Budapest – What not to miss
by Marion Smith
Budapest has it all. Fairy tale castles, an admirable love of the red powder paprika, architecture that is jaw dropping , fun entertainment from Escape Rooms to Ruin Bars and of course the Thermal baths. The rich history of the country dates as far back as the second millennium BC. Engaging with the people is so much fun, they really do have an opinion on everything, its actually said that if you have 3 Hungarians in the room, they’ll form four political parties. One of the most affordable cities in Europe I couldn’t wait to set out and discover this vibrant city.
House of parliament
Inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London this is the third largest parliament in the world. Built on the 1000th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Hungary it is the largest building in the county. located on the Pest side of the Danube, the choice of location was carefully thought through. As a counterweight to the Royal Palace high on Buda Hill on the opposite side of the river , the placement was meant to signify that the nation’s future lay with popular democracy and not with royal prerogative. Designed by Imre Steindl in 1885 it was completed after his death in 1902. The entire building is dramatically lit up at night. I decided to do the tour and was so glad i did as no words or pictures can fully describe the interior. As a visitor we only got to see a handful of the 700 rooms on a 4o minute walk through.
We ascended the 132 steps of the highly decorated Golden Staircase. Once up the stairs we walked through a hallway with a frescoed ceiling and statues representing various trades. In the 66m high Domed Hall is the Crown of St Stephen with the slightly bent cross on top. The honour guard here stands duty 24 hours a day. Every hour the shift changes, watching the guards with swords take such pride in their position was an honour for me. No photographs are allowed in this room. The crown has been taken several times over the centuries, it is the nations most important national icon so after its last disappearance where it landed up in Fort Knox in Kentucky, USA it was a great relief when it was returned to Hungary in 1978 with a great ceremony.
Shoes of Danube
60 pairs of bronze shoes modelled on footwear from the 1940’s to commemorate those who were shot into the Danube by Hungarian Nazi’s is a memorial conceived by film director Can Togay. Unveiled in 2005 , on the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust it is one of the most moving memorials found openly in the city. Stopping to look at the shoes I noticed they varied in size and style from toddler , women, businessmen and sportsmen this is to show how nobody was spared from the brutality of the Arrow Cross militia Standing there in the snow i took a moment to reflect on what happened at this location in 1944 – 1945. There is a high stone bench behind the shoes with cast iron signs in Hungarian, English and Hebrew. With red roses and a flag flying amongst the shoes on this icy morning it made me realise how fortunate we are to be where we are today.
Catholic Stephan’s Basilica
The most significant and largest Roman Catholic church in Budapest, it can hold 3500 people at a time and has 308 stairs.In 1845 Jozsef Hild was commissioned to design the largest church in the capital. When he died in 1867, Miklos Ybl took over. After 50 years of construction the building was complete. The Cathedral was consecrated in 1905 with its ground – plan shaped like a Greek cross, the Cathedral is the finest example of Eclectric architecture in Hungary. Burnt down during WW11 and rebuilt in 1948 – 1949 , its 96 metre high dome makes it the highest church tower in Budapest. It also holds the country’s largest bell , weighing 9 tons.
The Holy Right, the mummified right hand of King Stephen is preserved in this Cathedral. Not only is this church a religious venue, it is also a major tourist attraction and a concert venue. When i went to view the breath taking interior I realised that one can spend at least half a day inside appreciating the ambience and the jaw dropping designs and architure. No entrance fee was charged but a donation is requested. One of the most popular Christmas markets is found here with , i enjoyed watching the 3D visual show that is projected on the front of the Basilica everyday day after sunset. Special 3D glasses are handed out by the stall keepers.
Dohany Street Synagogue
This Orthodox great synagogue was built between 1912 and 1913 in Art Nouveau style. The second largest Jewish house of worship in the world( the biggest is in New York )The rose window with an inscription from the second book of Moses is one of the reasons the synagogue is sometimes referred to as the ‘ Jewish Cathedral “ Tours are conducted in various languages through out the day, after listening to the tour guide i went to view the museum and archives. On the North side in the Memorial Park is the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial which stands over the mass graves of those murdered by the nazis . Nearby is a stained glass memorial to Nicholas Winton ( 1909 – 2015 ) the “ British Schindler “ who rescued 700 Jewish children just before WW11. The synagogue is a good starting point if you plan to spend your day in the Jewish quarter.
