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Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and is not only the country's largest city but one of the largest in the European Union. Around one-fifth of the country's population lives here.  It is situated on the banks of the mighty Danube River and forms Hungary's political, administrative, industrial, commercial and transportation centre. The city acquired the name Budapest in 1873 when the communities of Buda, on the right bank of the Danube, Pest, on the river's left bank, and Óbuda (Old Buda, to the north of Buda) were officially merged. The city is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations and 'Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue' is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Above: A classic view of Budapest on the River Danube. Over the river, on the Pest side, and to the left can be seen the central dome of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Buda lies on the slopes of the Buda Hills, running down to the western bank of the Danube, whilst Pest, on the Eastern bank, lies on a flat and featureless plain. Much of the city's greater area contains traditionally agricultural land and woodland. One of the natural features the city's people have benefitted from, over the years, is the presence of several hot mineral springs (around 80); these have long been tapped for their medicinal benefits. The city has a humid continental climate, with relatively cold winters and warm summers.

Above: Composite image showing detail from Vajdahunyad Castle (1896), which is situated in Budapest's City Park. It was built as part of the Millennial Exhibition, which celebrated the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyar Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895 and hence of Hungary. Originally, it was constructed from cardboard and wood, but was so popular, it was later rebuilt from stone and brick.

The site has been continuously settled since the times of the Eravisci, a Celtic tribe who moved here from the north in about the third or fourth centuries BC. As well as Budapest's Gellért Hill, they also inhabited  Aquincum. Aquincum later served as a military fortress, forming part of a Roman border protection system called limes. The city grew around the  fortress and became the Roman capital of Pannonia Inferior (Lower Pannonia). In the 9th century, the Hungarians arrived in the territory and until the 13th century, Esztergom, the birth and coronation place of St. Stephen the first king of Hungary, was the capital. The first settlements in modern day Budapest were pillaged by the Mongols who invaded the territory in the 13th century. King Béla IV of Hungary later helped re-establish the settlements and ordered the construction of reinforced stone walls around them, alongside a strategically positioned royal palace on the top of the hills in Buda. The king moved the Royal Seat here, where it would be better protected. The town went on to become a leading cultural centre by the 15th century during the Renaissance. However, the Ottomans pillaged Buda in 1526, besieged it in 1529, and then went on to occupy it in 1541. Ottoman rule lasted for nearly 150 years, a period during which The Turks were responsible for founding several bathing facilities which have lasted through history. In the latter part of the 17th century, Buda was re-conquered an shortly afterwards, nearly all of the former Hungarian lands had been taken from the Turks. By 1718, the entire Kingdom of Hungary had been removed from Ottoman rule. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the region entered a new age of prosperity. Budapest was formed in 1873 and became the second capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, alongside Vienna. At the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian collapsed and Hungary declared itself an independent republic. During World War II, Budapest was occupied by Hungarian and German troops. In 1944, parts of the city were damaged by air raids by the British and American air forces. From 29 December 1944 – 13 February 1945, towards the end of the war, the city was encircled by the Red Army and the Romanian Army. The Siege of Budapest (or the Battle of Budapest) resulted in the loss of approximately 38,000 of the city's citizens through starvation and military action. The city eventually surrendered, bringing about a strategic victory for the Allies as they headed towards their push to capture Berlin. After World War II, whilst Budapest served as the capital of Hungary, the Soviets played an influential role in its politics; Budapest was the focal point of the Hungarian Revolution (or Hungarian Uprising) of 1956, in which thousands lost their lives in an unsuccessful  revolt against the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. However, the fall of communism resulted in the formation of the third Hungarian republic on 23 October 1989. The new democratic state became a member of the European Union on 1 May 2004 and since these times, Budapest has continued to find itself on the world stage as a financial hub of Central Europe.

There was potentially a lot more information about the city which could have been included on this web page, and so to cover the many sites not described here, I have provided some links for further reading at the bottom. My first visit to Budapest was in 1994, when I spent 3 days here whilst backpacking around Europe on the trains. With several factors, including changes in political organisation, Hungary's membership of the European Union and the lower cost of flying, there have been many changes I have noticed in more recent visits - notably improvements in the building façades, modernisation of amenities and increases in the number of visitors to this beautiful destination. For the purposes of describing some of my photos on this webpage, I have separated a few key areas and sites and these follow.


