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Budapest, Hungary

Budapest (Approx. Hungarian pronunciation: "boo-dah-pesht") is the capital city of Hungary. With a unique, youthful atmosphere, world-class classical music scene as well as a pulsating nightlife increasingly appreciated among European youth, and last but not least, an exceptionally rich offer of natural thermal baths, Budapest is one of Europe's most delightful and enjoyable cities. Due to its scenic setting, and its architecture it is nicknamed "Paris of the East". In 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.

Weather in Budapest

The climate of Budapest is humid continental with warm or very warm summers. Winter (November until early March) can be cold and there is little sunshine. Snowfall is fairly frequent in most years, and nighttime temperatures of −15 °C (5 °F) are not uncommon from mid-December until mid-February. The spring months (March and April) see variable conditions, with a rapid increase in the average temperature. The weather in late March and April is often very agreeable during the day and fresh at night. Budapest's long summer - lasting from May until mid-September - is warm or very warm. Budapest has as much summer sunshine as many Mediterranean resorts. Sudden heavy showers also occur, particularly in May and June. The autumn in Budapest (mid-September until late October) is characterized by little rain and long sunny days with moderate temperatures.

What to see in Budapest

  • Most of Budapest's famous sights are concentrated on Castle Hill on the Buda side, in downtown Pest and along the riverside walkways. The main sights on Castle Hill are:
  • The Royal Palace (Királyi palota). The most popular attraction on the hill. The first known buildings here where the Royal Palace stands today, were built by Charles Robert’s eldest son, Stephan Duke of Anjou (1308-1342). It was later remodeled, but the reign of King Matthias brought about the golden age of Buda (1458-1490). Legend has it that when a Turkish ambassador came to Buda, he saw all the wealth and grandeur, forgot his greeting speech and all he could say was „The emperor sends his respects.” Today the Palace is converted into some museums. It hosts the National Gallery.
  • National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria) - Inside the Royal Palace wings B, C and D houses an astounding collection of paintings.
  • The Fisherman's Bastion and lookout terrace (Halászbástya). For impressive views across the Danube to Pest. This neo-Gothic construction was built in 1905 by the architect Frigyes Schulek. It is composed by seven towers that are symbolizing the seven magyar clans’ leaders that came in the Carpathian Basin at the end of the IX century.
  • Matthias Church (Mátyás templom, aka Church of Our Lady). Dominant neogothic church crowning Budapest's cityscape - nowadays is under reconstruction. The church praises a wonderful and unusual roof made of coloured shingles and elegant pinnacles.
  • Lions’ Courtyard - The courtyard got its name from the four stone lions that guard its gate. The two formidable lions at the gate try to deter one from entering, while the two on the inside roar furiously at those who dare walk past the gates. They where created by sculptor János Fadrusz in 1902. As we walk past the gate lighter stripes in the grey cube veneer show the excavated, the re-buried remains of the medieval palace walls. The 4300 m² courtyard is bordered by the building complex containing the Hungarian National Museum, the Budapest Museum of History and the National Széchenyi Library.
  • Savoyai Terrace - One of the most representative areas of the Buda Castle, the Savoyai Terrace boasts the best view of the city. Standing on this spacious square we can see the graceful Danube dividing the two sides of the city, the limestone walls of the Parliament, the Gellért Hill, our capital’s bridges, the Monument of Liberty, and on a clear day you can see the sites of Pest. The Terrace is in front of the Hungarian National Museum and on it you will find the neo-baroque bronze statue of Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy military strategist made by the sculptor József Róna which has been there since the beginning of the 1900s.
Other museums on the Castle Hill:
  • The Historical Museum of Budapest - Exhibition of medieval Budapest and history of the Royal Palace.
  • The Music Museum. Includes a collection of musical instruments and the Bartok archive.
  • The Military Museum - Uniforms, weapons, maps and other Hungary-related military objects from 11th century until nowadays.
  • Marzipan Museum.
