Budapest: The Pearl of the Danube

Before uniting in 1873 and forming Budapest, the two cities of Buda and Pest sat on opposite sides of the Danube River. It is common to refer to the two separate sides by their former names. Our apartment was a bit south of the city-center, in the Corvin neighborhood, on the Pest side of the river.

The Pest Side of the City and the Chain Bridge

On the Pest side are some serious gems. Saint Stephens Basilica has one of the most visible domes in the skyline and sits on the intersection of some of downtown’s most strollable streets.

St.Stephens front view

A bit further up the river is the Hungarian Parliament building. This is a stunner for sure. It is best viewed from the Buda side of the river, or on one of the fun dinner cruises that are available.

Hungarian Parliament Building

There is plenty to see on the Buda side as well. The best way to cross over is a nice walk across the famous Chain Bridge. The giant metal chains and two stone pillars create a structure that has become quite a symbol of Hungary and deserves the recognition.

The Chain Bridge

Over on the Buda side there are more beautiful sights, and our favorite was the combo of The Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a stone terrace that stretches seven across the hillside and overlooks the river. It has lovely views, interesting architecture, and is free to enter. What’s not to like?

Just a few steps away from the Fisherman’s Bastion is the Matthias Church.. Although not free to enter, it will only set you back about $5 per person. The church is just as interesting on the inside as the unique roof is on the outside. We loved spending the afternoon here meandering around the bastion and marveling at the church.

View along the Fisherman’s Bastion

 

Matthias Church. That roof!

 

Interior of Matthias Church

Beyond the the more formal sites, we found plenty of other pieces of Budapest to love.

There is a huge market, the Grand Market Hall, in an old train station that sells fresh meat, colorful fruit, spices and herbs, and regional liquor specialties. Around the top level are fabrics for sale, so many gorgeous laces, and stalls and stalls of fun trinkets. It reminds me of the Saint Louis Union Station near where I grew up, and is similarly perfect for a slow relaxing stroll with several stops for snacks and sips.

Budapest Great Market Hall

While we didn’t venture out to too many restaurants here, we did experience one of the coolest bars we’ve ever seen. Budapest is famous for its “ruin bars.”  Not named after the way you feel the next morning after too many cocktails (hey-o!) but because they are actually built inside abandoned buildings that are in ruins. After World War II the deportation of Jewish communities in one particular district of town left the buildings abandoned and no one to care for them. In the 2000’s they decided to try an alternative to demolishing the structures and experimented with opening one of the spaces to offer drinks and snacks. The establishment was a success and many more were opened. The district was revived and ruin bars are now one of the top tourist attractions in Budapest.

Inside the main area at Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s ruin bars

On one of our weekend days we ventured across town to see Hero’s Square. In the center of the square is the Millennium Monument that was built to celebrate 1000 years of the Hungarian state. This baby is a beaut. It has a large sculpture column in the center surrounded by a semi-circle of 14 important characters in Hungarian history.

Millennium Monument at Hero’s Square, Budapest

Behind Hero’s Square is City Park of Budapest. We walked through the square and planned to walk around the park a little to enjoy the day. Lucky us, we happened upon a Rose wine festival, Rosalia, with live music and food trucks. Who can say no to that? We spent a really nice afternoon sipping wines, munching on snacks, and people watching before we headed home.

Entrance to the Rose Festival, Budapest

Lastly, we highly recommend taking one of the dinner cruises in the evening. It’s one of the most popular tourist activities, and it seems cheesy, but we had a surprisingly great time. The food is yummy and the live band is charming. We really enjoyed ourselves and ended up with a pretty good selfie.

Dinner cruise views of the Hungarian Parliament Building in BudapestWe’ve been to several European cities, but I can’t think of one that was as consistently buzzing like this town was. No matter where we went or what path we took walking around town there was always something to see or a welcoming spot to grab a snack, and other people on the sidewalks doing the same thing we were. You’ll be able to stay busy no matter what kind of fun you’re looking for.

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