Heroes’ Square – ZOO – Fisherman’s Bastion – Matthias Church – Buda Castle – Gellért Hill – St. Stephen’s Basilica – Vörösmarty square
8 spots me and my best friend managed to see in 9 hours in my most favourite city in the world, Budapest. Exactly in that order.
People often ask me why do I consider Budapest the most beautiful city…well, there’s something about it, you know…
- Budapest is not only one city, but 3 cities (Buda, Pest, Óbuda) with different history and vibe. This gives you a feeling that you can always find a place for your individual style of living.
- Budapest is a creative city. I say an example. When the Liberty Bridge was closed for cars, what were people doing? They went to the bridge with blanket, made picnic, ate there, climbed up to the pillar, they just enjoyed that there were no cars on the bridge. This is just an example, but this is soo typical for Budapest. Everywhere you can find creative things. The Ruin Pubs is an example too, but there are something interesting in almost every corner.
- Budapest is a city with a rich culture. It’s not only the theatres, libraries, museums etc; the culture is important to the people. If you are in a flat, you find many books, and even the poor people like reading. The Hungarian literature is a hidden treasure. There are wonderful authors, poets, novelists. And they wrote about the streets, the city, and I can feel it if I’m walking on the streets.
- I like the architecture of Budapest. I know, it is not as original as in some other (older) cities. They are not renaissance, but neo-renaissance; not baroque, but neo-baroque buildings etc. (built up in the 19th century), but they are everywhere. Not only one or two separate buildings are beautiful, but the feeling that you are walking in the history. (And there are many buildings that are absolutely beautiful in every point of view.)
- And if the reasons mentioned were not enough, I think the location of the city is unbeatable. The biggest river of Europe in the middle; and two different banks. And the Island in the middle. (The Margaret Island is something unique too: if I think about how could look the Garden of Eden like; I see this Island in front of my eyes.)
Yes, I’m surely biased. I was in some other beautiful cities, and I can say, Budapest is surely one of the best places you can visit. Even a friend of mine who travels around the whole world said Budapest is the coolest city she has ever seen, and I believe her 🙂
Now a little about those 8 spots
Heroes’ Square (or Hősök tere in Hungarian) is one of the most-visited attractions in Budapest. Many tourists arrive here by metro, an attraction in itself: the M1 metro line that stops at Heroes’ Square is one of the world’s oldest (opened in 1896) and has even been declared a World Heritage Site. Both Heroes’ Square and Városliget, the adjoining city park, were created at the end of the nineteenth century to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895. Since many of the attractions weren’t ready in time, the festivities were held one year late, in 1896. The square only received its current name in 1932, three years after the completion of the Millennium Monument. Since its creation Heroes’ Square has been the site of numerous special events, including many Socialist holiday celebrations staged during the country’s Communist era. In 1989 it was the site of the ceremonial reburial of Imre Nagy, leader of the uprising against the Soviet occupation in 1956. At the center of the square stands the Millennium Monument, designed in 1894 by Albert Schickedanz and completed thirty-five years later. Other statues were designed by György Zala. The column is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel. Behind the column is a semicircular colonnade with statues of famous men who made their mark on Hungarian history. On the north side is the square bordered by the Museum of Fine Arts, a museum with an exquisite collection of European art, housed in a monumental classical building. The museum’s gallery contains works from old masters including Raphael, Titian, El Greco, Goya, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Dürer and Rubens. The Museum of Fine Arts also has a collection of sculptures as well as artifacts from the Middle Ages, the Antiquity and Egypt. The building itself, an imposing neoclassical structure, is pretty impressive. It was also designed by Albert Schickedanz with the help of Fülöp Herzog, his associate. Opposite the Museum of Fine Arts stands the Palace of Art, another Greek-like temple that nicely complements the design of the Museum of Art. The palace is an exhibition hall, mainly used to host temporary exhibitions. The building is another creation of Albert Schickedanz, also in cooperation with Fülöp Herzog. The Műcsarnok (its Hungarian name) has a magnificent facade with colossal gilded columns. The tympanum is decorated with a colorful mosaic that shows St. Stephen as a patron of the arts.
A place where regardless of age, everyone finds something entertaining…in Budapest Zoo (Fővárosi Állat- és Növénykert) you can see around 1050 animal species from the African savannah to the arctic area, and around 2 000 plant species. Small sandy dessert area, tiny forest, seaside, lakes, rock cave provide real homes for the inhabitants of the zoo, who really look well taken care of. Extensive green patches, leafy groves, remarkable plants and flowers make the place a refreshing asylum within a bustling city. The Zoo & Botanical Garden is a must-see attraction for tourists coming to the city.
