Last updated on January 8th, 2018
Budapest guide-the must do’s of a long weekend
Sometimes when you visit a place for the first time, you end up taking one vivid image home with you. By this, I mean your subconscious tends to separate one of the areas you have visited whilst there. A sight that hopefully impressed you, and throws it at you every time you think about that place.
Wait, does this just happen to me? Am I the odd one out here??
I believe most of you can relate with me on this one. If not, then I am the weirdo, but I don’t really mind! It’s a very convenient way of relating to a place! Every time I do think of Budapest then, the first image that comes to me is walking along the Danube River and passing by the majestic Parliament Building. I remember vividly the sun, (we were lucky to get the sun in February), resting its rays on the light, beige colour of the Parliament, making it even more radiant. Its spires restlessly guarding its domed red tiled roof and the river dancing away out of sight as far as the eye can see.
Budapest has many sights that will constantly battle with your romantic side and definitely challenge your imagination. It is a photographer’s playground. A place with a heavy past and a promising future. A city with so many eras of architecture hidden away in every corner, that will satisfy even the strictest of city planners.
A walk along Danube River
This will obviously be on the top of my ‘To do’ list. The Danube is majestic – whether you decide to walk along its banks or take one of the many cruises. I would definitely recommend both since you get different views and perspectives when walking and when cruising through it.
Danube River splits the city in two: the hilly side of ‘Buda’ and the flat side of “Pest”. There are so many sights and beautiful images to capture on both sides.Be prepared for a long walk on both banks, but you will be well rewarded from this experience. Covering both sides:
The Pest side will give you the chance to walk next to:
The glorious Parliament Building and snap some great photos and details of this massive structure, (see further down for more info).
The bronze sculptures of the “Shoes on the Danube” sights, (see picture). A place dedicated to the Jews that got shot into the river during WW II, (by the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen.) A very intriguing, yet macabre place to stop by. You cannot help but feel just a modicum of the sadness and despair the Jews felt when they were shot into the river. The kind of place where you can easily stop for at least half hour. I ended up taking many pictures of the monument from different angles and details.
The Hungarian Academy of Sciences – located near the Chain Bridge. This Renaissance Revival style building was funded in large by the Hungarian Count Szechenyi for his love of the Hungarian language and its people.
Gresham Palace – erected in 1906 as accommodation for the employees of the British ‘Gresham Life Assurance’ company. During the communist regime however it was taken over and handed to the ‘people’ as just another average looking building. It is now housing the beautiful ‘Four Seasons Hotel’. Well worth stepping into this ‘Art Nouveau’ building to admire its interiors and have some coffee. You can also have an over the top, (costly), breakfast too.
The Chain Bridge will leave you speechless by its beauty. If you are like me, (I love bridges), you should visit either side of the bridge both day and night. You will get some awesome pictures that will highlight your photo albums when you are back home, (I should say folders in your laptop or cover pics in your Facebook account). It was the first permanent bridge to be built in Budapest in the mid 19th century connecting Buda and Pest. Most of the money for this structure was donated by a famous Greek entrepreneur ‘Georgios Sinas‘, since he had land and financial interests in the city. His name is actually inscribed on the SW foundation of the bridge on Buda side.
The Buda side will give you the chance to walk next to:
Crossing through the Liberty Bridge – connects the Budapest Market Hall on the Pest side and the Gellert Bath on the Buda side. If you do have the time to visit the Gellert Baths you can have a rejuvenating soak, (try to avoid weekdays where it gets really busy). It really is a fantastic Art Nouveau display, complete with Roman columns and colourful mosaics.
University of Technology – the history of this University is nothing short of spectacular. Amazingly, it is one of the oldest and largest Universities of the world for Technology, (about 21, 000 students from across the globe). Its courageous students and professors played a vital role in the Revolution against the Soviet Union back in 1956, becoming martyrs against the communist regime, (other such Universities include the ‘Athens Metsovion Polytechnic with the uprising of its students against the fascist regime of the military Junta). It is another beautiful building along the banks of the Danube worthy of your time.
The Gellert Hill Cave Church: located inside the Gellért Hill. Forget about traditional church interiors or exteriors for this matter. The cave inside this church is called after a hermit that lived here during the 19th century and healed people. The ‘saint Ivan’s cave’, (Szent Iván-barlang), can be seen from a distance by its large cross above the entrance.
The Hungarian Parliament Building
If you were to see one sight in Budapest, this would be it. Whether day or night, its magnificence will not cease to amaze you. An extremely photogenic structure that will pose well under the sun light or the evening spot lights. It speaks to you in different ways and projects a warm aura during the day and a more emblematic one during the night.
This blend of architectural wonder, (a bit of Neo-Gothic and baroq-ish), works really well in creating a picture perfect companion of the mighty Danube. Although we didn’t get the chance to do one of the tours inside this gigantic structure, (691 rooms), it is obvious that it thoroughly impressed us. It will be a good reason for a re-visit and a tour to see some of its decorated rooms, the Golden staircase and its Domed Hall.
The Great Market Hall
A 10,000 sq.meter hall awaits all of you foodies and souvenir hunters as well! It is the biggest indoor market in Europe and you can find almost everything inside it. We spent about 3-4 hours casually wandering around. Visiting first the ground floor level and walking along beautiful vegetable stalls arranged meticulously in colour, size, variety.
