In the first instalment of this week long Budapest special I want to share 20 of the best sights to see when you’re visiting Budapest. The majority are free, but if costs are associated then they will be made clear to help you plan the best tour of the city.
Like many European cities, Budapest offers a wealth of sights that are a must see, both for their history and their beauty. Divided in to two sides of the river, Buda & Pest, the city is an architectural work of art and the Hungarians are proud to call it their capital.
Sights To See in Budapest: PEST
1. St Stephen’s Basilica
Located just off Andrassy Út and opposite the beautiful Erzsébet Tér (Elizabeth Square) stands a Roman Catholic Basilica in honor of St Stephen, Hungary’s very first King. The largest church building in the city, it’s architecture is closer to that of a Cathedral, but it was given the title of a ‘minor Basilica’ in 1931 by Pope Pius XI.
The area in front of the Basilica is one of my favorite spots in the city to sit with a coffee and a book and enjoy the sunshine! It is free to enter, unless you wish to walk to the top of the dome which costs 600 HUF. It is an extremely high spiral staircase route but I would definitely advise this as you are rewarded with beautiful views of Pest from the top!
2. The Hungarian Parliament Building
Built in a Gothic Revival style, the Hungarian Parliament Building holds a striking resemblance to the English Parliament Building in London, although the green dome that tops it gives it a very Central European twist. Both the parliament building and St Stephen’s Basilica stand at 96 meters, making them both the tallest buildings in Budapest.
The equal height represents the equality Hungarians believe should exist between spiritual and real-world theory. I utterly suggest viewing the parliament building at night, preferably from a river cruise although if this is not possible then from Margit Island Bridge. The whole building is lit up to a spectacular golden color and is a sight that shouldn’t be missed!
3. Shoes On The Danube
During the second world war, Jewish inhabitants of Budapest were ordered to remove their shoes before standing on the bank of the Danube. Once barefoot, the National Socialist party of Hungary, otherwise known as the Arrow Cross, shot them dead and their bodies fell in to the river.
Leather at the time was valuable, and the 60 pairs of iron shoes that now lie along the bank act as a holocaust memorial.
4. The Great Synagogue
Dohány Street Synagogue is a testament to the survival of the Jewish population after thousands were killed or relocated to concentration camps during the Second World War and the Nazi’s foothold in Hungary at that time. The largest Synagogue in Europe, it is the second largest in the entire world, second only to New York. Built at the end of the 19th Century, the building suffered serious damage during WWII leading to seven years of renovation between 1991 and 1998.
The renovations are incredibly beautiful, and an impressive exterior now houses an extravagant interior that can be seen for 2500 HUF (≈£6.50/€8), or 1400 HUF for those with an international student card.
5. Vörösmarty Tér
This square is located close to the bank of the Danube and was named in 1926 in honour of Mihály Vörösmarty, a famous Hungarian playwrite and poet. The square marks the beginning of the popular Váci Utca, a street well known mostly as an expensive tourist souvenir trap but elegant in it’s own right.
Vörösmarty Square is most beautiful at christmas time, when it holds it’s incredible christmas market. It is also the starting point for a free walking tour that leaves twice a day. I recommend the free walking tours hosted by Trip To Budapest as they really know their stuff!
6. Andrássy Út
The start of Andrássy Avenue is a five minute walk from Vörösmarty Square. The wide boulevard stretches the length of Pest from Erzsébet Tér to Heroes’ Square in City Park and is a World Heritage Site due to it’s immaculately planned street architecture and it’s historical importance.
Cultural treasures such as the National Opera House and Drechsler Palace line the avenue, as well as many high fashion brands such as Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, and many more.
7. Hősök Tere/Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square is one of Budapest’s most stunning works of art celebrating their Magyar history. It was built to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary, and therefore seven of the key statues are representations of the seven tribes of Magyar.
Construction was completed in 1900, coinciding with the completion of the second underground railway in the world, the Millennium line that runs under the length of Andrássy Út. The square is a celebration of Hungary, and is also home to the impressive Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
8. Városliget/City Park
City Park was renovated around the same time as the creation of Heroes’ Square and is another of Budapest’s many World Heritage Sites, as well as the second largest park in Budapest after Népliget (which some of you might know from it’s International bus station!).
It is absolutely beautiful on a sunny day to sit and hang with friends, or maybe rest your feet on the long trek along Andrássy Út! During the winter it is also home to one of the largest ice rinks in Europe, complete with music to skate to!
9. Vajdahunyad Vára
Vajdahunyad castle can be found just behind the lake on the right hand side of the main walkway through City Park from Heroes Square. Built as part of the Millenial celebrations, along with Heroe’s Square and City Park, it looks much older and a combination of old and new Hungarian designs and influences were combined in it’s creation.
The Castle is home to plenty of events and festivals, so check their website for an events schedule!
10. Kerepesi Cemetery
It can sound a little depressing listing a cemetery as a ‘Sight to See’ but this really is an incredible area of Budapest! Located a good 30 minute walk from the center of town, I advise getting public transport as you’ll be doing plenty of walking once you get there. The cemetery is now closed for new burials, and has been used by some of the most famous and infamous VIPs of Hungary since 1847, which means the architecture and art found within it’s walls is incredibly impressive.
