The Danube River divides Budapest into two and the city takes its name from these two sides. The west side of the Danube is called Buda while the east side is Pest.
For publicity, the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava uses “the little big city” as a catch line. When I tell you about Budapest, I want to promote it as “the big little city.” This is something that I always emphasize: when touring a city, the only transportation vehicle to be used should be your feet, the best way to tour a city should be on foot. Unlike lots of cities, Budapest gives you a chance to stroll around by leaps and bounds without feeling tired, and contains appealing things on each and every corner, it’s a big city at the same time as being a small city in fact.
Despite being a part of EU, the country hasn’t officially converted to Euros and the currency of Hungary, Forint is still being used. Indeed this is one of the important reasons to choose Budapest for a trip.
Compared to most other European cities life in Budapest is cheap. It’s possible to handle all the wining, dining and accommodation costs very economically. Budapest, it’s the perfect spot to start a low budget European tour!
Just like the Danube passing through the whole of Europe, from one side to another and pouring out into Black Sea, you can tour the city by dividing it into two, as Buda and Pest. The places to visit in Buda are, Buda Palace in the Buda Fortress Region, the Old Town, Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias Church, Gellert Hill, and of course the Tomb of Gul Baba. After taking a little break at the Margeret Island on the Danube, you can cross over to the Pest side of the city and visit the museums lined on Andrassy utca and Vaci utca (utca means street in Hungarian), and the Hereos’ Square, City Park, State Opera House, and the Buildings of Parliament. You can buy some souvenirs from the City Market and watch the sunset accompanied by the scenery of the bridges on the Danube. Moreover, you can the entire tour on foot during and the whole city in just one day.
So if you like let’s all go together on a tour in Budapest.
Buda of the Budapest
As I mentioned Budapest is a big but a small city. Believe me, I swear. Because all the places to visit are located on a straight line, it’s possible to see lots of places within a short distance step by step.
Let’s start from Gellert Hill if you like. Located on the south of Buda Palace, on one of the most beautiful spots to watch Budapest, the Gallert Hill (in Turkish sources it’s referred as the Gürz Elyas Bayırı) is also one of the richest neighborhoods in the town and is 235 meters high.
A 15 minute marvelous walk starting from the river side and continuing generally through the forest will take you to the top of the hill, and the Liberty Statue, which can be seen from every spot in the city, will meet you. Erected in memory of the Soviet soldiers who lost their lives during the Second World War, the statue seems very small from below and surprises you with its 40 meters height when you up close to it. Though the statue is very eye catching, the real thing that makes this hill so beautiful is the panoramic scenery of Budapest…. So don’t be lazy. Don’t just visit it during the day, but try to also make it at night; it’s worth the extra trip. Moreover, you should really try to watch the sunset from the hill. I don’t want to spoil the magic with a photo. I believe that some things should be seen and experienced for the first time in the right location. You should be there to live that moment.
After resting a little bit on the Gellert Hill and freshening up, our next target is The Fortress Region. You can either have a nice walk to the castle, or hop on one of the symbols of Budapest, the historical cable cars, and reach the fortress enjoying the scenery of the city.
The old town inside the fortress walls has resisted the years and preserved its old form. Almost every building here has an amazing story, and all should be seen, but you should see the Buda Palace first.
Living through all those wars and sometimes being used for different purposes like headquarter etc, the Buda Palace, today hosts one of the most important museums of Budapest and Hungary, the Hungarian National Museum. If you’re lucky enough you might come across a good exhibition during your visit. This is once in a life time experience, don’t miss it.
Besides the colorful houses lined up like pearls, there are also two places you should see inside the fortress: Fisherman’s Bastion and Mathias Church!
The construction of the Fisherman’s Bastion ended in 1905. Consisting of seven bastions, with seven towers and arches combining them, the Fisherman’s Bastion has been listed on UNESCO’s world cultural heritage sites since 1988.
Just beside it, Mathias Church is also one of the symbols of the city. Once, for a short period of time, it served as a mosque. The church takes the name of King Matthias who married there twice. Having fabulous acoustics, the church hosts concerts every once in a while.
The last place we should drop by on Buda side, is the Tomb of Gul Baba! Gul Baba, who is very popular among Turks just as he is with the Hungarians, is a Bektashi dervish. He lived in the 15th – 16th centuries and his real name was Cafer. After the invitation of Sultan Suleiman, he joined the Budin Campaign and settled down there for 10 years. Following his death, a tomb was built for him in Gultepe where he is now buried. Also, the Danish writer Andersen wrote his story. Gul Baba, who used to join campaigns with a wooden sword was named after the rose he wore on his quilted turban.
With the visit to Gul Baba, our tour in the Buda side is over. Now it’s time to pass to the other side of the river.
To pass from Buda to Pest, you can use one of the six bridges on the Danube River. The first and the most important of the bridges joining the two sides is the Chain Bridge. The construction of the bridge was finished in 1849, but it was bombed during the Second World War and severely damaged, so after a century, it was rebuilt according to its original design in 1949.
