Budapest Old Town Attractions – 8 Sites you Shouldn’t Miss When Visiting the City

    Budapest Old Town Attractions – 8 Sites you Shouldn’t Miss When Visiting the City

    My first visit to Budapest was in 2004.  I remember passing through the downtown area on the way to our bed-and-breakfast in Budapest Old Town. But it was already dark outside and I couldn’t distinguish much from the back seat of the cab.  But the next morning, when woke up and looked out the window, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The panorama that was unfolding before me was absolutely spectacular. A picture perfect sight of Pest –Budapest’s downtown– with the Hungarian Parliament dominating the banks of the Danube River. 

    View of Budapest downtown

    Staying on the Buda side of Budapest has its own advantages. While you are a little farther away from the shopping areas, on this side you will enjoy all of Budapest Old Town attractions.

     

    Strolling through Budapest Old Town 

    As expected, Budapest Old Town is the more historical part of the city. Buda –as it is also known– was once the place of  residence for the Hungarian Kings who chose this side of the Danube for strategic reasons. The hill on which Buda was built –Castle Hill–  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. Here you can easily imagine yourself riding in a horse drawn carriage. 

    Attractions in Budapest Old Town

         [1] Buda Castle 

    Budavári Palota (Buda Castle) is considered the most popular attraction on Castle Hill.  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 in Budapest Old Town
    Buda Castle

         [2] The Labyrinth

    Right beneath the  Castle Hill there is an underground Labyrinth (Budavari Labirintus). The Labyrinth is located in a complex of caves and cellars that were created millions of years ago as an effect of the hot water springs. In the 15th century the caves served as a prison. The most famous prisoner of the Labyrinth was Vlad Tepes, also known as Count Dracula. Tepes was King Matthias Corvinus’s prisoner for 12 years. During World War II, the underground labyrinth served as a shelter and a military hospital. Later on, in modern times, the Budapest Labyrinth became a museum.

         [3] The Fisherman’s Bastion

    Halaszbastya, as it is known in Hungarianis a neo-Gothic style terrace at the top of Castle Hill. The stronghold is believed to derive its name from the guild of fishermen who were responsible for defending this area in the Middle Ages. Fishermen’s Bastion was built as a viewing platform after the Siege of Budapest, since Buda Castle was no longer considered to be of military importance.

    The panorama terrace was built with the idea to recall the old times, thus the bastion looks rather like a fairy tale castle. 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.

                                                                  Tip: Visit Halászbástya Restaurant

    If you are looking for a spectacular place to spend a romantic evening, the restaurant housed in the Fishermen’s Bastion is the best place to take your date. The upscale Halaszbastya Restaurant is open 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 and has 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 in Budapest Old Town
    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. 

         [4] Matthias Church

     Mátyás Templom, as the local call it, is a Roman Catholic church named after the beloved king Mattias Corvinus. King Mattias is considered the promoter 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 in Budapest Old Town
    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. Finally, a few years ago, the scaffold disappeared and the church is now more beautiful than ever. On the upper level of the church there is a small museum, really worth visiting

     

         [5] 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. Although the fort had 60 cannons, it was never a working fortification, but rather a threat for those who might think of.

    Liberty Monument on Gellert Hill
    Liberty Monument

     After the Austro Hungarian Compromise of 1867, the Hungarians demanded the destruction of the Citadel. But it didn’t happen. In the 1960’s, after much debate, the local government decided 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.  The Citadel houses a free exhibition about the history of Budapest, as well as a World War II museum that charges a small entrance fee.

     

         [6] Gellert Monument

    Gellért Hill offers the most spectacular views of Budapest, the River Danube and its eight bridges. The place is less crowded at night, when the arts and crafts bazaar closes.

    View of Budapest Old Town 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. The statue represents 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 hard to walk. Especially during the hot summer days. A better option is to take the tram up to the top of the hill. Tram 47 or 49 from Deak Tér will go there. Also, bus #7 from the Keleti Station, Astoria, or Ferenciek tere.  

         [7] The Cave Church (Sziklatemplom) is perhaps the least known of all the Budapest Old Town attractions. This small, still functioning chapel is located in the cave system of Géllert Hill. The entrance is across the street from Géllert Baths. The communist regime sealed the church entrance with concrete for nearly 40 years. The church reopened in 1989, after the fall of Communism. 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 on Gellert Hill
    The Cave Church

         [8] Gellért Baths was built between 1912 and 1918 on the site of a former hospital dating back to the Middle Ages. 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. These springs are rich in 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. Intricate mosaic floors, stained glass windows,  wooden interiors the changing rooms. Every corner is beautiful down to the finest detail. Even if you are not a fan of public pools, you should still visit this place. There are several pools with various water temperatures, two kinds of saunas, massage, and spa treatments at reasonable prices. An equally beautiful bath that rivals with Géllert is Szechenyi Baths, located on the Pesta side of Budapest.

    Have you visited Budapest Old Town? Was was your favorite spot?