Sights To See in Budapest: BUDA
11. Gellért Hill and the Liberty Statue
Climbing Gellért Hill was a favourite past time of mine! The hill is on the Buda side, can be easily reached from the Green Bridge over the Danube, and is home to two great statues.The Liberty Lady atop Géllert Hill is the only remaining statue within the main city that hails from the Soviet period. Rumor has it that when all other communist statues were removed after 1989, the Hungarians covered her in a white sheet before re-introducing her to Budapest.
I absolutely love this story, and the statue is equally as beautiful. Whilst she can be seen all the way over in Pest, climbing to the top of Géllert hill also gives you the opportunity to take photos of the best views in Budapest! The second statue is of Saint Géllert, and is most easily viewed on the crossing from Pest to Buda on the White Bridge. He was a Christian missionary asked to help convert the ancient Magyars under the rule of King (and eventually Saint) Stephen, who was martyred by pagans after the death of the King.
12. The Citadel
The Citadel, or fortress, that sits atop Géllert Hill was originally built by the Hasburg Monarchy to help oppress Hungarian uprisings during the latter part of their reign. It’s ownership was transferred to Budapest at the time of the Austria-Hungary union, and has since been used in both the first and second World Wars.
Today it stands as a reminder to the past, and as a luxury hotel and restaurant. In the summer months it’s fun to try the archery that is set up in the grounds for the wealth of tourists.
13. The Royal Palace
Further along the Danube close by to Géllert Hill stands the Royal Palace, also known as Buda Castle for reasons I never figured out – it definitely looks more like a palace! The Royal Palace stands atop Castle Hill which was apparently the same location on which stood the original Magyar castle in the 13th Century.
Due to the hundreds of years of conquest that Hungary has suffered, the current palace is a combination of old parts and a huge reconstruction effort that began in 1950. Further reading on the old palaces that stood atop Castle Hill tell of intricately designed exteriors and delicately embellished interiors, little of which is present in the current palace due to it’s reconstruction taking place long after the great period of the Hungarian Monarchy.
Yet the building is still fiercely impressive in it’s position looking over Pest, and currently houses the National Gallery, the National Széchényi Library, and the Budapest History Museum.
14. Matthius Church
Like St. Stephen’s Basilica, Matthius Church is another Roman Catholic Building located close to Castle Hill and the second biggest in the city, similarly named after a past King of Hungary. Its incredibly ornate turrets are a blinding white, perfectly matching the surrounding architecture of the Fisherman’s Bastion.
15. Fisherman’s Bastion
So called in honour of the local fisherman who ran their market close by and protected the city during the medieval wars, the arches of the Bastion are the perfect frame for the subjects of photographers, especially with the backdrop of the River Danube and the Hungarian Parliament Building.
It was built around the turn of the 20th Century, and whilst a large part was destroyed during the second world, a reconstruction has been successful in restoring it to it’s previous glory.
16. Memento Park
Less of a park, more of a museum, Memento Park is where all the statues from Hungary’s communist era have been exiled to. The statues are understandably huge and yet despite expectations it is still a shock to walk in to an area completely occupied by their almost-menacing appearances!
Sights To See in Budapest: THE DANUBE
Margaret Island was by far one of my favourite places to spend a lazy Sunday during my time in Budapest. The island is nestled between Buda and Pest on the River Danube and is surrounded by a 5km running track used by locals and expats. Basically, it seems to be a bit of a local’s secret spot, and I rarely ever saw tourists on it during the winter months.
Home to an impressive fountain at the entrance from Margit Bridge, it also holds beautiful Japanese Gardens, a small football field, and a casino. In the summer the clubs on the island open their doors and offer residents and tourists something different from the same old clubs that are open in town year round. I definitely suggest hiring a bike or a buggy and spending the day on the island just to relax and sit on the bank of the Danube!
18. Margit Bridge
Margaret Bridge is the second oldest bridge connecting Pest and Buda, after the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and the centre marks the entrance to Margit-Sziget. It is rumored that the bridge became the choice crossing for those who wished to commit suicide by jumping, which I find terribly sad as I believe it to be the most beautiful of all the bridges in Budapest.
Not only does it allow access to Margit-Sziget, but the view of Parliament on the Pest side, and Castle Hill on the Buda side, from this bridge is incredible and makes for great panoramic pictures.
19. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Opened in 1849, Széchenyi was the first permanent bridge built to span the river crossing from Pest to Buda and brought a lot of attention to Budapest in regard to it’s architectural structure and design. It is recognized world wide for the stone lions that guard either end, and at the time of it’s construction it was the widest bridge in the world.
These days, it leads sightseers from Pest over to the foot of Castle Hill and makes for some beautiful photo opportunities.
This island, further north from Margit-Sziget is the largest in Budapest and has recently become home to the annual Sziget Festival that is putting Budapest on the map in Central Europe for young travelling festival-goers! Since the festival’s conception in 1993 more bars and clubs have appeared on the island, making it the party island along the Danube!
Travelers and locals alike now party in an area steeped in Roman history; in the first century is was home to an entire Roman league. Rumours are it is being developed as a potential leisure complex so I suggest seeing what’s left of it’s natural beauty sooner rather than later!
Obviously there are far more incredible sights dotted around the small city – feel free to list suggestions below!
Coming next in the Budapest Special: 10 Awesome Activities To Do In Budapest!
Lots of love,