On the Danube River, located between Margaret and Arpad Bridge is the Margaret Island. This is a stop that I should recommend you to make when passing from Buda to Pest. You can reach the island by the Margaret Bridge.
Margit Island is an island in the middle of the city covered with green where the locals and the tourists visit, relax, exercise, have a picnic, or read a book for some short recreation. When you set foot on this 2 kilometers long and 500 meters wide island, you can’t help but go with the flow and shake of all the fatigue of the day while lying on the grass. Shake it off. Don’t be shy. Lie down comfortably and relax!
A little note, there are also boat trips along the Danube which are very popular amongst tourists.
Pest of Budapest
Just as the tourist attractions on the Buda side are located in a straight row on the hills, the ones on the Pest side are located on the famous Andrassy Utca. Andrassy Utca is a line as straight as if it has been drown with a ruler, and it is a very long street.
Starting from Deak Ferenc Square, it spans to the City Park, accompanied by buildings, each of which is more beautiful than the other, lined up on the both sides of the street.
You can start your tour of Andrassy utca from the heart of Budapest, the lively spot day and night, the Deak Ferenc. Deak Ferenc, at the same time, is the cross roads where all the metro lines meet. The yellow subway line No:1 passing under the Andrassy Utca, is known as the oldest subway in continental Europe. For that reason you should at least get on it once. If you ask me, walk to the end of the street and go back with the subway. If you like you can have nice tour of the whole city using the symbol of the city, the cute yellow trams.
I am sure every building on the Andrassy Avenue has an unbelievable story. I’ll just tell you about two buildings: First, the State Opera House and second The House of Terror.
The State Opera House
It was built in 1884 and the Opera House in Vienna was the inspiration for its design. Once the Royal Opera House, is still in use and cited as one of the most beautiful opera buildings in the world.
In front of The House of Terror, which exhibits lots of stories about Nazi Germany, there is a piece from the Berlin Wall and a monument depicting the Iron Curtain Soviet Union.
If you walk to the end of the street, you’ll reach the lungs of Budapest, The City Park. Besides the Heroes’ Square at the entrance of it, the park hosts one of the world’s largest hourglass timers, the Timewheel, and the Monument of the 1956 Revolution. The special part of the Timewheel is it takes one year for the sand to flow from the upper to the lower glass chamber.
Europe’s largest Ice Rink is also in the City Park. To enjoy the Ice rink you have to visit Budapest in winter. If you ask me, the best season to visit Eastern Europe is winter… Somehow I feel like winter looks good on these cities. But don’t be sad if you visit Budapest in summer. In this artificial lake, which is an ice rink in winter, you can paddle or ride the sea-bike during the summer.
If you like you can spend the rest of your day at the Vajdahunyad Castle which is also in the city park or go back to the center, Deak Ferenc Ter with the yellow subway.
One place that you should absolutely visit in Pest is one of the biggest buildings of Budapest and with its 8500 people capacity, the biggest church building in the city: St Stephen’s Basilica. Erected solemn in the middle of the city and taking its name from the first king of Hungary, the Basilica has a 96 meter high dome. Hungary’s biggest bell is also here. From the towers of the basilica, you can enjoy the amazing view of Budapest.
The only building higher than the Basilica is the other must see building, The Parliament Building. If you like, you can have a guided tour inside. The parliament building is best seen from the Buda side and you will really be amazed by its solemnity when you get close to it.
Last words for Budapest…
I know that it has been a very rapid and intense tour. Then again, I told you that it would be very easy to tour the town because the city is small. But this is how Budapest makes you feel! It sneaks under your skin and you don’t realize how quick the time flies. It blends culture, art and history, and from every corner comes something appealing; maybe for that reason all the places worth visiting seem to be very close to each other.
If you’re like me, you’ll want to take back home something from this city, the people and the culture. I recommend you drop by the Central Market. At this local market, which is very close to the Liberty Bridge, you can find anything you could want or need, from food to clothes to souvenirs, for a very reasonable price.
For those who are wondering what to eat in Budapest, my recommendation will be one salty thing and one sweet. Don’t go back home without trying Kurtos Kalacs, which is also called Chimney Cake, and Langos, which is a deep fried flat bread topped with grated cheese, sour cream and ground garlic (relax, it’s a very delicious mixture).
And my final words go to book lovers. I am sure at one point in your life, you came across the unforgettable novel, “A Pal utcai Fiuk” aka “The Boys of Paul Street” by Ferenc Molnar. Reading it, maybe you may have imagined yourself as one of the characters in the book… In Budapest, you can stroll down the streets where Nemecsek and his friends played ball, have a photo by the statue of The Boys Of Paul Street in front of their school, visit the football field (now replaced with a high building) which they fought for, live a very beautiful story, and finish your tour happily. Take The Boys of Paul Street with you, on your way home you’ll want to reread it…