Hősök tere (Heroes' Square)

The photos above show Heroes' Square, on the Eastern (Pest) side of the river, which is dominated by the Millenary Monument. It was constructed in 1896 and designed by Albert Schickedanz to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest; it includes an equestrian statue of Árpád (regarded by many Hungarians as the "founder of our country") in front of seven Magyar chieftains who accompanied him in the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin. The square is surrounded by several notable buildings, including the Museum of Fine Arts, which contains one of Eastern Europe's finest collections, and the Artists' House, which contains various exhibitions of contemporary works. Below is a composite image of the square:

The City Park (Városliget)

The City Park is a public park on the Eastern (Pest) side of the river and lies just beyond Heroes' Square. The main sites include Vajdahunyad Castle (see previous text accompanying the second photo above), Széchenyi Thermal Bath, an amusement park, Budapest Zoo (one of the oldest in the world) and the Municipal Circus (dating from 1891). Some photos from in and around this area of the city are shown in the gallery below.

The Hungarian Parliament Building and Kossuth Lajos Square

The Hungarian Parliament Building, in Hungarian, known as 'House of the Country' or 'House of the Nation' in Budapest is a notable landmark of the city (and the nation). It is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary and lies on Kossuth Lajos Square, on the bank of the Danube. One of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe, construction of this Neo-Gothic palace began in 1885 and was completed in 1902. Its design was largely influenced by the British Parliament and its location on the Danube mirrors that of the Palace of Westminster's position on the River Thames in London. It was designed by Imre Steindl and required special concrete foundations because of the soft ground next to the river. The building has a symmetrical façade and a central dome in the Renaissance Revival style. Covering an area of 18,000 square metres,  when built, it was the largest Parliament building in the world (today, it is the third). it contains 691 rooms, 10 courtyards, 29 staircases, and 27 gates behind the 280 metre façade. The façade itself has 90 statues of Hungarian leaders and generals and 40kg of 23-carat gold was used to decorate the interior. The building has always been a great object of pride to the Hungarian people, even during the times when it was the seat of puppet Communist governments. The building is a popular attraction for tourists and at one end is a tastefully constructed semi-subterranean area containing a shop and amenities. From here, it is possible to book tours around this architectural masterpiece.


Below is a composite image showing the Kossuth Lajos Square side of The Hungarian Parliament Building:

The River Danube

The gallery below shows some photos of the River Danube in Budapest and the main bridges in the central area of the city. The Danube flows through the heart of the city on its way from Germany to the Black Sea. The river is highly suited to cargo barges and passenger ships and so historically, the city has had a major role as a commercial port; the Danubian countries have shipping agencies based in the city. Budapest forms one of the main stopping off places for people taking cruises along the river and in summer, a scheduled hydrofoil service connects the city with Vienna.
The first photo below shows a moving memorial which is on the river bank near the Parliament, The Shoes on the Danube Bank. Conceived by film director Can Togay and sculpted by Gyula Pauer, it honours the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. The victims were ordered to take off their shoes and shot beside the river, so that their bodies fell in and were carried away by the flow  of the water. The monument represents their shoes left behind on the river bank and are accompanied by a plaque that reads "To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by arrow cross militiamen in 1944-45. Erected 16th April 2005".
Although the Romans built bridges across the Danube in the 2nd century, Buda and Pest did not get one until the 1840's. The river here flowed fast and frequently flooded and the ground on either side was not suitably hard enough. The city's first permanent bridge, The Széchenyi Chain Bridge [Photos 5-10, below], opened in 1849 and was designed by the English engineer William Tierney Clark and built by Adam Clark. The former Clark was among the earliest designers of suspension bridges and designed the first Hammersmith Bridge in London. When the new bridge opened, at a cost of £500,000 paid for by the Hungarian nobility, it was regarded as an engineering wonder of the age. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge was destroyed during World War II and the rebuilt in 1949.
In total, seven bridges in Budapest provide crossings over the Danube. Also shown below are the Elisabeth Bridge [Photo 11] which was completed in 1903 (destroyed by the Germans and rebuilt in 1964) and dedicated to the murdered Queen Elisabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I and the Liberty Bridge [Photos 12,13], which was opened in 1896 and rebuilt in 1945. In addition, on the Danube at Budapest are a total of seven islands. One of them, the 1.6 mile long Margaret Island, is mainly covered by landscape parks and form a popular recreational area.


