A few weeks ago we went for a weekend in Budapest and I came away feeling like Budapest is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever visited. So many of the buildings could be right out of a fairy tale, and the history of the city is also really interesting. It was a wonderful place to wander around, try the amazing food and bars, and just soak in the beautiful buildings. Here are some of my favourite “touristy” sites we visited across the city on a lovely, sunny, wintery weekend…
The Parliament building is iconic, and the view of it across the River Danube is so stunning. When Queen played a concert in Budapest in 1986, Freddie Mercury admired the building so much that he jokingly asked how many bedrooms there were, and if he could buy it. We went on a tour inside, which is really worth it, as it is just as stunning inside.
Prepare to see lots of gold, bright colours and statues, as well as the Hungarian crown jewels. Believe it or not, the crown is around a thousand years old. After the first king of Hungary, Stephen I, was crowned in the year 1000, Pope Sylvester II gifted him a crown – this exact one. During the Second World War, it was taken out of Hungary for safekeeping and eventually found its way into Fort Knox in the USA. President Jimmy Carter gave the crown back to Hungary in 1978. Unfortunately, it is the only part of Parliament you cannot take photos of! Outside Parliament also gives beautiful views across to the hilly side of the city, Buda.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Like the Parliament building, the Chain Bridge is another iconic part of Budapest. Officially called the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, it is named after the man who put forward the idea to build the bridge, Count István Széchenyi. It was opened in 1849 and was the first permanent stone bridge connecting the two sides of Buda and Pest together. Since then, much work has been completed on it, perhaps most notably being rebuilt after the Second World War following being destroyed by retreating Nazi soldiers. It is a wonderful place to walk across and admire the city.
Bath Houses and Parks
Budapest has long being famous for its spa baths – the first ones were built by Roman settlers – and we made sure to go to the Széchenyi baths, in the city park, to give them a try. It made for a really relaxing evening – and because we went in February, it was lovely to be in the outdoor pools and actually be warm outside! Széchenyi baths are over a hundred years old, built in 1913, and are housed in a beautiful building.
Also nearby in the city park is a gorgeous building that is actually the Hungarian Agricultural Museum. Whilst we didn’t venture inside, the building itself is like something out of a fairy tale: a copy of a Transylvanian Castle called Vajdahunyad Castle. It was originally built out of cardboard (!!) for the Hungarian millennial exhibition in 1896, but people liked it so much, a real version was built. It is easy to see why! It was like stepping into Beauty and the Beast.
Venture up to the hilly side of the city to see Buda Castle – you can ride up on the Funicular, or walk up through the remains of the old castle.
Whilst it is still known as the “castle”, what you’ll actually find there is a beautiful old palace housing museums. We went into the Hungarian National Gallery, which was really lovely and full of gorgeous art in a quite modern space inside! I particularly liked the hall containing old altarpieces – some of them were huge and so elaborately colourful and detailed.
Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church
Further along the hill from the castle, you’ll stumble across a church with a really beautiful and colourful tiled roof. This is Matthias Church, where the Kings of Hungary used to be crowned.
Next to it is another fairy tale-like construction: Fisherman’s Bastion. A wonderful place to look out across to Pest, it isn’t as old as it seems: it was actually only completed at the very beginning of the twentieth century, to celebrate the millennium of Hungary. The turrets are so princess-like and the views are spectacular.
St Stephen’s Basilica
This is a beautiful, domed Catholic Cathedral named after the first king of Hungary, Stephen I, who I mentioned earlier. Interestingly, the dome is ninety-six metres high – exactly the same height of the dome of Parliament. Ninety-six is an important number as the year 896 was when the Hungarian tribes arrived. The two domes are exactly the same height to symbolise equality of power between Church and State.
We also treated ourselves to a rooftop bar view of the Basilica at night, which was stunning! (Also the Hungarian wines we had were lovely too…) Find this at High Note Sky Bar, where there was both an indoor and outdoor terrace to enjoy the views!