A couple of weeks ago, I posted this on my Facebook fan page:

 


Notice that #5 is Budapest?  There’s good reason.  I’ve been to Budapest twice and each excursion there makes me fall in love with it more and more.  As part of the former Ottoman and Austrian empires, Hungary’s historical value is mind blowing.  I haven’t been to every Eastern European country, but thus far Hungary is close to the best for me.  The food, the culture and the lively spirit of the locals charms me every time.  I look forward to my next visit. Guest writer Olga Szoke explains why you have to add Budapest to your must-visit list.

Budapest

Budapest is a magical city that provides over 800 years of rich history that can be explored in its Baroque churches, romantic castles and intriguing Turkish baths. Travelers to Budapest are sure to leave enriched after discovering a city that has developed a fascinating and eclectic blend of its ancient elements of Roman and feudal architecture with a bustling modern city.

Buda Castle District

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The Buda Castle District was first populated by terrorized Hungarian citizens between 1241 and 1242 after a Mongol attack that devastated most of Budapest. Also known as “Castle Hill,” the region allows visitors to feel that they have stepped back into the Middle Ages. The district is rich in medieval architecture that boasts gorgeous examples such as Matthias Church which is known for its distinctive and majestic spire.

The Music History Museum is housed in a splendid 18th century mansion that was constructed in the Baroque style. The museum displays a fascinating selection of violins, zithers, bagpipes, hurdy gurdies, horns and cimbaloms.

Visitors who stroll through the district will be delighted to explore sites such as the Mary Magdalene tower, the Military Museum and the Telephone Museum. The Cave Hospital Museum provides a fascinating glimpse of a World War II hospital that was hidden in a network of caves beneath the city.

No tour of the Buda Castle District would be complete without a stop at the Ruszworm Confectionary. Established in 1827, the shop offers delectable pastries and other delicious fare.

Buda Castle

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Elevated almost 160 feet above the Danube River, the imposing Buda Castle dominates the skyline from Castle Hill. A fortress on the present site was first built by King Bela IV in 1243 after the rest of Hungary was decimated by invading Mongol tribes. Over the centuries, the buildings have been rebuilt and modified to the point that the remnants of the original structure are virtually untraceable.

Today, the castle is known as the Royal Palace and commands awe as its structure spans over 1000 feet of facade that faces the Danube River. Several wings make up the massive building which also houses the National Gallery and Budapest Museum of History. Visitors can stroll among gorgeous statues and fountains that are displayed around the grounds and in the centrally located Lion Courtyard.

Andrassy Avenue

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Andrassy Avenue was built in 1872 to provide a connection between the city centre and City Park (Varosliget). The best architects of the time were brought in to develop the area that provided neo-renaissance style houses and palaces for the city’s aristocracy. The project was completed in 1885 and was named after its founder, Prime Minister Gyula Andrassy.

The first underground railway in Europe was constructed underneath the avenue and was named the Millennium Underground Railway which opened in 1896.

Today, Andrassy Avenue has become a mecca for lovers of chic and exclusive shopping. Shops from the world’s most famous designers line the avenue along with magnificent boutique cafes and fabulous restaurants.

Heroes’ Square

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The end of Andrassy Avenue brings travelers to the impressive Heroes’ Square. The focal point of the most impressive square in Budapest is the Millenium Monument which features a pinnacle topped with a sculpture of St. Gabriel the Archangel who is holding both the Holy Hungarian Crown and the Christian double cross.

The Tomb of the Unknown soldier is an impressive element of the square and receives the presentation of a wreath by every visiting head of state.

The square is also surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts, Art Hall and the City Park. The City Park offers visitors a glimpse of Vajdahunyad Castle along with its zoo and cultural activities.

The Citadel

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Located on popular Gellert Hill, the Citadel is an impressive fortress which was built by the Hapsburgs in 1854. After the Hapsburgs left in 1867, ownership of the fortress was given to the city. Interestingly, the building was used in World War II by an SS regiment who used the vantage point to control Budapest.

Today the Citadel has been partially converted to a tourist hotel where visitors can enjoy an intimate stay within the historical site along with a fabulous view of the city and the Danube River.

Getting to Budapest

Public transportation is the fastest and least expensive way to get around and see the sights of Budapest. Single ticket fares for bus, metro, tram and trolley lines are 290 HUF ($1.30 US), but if you’re in town for more than a day consider purchasing a public transportation pass.

Passes offer unlimited travel on any of Budapest’s public transport lines between the hours of 4:30 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. A day pass is valid for 24 hours and costs 1500 HUF ($6.60 US), while a tourist pass is good for 72 hours and costs 3700 HUF ($16.30 US). 48 hour family passes are also available. You can buy transport tickets and passes at tobacco shops, newsstands and metro stations.

Travelling by taxi is also a reasonably inexpensive way to get around Budapest. The cost of your taxi fare depends on whether you are traveling during the day or at night. The limit for basic fares is 300 HUF ($1.30 US) during the day and 420 HUF ($1.85 US) at night with the rest of your fare charged per kilometre travelled. Charges per/km are limited to 240 HUF ($1.05 US) for day journeys and 330 HUF ($1.45 US) at night. There are many taxi companies in Budapest so rates typically vary – you may even expect to pay a bit less.

Before you can see the sights of Budapest you’ll have to get there first. Flights arrive at Budapest’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD), located about ten miles from the centre of the city. The airport provides many modern conveniences typical of an international airport such as shops, restaurants and WiFi. After you make your way into the city by taxi, minibus, train or bus, there’s plenty to do and see. If you’ve never been to Budapest before, take a look at the Cheapflights website for flights to Budapest.

Photos: Weijie, Arthur Lee, Adel A.A. Marga,
Jason Wells, Jessamyn Norton