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Budapest » Budapest Tours
Visitors to Budapest will quickly see how it has managed to blend several centuries of architectural and cultural heritage with all the innovations thrown at it by modern life. As finances permit historic buildings and monuments are gradually being renovated and restored, and if time is of the essence visitors would be well advised to make a plan in order to see as much as possible of this beautiful city. The Castle District, the River Danube embankments and the whole of Andrássy út have been officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and it would indeed be a shame to miss them out. And whilst up in the Castle District a visit to the Matthias Church and perhaps to a museum as well can be heartily recommended. A look out at the panoramic view of the whole city from the Fishermen’s Bastion is an absolute must! In Pest, arguably the most important sight is Andrássy út. As far as Kodály Körönd both sides are lined with large shops and flats built close together. Between there and Heroes’ Square the houses are detached and altogether grander. Under the whole runs continental Europe’s oldest Underground railway, most of whose stations retain their original appearance. Heroes’ Square is dominated by the Millenary Monument, with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front. To the sides are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Arts, and behind City Park opens out, with Vajdahunyad Castle on its own island in the little lake, and further off the Zoo, the Circus and the Fun Fair.
Visitors who have at least three days at their disposal, after having seen the sights in the Castle District and along the Danube embankments and Andrássy út as described above, might like to take their pick from the following. The neo-Gothic Parliament has a beautiful interior, containing amongst other things the Hungarian Crown Jewels. It’s not far from there to Saint Stephen’s Basilica, where the Holy Right Hand of the founder of Hungary, King Saint Stephen is on display. It’s also well worth taking the lift up to the top of the tower, from where there is a superb view over the rooftops. One of the jewels of Andrássy út is the Opera House, and one of the many attractions in City Park is the Transport Museum, complete with model railway system. To see real locomotives at close quarters head for the (separate) Hungarian Railway Museum. There are Roman remains at the Aquincum Museum, and historic furniture at the Nagytétény Castle Museum. The Statue Park contains an amazing display of gargantuan Communist era statues. The imposing Dohány utca Synagogue is as outstanding a building as its small garden, including metallic weeping willow tree dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, is moving. In between the sightseeing, but in truth an integral part of the Budapest scene, you cannot leave out the various bastions to Hungarian cuisine and café culture: for example, Gerbeaud Café, and the Százéves, Biarritz, Fortuna, Alabárdos, Arany Szarvas, Kárpátia and the world famous Mátyás Pince Restaurants.
Stepping in cultural paths
An exploration of Budapest soon reveals it to be one of the most culturally diverse capitals in all Europe. Let’s set out on some of these cultural paths; along the way we will encounter eighteen museums, theatres showing the widest imaginable variety of plays, the Opera House, the Basilica, the Synagogue, the Fun Fair and the Zoo, and can make our choices accordingly. Our route links the Castle District, a World Heritage Site, with City Park and all its opportunities for enjoyment and relaxation. The majority of Budapest’s most important sights are all within easy striking distance of this route.
Budapest's finest green spot is Margaret Island (Margitsziget) located in the middle of the river Danube between Margaret Bridge and Árpád Bridge. Originally there were three islands here, the islands of Spa, Pictor and Rabbits. These were framed with a common concrete shore as part of river regulation efforts in the 19th century and so the 2.5-kilometre-long island was formed.
The island was already inhabited by Roman times; in the Middle Ages monks preferred the island for its calm and kings for its excellent hunting. The island bears the name of Margit (Margaret), daughter of King Béla IV (Adalbert), who renounced the world and entered the island's convent after surviving the rampage of the Tatars in the 13th century. The Turkish occupation in the 15th century put an abrupt end to the cloister island's blossoming. After centuries of neglect, the island was reborn in the 19th century when an open park and entertainment centre was opened to the general public. This was made possible by the Margaret Bridge embranchment built to the island in 1900, opening the island to pedestrians.
Today, the 100 hectares of parkland is kept peaceful and quiet by being sealed off to most vehicular traffic. Park your car at the northern end of the island and rent a "family bike" known as a Bringóhintó Cycle Car, or take a healthy walk through the island. Budapest joggers plan their routes along the island's embankments.
The park is beautiful and very varied: century-old chestnut avenues, English, Japanese and French gardens alternate with ruins of a nunnery, an old water tower and a wide range of sports facilities. The island has the largest open-air swimming complex in Budapest, the Palatinus, and a fine outdoor theatre.
The northern section of the island is home of the turn-of-the-century Grand Hotel Margitsziget and the modern Thermal Hotel Margitsziget, the latter offering thermal spa and state-of-the-art medical services using thermal water springs on the island to cure different types of locomotor disorders.
