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Friday, June 21, 2024

Budapest Calling

by Joanna Andrews

© Shutterstock : The famous Danube River
© Shutterstock : Parliament Building
© Shutterstock : St Stephen’s Basilica
© Shutterstock : Széchenyi Thermal Bath
© Shutterstock : The Opera House
© Shutterstock : Vajdahunyad Castle

Budapest, the capital city of Hungary, has a rich and diverse history which makes for some exciting sightseeing opportunities. Joanna Andrews takes you on a tour of the top ten sights to visit in the historical city – all just a stone throw from Le Méridien Budapest.

Budapest is a city which offers a variety of things to do. You can take a dip in one of the city's famous baths, sample the local cuisine, explore the many shops, our walk across the Chain Bridge (Budapest’s first bridge over the Danube). Alternatively you can just sit and relax in one of the many great cafés.


There are many ways to admire the beauty of the Danube River, the magnificent scenic divider and connector of Buda and Pest. You can embark  on a relaxing daytime sightseeing cruise that includes a stroll through Margaret Island, or add a romantic touch with an evening cruise accompanied by dinner and dancing beneath the stars. Several companies in Budapest offer sightseeing cruises in multiple languages.


The Castle Hill with the Royal Palace and the Matthias Church in Buda is among the most popular attractions in Budapest. The district along with the Danube bridges and the embankment is a World Heritage site due to its importance played in the city’s history – and development. There are several festivals at Buda Castle Hill throughout the year. Admission to the Castle District is free, but you do have to pay entrance fees at the museums in the Palace.


Central Market Hall is the largest indoor market in the city. On the ground level it is a bustling market where you can find a large selection of famous Hungarian sausages, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetable. One floor up and you will find vendors selling traditional handicrafts, clothes and souvenirs. In the basement there is a fish market, an Asian grocery store and a supermarket. The architecture is significant as its roof is made of Zsolnay tiles and dates back to 1897.


This early twentieth century castle was originally built for Hungary’s Millennium celebrations in 1896. The castle, designed by Ignác Alpár, has many unique architectural styles. It is made up of an enclave of buildings to represents each architectural style in the history of Hungary. The most picturesque wing of the castle is modeled after the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania. From one side of Vajdahunyad castle you can see the structure is Gothic, but as you take a walk around it, you will see Baroque, Renaissance and Romanesque architecture.


Heroes’ Square stands in honour and memory of the leaders in Hungary’s history. It is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Mücsarnok art gallery. It is one of the most-visited attractions in Budapest. Both Heroes' Square and Városliget, the adjoining city park, were created at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 895. At the centre of the square stands the Millennium Monument, which is topped with a statue of the archangel Gabriel.


Széchenyi Thermal Bath is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Budapest is often referred to as the 'City of Baths' and for a very good reason; there are over 100 hot springs. Budapest remains the only capital city in the world that is rich in thermal waters with healing qualities. It is also one of the few places where you can experience traditional Turkish baths dating back to 16th and 17th centuries.


The Parliament Building is another example of neo-Gothic architecture with a touch of Renaissance and Baroque! It is over a century old. There are guided tours of the Parliament when the National Assembly is not in session. The 45 minute tour covers the main entrance and hall, one of the lobbies, the old House of Lords and the Crown Jewels. 


Whether you are an opera fan or not, the Opera House is a cultural and architectural gem. The neo-Renaissance building, designed by Hungary’s greatest architect Miklós Ybl, and located on the elegant Andrássy Avenue, is worthy of a visit. Its interior is spectacular, with an impressive foyer with a double grand staircase and grey marble columns. The auditorium is decorated with more than seven kilograms of gold! On the ceiling there is a breathtaking fresco by Koroly Lotz depicting Greek Gods. The Opera House offers rich musical programmes throughout the year. If you don’t have the time to attend a performance itself, there are tours daily in many languages.


St. Stephen’s Basilica is dedicated to Hungary’s first king, St Stephen. It is one of the largest monuments dominating the Pest side of the Danube. The church itself can hold up to 8,500 people at one time. The view from the cupola gives you a great view of Budapest. The church houses Hungary’s most sacred treasure, St. Stephen’s mummified right hand ‘the Szent Jobb’ or Holy Right Hand. Before you visit, it is worth checking to see if there is one of several musical programs which are organized in the Church throughout the year.


The iconic avenue received its name after Count Gyula Andrássy, Hungary's prime minister between 1867-1871. A walk down the sycamore tree-lined Avenue is a must. There are lots of cafes and restaurant lining the famous street. Andrassy Avenue was built in 1885 to connect the city centre with City Park.

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