A city on the rise from the ashes of war and occupation, the Hungarian capital has become a must-see destination. Budapest is truly a tale of two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River. Here are our suggestions on getting the most out both Buda and Pest.
Check out Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge is the most famous of the eight bridges that span the Danube between Buda and Pest. The picturesque suspension bridge was the first permanent bridge across the river when it opened in 1849.
Storm the Castle!
Above the bridge, the domed Buda Castle dominates the valley from its perch on Castle Hill. Rulers and royals resided on the spot for nearly 700 years. These days, it houses a collection of museums.
Frolic on Fisherman's Bastion
The area around the castle is like a village in itself, mostly contained within the Fisherman's Bastion. The bastion was built at the time of the millennial celebration. Although it looks like a fortress, it was made more as a monument and scenic overlook, with seven towers to represent the seven Magyar tribes that came to the area in 896.
Peruse the Parliament House
When Buda and Pest united in 1873 to form the capital of Hungary, it was decided that a grand, new building was needed to house the legislature. A competition was held to pick a design and in 1885 construction began. The building was dedicated on the 1,000th anniversary of the country in 1896, and finally completed in 1904.
See the Shoes on the Danube
Along the Danube river in front of Parliament House there is a poignant memorial to the Jewish people of Budapest who perished at the hands of the Nazi-affiliated Arrow Cross during World War II. Shoes on the Danube represents how people were lined up on the river bank and shot into the water so the current would carry their bodies away. But first they were ordered to remove their shoes because the footwear was considered too valuable to be lost in the river. Sculptor Gyula Pauer created sixty pairs of iron shoes to commemorate the victims.
A King and a Saint? What a guy!
Szent István Bazilika, or Saint Stephen's, serves as the main church for Budapest. It is named for Saint Stephen I of Hungary, who tradition says became the country's first King on Christmas day in the year 1000. He was canonized in 1083 by Pope Gregory VII for bringing Christianity to Hungary. Climb to the top of the dome for some amazing views of the city.
Explore the House of Terror
The scariest building we've ever seen, the House of Terror, served as the headquarters for the secret police of both the Arrow Cross Nazi and the Communist regimes. It is now a museum.
Hősök tere, or Heroes' Square, is the city's main plaza. The center of the square features the Millennium Monument, built in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the founding of Hungary. Statues of the leaders of the seven Magyar tribes that arrived in the late 9th century from Asia are depicted on one side of the main column, and more modern Hungarian heroes on the other. The column is topped with the archangel Gabriel holding a replica of the royal crown.
Eat Amazing Food!
We were lucky to be in Budapest when the Christmas market was in full swing. We were surprised how many of the booths were selling food or drink as opposed to gifts. This market was more of a gathering place for friends and family to grab a bite, hang out, socialize, and listen to music than a shopping venue. Basically a street fair, so we loved it.
Cruise the Danube at Night
A cruise up the river in the dark lends incredible nighttime views of the bridges and landmarks. On the Buda side, Buda Castle and Fisherman's Bastion stand out like fireworks lit against the night sky. While over on the Pest side of the Danube, The Parliament Building was absolutely stunning, glowing in the foggy darkness.
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect an error. The Buda Castle is a collection of museums, not the presidential residence.
David and Veronica James, GypsyNester.com