In addition to Heroes' Square, The City Park and the Hungarian Parliament Building, there are many other sites to see on the Pest side of the river and these are too numerous to provide a comprehensive list. The  gallery below shows a selection of them and a brief description of selected photos follows. Throughout the city, there is a plethora of monuments and statues, including a diverse array of bronze sculptures. These include a full-body sculpture of Ronald Reagan, the 40th President of the United States from 1981 to 1989 and known for his role in ending of the Cold War [Photos 8 and 10] and a statue of the fictitious television detective Lieutenant Columbo and his dog [Photo 77] - the actor Peter Falk, who played Columbo was of Hungarian-Jewish descent. Other sculptures can be seen, as well, below. St. Stephen's Basilica [Photos 13-22] is a Roman Catholic basilica named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038). It is the co-cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest and the third largest church building in present-day Hungary. A side-chapel in the basilica houses what is believed to be the relic, holy right hand of St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary. During its history, the hand had been kept in various locations, including Transylvania, modern-day Dubrovnik=l and Vienna, before being brought to Buda in 1771. It spent the most part of World War II in the West, before being brought back to Hungary in August 1945. The Budapest Underground train system [Photo 25] is the second such oldest in Europe, after London. The first line (today, line 'M1') opened in 1896 in the year when Hungary celebrated its 1000th anniversary and so is known as  the Millennium Underground. This line connects the city centre with the City Park, running under Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út), one of Budapest's finest boulevards and main shopping streets. As well as many beautiful Neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses which line Andrássy Avenue, one of the sights along here for those interested in this sort of thing is the House of Terror [Outside shown in Photos 26-31]. It contains exhibits relating to and is a memorial to the victims of the fascist and communist dictatorial regimes of 20th-century Hungary. Outside the museum is an extensive set of factual boards and a number of artefacts, including a piece of the Berlin Wall. Further south from Andrássy Avenue stands the Dohány Street Synagogue [Photos 42-44]. This is Europe's largest synagogue and can accommodate 3,000 worshipers. It was built between 1854 and 1859 in Neo-Moorish style. For those seeking a panoramic view of the city on this side of the river, from springtime onwards it is possible to ride on the Budapest Eye [Photos 46-67]. At 65m tall, it is Europe's largest mobile Ferris wheel. Personally, for the views, I prefer the Castle Hill Funicular on the Buda side of the river and also, for the traveller on a tight budget, the latter two sights mentioned in this section may not be the most appealing option.

On and Around Castle Hill

Crossing the Danube from Pest over the Széchenyi Chain Bridge takes you to Adam Clark Square on the Buda side. The square stands at the foot of Castle Hill and from here, it is possible to take a funicular railway up to Buda Castle above. The funicular [Photos 5-8 below] was opened in  1870, but was destroyed in World War II and wasn't reopened again until 1986. As part of the city's public transport network, access to Buda Castle by this means is not as expensive as one might expect. On reaching the top of the funicular it is easy to temporarily forget what is actually on the hill top, as one's head is turned away to the magnificent panoramic views towards the river and the Pest side. First completed in 1265, Buda Castle is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings. Previously, it has been known as the Royal Palace and the Royal Castle. The castle is on the southern part of Castle Hill and to the north of it lies the Castle District, an area known for its Medieval, Baroque, and 19th-century buildings. Béla IV's plans for a new, more protected town of Buda in the 13th century began with a fortress on the hill which would protect the civilian quarter to the north although this didn't stop the Turks, who eventually took the city in 1686, and subsequently turned churches into mosques. Some Turkish influence can still be seen today. Restoration of the monarchy in 1867 led to a campaign of rebuilding which resulted in the fortress on Castle Hill being transformed into a royal palace. Further damage was done to the buildings on Castle Hill throughout the 20th century, culminating in the destruction of virtually everything in 1944 as the Germans made their last stand during World War II. Reconstruction of the palace included a chance for archaeologists to discover more about the city's past which was thoughtfully considered during the building work. Today, the palace complex houses a number of major museums, the Hungarian National Gallery and the National Library.
On the hill also stands Matthias Church [Photos 32 & 33 below]. Technically speaking, this is The Church of Our Lady (It also served as a Turkish mosque for a while from the 16th century), although it is generally known by the name of the hero  Matthias Corvinus, who was married here on two occasions and remodelled it. The church was constructed in the second half of the 14th century in the florid late Gothic style but was badly damaged in 1686 and  more-or-less rebuilt in the late 19th century. Franz Joseph and Charles IV who were the last kings of Hungary were crowned here and amongst those buried here are Béla III of Hungary (1172-96) and his wife, Anne of Chatillon. Not far from Matthias Church stands the Fishermen's Bastion (Halászbástya) a terrace constructed in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style designed and built between 1895 and 1902 on the plans of Frigyes Schulek. The Fishermen's Bastion looks a bit like something designed for a Disney theme park but is an interesting construction of winding passages and staircases. Seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes whom came to settle in this part of Europe in 896. The name Fishermen's Bastion comes from the medieval fishermen's town which was situated on the riverbank below. From here, there are views over the Danube and towards Pest, Margaret Island and Gellért Hill (see next text). The bastion's various columns and arches make useful frames for photographing wider subjects. Another peculiar construction on Castle Hill is the Hilton Budapest (Danubius Hotels Group) [Photo 42 below], a contrasting piece of modern architecture mixed in with old constructions. It combines elements of a medieval tower with a monastery and is the sort of thing that Charles, Prince of Wales would have nightmares about.

