanchid).
  • Behind the bridge there is St Stephan's Basilica.

Gellert Hill: One of the highest spots in Budapest, the hill is just opposite the Elisabeth Bridge. It's named after Saint Gerard who was put into a barrel by pagans and thrown to death from the hill.

  • You can see the Gellért Monument at the foot of the hill.
  • The city is also very famous with its thermal waters and there are thermal baths.
  • The Liberty Statue is also on this hill and it's big enough to be seen from every corner of the city. It was erected for the liberation of the city by Soviet Army from Nazi German Occupation in 1945.

Dohany Street Synagogue: If you consider the fact that 23 % of the population in Budapest consisted of Jewish citizens at the beginning of 20th century, the value of this synagogue can be understood. Because of the Holocaust the percentage has decreased, and today it is about 0.5 %. If you have never been to a synagogue, it is a good opportunity because the building, which was constructed in 1859, is one of the largest synagogues in the world.

Margeret Island: It's a very large and green island right in the middle of the Danube. Because it's a pedestrian only island, you'll be on foot the whole time. I also recommend you to tour with a bike. There is an Olympic swimming pool, a Japanese Garden, an old church and a water tower on the island.

The Tomb of Gulbaba: Gul Baba's real name was Cafer, took the nick name from the rose that he used to wear on his quilted turban. He was a Bektashi dervish. The tomb was built when he was martyred during the Budin Campaign in 1541. He is very famous in Hungary. 

The Hereos' Square (Hösök Tere): On the 1000th anniversary of the establishment of Hungary in 1896, its construction started but took a lot of time to finish. On the monument, the conversion of Hungarians to Christianity during the reign of King Istvan is depicted.

  • Just behind the square there is a big city park and a zoo.
  • On the right side you can see the beautiful building of the Fine Arts Museum.

The House of Terror: Located on the main avenue, Andrassy, the museum was established in 2002. During World War II and after, the violence the people suffered by the hands of Hitler and Stalin is exhibited in the four story building. There are torture and execution rooms and photos of people that were slaughtered.

St. Stephens Basilica: The construction of the church started in 1868 and around 50 years later, in 1905, it ended. The name of the first King of Hungary was given to the church. Located on the beginning of the Andrassy Avenue, with its architecture and the statues inside, it is pretty magnificent. Probably the thing that will impress you most will be the right hand of Saint Stephan which is exhibited at the back of the basilica in a little room. It's a very rare thing for a Catholic Church.

Besides all these, another symbol of Budapest is the Parliament Building. On the front side of the parliament building, facing the Danube, you will see lots of statues of pairs of women, children and men’s shoes. The spot where all the shoe statues are located is called the World War II Jewish Monument. It was erected in honor of the Jews that were killed by a firing squad and thrown into the Danube.

Also the State Opera House and the historical Railway Station are worth seeing.

Budapest is one of best illuminated cities of the world. I strongly suggest you to take a night boat trip on the Danube River. A 20 Euro ticket will give you the chance to start the tour. Drinks are included. The boat trips start at nine and last around one hour. You'll be fascinated and take a lot of marvelous pictures.

Adjacent to the city bridges, Vaci Utca and Andrassy Utca, are the best streets for shopping. You can buy all the souvenirs you like from the gift shops on these streets, but remember, as I mentioned before, the prices at the gift shops in the Buda Fortress are better.

The currency of Hungary is not the Euro. Although the country is a member of European Union, its currency is still the Hungarian Forint. If you want to exchange your money with a better exchange rate, I recommend you use the exchange offices in the city center.

I advise you to try the Hungarian Goulash, which is their famous food. Another version of the juicy stew of Turkish cuisine, the Goulash Soup, something you should definitely try. I also recommend the wine Tokajı, and their traditional drink Palinka, which has a high percentage of alcohol, and resembles both vodka and liquor at the same time. Moreover, there are lots of Turkish restaurants in the city. Hungarians call them Török Etterem and they are very popular among Hungarians. Especially Doner is very popular in Hungary.

Have a nice holiday.

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