Buda Castle, often referred to as the Royal Palace (Budavári palota), is home to a number of cultural institutions, including two museums: the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
Highlights include its collection of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century altarpieces, exhibited in the former throne room. The museum also has a fine collection of Romanticist paintings including works from Mihály Munkácsy, a Hungarian artist known for his large canvases. At the other side of the complex, just west of the main dome, is another terrace with four flower beds and a central statue known as the Lószelidítő or Horse Wrangler. It shows a horse tamer holding a restive horse. Most visitors have little eye for the statue but instead are drawn to the fountain that flanks one of the wings of the Buda Castle. This is the Matthias Fountain (Mátyás kút), probably Budapest’s most famous fountain. It was designed in 1904 by Alajos Stróbl and depicts a scene from the legend of King Matthias and the beautiful peasant girl Ilonka. Steps away from the Matthias Fountain, the Lions’ Gate gives entrance to the Lions’ Courtyard (Oroszlános udvarba), the central courtyard of the Buda Castle. The monumental gate is named after the four lion statues that guard the entrance. They were created in 1901 by the Hungarian sculptor János Fadrusz. The gate is decorated with niches, festoons and allegorical sculptures of the Winged Victory. The patterned pavement of Lions’ Courtyard shows the location of the medieval palace that once stood here, including the fourteenth-century Stephen’s Tower (István-torony). Foundations of the tower can be seen in the nearby historical museum. To the west of the courtyard, opposite the National Gallery, is the porticoed entrance to the National Széchényi Library. The library occupies the F wing of the Royal Palace, a late nineteenth century expansion created by Miklós Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann. The library was founded in 1802 by count Ferenc Széchényi, who donated his private book collection containing more than fifteen thousand books and manuscripts. Today the library holds a copy of every book published in Hungary. The most southern wing of the palace is home to the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), which covers the history of Budapest from prehistory to modern times. The museum gives you the chance to see some remains and reconstructions of the medieval palace including a Gothic chapel and the Knights’ Hall. You can also see some of the marble sculptures that decorated the palace. If you walk down the steps outside the Budapest History Museum, you can see a courtyard of the former medieval castle. Some of the walls and foundations of the ramparts are original while other parts are twentieth-century reconstructions. Walk further through the so-called wheezy gate (Lihegő-kapu) and you reach the south wall with the slender Mace Tower (Buzogánytorony), originally built in the fourteenth century. You can leave the castle via the Ferdinánd Gate (Ferdinánd-kapu) near the tower.
The about 140 meters high Gellért Hill is named for bishop Gellért Sagredo, known for his mission to spread Christianity throughout Hungary. After the death of Saint Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary, legend has it that the rebelling insurgent pagan Magyars sealed Gellért up in a barrel and hurled him down the side of the hill. Atop Gellért Hill sits the Citadel, a structure built by the Austrian Habsburgs between 1850 and 1854 in order to better control the city after the suppression of the Hungarian War of Independence. This fortress, which sits at the top of the hill, was originally about 200 meters long with walls about six meters high and up to three meters thick. When the Habsburgs left Budapest as a result of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867, ownership of the fortress reverted to the city. They tore down part of the walls as a symbol of victory against the Austrians. However, the Citadel was to be used again to house Hungarian soldiers. The Citadel also played a role in World War II. Historians point out that it was from the Citadel that a German SS regiment held the city at bay. Today, the old barracks have been converted to a tourist hotel and the structure mostly serves as a place from which guests can enjoy views of the city and the pretty Danube River below. Erected atop the hill in 1947, the Liberty Monument originally paid homage to the Soviet soldiers who liberated the city from the Nazis during World War II. The monument was designed by the Hungarian sculptor Kisfaludi Strobl. A palm-bearing statue of a female on a tall pedestal stands about 14 meters in the air. On her right hand side is an allegorical representation of “Progress” and the statue to her left represents “Evil”. If you walk up the hill starting at the Gellért Hotel, you can see a cave church on your right. The church was founded in 1926. It was used by the Pauline order until 1951, when the church was closed by the Communists. It reopened again in 1989. Near the entrance to the church stands a statue of St. Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary. At the other side of the hill, near the Elisabeth Bridge is a large bronze statue of bishop Gellért, the martyr after whom the hill was named. The monument was built in 1904 at the site where Gellért was presumably killed in the eleventh century. You can climb the Gellért Hill starting at the Elisabeth Bridge near the Gellért Monument, or you can take the (steeper) route starting at the Gellért Hotel. You can also take a bus or get there by taxi, but where’s the fun in that?