On József nádor tér there is a shop and showroom dedicated to the exquisite Herend porcelain. Váci utca starts from near here and lining both sides of the street (and most of the side streets) all the way down to Fővám tér are jeweller’s shops, perfumeries, designer clothes shops, boutiques and gifts shops. Here are also some of the best shops in which to buy Hungarian wine. The Csók Gallery displays and offers for sale works of living Hungarian artists as well as antiques. Another Hungarian speciality, Zsolnay porcelain, is on show in the shop on Kígyó utca, and south of Elizabeth Bridge the Folk-art Centre is
The huge Byzantine-Moorish style Synagogue on Dohány utca is not only one of the most imposing historic buildings in Budapest, it is the largest synagogue in all Europe. In the garden to the rear, set in front of the Heroes’ Temple is Imre Varga’s striking Memorial Tree sculpture, the leaves of which are engraved with the names of Jewish families who were murdered in the Holocaust. The former synagogue in Páva utca has been turned into a Holocaust Memorial Centre, and there’s another poignant memorial along the Danube embankment on the Pest side. Between the Parliament and the Chain Bridge, a line of iron shoes set in stone commemorates the Jews who were summarily executed and whose bodies were then dumped in the River.
Walking around the Castle District
Castle Hill and the Castle District are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There are three churches here, six museums, and a host of interesting buildings, streets and squares. The former Royal Palace is one of the symbols of Hungary – and has been the scene of battles and wars ever since the thirteenth century. Nowadays it houses two impressive museums and the National Széchenyi Library. The nearby Sándor Palace contains the offices and official residence of the President of Hungary. The seven-hundred year-old Matthias Church is one of the jewels of Budapest. Next to it is an equestrian statue of the first king of Hungary, King Saint Stephen, and behind that is the Fishermen’s Bastion, from where opens out a panoramic view of the whole city.
Travelling by No. 2 tram
There are many sights to be seen just from riding along the embankment of the River Danube (Pest side) by number two tram. From its northern terminus at Jászai Mari tér it passes right next to the Parliament, before joining the embankment proper and opening out spectacular views towards the Matthias Church, the Fishermen’s Bastion, the Castle District, the Chain Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Gellért Hill, the Gellért Hotel and Baths, and finally just before the Lágymányosi Bridge the new National Theatre and Palace of Arts. On the return journey take a moment to observe the Corvinus University building, the Central Market Hall, the Vigadó Concert Hall, and the Gresham Palace and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences both on Roosevelt Square.
A visit to the Statue Park (XXII. Balatoni út – corner of Szabadkai utca) is guaranteed to be a unique experience, for here are displayed examples of “Socialist Realism” art. Or rather, some of the gargantuan statues and political monuments removed from public display in the streets and squares of Budapest following the fall of Communism. There is a gigantic statue of Lenin, for example, and others of a hurrying worker and of military and heroic figures. But there are also other mementos of the Communist era, such as a Trabant car, an out-of-order telephone box and a hammer and sickle cigarette lighter. Another protected Socialist Realism monument is the collection of eight aluminium alloy statues depicting sporting scenes constructed between 1953 and 1958 and situated at the entrance to the People’s Stadium
The Gresham Palace on Roosevelt tér is a particularly fine example of art nouveau architecture, and was built in 1907 for the London-based Gresham Insurance Company. In recent years it has been totally refurbished and now operates as the Four Seasons Hotel. On the other side of the River Danube, at Saint Gellért tér in Buda, the exterior of the Gellért Hotel and Baths, along with the interior of the Baths, are further well preserved examples of the style. As is the building housing the Hungarian State Geological Institute (XIV. Stefánia út 14). Indeed, with its light blue ceramic tiled roof and its blue Zsolnay ornamentation on an yellow and brown frontage, this is one of the most attractive buildings in the whole city.
Followers of the Bauhaus movement have left their mark in a number of striking buildings, both internally and externally. Good examples in Budapest are to be seen at Szervita tér near Váci utca in the Inner City of Pest, and at the church and bus terminus at Pasaréti tér in Buda. Indeed, not far from the latter, Napraforgó utca and some of its neighbouring side streets are remarkable for their being almost full of Bauhaus style houses and flats. There are several other good examples on Margit körút, and another is the hotel on the corner of Andrássy út and Munkácsy utca, formerly the residence of Alfréd Hajós, the triple Olympic medal-winning swimmer and athlete.
The Castle District, the River Danube embankments and the whole of Andrássy út were officially recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2002. The Castle District is one of the most potent symbols of Budapest, and the buildings alongside the Danube – the houses, the bridges, the Parliament, the Basilica, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Gresham Palace – altogether make for a wonderfully close knit concord of moods and styles. Andrássy út, on the other hand, was conceived towards the end of the nineteenth century as one grand design. The Opera House is a jewel; the House of Terror will stop you in your tracks for different reasons. And as the street opens out into Heroes’ Square, you will be uplifted by the Millenary Monument, the museums and the Tomb on the Unknown Soldier.
Unusual means of transport
The Földalatti, or the Yellow (Number 1) Underground line was the first to be built in continental Europe. There is an interesting museum about it at Deák tér Station: look out for the carriage which Emperor Franz Joseph and his entourage used at the unveiling in 1896. The Funicular runs between the Castle District and the Chain Bridge. When it originally opened in 1870 it was powered by a steam traction engine, but today electricity is used. The Cogwheel Railway connects Városmajor and Széchenyi Hill, and is the third oldest in the world. The Chair Lift is a fun way of getting down from János Hill to Zugliget, as is the Children’s Railway from Széchenyi Hill to Hűvösvölgy: this is run almost entirely by children!
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