Opened in 1897 the City Centre market attracts both locals and tourists, the ground floor has maintained its classic market function and atmosphere since this bygone era and just like most European cities shoppers have a selection of restaurants to eat at on the top level. With a variety of tasty Hungarian meals its advisable to worm your way through the crowds and see what all the offerings are before making a decision. Most places only accept cash so make sure you have drawn money on the lower level at the ATM. Besides the langos that I found irresistible at lunch time I also enjoyed browsing through the various stalls on the upper level that sell traditional Hungarian keepsakes. Anything from embroidered fabrics, to fridge magnets and items made from wool.
This bridge was built to connect the Fovam and Gellert Squares during 1894 – 1896. Originally named the Franz Joseph Bridge it was the emperor himself who hammered the first silver rivet into the steel structure on the Pest side of the Danube. Mythical trull birds and highly ornamented Hungarian coat of arms decorate the turret-like protrusions and gates emphasising the green coloured lattice structure. Walking over the bridge i couldn’t help but notice the love locks attached in sometimes precarious locations. With traffic constantly flowing over the bridge and pedestrians moving along at carried passes, the hive of activity on the bridge gives one a sense of ……. . I Stood on the bridge gazing down at the calm waters of the Daube watching the odd ferry boat glide through the waters.
During the middle ages the fish market was found here on Castle Hill and this part of the wall was defended by Fisherman’s Guild which explains where its name came from. The crypt of the 15th century St Michesl cemetery chapel was unearthed under the Bastion.Designed for decorative rather than defensive purposes , the scenic bastion system provides a worthy frame for the buildings of the Castle and the Matthias Church. Its terraces command a maginificent view of the Philis mountains. The Hilton hotel close by was built on the ruins of historic buildings. Walking down the cobbled roads there are many delightful hotels and spots to eat . I couldn’t resist the Pest – Buda hotel and bistro with its cosy atmosphere and Christmas tree twinkling in the window. The Christmas cake was nothing like the cake at home, ……
The largest and most symbolic square in Budapest which also contains the Millenary Monument , a 36m high pillar topped by a golden Arch angel Gabriel. The legend goes that he offered Stephen the crown of Hungary in a dream. It was designed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar conquest of the Carpathian Basin. In the square you will come across artists dressed in various costumes with large birds attached to their arm. For a price you can take your photo holding one of these birds. The easiest way I found to get to the square was to catch the millennium underground metro and get out at Foldalatti station. Heros square is very well located, you can walk to Szecheny Thermal bath, Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park and the museum of fine arts. Holy mass was celebrated here by John Paul 11 in 1991.
Szecheny Thermal Bath’s
With a total of 21 pools , this is the one of the largest bathing complexes in Europe. There are indoor and outdoor pools. First opened in 1913 these baths are one of Europe’s biggest and hottest spas and is open all year round. The services include steam baths, hot tubs, saunas, a fitness room with massage and the very popular beer spa where there is unlimited beer consumption while you dip yourself in your own couple sized wooden tubs.
Named after Saint Margaret , a princess of the House of Arpad who lived there at the convent of the Dominicans in the 13th century. Its safe to say it is now the most popular public park in Budapest . Some of the attractions include the 5,35km running tracking around the island where you can appreciate the crisp morning air of the Danube, the Open – Air stage, ruins of the convent , the 107 year old old water tower , a small zoo , a Japanese garden , a swimming pool and the musical fountain. I also found the point of the island to be a great photo spot for imagines of the Danube under a bridge.
New York Cafe
Known as “ the most beautiful Cafe in the world “ it has survived several eras, as well as major changes in history. This cafe is more than 120 years old and if you don’t eat here , one should mostly definitely stop by to see the beautiful interior with frescoes, venetian glass lamps that softly illuminate the marble columns and chandeliers. Bookings are essential to to reserve a table at the most beloved coffee house in Budapest. Above the cafe is the New York Palace hotel, a legend of its own.
This was my first visit to Budapest and what a remarkable experience. It was such a great feeling to arrive in this magnificent city illuminated by Christmas lights and see the sunrise on my first day. It is a modern city steeped in history . My walk down to the Danube on my first day and just standing there below the towering Parliament will forever be etched in my brain as I looked up the Danube and down the Danube and then over to the opposite banks where Buda was beckoning me. The choices were endless. To me this was an open air museum there for everyone to appreciate it. I loved every moment from the history of the city, to the people , the delicious food and the general ambience. I loved every moment and know I will never hesitate to go back.
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