On and Around Gellért Hill

Above: Panoramic Stitch showing the view eastwards from Gellért Hill

South of Castle Hill and another great place for excellent panoramic views of the city is the 235 m (771 ft) high Gellért Hill [gallery below] The name comes from  the Swiss Bishop Gerard (Gellért in Hungarian) of Csanád whose death has several account, the more fanciful being that on this hill in 1046, he went to preach Christianity to the pagan locals. Being pagans, they weren't too impressed and decided to place him in a barrel spiked with nails and pack him off on a rapid journey down the hill into the Danube. Other accounts invariably include an unpleasant death and ending up in the river, but the irrefutable end result is he has a hill named after him, which is nice. On top of Gellért Hill stands the Citadella, an old citadel, and also the imposing Liberation Memorial to the dead in the city's siege of 1944-45. Much of the hill is parkland with well laid out paths (more suited to the fitter visitor due to the inclinations). Underneath the hill lies a cave and as recently as 2007, a new 60m long 18m deep cave with three rooms was discovered here during private construction works. On the lower parts of the hill is an affluent residential area, which also includes several embassies. At the base of the hill is the famous Hotel Gellért and the Gellért Baths on a square bearing the same name and from here, the Liberty Bridge crosses back over the river to the Pest side of the city.

Aquincum Military Amphitheatre

Above (and two photos below): Composite images of Aquincum Military Amphitheatre

As mentioned earlier, this area of Hungary was previously part of the Roman Empire and was known as Pannonia, and its capital (and largest) city was Aquincum. This city, ancestor of Budapest, is located in the oldest part of Buda, called Óbuda, which literally means Old Buda. Roman ruins were first discovered here in 1778 and their significance were immediately recognized as the Roman town of Aquincum. Since then, excavations have continued although, to date, only about one third of the former settlement has been unearthed. The most significant monuments in Aquincum which can be seen today are two amphitheatres - the Aquincum Military Amphitheatre and the Aquincum Civil Amphitheatre. The Aquincum Military Amphitheatre is the greater of the two and is shown in the photos here.

The Aquincum Military Amphitheatre was built around 145 AD, during the reign of emperor Antoninus Pius. This elliptical-shaped arena was larger than the famous Colosseum of Rome. Measuring up to nearly 132m at its maximum width, during Roman times the Amphitheatre's grandstands would have been able to hold in the region of 10-13 thousand people. As well as traditional Roman spectator sports/games, the Amphitheatre is thought to have served as a place for military exercises by the Roman legions whom were stationed here.


As mentioned at the top of this webpage, Óbuda lies to the north of Buda and was united with Buda and Pest in 1873. Today, it forms part of District 3 of Budapest. In addition to several other excavated Roman ruins, it has not only modern, but also some beautiful Baroque buildings, making it an interesting enough walk for those who wish to explore beyond the more traditional tourist areas of Budapest.

Of course, Budapest's sights and attractions featured on this page are far from exhaustive. The city has over 40 theatres and over 100 museums and galleries. The National Museum is highly recommended particularly for housing the Apostolic Crown of St Stephen, this powerful symbol of the Hungarian lands was handed over to the Americans before the Red Army entered the city at the end of World War II and was only returned in 1978. Budapest is the burial place of a Turkish dervish, named Gül Baba, who came to Hungary during the Turkish invasion in the 16th century and whose tomb in Buda became an Islamic sacred place and a site of pilgrimage.
Many concerts and festivals are held in the city and the Opera House is world renowned. The city houses many institutions of National (and international) significance and as well as the countless restaurants and cafes, the city is very well geared up for the shopaholic. I have included some links below for further reading - Budapest is a great city with pretty much something for everyone.

References and Further Reading

1. In Your Pocket (Includes Downloadable PDF guide) here
2. On Lonely Planet here (general) and here (history)
3. Budapest Travel Guide – Tourism information Portal of Budapest here
4. UNESCO here
5. An in depth history and description of Buda Castle can be found on Wikipedia here

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