Fifty years in the making, the Basilica of St. Stephen is Budapest’s largest church. It is dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian king of Hungary. His right hand, the country’s most important relic, is enshrined in one of the church’s chapels. Construction of the basilica began in 1851. The first architect to work on the design was Jozsef Hild, whose ideas for the structure reflected the Classical style. In 1867, when Hild passed away during the construction, architect Miklós Ybl took over, adding his own touch to the basilica, which leaned more towards neo-renaissance. A dome collapse in 1868 – a result of the use of inferior material and a construction fault in the tambour – slowed the construction process significantly as did the death of the second architect, Miklós Ybl, in 1891. The layout of the interior of the basilica and the completion of the building was ultimately overseen by yet a third architect, Jozsef Krausz. The church was finally consecrated in 1905 and on December 8 of the following year, Emperor Franz Joseph laid the final stone. Even though the church wasn’t initially designated a basilica, locals immediately started to refer to the church as “the basilica” due to the building’s sheer size. The name can now be officially used since pope Pius XI bestowed the church with the title of “basilica minor” in 1931. And in 1993 the church was given the title of cathedral when the archdiocese of Esztergom became the archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest. The Basilica of St. Stephen has a Greek-cross floor plan. Its center is crowned with a majestic dome, which reaches a height of 96 meters, exactly the height of the Parliament Building. The height refers to 896, the year of the settlement of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin, which led to the foundation of today’s Hungary.
You can travel by elevator or walk up 302 steps to the terrace around the dome from where you can enjoy a panoramic view of Budapest. The relief figures that decorate the tympanum were created by Léo Fessler. The same sculptor was responsible for the statues that crown the colonnade of the church’s apse. He also created the large statues of the four apostles that rest in the niches of the drum supporting the central dome. The massive wooden door below the tympanum is decorated with medallions showing the busts of the twelve apostles. In the right tower, you find the largest church bell in the country, weighing 9144 kg. The incredibly ornate interior features about fifty different types of marble, elaborately decorated chapels, and many sculptures, including a bust of the basilica’s patron saint, who was the first Christian king of Hungary. A purpose built chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Right, holds Hungary’s most important relic, the preserved right hand of St. Stephen. The mummified hand is kept in a shrine and paraded around the streets each year on August 20, the anniversary of St. Stephen’s death.
Vörösmarty Square is one of the busiest places in the downtown section of Budapest. This area is a hubbub of activity, boasting luxury stores, antique shops, a famous pastry shop and several other retailing establishments. It is also the start of the city’s most famous shopping street, Váci Utca and in the winter home to the Christmas market in Budapest.In the nineteenth century the square was known under many different names, including Theater Square and Gisele Square but since 1926 it has been known as Vörösmarty Square, in honor of Mihály Vörösmarty. Early nineteenth century Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty was an author of plays and poetry, considered by his contemporaries to be a romanticist. However, he is best known for his patriotic lyrics and it is for that reason that his statue stands in this square in the middle of Budapest. His most notable works were his national epics, noted for their beautiful language, including Zalan’s Flight (1825), Erlan (1825), and Two Neighboring Castles (1831). The monument of Vörösmarty, erected in 1908, was made by Ede Telcs, a Hungarian sculptor. It shows the poet sitting on a pedestal of twenty-three limestone blocks in the center of the square. He is surrounded by figures representing various classes of society, including a farmer and peasant girl, people in traditional Magyar dress, a student, and a worker with his wife and young son. Another always-busy attraction on the square is the Gerbeaud House, a wonderful old-fashioned pastry shop owned by a Swiss family whose yummy delights have thrilled patrons for years. The cafe’s traditions go all the way back to 1858, when it was founded by Henrik Kugler. In 1884 Kugler joined hands with the Swiss confectioner Emile Gerbeaud. Gerbeaud became famous for his cakes and pastry, which are still made according to his original recipes. The interior is ornately decorated with marble tables and beautiful wall coverings and is large enough to hold about three hundred customers at a time. Be sure to stop here for coffee and pastries! Right in front of the Gerbeaud House is the first metro stop of the M1 metro line, the oldest metro line on the European continent. The line was built in 1894-1896. It starts here at Vörösmarty tér and today ends at Mexikói ut. Along the way it makes stops at some of Budapest’s most famous attractions, including the Opera House, Heroes’ Square and the Széchenyi Baths at Városliget. The underground metro stations have a delightful quaint charm. Nearby stands the Lion Fountain (Oroszlános kút), a popular meeting point. Children love to climb on the lion statues and tourists often rest on the fountain’s steps. The fountain was built in 1985 at the site of a well. It was created by László Wild and sculptor Ágnes Péter, who was responsible for the lion statues. The four stone lions surround an ornate iron lamppost, which dates from an earlier period. On another side of the square, you’ll find the Vigadó or concert hall, built in 1859-64, based on the designs of Frigyes Feszl and thought to be an excellent example of Hungarian Romantic architecture. The hall has played host to many of the world’s most famous musical artists for more than a century. To the east Vörösmarty Square is bordered by a strikingly modern building, the Vörösmarty1 Office Center. It was designed by architect György Fazakas in cooperation with the French architect Jean-Paul Viguier. The glass-clad structure, which contrasts starkly with its environment, boasts a fourteen meter high atrium. Vörösmarty1 replaced the Communist-era ORI building, a structure in Socialist Realism style that was demolished in 2006.
In Budapest is much more to do and see, but only these 8 spots we managed to visit in 9 hours we had. What really sucked to be honest but maybe (hopefully) we’ll come back someday, book a hotel for a few days and explore it properly.
Enjoy the rest of your day 🙂