Budapest Old Town – 7 Sites you Shouldn’t Miss

    Budapest Old Town – 7 Sites you Shouldn’t Miss

           My first contact with Budapest was in 2004 in Buda – the more historical part of the city – where we checked into a bed-and-breakfast, right below the Fisherman’s Bastion. It was night when we arrived, so from the airport we went directly to our hotel. The next morning we I woke up I was stunned: the view out our window was a spectacular panorama of the Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Danube River. So I could righteously consider that Pest was actually the one that first stole my heart.

    Buda was once the place of  residence for the Hungarian Kings who chose this side of the Danube for strategic reasons. The Castle Hill in Buda is the 1-km long plateau that contains the city’s most important medieval monuments: the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church. A world Heritage site, the area is a lovely pedestrian zone small enough to be discovered by foot, with  houses dating back to the 14th century, cobblestone streets, souvenir shops, cafés, and restaurants. In Buda you get that real feel of old, medieval streets and can easily imagine yourself riding in a carriage. 

    Buda Castle (Budavári Palota) is considered the most popular attraction on Castle Hill. The castle has been destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries.  Also called the Royal Palace, the castle was first completed in 1265 by King Bela IV. Today the castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Széchényi Library, really worth visiting. Every fall the castle grounds are home to the International Wine Festival, so if you happen to be in town in September, make sure you check it out.      

     

    Buda Castle
    Buda Castle

    The Labyrinth (Budavari Labirintus). Beneath the  Castle Hill there is an underground Labyrinth located in a complex of caves and cellars that were created millions of years ago as an effect of the hot water springs.The caves that served as a shelter and a military hospital during World War II, were later turned into a museum. The original labyrinth, which we were lucky enough to visit in 2004, was ranked among the 7 underground wonders of the world. Below are some pictures of the Labyrinth that my husband took in 2004.

    Unfortunately in 2011 the Labyrinth was permanently closed and what is left for the visitors today is not really worth your the time and money.            

    The Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya) is a neo-Gothic style terrace believed to derive its name from the guild of fishermen that were responsible for defending this area in the Middle Ages.  The Bastion has 7 towers and a stretch of over 140 meters.  With its many balconies and cloisters overlooking the Danube and Budapest downtown, the Bastion looks more like a fairy tale castle than a fortress. On a clear day it offers breathtaking views and is the best place to take unobstructed pictures of the city and the Parliament Building.  At nigh a special flood light surrounding the entire area makes the atmosphere even more dramatic.

         

    In the Bastion there is an upscale restaurant (Halászbástya Étterem) opened year round. Above the restaurant, atop one of the towers, there is a beautiful terrace accessible through a stairway from the restaurant. The terrace serves drinks, beverages and refreshments that can be enjoyed with stunning panoramic views. You can also enjoy beautiful views from the small café located on the street level terrace of the Bastion. Prices are a little high in this area, as expected, but the views are absolutely unique.

     

    Fisherman's Bastion Café
    Fisherman’s Bastion Café

    The café serves beer, sandwiches, and cakes in a very casual atmosphere. The Bastion can be visited during the day time for a small entrance fee, but if you come at night you can easily bypass the small metal gate and see the towers and terraces. 

    Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom) is a Roman Catholic church named after the beloved king Mattias Corvinus who led to the promotion of Italian cultural influences in Hungary. The church is located in Trinity Square, next to the Hilton Hotel.  Although the initial construction dates back to the 14th century, the church’s tiled roof and fantastic Neo-Gothic ornamentation is actually newer (19th century).

     

    Matthyas Church
    Matthyas Church  

    Over the centuries Mátyás Templom was used as a coronation church for the Hungarian kings. The church was under renovation for a long period of time. Last time we visited Budapest in September 2013, the interior was still covered in scaffold. Even so, if you are in Budapest this church is not to be missed. There is a museum upstairs really worth visiting and the outside is already finished.  

    The Citadel (Citadella) is an U-shaped fortress located on the strategic Géllert Hill, also on the Buda side. The fortress was initially built as a place of surveillance by the Habsburg Monarchy after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, to keep the rebellious city under control. Though equipped with 60 cannons, the fort was used as a threat rather than a working fortification.

     

    Liberty Statue
    Liberty Statue

     After the Austro Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians demanded the destruction of the Citadel, but in the end it didn’t happen. In the 1960’s, after much debate, the decision was made to turn it into a tourist center. In front of the Citadel rises the Liberty Statue, a peaceful female figure holding a palm branch in her hand. The statue was erected by the communists to celebrate Budapest’s liberation from the Nazi troops.   Gellért Hill offers the most spectacular views of Budapest, the River Danube and its eight bridges. The high plateau rises 140 meters above the sea level, occupying almost 235 meters. The place is less crowded at night, when the arts and crafts bazaar closes. There is a free exhibition about the history of Budapest at the Citadel and a World War II museum that charges a small entrance fee.

     

    View from the Citadel
    View from the Citadel

    From the Citadel, you can to climb down to the city following a very beautiful shaded path though the woods that cover the hill. At the foot of the hill, right before reaching the street, you’ll come across Gellért’s monument erected in memory of Saint Gerard (Gellért), who was was put in a barrel and rolled down from the top of the hill for trying to convert the pagan Magyars to Christianity. 

    Gellért Monument
    Gellért Monument

    The slopes of the Géllert Hill are steep and maybe a little harder to walk especially if the hot summer days, so better take the tram or the bus on the way up. Tram 47 or 49 from Deak Tér will take you there, or bus number 7 from the Keleti Train Station, Astoria, or Ferenciek tere.      

    The Cave Church (Sziklatemplom) is a small, still functioning church, located in the cave system of Géllert Hill. The entrance is across the street from Géllert Baths. Under the communist regime the church was walled up with concrete for nearly 40 years. The interior of the church is certainly interesting, but not particularly beautiful. There is an audio-guide available that I would recommend. 

    The Cave Church
    The Cave Church

    Gellért Baths was built between 1912 and 1918 on the site of a former hospital dating back to the Middle Ages. References to healing waters in this location are found from as early as the 13th century. The complex is one of the most famous thermal spa baths in Europe. It includes an outdoor pool and several indoor pools containing water from Gellért Hill’s mineral hot springs, containing calcium, magnesium, chloride, sulfate and fluoride. Gellért Baths are extremely popular among Hungarians as well as visitors. The building’s architecture is outstandingly beautiful and very unique.

    The mosaic floors and walls of the main entrance, hallways and the pools, made by the famous Zsolnay factory, the stained glass windows and the wooden structure of the changing rooms are beautiful down to the finest detail. Even if you are not a fan of the public pools, I think this place should be tried at least once. I personally have an aversion for dipping or swimming in public pools, but I must say that Gellért Baths are a must see! It is a bit difficult to find your way through the baths (to me the place resembles a maze!), but staff members are located almost everywhere to assist in finding your way. There are several pools with various water temperatures, two kinds of saunas, massage, and spa treatments at reasonable prices. Some of the pools (where bathing suits are optional) are separated on sexes.

     

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