When we started our journey to Budapest I had no idea what was in store for us. The main question we had was what to see in Budapest. There is so much to take in that even in a week I was afraid we wouldn’t see it all. Fortunately it is easy to navigate on foot and what to see in Budapest is not only doable but also incredibly surprising.
This is my list of what to see in Budapest:
The first thing we saw as our taxi drove us to our Airbnb was Castle Hill. It stands over Budapest as a constant reminder of the incredible glory of the city. The grandeur of the castle, the church, and the National Gallery were a complete shock.
We took the funicular up the hill and arrived at the incredible archways of the National Gallery which were once a Royal Palace. At first I felt completely overwhelmed. Everything was so impressive I couldn’t figure out what to focus on. The ornate statues, fountain, gates and massively of the building are all made even more impressive by the city views. As I stood in front of this building, a mere speck in its presence, I imagined how humbling it must have been to arrive at this Royal Palace years ago.
From the National Gallery we made our way towards the 700 year old Matthias church. The colorful tiles were even more impressive close up with the contrast of the Gothic architecture. The church gives way to the impressive Buda castle. We bought tickets to walk along the castles walls, to be honest it was not worth the money, and to take in the views. The beautiful white stone, impressive statues and turrets tell a story of the importance of Buda in Hungarian history. It is packed with tourists but the open spaces help to make it less overwhelming.
From the Buda castle we wandered the streets of Castle Hill checking out the architecture of other churches, homes and shops. We made a quick stop at the Houdini museum where we toured and took in a magic show. J. just can’t resist good magic.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
It is impossible to travel through Budapest without seeing St. Stephen’s Basilica. The largest church in Budapest outshines all of the modern buildings which surround it. As we approached it was easy to see why it took 50 years to build this massive and beautiful church. The dome of the church stands around 270 feet high, as tall as the awe inspiring Parliament building. The inside of the church is marvelous with deep burgundy marble, gold accents and ornate painting throughout.
While we didn’t climb to the to the top it is possible to either take an elevator or climb the 357 steps up to the observation deck in the dome.
Walk Along The River Danube
J. and I loved walking along the river in Budapest. There is so much to discover amongst the amazing views. It is a long walk so we did it in 2 days so we had time to take in the various neighborhoods along the way.
One of the most moving things we saw in Budapest was the exhibit of shoes. They are representative of the thousands of Jews who were taken to the edge of the river, told to remove their shoes and then were shot in the head and left to float down the river. As I stood there I was overcome with sadness at what the Jewish community had to endure. Hungary began their anti-semitic laws as early as the 1920’s so the struggle was long and hard in Budapest.
Further down the river is the Parliament building. It is hard not to stand gaping at this monumental building. The incredibly intricate and detailed architecture is stunning. The size is almost overwhelming and the history is remarkable. There are two exhibits underground in front of the Parliament building. One is quite interesting as it shows how the first stone used to build the Parliament was sub-standard and began to erode almost immediately. Pieces from the original build are displayed underground, telling this incredible story.
The second exhibit is on the mass shooting in the square in front of the building. It happened in 1956. They were fighting against communism when tanks rolled into the square and murdered a lot of people. It is sad but a powerful reminder of what they have been through and what our world has been like in the past.
Around the Parliament building there are other gorgeous buildings including some embassy buildings. They are quite ornate, built in many different architectural styles from Gothic to Art Nouveau.
In this area there is another exhibit about anti-Semetic laws and treatment of the Jewish citizens. There are personal belongings, pictures and signs about the history of what happened. The monument, a large angel with an eagle flying overhead is quite beautiful but the story is in what is worth seeing. I strongly believe we must face and know our past in order to prevent repeating it in the future.
Walking in any direction along the Danube. It is also here where you can catch cruise boats taking you up and down the river. We took an evening tour which was nice. It was fun to see the city from a different perspective. I would recommend taking the trip right at sunset to catch the incredible lights of the city.
The Jewish Quarter
The Jewish Quarter was my favorite area in Budapest. It is both historic and progressive. The contrast was really fantastic. We visited the Jewish Synagogue, taking the tour to learn the history not only of the Synagogue but also the Jewish Quarter. The Synagogue was very beautiful but the stories were even more so. During the tour my heart was broken over the stories of how the Jewish citizens were forced to live around World War 2. The way they died and/or suffered were devastating. Yet seeing the way the community has come back and the way they are honored reminded me of the power of the human spirit. The beautiful silver tree is labeled on the leaves with names of those who have been lost and never found. It is a beautiful tribute.
Beyond the Synagogue are streets with unique shops, small restaurants, bars and cafes. It is lively and unique. A great way to spend a day is wandering around the Quarter, then stopping for lunch at one of my favorite places in the city. The food truck court of Karavan where you can enjoy some amazing street food, including delicious vegan food at Las Vegans. The eating area is a reclaimed piece of property from a demolished building and is so inviting with its bright colored lanterns and unique space.
Ruin bars are the popular places to be in the Jewish Quarter. They range in size and style but each is made up of recycled items in reclaimed spaces. I loved the unique atmosphere of the ruin bars as well as their ability to make such cool and quirky spaces by saving things from the landfills.
Fashion Street Market
I am not one for shopping. Yet we found ourselves on Fashion Street several times due to its location close to the river. While walking through the Fashion street area we stumbled upon a great little market area. Here stalls are set up selling local food, beer and handmade products. The tables are filled with locals and tourists all enjoying the atmosphere of freshly made food, singing and beer drinking. I loved it here. It felt like a place where the community gathered outside, amidst the grandeur of Budapest to enjoy this beautiful city.
Where We Stayed:
We loved our Airbnb and the location it was in.
Favorite Ruin Bar: