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Budapest, Hungary

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Did You Know … ?

  • Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel built the iron-columned West Railway Station in Budapest.
  • Budapest’s springs feed the city’s spas with 19 million gallons of thermal water daily.
  • Continental Europe’s first subway opened in Budapest in 1896.
  • Budapest’s Parliament building has 365 towers and 691 rooms.
  • Erno Rubik, inventor of Rubik’s cube, was born in Budapest (1944).

Queen of the Danube

In its turbulent history, Budapest has been burned (the Mongols) and sacked (the Ottoman Turks) and, much more recently, during World War II, almost totally destroyed again. The Hungarians rebuilt their treasured historic buildings and bridges, remaining true to the original styles. Today, the tourist cannot see that this or any such catastrophe ever befell the Hungarian capital.

Put differently, by any measure, Budapest is a beautiful city. Beautiful because of its setting on hills west of the Danube and on a flat plain to the east. Beautiful because of imperial architecture inherited from Hungary’s days as half of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Beautiful because of late-19th century city planning, which produced broad boulevards and ring roads.

Budapest has existed as a single city only since 1873 when Obuda (Old Buda) and Buda, both on the hilly side of the Danube, and Pest, across the river, were merged.

Some admirers dub this city Queen of the Danube, but those who love taking the waters lean toward another moniker: City of Spas. The Romans, who established a settlement here in the first century, were the first to tap into the area’s natural springs. Today, the springs serve a dozen thermal bath complexes; two are real Turkish baths, built by the Ottomans.

The spas, as well as Hungarian food and culture, even the nightlife, are strong reasons for visiting, but, more than anything, Budapest is a sightseer’s city. It can be toured by motorcoach, boat, horse-drawn carriage or, for the more active, by bicycle or on foot.

Hoofing it may mean some impressive climbing to the city’s hilltops. The former royal palace, plus Matthias Church, Fishermen’s Bastion and a charming castle neighborhood, sit on Castle Hill. Nearby Gellert Hill is topped by Budapest’s Citadel and the Liberation Monument.

Hungary’s stunning (and huge) neo-Gothic Parliament building is on the Pest side of town, facing the river. Broad boulevards lead to the Millennium Monument on the imposing Heroes Square. The monument, erected in 1896, commemorates the 1,000th anniversary of the arrival here of the Magyars (ethnic Hungarians).

The iconic Chain Bridge (and other bridges) link the two sides.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go underground in Budapest. Tour the Buda Castle Labyrinth, a series of underground passageways created in part by thermal springs and further enlarged in the Middle Ages. Other cave systems under residential areas of the city are also open to tourists.
  • Attend the mid-August Sziget, a weeklong festival of electronic music, often called Eurowoodstock. The event highlights entertainers in many music genres and includes, as well, films, theater, circus acts and more.
  • There are about 125 miles of marked cycling trails in Budapest. Take advantage of them.
  • Hike up Gellert Hill to find your best vantage point for viewing the city, including Castle Hill.
  • ¨The city has a good selection of bars and clubs for a lively — and long — night out. Dance clubs stay open until dawn. Choose the style that suits you, bearing in mind that some establishments have high service fees.
  • Attend the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. Or, if that is not your speed, literally, go to the horse races.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Hear klezmer music, take in theater and photography shows, sit in on coffeehouse literature evenings and shop the bazaars, all at the Jewish Summer Festival held in August.
  • Give yourself a short sightseeing ride through Budapest, by traveling the length of the No. 2 tram route, from north to south. You will have glimpses of Parliament and the Central Market Hall on the city’s Pest side, the Chain Bridge, and Castle Hill and Gellert Hill on the Buda side.
  • Tuck into a bowl of hot paprika-spiced goulash.
  • Amuse yourself looking at politically outdated sculptures in Memento Park. For a more sobering connection with the past, see the House of Terror for a window on life during the Nazi period and under communism.
  • Enjoy the facilities at Gellert Hotel and Baths, and you get an added benefit: a look at a grande dame among hotels. Alternatively, real Turkish baths are available for your pleasure, too.
  • Shop for paprika and other packaged foods, such as salami, pate and caviar, plus Hungarian lace, embroidered items, porcelain and crystal. And, if you can stomach it (and pack it), look for palinka, the Hungarian fruit brandy.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Do your initial sightseeing by boat, on the Danube. Then head to Castle Hill and see the area in a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Pay your respects at the memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish humanitarian who had saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis; he disappeared into Soviet hands after World War II.
  • Have coffee and a pastry at the legendary Cafe Central in Budapest, founded in 1887, shut down by the Communists and now revived. Or, sample sweets in any number of other establishments in a city noted for its confectioners’ shops.
  • Place these monumental structures on your itinerary: Buda Castle (the royal palace) containing art and history museums; Parliament, one of the largest legislative palaces in the world, and the Agricultural Museum in City Park, a replica of a Renaissance castle in Transylvania.
  • Take the kids to a show at the Budapest Puppet Theater. Or, kids or no kids, see a Hungarian and Gypsy folk dance performance at the National Dance Theater.
  • Attend a performance at the Hungarian State Opera House. If you cannot schedule that, at least tour this neo-Renaissance building.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Budapest Tourism at http://en.budapestinfo.hu