Getting a taste of all kinds of salamis before buying, (Budapest is known for salami and the different varieties that many vendors sell). Sitting on benches dotted around the corridors for a rest and people watch. Shopping for Foie-gras, (one of my favourite treats), and discovering the price difference between vendors, (keep looking and don’t just buy it from the first vendor you’ll walk up to).
Using the escalators will get you to the top floor with the many food vendors. It is more like commercial, canteen style food here, (in some cases touristy as well). You will also find an immense amount of Embroidery, (if you are into this sort of crafty-type items), as well as some really nice souvenirs to take back home. A lot of clothes are sold here too.
This Market Hall will also inspire you to get some perfect shots of its wrought-iron structure inside. Play with the light coming in through its roof and bouncing off its polished, colourful tiles. Do some People Photography, (the busier the better), and certainly have fun photographing endless arrays of colourful vegetables and vendors alike.
Note that you can easily spend half of your day here! It’s open daily but not on a Sunday.
Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthia’s Church
This purely decorative sight also has a more symbolic meaning to it. It commemorates the Fisherman’s Market and its seven towers represent the seven Hungarian tribes that arrived to the Carpathian region in 896 A.D. The lookout from these towers is absolutely stunning and worthy of any panoramic lens you may have to capture the views of the Danube and the Pest side.
The Church of Matthias dates back to the 11th century but most of its Gothic details were completed on the 14th century. Many coronation ceremonies have taken place here, including of course the crowning of King Matthias. It is a prominent building on the Buda side and well worth the visit. Its colourful tiled roof strongly reminds me of St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna. Although it was raining at the time of our visit, we thoroughly enjoyed the walk around this area, the stunning views and the coloured row of houses on Fortuna Street.
Gellert Hill and the Citadel
This is an even better look-out point than Fisherman’s Bastion since it is the highest point for both Buda and Pest. It stands proudly 235m above the Danube and on the very top you will see the building of the Citadel with the big statue of Liberty on its edge.
Panoramic views of the entire city of Budapest await you here that are stunning whether day or night. It is quite a winding road leading up and we did it by bus. The tickets of this included a Bus city tour that you could hop on and off and see 35 different sights, and were part of our Danube River Cruise, (see below)
Danube River Cruise
It is indeed a great experience to cruise both directions of the blue Danube River. It complements the walk along its banks mentioned earlier, and gives you a different perspective of all the landmarks. This is my second vivid image that comes to mind whenever I think of our trip to Budapest, (first being the Parliament as mentioned at the beginning).
It gave me such nice close-ups of the Chain and Elisabeth Bridges. The Parliament Building of course was seen from a more panoramic perspective in all its glory. You will also reach Margaret Island, (a small island in the middle of the Danube), and circle it, having a view of its relaxing grounds and the two hotels there. As you approach the end of the North-bound route of this cruise you will notice different styles of architecture dotted along the banks of the river. A more modern approach is dominant here, with lots of bright coloured facades that stand well next to the more classic, mighty structured buildings.
It took us a little over 2 hours to complete this cruise and I can only highly recommend it. The audio guided tour in 3 different languages was very handy, as it explains the history of all the buildings as the boat cruises along the Danube.
The Shopping districts
No visit would be complete without having visited some of the coolest shopping streets of Budapest. There are 3 major shopping streets which would be good to fit into your long-weekend visit:
Váci utca: the length of this street is nearly a mile long and it separates into two parts – the busy and quite hectic North part that can get a little touristy, but with some interesting shops along the way. The South part, extends below Elisabeth Bridge and has a quieter and more historical ambience. Both of these parts are pedestrianised.
Fashion Street: much smaller than Váci utca and built more recently with high-end retailers along the cobblestone street. Some of the first retailers to set shop here were Hugo Boss and Max Mara.
Grand Boulevard: the longest street of Budapest, extending for more than 4 Km and crosses through 5 districts in this city. Smaller, individual shops are line both sides of this Grand Boulevard catering to higher-end clientele. A side extension of this street that we enjoyed walking through is Andrássy Avenue, where you will find shops of Gucci, Armani, Burberry, Roberto Cavalli and a lot more.
SUMMING IT ALL UP
Budapest is one of the greatest cities I have visited and it would be unfair to say that you could see it all in a long weekend. I spent 4 days here and tried to see everything that matters. However, another visit will more than likely take place soon.
There are some pretty interesting Museums that you simply have to dedicate some time for. A lot of historic places you need to go to, (like Heroes Square, and Memento Park), and of course some Cafes you have to pass by that are a must! It all depends on how relaxed or busy you want your weekend to be!
Look out for some additional posts that I will be publishing soon and will be covering other areas of Budapest, the ‘Jewel of the Danube’.
Country: Hungary – population: 9,937,628 m (as of 2011 census)
Capital: Budapest – population: 1,757,620 m
Cuisine: the famous Goulash is one of the signature dishes of Hungary, (we had plenty while there). It is a type of meat stew and consists of meat and vegetables flavoured with paprika.
One of the most famous landmarks: the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest. It is the largest and tallest structure in Budapest. There are 10 courtyards inside (!), 27 gates, 13 passenger and freight elevators and a staggering number of rooms (691).
The 'Million Dollar' question? (click to find out)
I would definitely go to Budapest again and so should you! There is a lot to take in and many places to visit that it’s impossible to do it all in a long weekend. You need to relax as well while on a break – remember?