  • Pharmacy Museum. Collection of pharmaceutical objects from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.
  • Museum of Medieval Judaism. Presents the medieval Jewish objects of Buda
  • Orientation is not a big problem in Budapest. The river Danube splits the city into two areas: Buda and Pest. Aside from the very center, the city's structure is quite logical. Landmarks in Buda as the Royal Castle or Citadella Castle also help you to find your way.
Besides the Danube itself, the best reference points for orienting yourself are the bridges crossing the river. From North to South, they are:
  • Árpád Bridge (Árpád híd), A modern bridge linking to Northern Margaret Island. The longest bridge in Budapest at 973 meters. It was inaugurated in 1950 where already the Romans erected a bridge to connect Acquincum with another settlement on the Pest side.
  • Margaret Bridge (Margit híd), Easily identified thanks to its distinctive shape: it makes an approximately 35 degree turn half way across, at the southern tip of Margaret Island. Trams 4 and 6 cross the Danube here. This bridge was built in 1901 and then destroyed during the war by an explosion. It was rebuilt in 1948. It is located at the north of the city center.
  • Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd), Completed in 1849, the oldest, arguably most beautiful and certainly the most photographed of Budapest's bridges, floodlit at night. It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube. At the time of its construction it was the second-largest suspension bridge throughout the world. Four stone lions taken their place at the edge of the bridge in 1852. They fortunately survived from the air raids of the World War II.
  • Elisabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd), Completed in 1903. Its original chain structure was destroyed in World War II, and was eventually substituted by a modern cable bridge opened in 1964. This bridge in liberty style was dedicated to the murdered Queen in 1898. It is the third newest bridge of the city.
  • Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd), Elegant but simple, opened in 1896; it connects the Gellért Baths (Gellért fürdő) in Buda with the Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok) in Pest. Recently renovated. This bridge was rebuilt in Art nouveau style in the occasion of the Hungarian millenary festivities of 1989.
  • Petőfi Bridge (Petőfi híd), For a long time the southernmost bridge, it links the inner ring road (Nagykörút) of Pest with Buda. It was built during the 30s, destroyed by an explosion in the World War II and then rebuilt in 1952.
  • Lágymányosi Bridge (Lágymányosi híd), The newest bridge in Budapest, with modern architecture and a spectacular lighting system where mirrors reflect the beam of the upward facing floodlights. Built very next to a railway bridge on its southern side. It is now called Rákóczi Bridge, it was built between 1992 and 1995, initially destined to smoothen the augmented traffic flow during the 1996 expo that finally never took place in Budapest. It is the second newest bridge of Budapest as of 2013.
  • Downtown (Belváros) of Pest is the administrative and business centre of Budapest and the whole of Hungary. The main sights here are:
  • The Parliament Building (Országház). A neogothic jewel, beautifully situated overlooking the Danube. It is very much worth going inside, but you can only do that during guided tours, which are FREE for inhabitants of European Union and 3500 HUF for others (ignore those trying to pick you up outside the Parliament). Tickets for guided tours can be obtained each day from 8AM.  The Parliament is the biggest building in Hungary with its 268 meters . During your guided visit you will see the crown of Saint Stephen that is kept inside the gorgeous dome room.
  • St. Stephen's Basilica (Szent István Bazilika). The main church of Budapest is an important example of neoclassical architecture, recently renovated. The mummified right hand of Hungary first king, St Stephen is kept in the chapel. The 96 meter high dome can be seen from anywhere in the city and inside is decorated with mosaics. It is possible to climb over the dome and have a marvellous view of the cityscape.
  • Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga) Budapest was home to one of the largest Jewish community in Europe before the war. The Dohány street Synagogue, opened 1859, is the largest and certainly among the most beautiful ones in Europe, recently restored to its former grandeur. Next to the Synagogue is a small but impressive museum. In the rear of the Synagogue is a memorial for victims of the Shoah.

