Budapest is not only the capital of Hungary but also the biggest city – by far – in the country. Actually, it is one of the biggest cities in the European Union. The cultural and economic center of Hungary is one of the favorite European cities for most backpackers, and rightly so because there are so many things to do in Budapest!
The city has many breathtaking sights, amazing thermal baths, the third largest parliament building in the world and hipster ruin pubs! I’m not even close to everything the city has to offer!
I spent 3 days in this fascinating capital, but I could easily spend way more! I wrote the best things to do in Budapest, but the whole guide is divided into two parts. So here we start part 1 with the history of Budapest and the itinerary on the Buda side. In part 2 we go through the itinerary on the Pest side. The link to part 2 is at the bottom of the post.
First I’ll tell you a bit about Budapest’s history, so you can understand what this city went through and even what the monuments mean! After all, not all classrooms have 4 walls, right? 😉
Hey, looking for more posts about Hungary? Check out the link below, or take a look at all our Hungary posts.
- A Guide to Budapest Thermal Baths
- A Guide to Budapest Ruin Pubs
- Prague or Budapest: Which city should you visit?
- Using Public Transport in Budapest
History of Budapest
Budapest was once three cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda, which were divided by the Danube River. When the Turks took Buda and Pest in the 16th century, they built good bath-houses and transformed churches in mosques. A century later, Buda, Pest, and Óbuda were conquered by the House of Habsburg from Austria.
An improvement in the economy of Buda and Pest was evident during the reign of the Empress Maria Thereza. Later on, Pest became the political and intellectual center in Hungary.
The fascinating Chain Bridge was opened in the 19th century with the purpose to bring the cities together. That is also when the Austro-Hungarian dynasty arose: Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth, commonly known as Sissi (yes, the controversial Sissi), were crowned in Matthias Church at the Fisherman’s Bastion! The 19th century wasn’t done yet: the three cities finally became one, Budapest!
Due to the First World War, the city’s economic situation was drastically deteriorated and after the Second World War, the city was seriously wounded. After that, Budapest was controlled by rigorous Soviet forces leading to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which was brutally crushed by the law enforcement. The city was desolated and even today you can see the consequences of it.
In the 60s and 70s, the reconstruction of Budapest took place and even in the 80s it was evident that the city still felt the pain of 30 years earlier. In 1989 they paid a tribute to Imre Nagy in the Heroes’ Square, the prime minister who was executed during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. These political changes led to the Iron Curtain on the Austro-Hungarian border to be pulled down.
Things to do in Budapest, part 1
Okay, done with history (for now! Next paragraph I’ll be back to it :)). Like I said above Budapest is divided by the Danube River and we explored, for obvious reasons, one side and then another. Let’s start our trip!
The Citadel or Gellért Hill is located in the southern part of Budapest, right in front of the Elisabeth Bridge. Gellért Hill is named after a missionary bishop, who was captured and rolled downhill in a barrel by pagan leaders. At the entrance of the Gellért Hill, there is a stunning waterfall full of green. 🙂 When we were here there was an isolated crime scene…someone was thrown or jumped from upstairs. 🙁
So, back to the itinerary! There is a citadel of the missionary, who became a saint, and the Liberty Statue at the top of the hill, the latter was built right after the Second World War by the Soviets.
Visiting the Citadel is free, but there is a small charge for a Second World War Museum/ Bunker.
On the other side, just next to the Gellért Thermal Bath (one of the best thermal baths in Budapest) there is a Cave Church, it’s quite simple but beautiful.
How to get to the Citadel?
If you’re near the Great Market Hall (Liberty Bridge) or the Elisabeth Bridge, you can just walk across the bridges, there is an entrance in front of both.
If you’re at the Keleti Train Station, you can get the bus 133E or the subway to Szent Gellért tér Station line 4 green.
Well, you can get a bus or tram to that side of the river, but the way up, my friend, you’re on your own. Prepare to walk a lot! There’re many beautiful spots to take photos from, though. And yeah, I admit I’m a bit out of shape!
But if you, unlike me, are in a better shape, there are a few good hiking trails near Budapest.
The Castle Hill is filled with history. It has a beautiful architecture, the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, many museums, cafés, etc. It’s also not so “alive” like the Pest side, it is more residential. There is a funicular to get uphill next to the Chain Bridge, but the best way to explore it is by foot because there are many escalators or even elevators through the base of the construction.
The Buda Castle is a stunning building above the Danube that houses the National Gallery (HUF 1800, around USD 6,90) and Budapest history museum (HUF 2000, around USD 7,70). You can also find a few other museums nearby.
I had a great view of the Parliament building from here. It’s a really photogenic spot because this is the perfect place to take a shot of both the parliament and the Chain Bridge.
Strolling the hill a bit further you’ll get to the famous Fisherman’s Bastion. Visiting this place is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Budapest! The once lookout tower has a fairy tale style that made me think of Disney’s logo, don’t you agree?
There are 7 towers which represent the 7 tribes that founded the city. Here you can get the best panoramic view of Budapest and take amazing photos! The balconies are free of charge, but if you want to go up then you pay a little fee.
Ah, there is a nice café right on the balcony! What a view! Phewww
Here you will also find the impressive Matthias’ Church with its very peculiar roof. If you read the summary I wrote at the beginning of this post, you know this church is quite special! Well, if you didn’t okay, I’ll say it anyway, Emperor Franz Joseph I and the Empress Sissi were crowned in here. Now you know.
I selected a few interesting tickets that will be useful for you in Budapest. I suggest buying the City Card if you’re planning to visit some museums. This card offers access to the public transport and discounts in the entrance price of many places. Or even free access to them. The other two tickets are a boat tour on the Danube River, so you can see Budapest from another point of view, and a walking tour, to understand better the history of this fascinating city.
Continue reading about Budapest in Part 2
This is the end of part 1, go to the part 2 of this guide to read about the Pest side, which has most part of the main attractions.
So, you! Explorer of this beautiful world! Have you ever been to Budapest? Or are you planning to use this itinerary there? Either way, drop a comment below and let me know if you have any doubts about this itinerary or even something to add to it!
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