What to do in Budapest

  • The simplest (and perhaps best) of all: get a map, circle the things you want to see, divide up your time and stroll around in the city. Spend time in charming cafés or restaurants (preferably not right at the main tourist sights), look at the market stands, walk on a bridge in the evening. The lively atmosphere of this jewel of a city both by day and by night cannot be experienced via guided tours, locked into a tourist bus/boat. Locals are usually happy to help, also to tell you what they think is best to see - and what is better to stay away from, or for a little chat just to keep up their English (or German). Don't hesitate to ask questions!
  • Do it on a bike! (Rents are around 1800 HUF for half a day.) On a bike, you can ride out of the city, too. Szentendre is a 2 hours ride from the center and you get to see nice places, much of the way is at the Danube. If you prefer more organised ways, a guided bike tour gets you some exercise and introduces you to the local geography. For example, staff at Buda Bike [underground garage at the plaza in front of St. Stephan's Basilica] are very friendly. They also rent bikes.
  • Walk in the City park (Városliget) with your children. Walk around the lake and feed the ducks. See the statue of Anonymus at the Vajdahunyad Castle, a fairy-tale-like building. Széchenyi Spa, right next to the lake, is also enjoyable for kids (see also the Baths section).
  • In the winter, the same lake is transformed into the large ice-skating ring  with an astonishing view during winter. It is a popular place for kids, teens and young tweens.
  • The nearby Circus (Fövárosi Nagycirkusz - Great Circus of the Capital) offers performances with international artists.
  • Next to it, the Budapest Zoo - one of the oldest in the world - offers more than 800 animals to be seen in a historic atmosphere.
  • A few steps away, the Amusement park (Vidámpark) offers a great day for kids or the young-at heart.
  • Buda Hill Labyrinth. The Labyrinths are accessible by two points on the Buda hills. The caves were formed from hot water springs and then during WW2, they were linked with some of the cellars on the hill to create an air raid shelter for up to 10,000 people and a military hospital.
  • Experience an opera at Budapest's beautiful State Opera House or a performance of forklore or classical music at any of Budapest's many concert halls.

What to eat in Budapest

Hungarian food deserves to be (and often is) mentioned among the country's main sites. As in other cultures, the Hungarian approach to food combines pride in their own traditions with a readiness to accept outside influences. The result is a vibrant restaurant scene where an Asian-Hungarian fusion restaurant may well be of genuine interest.

Local specialties often revolve around meat (pork, beef, veal, or poultry), often involve liberal use of paprika, however not necessary of the hot kind. Note that - due to a historical translation error - "goulash soup" is indeed a soup, not the "goulash" that visitors may be familiar with from home which is known as "pörkölt".

Major specialties include:
  • Gulyás (leves) usually translated as 'goulash soup' - a filling meat soup (usually beef) with potatoes and paprika, among other ingredients. Served as main dish or as a (heavy) starter. The name refers to the Hungarian version of a cowboy taking care of a 'gulya' (cattleherd).
  • Paprikás veal or chicken cooked in delicious creamy paprika sauce (not spicy) pörkölt a stew with of sautéed onions and - paprika. Similar to what is served as 'goulash' abroad.
  • Halászlé - fishermen's soup served differently depending on region
  • Töltött káposzta - stuffed cabbage, the cooked cabbage leafs are filled with meat and in a paprika sauce, served with sour cream (similar to crème fraîche or crème acidulée)
  • Balaton pike-perch (fogas)
  • gyümölcsleves - fruit soup - cold, creamy and sweet, consumed as a starter.
From the desserts, you may not want to miss
  • Somlói galuska, a poem on biscuit dough, cream and chocolate sauce, invented by Károly Gollerits at Gundel
  • Gundel palacsinta - Gundel pancake (crepe) - with a filling prepared with rum, raisin, walnuts, and lemon zest, served with a chocolate sauce, and the careful reader may guess its birthplace.
  • There is also a great variety of wonderful pastries/cakes (Torta), some of which you will recognize if you are familiar with Viennese pastries. You may want to try Dobos torta (Dobos cake, named after József Dobos), and Rigó Jancsi a light chocolate-cream cake.

Nightlife in Budapest

One of Budapest’s main attractions is recreation and night life. Great concerts, opera, jazz, musical, dance is available to watch almost every night – and you should also check out the great venues of these performances. Hungarians love to party, the girls are famous for their beauty, and there are several bars, restaurants and dance clubs awaiting those who want to have a great time.

One of the most popular Budapest nightlife activities for visitors is hanging out in ruin pubs, dancing at large clubs, smaller "gardens".

Shopping in Budapest

Most of the visitors from far away end up shopping in Pest in the middle of the city: Váci utca and nearby. It is historically the most expensive part of the city. You'll find Hungarian linens and lace, pottery, and other items, in souvenir shops.

You definitely want to visit the Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) at Fővám tér the recently renovated market hall with essential atmosphere (it's at the south end of Vaci). Prices for the same items vary a lot between sellers and aren't set in stone so be sure to compare and bargain.

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